The Eric Hergenreder Interview
words by (@JordanGarlandMI)
If you were to brainstorm a list of horrific and terrible things that can happen to a human being in this life, when you arrive at the worst point of that spectrum, you will usually end up with scenarios that find the victim in the midst of one in a million odds. For example, the probability of being in the ocean and experiencing a shark attack is so very very slim, yet how terrifying it is should you find yourself there, is enough to keep some out of the water for life. Many are deathly afraid of flying on planes, despite a fatal car crash being ridiculously more probable. Anyone who has ever explored abandoned buildings, or watched any action/horror movie in their life has visualized and shuddered at the thought of a floor caving in underneath them. Falling helplessly into the darkest depths of a dusty, dangerous, decrepit structure. What you’re about to hear about is one of those moments. The highly imagined but hardly ever lived situations that define the strong and end the passion of those not made for this battlefield. Words straight from the boy who lived it, Eric Hergenreder.
I’m really not into interviews where people pretend they don’t know the answers to the questions they’re asking, and i know you personally so i think it makes more sense we just dive right into it and not be fake formal or corny. OK SO, you’re a skilled photographer, an avid Danny Brown fan (he will spit Danny Brown bars like he penned them himself), a University of Michigan student (a proud one), with a last name that’s intimidating to try and pronounce, and you’re currently crippled due to some really unfortunate circumstances in an abandoned building that will be discussed in this interview. Also you love Detroit for all the reasons that someone who has a realistic perspective of this city can love it for, and none of the weak reasons. That’s a pretty crazy dynamic range on life circumstances, which is probably why you’re my friend. One thing i do want to know is what made you start shooting, was it a single act or just something you developed a desire for naturally over time? Also what got you so interested in the city, you’re originally from close to Flint so you’re no stranger to gnarly environments?
I think it started because I’ve been able to travel so much in my life. When I was three years old I moved to England with my family and lived there for almost four years. Even though I was young, travelling around Europe really ignited a desire to travel in me. My mom would always buy me disposable cameras to take photos on because they were cheap and convenient, but she really liked some of the photos I took. One of her favorite photos to this day is a photo I took of the Grand Teton Mountains on a road trip with my family when I was in the fourth grade. My mom is also an avid scrap-booker, so as I got older she started letting me take all the photos on family vacations. I finally got a camera of my own when I was around 10 years old. It was just a shitty film camera, but I loved it. As time went on I upgraded slowly, and got my first nice camera, a Nikon D5300. I feel in love with it and I started shooting as much as I possibly could, it really was a great stress reliever for me. It calms me down and is one of the only things that makes me truly happy. I think Detroit played a pretty big part in that too. I had always spent time in the city in high school, but it was pretty much only for concerts, baseball games, and typical shit like that. As my mom always says, we were Flint people. I grew up around Flint. That’s really all I knew. I mean I knew about Detroit, but never really had much of a desire to go there because I had Flint just outside my back door. But after enrolling at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Detroit was just around the corner, and I loved it. Detroit and Flint are similar in a lot of ways but really fucking different in a lot of ways too. It’s hard to describe, but I just felt something in Detroit that I really didn’t feel in Flint. There’s a constant sense of hope in the city, emulated both by the people you meet and the things going on. The city obviously has problems, but hell, I love it for what it is. Some of my fondest memories are from things I’ve done here. I can honestly say it’s changed me, and I hope after I move to the city I can leave my mark on it too.
That’s real, shout out to moms worldwide that put on for their kids and applaud their urge to create. So what got you into urban exploring ( I HATE THAT TERM CAN WE JUST CALL IT ADVENTURING), what were some of your first initial buildings and early experiences that got you hooked?
Damn man, I really don’t know. I’ve always been a mad history nerd so I guess that is part of it. I originally started exploring in Flint just for something to do, but after I actually started looking into the history of some of the buildings I started taking it a bit more seriously. I think the moment everything changed for me was when I realized that I had explored buildings that family members had been in regularly and schools that some friends had even attended. Things like that really make me think, and I love making connections like that. My entire family for the most part at some point worked for an American car company. General Motors built the city of Flint. Without General Motors, there is no Flint. I know a lot of people don’t like exploring factories, but going into an abandoned factory that I know one of my relatives could have worked in means something to me. It’s a kind of sentiment that is really hard to explain to someone who doesn’t feel it or doesn’t have that connection. But it’s the little things like that, and like you said, the adventure, that really got me into exploring. It’s just something fun to do, and it’s different every time you do it…and it sure beats the hell out of sitting on my ass all day.
