data vie, jul, 2022

The Magic Behind Abandoned Places (The Interview with Roman Robroek)

by Roberto Cruz Artcile avtor
Roberto Cruz: Hi, Roman! It's nice to talk about your story as a photographer and the role of photography in our societies. First of all, let me introduce you to our audience. You are Roman from The Netherlands.

PART I • About Roman

First of all, please tell us which was the trigger moment in your life that pushed you to start this journey as a photographer?

Roman: It was 11 years ago when I found myself interested in abandoned buildings. I was desperately looking for a hobby or something to spend my free time on, and I made a list with things that I was interested in. History, writing, creativity and travelling were among those things. One day, I was driving in Germany with a friend, and I was sharing some of my thoughts with him regarding this process of what to spend free time on and the things I’m interested in, and he suggested I’d visit an abandoned stone factory close to where we were driving. The day after I went there with my camera to see what I’d encounter, and I absolutely loved it. I started doing research on the internet, and soon found that there was a small community with other people who were interested in this sort of photography and work. That’s where it took a lift off. I soon found more locations to visit, and since then I have never stopped exploring, photographing and writing.

On your website you describe yourself as the “Photographer of Abandoned Places”. I feel like you have taken the reign of this mysterious area of photography. This theme sounds very interesting. Why did you decide to focus on “abandoned places”?

Roman: Photographing abandoned places is a way for me to escape, and to indulge myself into many things that I like, such as history, architecture, creativity, adventure and silence. Next to that, abandoned places fascinate me because of all the unanswered questions and the mystery they hold. There is beauty in things that are forgotten, and taking a closer look can be an incredible way to get to learn more about the world around us, and how things change with time as history unfolds.

Your photos are truly mind-blowing. But, tell us, which one is the most special for you? And why?

Roman: Thanks so much, I appreciate that! This photo is most likely the most special for me. However, it’s very hard to choose. I’ve seen so many breathtaking and beautiful places over the past years. This photo in particular comes to mind because I remember having a great time travelling around Italy with one of my dear friends. The building I photographed this room in, was an abandoned farm, and from the outside you couldn’t tell that it was hiding such a stunning room. I sat on the floor in the centre of this room, and enjoyed the beautiful artwork covering the walls and ceiling. It was completely silent in the room, thus I could thoroughly enjoy that special moment. The light fell in beautifully through the glass doors, creating light beams because it was so dusty inside.

By Roman Robroek
(C) By Roman Robroek

Which photo was the most challenging to shoot?

Roman: I wouldn’t be able to pick a specific photo that was most challenging to shoot. To me, a photo can be challenging because there are objects standing in the way of the image I have in mind, or the light isn’t good, or the abandoned building is really hard to get into etc. Each place I visit is a challenge in itself, because I have to find it (they are often well hidden), then I have to find a way inside, and then I have to take the photos with the scenes that place has to offer me at that specific moment. I don’t touch or move anything in the place, so I have to work with what it offers me.

What do you feel when you explore those abandoned places? Do you feel inspired? Do you feel some connection with a place that was full of people before?

Roman: Yes, you could say that I feel connected. I feel like diving into the history of a community, a family, medical care, religion, etc. I see many objects that tell the story of that place, and the life that was once lived there. That makes me feel humbled, inspired, sometimes even sad or lonely.

I think seeing a place that has no life anymore could trigger mixed feelings and reflections for some. What can we learn from seeing your artworks? Is there some kind of philosophical reflection going with it?

Roman: I believe that we can learn that today, abandoned places offer a unique glimpse into the past. A source of reflection, perhaps, as they prompt us to think about the future. If an abandoned church, castle, farm, hospital, or anything else, that was once the most important haven in the community or family, can become a pile of ruins, what does that say about what we hold certain today? These are the traces of the past of many communities and families, and if we follow them, we can see where we all came from and perhaps where we’re going.

When you look for an abandoned place to shoot photography, how do you choose it? Do you go by your feeling? Or do you have a methodology?

Roman: I rely on my feelings a lot, but I also do my research before I travel. I try to find out the history, the local culture, the best time to visit the place with optimal light, how to walk to get inside, etc. Next to that, I find it important that besides the history, the place has aesthetic value as well. I like an abandoned place that has objects inside, or has a painted wall (fresco), or anything like that. I’m not so much into ruins or bland concrete walls.

Going more personal, what’s your main challenge to achieve in your professional life?

Roman: My main challenge would be to stay focussed. There are a lot of things that I like to do, and I often want to do them all at the same time. But I found out that that influences the quality of what I actually produce in a negative way, thus I have to stay focussed. I attempt to not work on more than 3 projects at the same time.

