Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Welcome to the first post of my new "Inspirations" series, which will interview photographers that produce consistently great and inspiring work.
Meet Matthew Emmett, also known as "Forgotten Heritage". I have been following Matt across his various social media platforms for some time now, and am always blown away by his work, in particular his "Urban Exploration" images, which will be the focus of this interview. His images are not only technically great, but also transport us to destinations of great atmosphere, the unknown and the seemingly inaccessible. Be sure to check out his social media platforms:
Above - The National Gas Turbine Establishment
How did you first get involved in the Urban Exploration scene?
A friend wanted me to show him the basics after he bought his first DSLR, so he suggested we do the lessons on location as he thought he would learn more that way. He researched a location that turned out to be a jet engine research establishment (National Gas Turbine Establishment in Fleet). I was worried about the trespass aspect but decided to give it a go as the pictures online looked great. I was hooked instantly and it's safe to say the experience changed my life.
Do you get nervous when exploring?
Most of the time no, but I do get a little nervous when there's a chance of getting busted and the security have a reputation of being heavy handed. You always get a quickening of the heart rate and butterfly sensations but that's more to do with adrenaline and excitement than fear, it's a big part of why the hobby is getting so popular, the pictures you get are nice but people also love the subversive aspect to it, it's exciting.
Have you ever been caught or had any narrow escapes?
I have been caught quite a few times over the last three years, on four occasions police were involved but it always ends in a talking to and us being released once they realise we are not thieves or vandals. We have been hunted at a location by security several times and in most instances, evaded capture. A month ago we were trapped within an attic in an Italian castle for over four hours whilst around 8-10 security staff looked high and low in the building for us. At one point someone climbed the steps to the hatch and shone a torch around and the attic space lit up around us, we were hidden behind some brick pillars around 10 feet away. Scary and exciting all at once!
Above - ECT Suite
What is the most exciting location you have explored?
A hard one as there have been so many really exciting places. I would maybe have to say the National Gas Turbine Establishment in Fleet. It was a centre of excellence in the world for the design and testing of military grade jet engines. Most of the UK's fighter planes had their engines worked on there. The site was vast and contained the most incredible sights, including the 5 altitude test cells, power plant, turbine halls, control rooms and underground tunnels. It was my first location and still one of the best I have done. Like walking around the set of one of the the best Sci-Fi movies.
Above - Control Desk
What has been the hardest location to access?
We had to crawl flat out along a filthy and dusty pipe run in a basement recently. Other locations have involved some climbing but the pre-development Battersea Power Station took some effort to get into.
Have you ever been in a situation where you thought, "this isn't such a good idea after all?!"
Trapped in the attic in Italy was a bit like that, we started discussing giving ourselves up as they kept sweeping the building but decided we had committed to hiding but that we had made the situation worse by doing so. We just had to wait them out.
Above - Subterannean Cistern
One of my favourite albums of yours is the Battersea Power Station images, could you tell us a little about that explore?
Battersea is no longer possible due to the redevelopment having started, but it was a great evening out back in 2013. Being such an iconic landmark gave it a special mystique that other comparable buildings just didn't have. The main sights at the time were the two control rooms (A side and B side), the roof areas with the chimneys up close and the views from the roof of London.
Do you feel that urban exploration has become too popular and almost "mainstream" in the past couple of years?
It doesn't bother me how many people get into it, I know many others want to keep it hush hush but it's never going to happen. It will continue to attract others for the same reasons it attracted the people who want it kept quiet. I enjoy it and I'll keep on doing it until something or someone stops me. If that happens to be because it has become so popular that the government starts taking notice and changes a law or two then so be it. Nothing lasts forever!
Above - Cooling Tower
My favourite urban exploration pictures are usually the abandoned asylums - what type of building do you enjoy exploring the most?
Industry on a grand scale is my personal favourite. Power stations, steel plants, blast furnaces etc.. they all feel like an entirely new world to me. I like most locations to be fair but anything that makes me feel like I'm on another planet really gets my blood pumping.
Above - Steel Works
Above - Patient Records
Do you ever shoot alone, or always as a member of a team?
I have shot a few locations alone but the majority of the time it's me and one or two others. There are four of us in our regular group but we haven't all managed to make it out together yet. I also explore with a few other individuals from time to time, the social aspect is another reason it's such a good hobby. I have met some great friends in the last few years.
Above - Alone In The Dark
I would like to say a massive thank you to Matt for agreeing to take part in the interview, and giving us an insight into his passion. Keep your eyes peeled for more "inspirations" interviews in the near future!