An Interview With Matt Emmett of Forgotten Heritage

I've been following Matt Emmett on his social media for quite a while, in complete awe at what he does. 

Matt creates stunning photography of historic and heritage sites, making a derelict chapel with the ceiling coming down in papery tatters look like something from a dystopian nightmare and an abandoned factory with rusty cogs look like a fairytale. 

If you think about it, the beauty of what uninterrupted time does to a place is seriously under-rated. There's that YouTube video that did the rounds a few years ago which showed us what Earth would look like if humans disappeared overnight. Tower blocks would be enveloped by twisting vines and trees sticking out of the broken windows. Abandoned cars would gradually be taken over by ferns, ivy and rust just where they were left on the A34. 

Avebury at Night, Matt Emmett. Used with permission. 

Matt captures exactly this in his photographs. As historians, it's a very intimate thing to see the last movements of the last human on the site. A pile of crockery washed up decades ago and placed on a dresser. A tangle of colanders hanging in a dusty, rusty kitchen. Imagine if you could find a sealed up door that had been abandoned in the 1600s and left exactly as it was when the last person walked away. 

I decided to ask Matt some questions. Read on to find out about his inspiration, his passion for history and what it really feels like to go into an abandoned site...

You've travelled around Europe and photographed some stunning sites. Are there any  places within the UK that have stood out for you during your travels? 
The kinds of places that have really impressed me are the remaining mills and factories that can be found in the West Country and up north. These factories are full of character that is unique to Britain and a set period of time. I also like some of the mining areas I have visited around the country, exploring the subterranean passageways inside a mine is a lot of fun and provides awesome imagery too.

What does it feel like to spend time exploring an abandoned historical site? I imagine it would feel quite eerie. 
Although many of these sites are empty shells, there are still clues to be found that hint at the people who used to work there, or to the purpose of that part of the building. If you have an enquiring mind then they act as catalysts for the imagination and naturally make amazing subjects for photography. As such the experience of standing in these spaces and just soaking up the atmosphere and meaning imbued into the fabric of the structure is incredibly addictive. Think of the best museum experience and then remove all other visitors so it is just you and the building, I absolutely love it.

Chapel. Matt Emmett. Used with permission. 

Do you have a personal interest in history, or are you inspired purely by the capturing of the scene you're in? If so, are you drawn to any period in particular?
Yes from childhood I have often imagined what life would have been like if I had been born into a different century. We live in one of the best countries in the world with its rich and fascinating history that can be followed right back thousands of years into prehistory. The photography ties in perfectly with this passion and feels like I am playing my part creating a visual form of visual archaeology. If I had a time machine and could return to a particular period with my camera, I think the 1730's at the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution would be amazing. A time of such huge change and opportunity with all the noise, steam and activity, factories packed with workers and the obvious divide between the working class and the factory owners. It would all make for stunning imagery.

Castle Acre Priory Window, Matt Emmett. Used with permission. 

What made you originally want to capture these sites? 
Back in 2012, a friend asked for a lesson or two with his newly bought camera. We did the first one in his back garden and he suggested he may learn more if we go somewhere with a specific focus for the second lesson. He picked an abandoned jet engine testing establishment about 40 minutes drive away. I was very nervous about going somewhere we were not supposed to be, but after seeing images that other photographers had come away with from the huge complex, I decided I had to give it a go. From the moment I walked inside the first of the site's huge buildings filled with pipes, control desks and strange house-sized machines I was hooked and fascinating historic places is almost all I have taken pictures of since. This first location set me upon this road / obsession and I have not looked back since.

Matt can be found at Forgotten Heritage on Instagram and Facebook, and also has a number of prints - some limited edition - available at online gallery Creative Locale

What do you think? Where would you visit? 

Let me know in the comments below! 

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