I was going to ask you what your craziest moment exploring was, and what a perfect transition point because that moment is OBVIOUSLY the most recent building you were in. The Bando you were in will go unnamed for legal reasons due to the mess you made. Anyways, you lived every explorers worst nightmare and fell through a decaying concrete floor many feet below, on a dark night in a Detroit bando. Explain how it all went down.
Haha I knew that this would come up, a story I’ve told so many times over the past month. So here’s how it all went down. We had just left an Instagram meet and walked a friend to her car. Another friend who had left the instameet before us called me and told me that a very sought after building was wide open, and that if we hurried we could probably get in. So a crew of us hustled over there with our camera equipment and met our friend. She was right, so we took a quick glance to see if anyone was around, and hopped the fence to get into the bando. I had been wanting to get into this specific spot for over a year, and I finally was inside. We didn’t waste any time bullshitting because we knew that security could show up at any moment. First we decided to take a couple shots of the main area of the building which was absolutely beautiful. It appeared they had been doing some work in the building because there were construction lights hung up all around and illuminated everything.
After snagging a couple shots in the main area of the building we decided to try and get on the roof which we did successfully. It wasn’t a great view, but it was a new view, which I always love. Something about seeing something you know most people haven’t and won’t see is just exciting to me. After checking out the roof for a while we headed back into the main area to find a couple more friends had joined us in the building. I, being the asshole that I am, decided that I would try to get as high up in the main area as I could to get the best view. I found a set of stairs that went up, so I started to walk up them. Three or so steps up, everything fell out from below me, and I fell about two and a half stories onto the concrete floor of the main area of the building. I had my camera in my hand when I fell, so knowing that I was now in some shit, I tossed it in my bag really quickly and tried to gather myself. I knew my legs were hurting pretty badly, but I tried to stand up. I was able to push myself up with my arms, but my legs just wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t do it. I mustered everything I had and crawled out of the little space I was in and called out to my friends. They had obviously heard the commotion I made and were looking for me, so I told them to come down to the main area. When they finally got down to where I was, they were obviously freaking out, but at that point I only had one thing on my mind. We had to get the hell out of here, and quickly. My friends helped me up and I was able to put a bit of weight on my left leg, but I was very slow so one of my friends tossed me over his back and carried me out of the building.
Thats a real friend right there, and that whole scenario honestly sounds more like a war story. Or somewhat like in Lord of the Rings when he has to carry his homie up the mountain when he’s half dead. Straight up survival story. I have to know what does it sound like when the floor caves in and you fall through.
Man, it’s really like something out of a scary movie. The noise is all around you, and you honestly feel like you can see the noise. It was really loud, and it happened so fast that I really didn’t even know what was happening until I was bleeding out on the floor of the building. I had a lot of adrenaline which I think was good to help me get out of there, but damn I’m lucky it wasn’t way worse. I could have hurt myself way more than I did.
Seriously, you lived that moment for all of us that have walked up these sketchy decaying staircases while in a Bando… I fell through a burnt out house floor into a basement, caught myself about half way and ended up with shoes full of ash and crazy POV footage, but walked out fine. Hearing your story is so much more epic and gnarly… What did the floor coming out from under you feel like? Did you try to walk up the heavy pieces as they’re falling like in a cartoon?
As soon as I started falling I tried reaching out for something to grab onto. The scariest thing in the world is falling and frantically trying to grab onto shit and not being able to firmly grab anything. Everything I would grab would either end up falling too, or just slip out of my hands. It really was a terrifying feeling and was like nothing I had ever experienced until that point, and I sure as hell never want to experience it again.