PART II • Photography & Society

Roman, right now there are 27 wars going on in the world, almost 700 million living in extreme poverty, it means living with less than 2 dollars per day, water scarcity, famine, inflation, the rich becoming richer. What is the place of photography in this chaotic world? What's the role of photographers in relation to mankind and its issues?

Roman: The place of photography in this chaotic world is huge. Photos can be shown in the news, capture a memory of a moment or something that otherwise might become forgotten, spark an emotion, and connect people with each other. Taking photos is and will always be very important work. It’s not just art, it’s much more. Photographers have the unique ability to create an everlasting moment and share it with the whole world via ‘a single touch’.

Some consider art, photography included, a hobby exclusively for the elites. Do you think it’s true? If not, how can photography reach wider audiences?

Roman: Photography can be anything that you want. It doesn’t need a label. For some it can be art, for some it can be their main profession, for others it can be a hobby, and some people just like to browse through a gallery for no reason. As soon as we start letting go of putting labels on anything, stop judging about what anyone does, feels or likes, the world will become such a happier place. To answer your question, no – I do not think that photography is a hobby exclusively for the elites. It is already reaching a very wide audience, and people might not even realise it. That print that you buy at IKEA to decorate your living room, has been photographed by an individual. That image you see on the news of a historical moment that happened on the other side of the world, was captured by an individual. I could go on with many more examples, but I’m sure you get the idea. We’re talking about people doing what they like, and sharing that with the world in whatever way they like. Let’s enjoy and appreciate that.

In your perspective, how can photography take an active role in our society to change mindsets, paradigms and fight ignorance?

Roman: I believe that photography has already taken an active role in our society, and already is changing mindsets, paradigms and fighting ignorance. We just don’t realise that. It’s very easy to take a photo that you’re viewing for granted. As if it’s the most common thing that exists. But it’s not, it’s a profession, it’s someone’s passion, and someone really did their best to get the photo out there for whatever reason. We could do with a little bit more appreciation and recognition for the area of photography perhaps. Not that I want to complain about that at all! It’s simply in the context of this question and answer that in my opinion photography has already taken the role as described.

Imagine you have one million dollars and you lead a cultural foundation. Which project would you launch to make art or photography more accessible?

Roman: I would love to launch a project to travel the world, and visit areas of the world that might have an economic disbenefit or no access to photography, and inspire, teach, and work with people to make them fall in love with the area of photography. In addition, I would love for those people to become entrepreneurs and help them launch their own business as well, to make a sustainable living.

Do you have some iconic photography that has made a revolution in society? If so, could you tell us which one and why.

Roman: I think that photography in itself has caused a revolution in society. Because of photography, and the access we have to digital material nowadays, it has become much easier to share photos, look at photos, form opinions about them, write news, etc. Photography has become timeless and accessible for almost anyone worldwide. Next to that, how amazing is it that a person can transfer something that he has in mind to a physical or digital product. Photography is as if you are looking into someone’s mind and vision. That’s just awesome.


Getting access to information thanks to the internet is now free and easy. From one perspective this makes societies more democratic but for the other side, everyone can take your artworks illegally, without paying.

What does a photographer feel when she or he realises that her works have been stolen and used illegally?

Roman: It feels very disappointing, frustrating at times, and as if your profession is not respected. It has to do with personal values I believe. Personally, if someone asks me if they can use an image for whatever purpose and have no budget, I would at least consider the request and appreciate the fact that someone asked me. I might say no, or yes. But just be polite and ask, it’s so simple. A baker doesn’t give away the bread he bakes for free, and everyone believes that that’s normal. Why would it not be normal to pay for a photograph made by a photographer? I might travel for days, spend 1000s of euros, and work on post processing for a week to create a photo. It feels horrible when somebody then just takes it, uses it and assumes that’s normal.

Some countries and authorities dismiss the relevance of enforcing copyright laws. Do you think that’s essential for the artists? Why?

Roman: I find it very relevant that countries and authorities do enforce copyright laws. It is essential for us (photographers) to be protected and supported. If there is no copyright law, it feels like everyone is free to do whatever they want with our product, without the option of being penalised or enforced to provide a rightful payment to the photographer. It could cause artists to stop producing work or demotivate them, and that would be a shame.

We want to thank you Roman for this special interview! We are also proud to say that Roman is PhotoClaim Ambassador.

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Behind every artwork is the artist’s heart and soul, it was their entire life which allowed that masterpiece to come to life. That is why we believe that every time a photo, artwork or design is stolen and used illegally, it is not only about breaking the law or solving a legal matter".

Find out how we defend artists’ rights and freedom. Learn more here ➜ WHY US

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