Flaking wallpaper, soiled carpets, mouldy furniture, cobwebs and smell of mildew in the air. This is just what photography team Alice van Kempen and Claire are searching for. Once they find the perfect spot, photographer Alice sets up her camera as Claire gets into position. The four-year-old Bull Terrier is the perfect model.
Claire has been in front of the camera since she was just a day old. Bred from Alice’s black brindle Bull Terrier, Willow, Claire took after her mother in the show ring and even qualified for Crufts, reaching the final line-up in her breed class. Then, when Claire reached a little over a year and a half, Alice took her to a ghost town in Belgium to do some exploring.
"My husband and I love to travel and whenever we travel in Europe we take our dogs along; Willow, 10, Lucek, 9, and Claire. From the start she was a little poser so ideal for a photographer.
"Claire loved exploring the abandoned buildings and often jumped on empty chairs with this 'take my picture' look. So this is how it started."
This particular type of photography is known as Urbex, and together, Alice and Claire have explored abandoned houses, churches, military bases, airplanes, castles, industrial plants and schools. The list they plan to visit is still very long.
A four-legged models requires a special skill set. Locations are often dark and all photographs are made with existing light so Alice has to use long shutterspeeds.
"Claire has to sit absolutely still, can't blink her eyes or move her ears. At the moment she can sit still for 2.5 seconds, which is brilliant in my opinion."
There are also potential dangers in any abandoned buildings, from broken glass, to unexpected inhabitants.
"When exploring I always have Claire on a short leash as you never know what you might encounter. I also take special dog shoes with me, just in case there's lots of glass on the ground. The collar and leash only come off when she posing.
"The best thing about having Claire with me is I can always tell by looking at her if there is already someone in the building or someone on the way in. Feels kind of safe. I prefer locations that have been abandoned for years, locations with lots of decay. I really don't want to encounter angry family members who are still looking after the property."
Alice has won awards for her eye-catching photographs and Claire is becoming widely recognised with her own fan following on social media.
Model turned truffle hunter
As well as urban exploring, Alice and her three dogs regularly travel around Europe in search of beautiful scenery to photograph too and Claire has also been training for a new role to add to her growing repertoire.
"On one of my travels without Claire I had the opportunity to see Lagotto Romagnolos at work in their native country, searching for truffles. It made me think that Claire could do this. [The dogs] are trained with truffle oil, so I bought a small bottle. Within four days she was able to find the hidden 'truffles' in the woods. Then a friend from Sweden sent me some real truffles to practice with. She found them like a real pro. I would love to go to Italy with Claire to see if she can find truffles in the wild - I am confident she will. So next to traveller and urban exploring, she's a truffle hunter as well!”
Credit: Alice van Kempen https://www.facebook.com/alicevankempenphotography/