Were you aware right away that the damage on your body was as bad as it was? That’s pretty traumatic to where they should probably have you on Ellen or Oprah or something. To me you are just as gnarly as that guy who had to cut his own arm off and he got a full movie!
I knew as soon as I couldn’t get up that it was worse than anything that I had ever done before. Until that point I had never broken a bone, and there I sat with a number of them and a shattered heel. So I knew it was pretty bad, but I really didn’t have anything to compare it to so I really didn’t know how bad it was.
For me after being hurt skateboarding so many times in serious ways, I know sometimes the worst part of getting seriously injured is getting out of the location you’re at while your body is so damaged and every movement is excruciating. I can’t imagine that getting out of that building and back to the car to go to the hospital was nothing short of a WAR? I know you mentioned being carried already but WOW.
It was hell man. One of the worst experiences of my life. My first worry at the time was getting caught, which looking back was pretty stupid, because I think if anyone had come they would have just helped me get out and sent me to the hospital. But because I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble because I was an idiot and put myself in that situation, I had all of them leap the fence and leave me on the other side. We really didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t climb the fence. I was in more pain than I had ever been in, so there was just no possible way that I could hop it. I remembered that one of my good friends had a pair of bolt cutters, and he only lived a couple blocks away so I called him and explained frantically what had happened and he said he would be there as soon as he could. Not only was I scheming my escape, but some of my friends on the otherside of the fence were too. One of my good friends realized he had a tool set in his car and ran to get it, coming back with a socket that could open the fence just as my friend showed up with the bolt cutters. They were able to open it without damaging the fence, which in hindsight was probably a lot better than leaving a huge hole in it. But after they got me out of the enclosure my buddy tossed me over his should and ran me to the car and tossed me in the back seat. Then we headed over to Detroit Receiving, where I had the pleasure of spending about 12 hours. That’s how I ended up with a shattered heel, three broken bones in that same foot, a blood clot in my other leg, seven stitches in that same leg, bruised / semi-collapsed lungs, and potentially pneumonia.
Didn’t you see another explorer at the hospital who was injured that night as well? What did the doctors say when you told them the story? what has been the craziest reaction someone has had to it?
Yeah it was pretty funny while they were taking me to get an X-Ray done I saw another explorer getting stitched up. He had gone into the same building that I had that night and cut his hand on the fence or something. Place has to have some kind of bad luck or something. Most of the doctors just thought I was a little crazy I think. The best reaction was from my mom who laughed at me a little when I told her. I mean, hell, it is kind of funny. I’m a pretty huge idiot. She only laughed because of how I told the story I think, but it’s pretty priceless to tell people that your own mother laughed at you when you told her about a really bad accident you had. Can’t say a bad thing about her though, she’s helped me more through this than any other person. I know she’ll be reading this, so love you mom.
We had an art show(your first art show) the day after the fall. You were in the wheelchair and said your dad couldn’t find out what actually happened, because for obvious reasons he would worry, does he know yet? What if he reads this?
Haha I don’t know if he knows yet. He has a facebook so he will probably see this. What’s up Dave! It’s all true, I did not slip and fall in a parking garage. But hey, I’m being interviewed, so you can’t be that mad can you?
Man you had an eventful summer, you were with us the first of 4 days we snuck onto the Transformers 5 set at Packard too.
Not to mention you were recently at the top of the David Stott Building which is under construction, and obviously a view that not many of us have gotten to experience. You’re probably one of like 5 in the scene I’d guess. Explain how all that went down, and what you thought of that view. Did you have any idea that plan of asking a worker would be a good one?
Stott was crazy. I really just think we got lucky. I was out shooting with Cadillac Flatts and my friend Sarah (what’s up homie yeah you just got a shout out) and we were walking back to our cars and noticed that they were still working on the building even though it was past 11PM. We immediately asked one of the workers whether we could go on the roof, and he looked at us like we were crazy. Just for the sake of those workers, I won’t say what happened after that. I know Gilbert has eyes everywhere in this city and I would hate for anything to happen to those guys. I will say that I think it was by far one of the best views I have ever witnessed. The architecture of the building itself was also mad crazy, and I’m actually really excited to see it renovated. Those workers were definitely some very genuine and hardworking dudes who helped me and some friends achieve something we could have only dreamed of prior, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for that. Not to mention this was Sarah’s first time out exploring, and she got to rooftop the Stott. It’s crazy what can happen if you’re in the right place at the right time.
