The seven anonymous members of HK Urbex work in the media and in tech jobs by day; away from the 9 to 5, these wily urban explorers are known for delving into the dank, dark and crumbling corners of Hong Kong—documenting their escapades with photographs and videos that boast a distinctive swagger amid stunning, often post-apocalyptic, surroundings.
With an unapologetic approach to their daring hobby, a willingness to do interviews and prolific, high-quality documentation of their exploits, HK Urbex have garnered plenty of media coverage on local outlets such as South China Morning Post, Time Out Hong Kong and Hong Kong Free Press as well as BBC, CNN and the New York Times.
HK Urbex’s co-founders, who take the monikers Ghost and Echo Delta, launched the group in 2013.
“We’d been shooting short films together for some time so we’d always been exploring and scouting for film locations. Urbex is really just an extension of that,” explains Ghost of the crew’s origins.
“We started HK Urbex after our images and videos started to gain traction on social media. But we would still be doing this kind of thing anyway—as we believe sites in a city, particularly ones that have significant heritage value—should not be kept from the public.”
The first HK Urbex video that gained widespread attention was the footage of Ghost, Echo Delta and fellow urbexer Karambit climbing aboard an abandoned, semi-submerged Vietnamese freighter that ran aground off the coast of Hong Kong in February 2014.
In the three years since, the group has posted regular updates about their latest exploits on Facebook, and has amassed over 15,500 followers.
“I think we show sides of the city that people don’t know about,” Ghost explains, when asked what he makes of their popularity. “It’s this unknown mystery that fascinates people, and this is also why we do it—to rediscover the cities we’ve lived in our whole lives.
We believe photography is not a crime and we never take anything, nor break or disrupt the spaces we enter.
“The popularity is a bit of a double edged sword. I mean, we don’t earn money from this and we would be doing it anyway. But at the same time, we have now made it our mission to document these places, because sometimes we are the last people to enter historical sites before they’re pulled down.
“That is a powerful feeling and a privilege we are humbled by. NGOs often end up using our photos or videos to help argue for a site to be better preserved.”
Real Life Video Games
HK Urbex have documented visits to sites in both Hong Kong and abroad since 2013, including a trip to Bruce Lee’s former mansion and an awe-inspiring visit to the tunnels of the South Island MTR subway line while it was under construction.
Ghost reveals that a trip to Nara Dreamland, an abandoned Japanese theme park, has been his favorite thus far.
“I went alone and explored the empty haunted house—a house full of mirrors—and clambered across some of the roller coasters there.
“I think new buildings these days lack soul, whereas old buildings, which were built through intricate handiwork and by men who took time over their craft, have a beauty of their own, which is why they need to be preserved.”
Jenkins, another member of the crew, tells us that HK Urbex’s expeditions are “not unlike venturing into life-size settings of video games … It’s like I am in an adventure game. The abandoned mansion on The Peak (in Hong Kong) we went to is like one of the mansions in Resident Evil.”
Naturally, there have been accusations that urbexing glamorizes and encourages dangerous behavior.
“We are professionals in our fields and we approach each location with a proficient mindset,” counters Ghost. “We put safety first, always, so before going to a site we perform a reconnaissance.
“Then we aim to go in and get out with as little disruption and in as little time as possible—we believe photography is not a crime and we never take anything, nor break or disrupt the spaces we enter.
We believe sites in a city, particularly ones that have significant heritage value—should not be kept from the public.
“The few run-ins with security have often been fairly tame, as we just honestly explain to them what we are doing and then get the hell out of there.”
The group has plans to release a coffee-table book of photos in 2017 with an as-yet unconfirmed local publisher.
Here, Momentum takes a look at some of HK Urbex’s most cinematic shots to date:
Atmospheric shots captured in an abandoned cinema in a derelict part of East Kowloon, it was left empty in the 1990s and developers have stayed away from the site following rumors that it is still haunted by the ghosts of people killed in a nearby landslide in the 1970s.
The ‘Crane’s Nest’—formerly the home of Hong Kong’s most famous martial artist Bruce Lee—was converted into a high-end love hotel after his death. The mansion now sits empty and dilapidated, despite calls for the site to be converted in a museum to celebrate the star’s life.
The Cheung Sha Wan Abattoir was one of three slaughterhouses in Hong Kong until it closed in 1999. It is well-known for the 1983 case of the “Spirit Buffalo”, in which workers about to slaughter a buffalo were convinced it was begging for its life, and decided to let it go. The buffalo lived the rest of its life in the nearby Tsz Wan Shan temple until its death in 1994. Shortly afterwards, a worker at the temple claimed he had a dream in which the buffalo told him he was an animal deity and protector of Niu Lang, a mythical cow herder. A statue was erected to the Spirit Buffalo in the temple, and can still be seen today.
The Sea Ranch resort on Lantau Island was built in the 1970s as a luxury residential project, and with several of the 200 coastal apartments initially being snapped up by wealthy businesspeople seeking a property away from the hustle and bustle of the city. But after failing to attract buyers amid an economic slump, the over-ambitious project was left to disintegrate. The empty houses now stand quietly, eerily filled with remnants of those who left and never returned.
Photos: HK Urbex