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Liam Wong on Project UrbEx, a photographic exploration of the world’s abandoned buildings

Posted on 11 Mar 2024

Videogame-designer-turned-photographer Liam Wong introduces 'Project UrbEx', which showcases Ikumi Nakamura's images of abandoned spaces around the world – from lost hotels and ex-military sites to factories, laboratories and hospitals.

© Ikumi Nakamura. N Amusement Park, Nara, Japan.

Many people will know Ikumi Nakamura the videogame developer, but her unseen talent as a photographer reveals another side that will both impress and disturb you in equal measure.

Ikumi remained anonymous for over a decade, hidden behind a gas mask. She was known as ‘Tommy’, an alter ego through which she could express herself in a way that she could not in her everyday life, as a photographer documenting her adventures on the website Tomboy UrbEx. As Tommy, Ikumi became a thrill-seeker in search of forgotten worlds, pushing her boundaries to feel alive while exploring abandoned, off-limits places as well as her own creativity.

Videogames have long been inspired by real-world locations. From the bustling streets of Tokyo’s red-light district in Yakuza’s Kamurochō to Edinburgh’s dark and atmospheric back alleys as seen in Dishonored’s Dunwall, game developers have found inspiration in all corners of the globe to create a sense of realism and immersion for players. The worlds we create have infinite possibilities, limited only by our imagination, and world-building is the key to creating a successful videogame – to making it both believable and enjoyable.

Ikumi’s work is a testament to the power of photography to inspire new worlds that are visually stunning and unforgettable, transporting the player to places informed by reality. Her photographs capture the essence of the environments she has witnessed – spaces which are often forgotten, overlooked and unseen. These are more than just a record of neglected spaces, however; they are also a meditation on the nature of time and memory. She shows us the beauty that can be found in even the most desolate of places.

For many of us, videogames are a way to escape the real world. Through Ikumi’s images we are reminded that reality exists beyond the controller, and it can be just as exciting and inspiring as the game worlds that we build. These photographs prompt us to be a little less afraid to explore the world around us, just as we do in videogames. It’s an honour to introduce to you Project UrbEx and the work of photographer Ikumi Nakamura, formerly known as ‘Tommy’.

Liam Wong

Discover the book

Project UrbEx

Adventures in ghost towns, wastelands and other forgotten worlds Ikumi Nakamura, Liam Wong