Greenhouse, BelgiumPhotograph by Jonathan "Jonk" Jimenez
“It’s a rusty place with broken windows, but still it’s beautiful. I like to find beauty where you think you cannot find beauty,” Jimenez explains. After traveling to more than 700 abandoned locations in 33 countries on four continents, Jimenez released his photographs in a book, Naturalia: Reclaimed by Nature.
Jimenez got started documenting graffiti artists in Barcelona who used the city’s deserted places as canvases. He even tried a stint as a street artist himself (hence the pseudonym). Back in his hometown of Paris, Jimenez explored the urban world’s hidden corners, scaling rooftops, weaving through subway tunnels, and spending days underground in the city’s catacombs. (Visit this haunting bone church in the Czech Republic.)
Now, he focuses on discovering spots outside the city. But if you’re hoping to visit such abandoned places yourself, think twice: Many are reachable only with a bit of thrill-seeking, or even trespassing. While Jimenez was visiting a brewery in the north of France, a barking dog alerted security, who called the police.
“It’s trespassing in the sense that most places are private property, but it’s trespassing without breaking or forcing into anything,” Jimenez says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, they realize we are just photographers and send us away. This [guard] must have been having a bad day.”
Continuing his quest to see the unseen, Jimenez has photographed places from a forgotten Soviet military base in Belarus to an overgrown castle in Croatia. Rather than investigate the sites’ history, Jimenez’ work captures a specific moment of passing time. Decaying buildings remind us of the inevitable process of history. Eventually the wild world reclaims what it once called its own. (See eerie pictures inside a Namibian ghost town.)
“Some people see something very dark, like [what] the world would look like after the apocalypse," Jonk says. "But for me, what I like to show is that nature is stronger than man. At the end, nature will win.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions