When it comes to bando photography, Andre Govia is a legend among urban explorers. Having explored over 900 deserted locations in more than 22 countries, Govia’s eight-year project shooting abandoned buildings is showcased in his premier publication: Abandoned Planet.
Contained within Abandoned Planet are selections condensed from Govia’s prolific journeys, including both classic locations and lesser-known, far-flung places. In this visually stunning book, Govia takes abandoned building exploration to a higher level, capturing the forgotten places of humanity as a whole.
“When I was approached to make Abandoned Planet, I was determined to create something special that would appeal to everyone, not just explorers, but also to people with a natural curiosity about abandoned places.”
Govia’s first foray into the realm of international bandos was in Germany at the now famous Beelitz-Heilstätten, once a sanatorium, and later, a military hospital.
“This is where Soviet troops were once based in old East Germany. It became my entry into the world of international travelling to explore bando locations,” Govia recalls. “From that moment onwards, I fully embraced that way of life as I travelled around the world meeting amazing people with the same passion for bando photography.”
Having familial ties to Europe and North America, Govia is at an advantage for documenting abandoned structures in different parts of the world and began shooting bandos as a means to record older buildings for posterity.
“I noticed that old buildings often become destroyed or vandalized, so I began shooting them in order to keep the memory of buildings before they turned to rubble,” explains Govia. “I can recall some nine hundred locations over the years, but I still want to explore as much as I can.”
Beyond the quality of the work, the extensiveness of Govia’s collection propels him to a unique space. His photography sheds a comparative light on the similarities and differences between bandos in different countries, such as tonal palettes and architectural styles.
Notably, in the U.S., the building decay tends to be imbued with blue and green tones, while in areas such as Wales and Scotland, Govia’s images denote the damp, green and brown tones, with a dusty and muted quality.
In addition to the quality of light, Govia also has observed profound differences in the architectural details in different parts of the world:
“In Italy, the beautiful old mansions had frescoes on the walls and ceilings. Contrastingly, in East Germany I found the Soviet Bloc-style to be cold and minimal, with glass block walls and a complete lack of adornments.”
For Govia, one of the most delightful aspects of shooting European bandos is that often they contain original furnishings, such as authentic art and old pianos. Sometimes the interiors have more ordinary items such as books or dusty glass bottles that he is adept at arranging in a realistic manner. He also has an appreciation for the fallen beauty of rusty automobiles.
Rather than document the fragmented pieces of a once-beautiful place, Govia takes pleasure in styling his images to perfection.
“If I find a room in disarray with interesting furnishings, I will make an effort to rearrange the objects in order to create a composition to show the bando in the best light—after all, what’s the point in photographing a mess when you can recreate what was originally left in the bando, to show a more realistic impression?”
Capturing enchanting scenes of abandonment with respect for the preservation of the locations, Govia’s compositions are impeccably styled down to the last detail. One of Govia’s memorable, and particularly exhilarating, group adventures was in Belgium, exploring a now-demolished gem.
“I remember driving to the fantastic and beautiful location called Château Miranda, also known as Château de Noisy—a 19th-century neo-Gothic castle and school. We drove all night in heavy rain from the U.K., and the roads were flooded. We had to enter in the dark to avoid the angry groundskeeper who would patrol for explorers with his gun. When we arrived before dawn, to our horror, the armed groundskeeper was still patrolling the forest on his motorbike. Somehow, we managed to enter the building without being seen. The thrill factor was intense. If something is particularly difficult or dangerous, it becomes all the more enticing for me,” Govia discloses.
Being drawn to the forbidden is part of human nature. Naturally inquisitive about that which we are restricted from, curiosity is part of the human condition. The mystery and melancholy of bandos are often what lead people to capture the faded patina of once fresh-faced architecture.
“People are curious about what lies hidden within an old abandoned hospital or school, but they don’t want to go further inside. That is the difference between ordinary people and bando explorers,” Govia concludes, “we enter buildings to capture what is inside, uncovering secret places by exploring the forbidden.”
Published in INSPADES Magazine, Issue Nove, February 2018
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See more of Govia’s gorgeous bando images on Instagram: @andregovia