Getting High with Urban Outlaws

Getting High with Urban Outlaws

For some, the word ‘height’ fosters a feeling of panic and a sense of imbalance. To others, it is just a word regarding depth as a vertical horizon. For the curious minds who believe in the latter, thrill is truly a perilous word. To climb up high-rise towers and skyscrapers, just for the sake of thrill and that rush of adrenalin is precarious enough. But even with the knowledge of what can happen to them, rooftoppers plunge into it without any second thoughts.

Often used as a synonym to Urban Exploring, Roof-topping is the heart-stopping photography trend of taking photographs from the roof of a building, preferably a tall one, either for profit or fun. Rooftoppers also commonly like to refer to themselves as thrill seekers, daredevil photographers, urban explorers, documentarians and historians.

For those who do not have much to live for, there are some great ways to spend time on top of a skyscraper, and roof-topping is one of them. What sets this one apart is the act of taking photos that include a view, preferably a downscape and some dangling body parts or a sky-devil buddy within the same frame.

Tom Ryaboi, a roof-topping pioneer, combines his daredevil stunts with some truly outstanding fine art photography. “Before I can remember, my father likes to tell a story about my youth when he returned from work to find me on top of the fridge. I was only two then. Fridge-topping: I guess that was where it all started.”

In a world where everyone is fighting for equal rights, how can women just stand behind and watch these male daredevils hop on from building to another? To remove the misconception of roof-topping being just a male pastime, many females have taken it upon themselves to prove otherwise. Keïteï is a living proof of that. She captures her native England through stylized photography. Many such thrill seekers who are insistent upon leaving a mark on every rooftop in the world are Angela Nikolau, who climbs with her boyfriend Ivan Beerkus, and Russian model Victoria Odintcova, among many others.

Whether it is done for pleasure or money, roof-topping can be a dangerous activity that puts one’s life at stake. Andrey R, a 17 year old, died in Russia after falling 9 stories from a rooftop, his goal being to capture an eye-catching photo for his Instagram account. In 2012, a roof-topping photographer died in Chicago after falling into a building’s smokestack. This dangerous photography practice has claimed many victims like Connor Cummings, Maxim, and Wong among many other unfortunates.

Even if they survive this death defying encounter, many of these sky-walkers do get arrested for illegally breaking into buildings. Recently, more and more people have been ticketed for trespassing and some have even been charged criminally for possessing tools, for a mischievous and dangerous intent. Roof-topping is a tough challenge for police, as well, because many of these people are neither scared of law, nor of death.

Safety for them, has never been of importance or interest. They claim to never wear safety equipment, like harnesses and lanyards that may prevent a fatal fall. Some of them deliberately take risks, like deciding to hang by two hands from a crane with no harness or rope, letting go of one hand to dangle in the wind.

Soon after, this subset of urban photography became less about just going up and having a good time with friends and more about who can capture photographs in the most dangerous of situations. The desire to please others and receive attention, likes and money became enough to repeat this alarming activity over and over again.

Some people believe that these images are devoid of any real emotion and that they can only appreciate it at a very superficial level as they lack substance. The only reaction these photographers get is people telling them how crazy or vertigo-inducing their images are.

Some rooftop photographers set out to capture breathtaking new perspectives of the city while others like to focus on the climbers themselves, terrifying audiences with gravity-defying feats of aerial athleticism. The former category of people is usually the one that focuses on the “art” perspective of the whole practice. Aurelie Curie is one of those who puts herself into the picture–but rather than simply snapping selfies at stomach-turning heights, the images created by this US-based explorer could only be described as “art.”

The work of some photographers are not focused on danger but rather on capturing the timeless charm of our urban landscapes. Then there’s a category of people who take it a notch higher by capturing awe-inspiring photographs along with the constant element of danger being present.

With the rise of the relative popularity of the hobby, roof-topping has emerged as a growing trend in photography in recent years and still has a long way ahead of it, with more and more young people indulging in it, for whom a dizzying height provokes feelings of exhilaration instead of fear.