Alien dreamscapes: The eerie beauty of abandoned Soviet spaces

Story highlights

  • Photographer David de Rueda went on a six week road trip across former Soviet
  • Captured abandoned city of Pripyat, once home to the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant

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(CNN)The site of one of the 20th century's worst nuclear disasters probably isn't on most people's list of ideal road trip destinations. But then, most people aren't urban explorer David de Rueda.

The photographer spent six weeks documenting abandoned Soviet spaces -- from train graveyards in Hungary, to icy congress rooms in Bulgaria, and even cooling towers at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.
    The devastating 1986 Chernobyl explosion forced over 50,000 residents to flee the nearby town of Pripyat -- and it was here that De Rueda set out with his camera.
    We spoke to the 28-year-old Franco-German photographer about his project -- called "The Line" -- and the strange allure of abandoned Soviet architecture.
    Describe Pripyat, the abandoned city near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station
    Spending four days in a completely deserted and overgrown city is such a memorable experience; there was so much to see that I could have spent a whole month wandering around.
    Visiting in the middle of winter also made everything more eerie. The whole place is completely silent; there are no birds, and no sounds -- the atmosphere is really striking.
    "The oven appears to have exploded in the center of the room and destroyed everything around it," said De Rueda of the derelict Pripyat Hospital.
    Are you concerned about radiation poisoning?
    Of course, I asked myself whether it'd be safe to stay there for a few days. Actually, radioactivity is relatively low, so it was no problem to spend some time in Pripyat.
    Areas with higher radiation levels are more restricted.
    As an urban explorer, what's in your backpack?
    I like to travel light. I have a Nikon D810 full frame camera with a wide angle lens -- the perfect choice for urban explorers because they are very good in low light situations.
    I also have a few flashlights, spare batteries, and a small tripod. When it comes to special explorations, sometimes I need a rope, a GPS, or even a boat!
    How did a flashlight become your 'secret weapon?'
    I love the ambiance of these places at night. I feel almost in another world when I'm exploring under the full moon. The light is incredible and gives a new dimension to the location.
    I also like shooting when it's completely dark because it allows me to create my own lighting, with flashlight and long exposures. There's no limit to creativity.
    "Linnahall is a former concert hall in Tallinn, Estonia. With a two minute exposure, I could reveal the architecture of the place, which otherwise sat in darkness," said De Rueda.
    Why do we find apocalyptic scenes so bewitching?
    These scenes often look like something from another world, they seem unreal. I think the fascination with these places comes from there. They make people dream.
    How does snow influence the feeling of a photo?
    Snow gives a whole new dimension to a place. It looks different, the light is also very different. Two scenes in my series are covered in snow. They look much dreamier and unreal.
    De Rueda also ventured beyond the former Soviet. "This is an abandoned radar station in the mountains of Italy. After almost three hours of walking through snow 50cm deep, we reached these huge frozen antennas," he said.
    Do you have a favorite discovery?
    Discovering the two prototype Soviet Buran spacecraft deep in the Kazakhstan desert was the most epic experience I've ever had.
    It was a real adventure to get there, and to be able to take photographs of them was the ultimate reward. The feeling when I saw the nose of one of the shuttles with my flash light in the middle of the night was truly indescribable. This huge abandoned hangar is located in Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is still used to launch Soyuz rockets today.
    What would you like to see happen to these abandoned buildings?
    Some places are so amazing to explore that I'd like to see them frozen in time forever. But everything goes back to dust, that's how it works.
    Some buildings really deserve to be restored, it's heartbreaking to see such architectural jewels fall into disrepair.
    What site would you most like to gain access to?
    I'd like to go to Japan, where there are many interesting places to see. There's a ghost island there called Gunkanjima that I've been dreaming about for a very long time.