Our cities are being streamlined. The natural chaos of a million lives are channeled daily through an increasingly sanitized network of one-way streets and roundabouts, approved footpaths and pedestrian crossings. The daily commute begins to feel more and more like a ride on a factory conveyor belt, a blinkered path beset on all sides by safety barriers, “keep out” signs, and cameras.
At least, that’s how it feels to a rapidly growing subset of urban photographers known as skywalkers or rooftoppers. Setting their sights on rooftops and other dangerous urban objectives, this new wave of explorers must infiltrate buildings, breach security, and risk their lives to capture the cities we know — in ways we never could have imagined.
No city can be expressed in two dimensions; not by maps and street plans nor by rivers, roads, and railways. Join us as we take a fresh look at some of the world’s most famous cities…courtesy of nine daring photographers who won’t take “no entry” for an answer.
James Kingston, UK
"It all began in 2004…James felt unable to attain his creative potential through the constraints of an oppressive educational system." Visit his site, James Kingston, for more photos and spectacular video.
Mustang Wanted, Ukraine
For many roof-toppers, the dangers involved are simply a part of the process–a calculated risk that isn’t going to hold them back from snapping that perfect photo. For others, however, the danger itself seems to be the chief appeal.
Meet Mustang Wanted–this Ukrainian daredevil delights in the dangers of roof-topping, and his photography is enough to put many people off heights forever. Sharing his adventures through YouTube, Facebook, and his own website, Mustang is always pushing the limits of sanity–from cycling along impossibly high ledges, to snapping selfies while clinging to the top of television masts. His photography is often beautiful...but not recommended for the faint of heart.
Vadim Makhorov & Vitaliy Raskalov, Russia
After a recent high-speed tour of European cities, Russian daredevils Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov have managed to capture the imagination of the international press. Their slick photography shows famous landmarks from dizzying heights, documenting both breathtaking cityscapes and their own fearless exploits. To date the pair have scaled monuments in cities such as Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Barcelona, Benidorm, Dubai, and Hong Kong...as well as making a daring climb to the top of the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.
The tireless duo are still on the road now, as they climb their way through the bustling megacities of China’s eastern seaboard. You can keep up to date with the ongoing adventure through Vadim’s pages on Facebook and LiveJournal.
Bradley L. Garrett, USA
The Professor Moriarty of the roof-topping world, Dr. Bradley Garrett is something of an enigma. Born in the States, he traveled the world as an archaeologist before settling in London to work on a PhD in Urban Exploration. Here his studies drew him further and further into the lives and exploits of local explorers, and in 2012 the academic broke national news himself–with a death-defying climb up London’s tallest building, the “Shard.”
While Dr. Garrett’s photographs often deliver the same daredevil mischief beloved by other rooftop explorers, in his professional capacity he gives the pastime a much more thorough treatment; now a researcher with Oxford University, his debut book Explore Everything is a rousing sociopolitical treatise on reclaiming the urban landscape. It also features lots of pretty pictures.
Tom Ryaboi, Canada
Based in Toronto, Canada, Tom Ryaboi combines his daredevil stunts with some truly outstanding fine art photography. Climbing to the top of skyscrapers, cranes, bridges, and scaffolds, his work brings the city to life–often using dramatic time-lapse videos to capture the changing effects of light and cloud. Tom has a knack for seeing life where others see only concrete and steel. The result? An urban landscape animated with all the depth and colour of a nature documentary.
There seems to be a misconception in the media that roof-topping–and, more generally, “urban exploration” as a whole–is a predominantly male pastime. Well, Keïteï is living proof that anything boys can do...girls can often do so much better. Keïteï has a love for all things inaccessible, and through stylised photography she captures her native England from every conceivable angle. From the old stone tunnels and drains beneath the surface of London, to the dizzying heights of rooftops, towers, monuments, and skeletal gas holders, Keïteï‘s work challenges viewers to see the city as she does.
Marat Dupri, Russia
The youngest roof-topper on our list, Marat has only been taking photographs for a couple of years. He started out climbing buildings in Russia with his friends, but his passion for aerial landscapes ensured he was always looking out for the next big challenge. After climbing up some of the tallest buildings and monuments in Moscow, Marat eventually set his sights on the towering skyscrapers of Dubai. A truly gifted photographer, Marat manages to give his aerial cityscapes an otherworldly simplicity–while his climbing and infiltration skills allow him to show us each metropolis as it’s never been seen before.
Airin, Hong Kong
Another common misconception about roof-topping is that it’s a primarily Western pastime. Our next skywalker is based in Hong Kong, where she takes full advantage of some of the world’s tallest and most elaborate buildings. When Airin isn’t exploring the aerial infrastructure of her own city, she’s busy tackling the other urban centres of East Asia–on her blog she chronicles her daring travels through Japan, Korea, and mainland China, in addition to Hong Kong and its surrounding islands. Airin’s striking photography offers a welcome challenge to a subject so often dominated by the landmarks of Western civilisation.
Photo: Bilal Saif
Aurelie Curie, USA
Some rooftop photographers set out to capture breathtaking new perspectives of the city; others like to focus on the climbers themselves, terrifying audiences with gravity-defying feats of aerial athleticism. 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.”
Aurelie’s work is focused not on danger, but rather with capturing the timeless charm of our urban landscapes. Her glossy images show US cities and their landmarks from previously unimagined viewpoints, while the inclusion of a model in many of her shots adds a sense of both scale and subjective wonder. While Aurelie Curie certainly makes a fine addition to this list, these are photographs that could feature just as comfortably on the walls of a gallery.
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