Right, EVERYTHING with rooftops downtown is timing and circumstance unless your name is Cody Smith.I want to switch it up really quick just because I like lists like these-
Favorite people to shoot with and a brief sentence why:
1. Gerard (@tantrumfury) – G is by far one of the nicest and most down to earth human beings you will ever meet. Never a dull moment when we get the crew together and shoot, and was an honor to have him also take part in my first show.
2. Tyler (@lumen8shun) – Not only one of my favorite people to shoot with but definitely one of my better friends. Tyler is a great guy with an amazing knowledge of cameras, equipment, and the city of Detroit in general.
3. Felicia (@fjf_4192) – Felicia was also in that show we did and has become a pretty good friend as well. It always seems like when nobody else will come out shooting I can count on her to shoot with me, no matter what the weather is like. We’ve literally shot in sub-zero temperatures before. Nothing stops us from shooting.
4. Jordan (@jordangarlandmi) – Couldn’t not put you on the list man. Always seems like we are getting into something dope or eating some good food (I fucking miss Armandos and Slows To Go…). Won’t ever forget that night at Packard or shooting your BMX homies at Riverside Park.
5. Tom (@richhomie.tom) – The first person I actually shot with in Detroit and one of my good friends. Tom knows so much about the city and the history of buildings it’s crazy. I owe a lot of what I know to Tom. I’ll never forget the first time we hit Farwell and crawling into that hole. Shit just seemed so unreal when we did it.
NEXT UP! Favorite photo you’ve seen this year and why!?
To be honest I think it’s gotta be the shot @ryandraybuck took in the Farwell with the homie @brabotnick holding a smoke bomb. Not that its super crazy or anything, but there is really something to be said about taking a very overdone location and doing something different with it. By far the hardest shot I think I’ve seen from in there and well deserving of that Moodygrams feature it got. Much love to Ryan, haven’t even met the kid but he kills it.
I agree, those boys are some young savages… The stairwell in that image is the location of one of the defining moments of the Batman Vs. Superman movie, and Draybuck’s photo goes harder that the movie, shout out to him. What are your favorite photos you have shot?
1. The one on David Stott building comes to mind.
2. I think that this shot that I took in the Law Quad in Ann Arbor is one of my favorites because I enjoy photos that have a good story behind them. This was one of the first photos I ever took. I was wandering around campus on a rainy night because I was having a shitty day and decided to stop in the Law Quad. I was messing around in manual mode, having pretty much no idea what I was doing, but ended up taking one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.
3. This photo taken on a bando on the east side really strikes me as well. Around this time period I was really trying to expand my talents with the camera and was shooting more than I had ever shot before. I was spending 4-5 days in Detroit every week. It was the Spring time and it had been raining a lot so I set out to try and capture some unique reflections and this photo happened. One of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken and probably my favorite selfie I’ve snapped of myself.
I think that covers a broad spectrum, hyped to have you heal up and be out shooting again. In the meantime you have a new Danny Brown album and Legend of Zelda video games to feed your creativity till you’re up and at it. Tell these people where they can find your work and shout out all your other homies just because-
Instagram – @hergenreder
Website – www.eherg.com
IF YOU HAVEN’T LISTENED TO THE NEW DANNY BROWN ALBUM YOU BETTER. IT’LL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
THE HOMIES-I also gotta shout out a number of people who I get together with all the time and I miss shooting with. Monica (@monica.manning), Steph (@steph_rhoades), Karen (@detroitgirlove), Damien (@decemberdevil), Kristi (tigerladyyy), Adam (@journalofadventures), Whitney (@whit_anderson), Mirak (@mezgarth), Cha Cha (@cha2times), Meli (@meliromero), Colin (@colindetroit), and Tyler & Gerard from above have become like a family to me. I can always count on them whenever I need anything and whenever we all get together everyone’s creativity just skyrockets. We always have an amazing time and that’s really what it’s all about.