Case Study: Jim DeMain, Urban Explorer

Prison Dust

Jim DeMain has an unusual job title: Urban Explorer. As an urban explorer, he goes into abandoned buildings around the country to document what he sees with a camera.

This was a common worry for urban explorers: Going into abandoned buildings that had no air flow made it a challenge to breathe easily and to spend long periods of time in the space required to take photos and video. If the air quality was really poor, urban explorers like DeMain couldn’t navigate through much of a building at all. It would be an opportunity wasted. The side effects of staying in these poorly ventilated spaces varied, including coughing and dizziness. DeMain realized his breathing was temporarily worse the day after spending time in those spaces. He needed a solution that would help him continue exploring without endangering his health.

Then, one of his colleagues called with an unbelievable opportunity: The Tennessee Department of Corrections offered to give the urban explorers access to the abandoned Tennessee State Prison. For DeMain and his cohort, this was the holy grail of urban spots: The Tennessee Prison, opened in 1898, had closed in 1992. The building had a Victorian design and offered a checkered history. Armed with cameras, they were ready to explore. The Tennessee Department of Corrections gave them 24 hour-access to the prison. But with the limited window to explore the prison, DeMain knew he couldn’t waste time worrying about proper ventilation. When he received an email from PK Safety featuring respirators at low prices, he thought, ‘This is what I need.’ He purchased two respirators, goggles and several mold masks. He was pleased with the easy online ordering process and the fast shipping time.

DeMain went into the prison in the middle of a sweltering Tennessee summer including areas that hadn’t been properly aired out in over twenty years. There was so much particulate in the air, he felt it as soon as he walked in. With the respirators in hand, DeMain was prepared when he entered into the prison. Wearing goggles, he clearly saw the gymnasium where the prisoners commiserated. He took his time setting up each shot to get the best photos possible. As he walked into abandoned cells, light streaming through the thick air, he didn’t have any difficulty breathing thanks to the respirator he was using. He and his colleagues spent a full day at the prison, both on the inside and the outside. Instead of coughing and feeling sluggish, DeMain felt focused and invigorated to further explore the different areas of the prison. His work contributed to the documentary film project On The Inside: Tennessee State Prison 1898-1992. The twenty-minute film walks viewers through the prison and captures the “feel” of the space. The film has been featured in a range of publications including The Washington Post and NPR.

DeMain continues to rave about his products from PK Safety. He knows PK Safety is the “real deal” when it comes to safety: He knows these products have helped guys working in factories and on construction sites. Now, he always keeps a mold mask from PK Safety in his camera bag, just in case he finds himself on a new adventure where poor air quality is present.

To download this case study as a PDF, click here: Jim DeMain, Urban Explorer