Category Archives: photography

The Dizzying Final Photos Taken by a Free Runner Who Fell to His Death

Johnny Turner fell tragically while climbing a block of flats in central London. He was 23, and leaves behind an impressive body of photography.

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ALL PHOTOS BY JOHNNY TURNER.

Johnny Turner was a talented free runner and photographer. He had a special “touch” when landing his jumps, balancing elegantly on thin rails or walls almost without making a sound. He also loved London’s architecture – from train lines to abandoned construction sites to tower blocks and housing estates – and photographed it obsessively. Johnny was able to combine these two passions in urban exploration, an activity that took him to parts of the capital most people never see.

“He was the type of person who would just ride his bike and do parkour so naturally, he came across these environments from an early age,” says Will, a friend of Johnny’s. “He grew up in Balham in south London, so he’s always been around places like Stockwell, Brixton, Clapham. I think that’s why he drew a connection with this type of architecture.”

In September 2019, Johnny fell to his death when climbing a block of flats in Waterloo. He was 23 years old.

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Urban exploration, also referred to as “urbex”, is the practice of entering or climbing a city’s uncharted buildings. It could be the top of a block of flats, an abandoned building site or in the case of Bradley L Garrett, who scaled the Shard in 2012 and brought the often nocturnal activity into the spotlight, one of its most iconic skyscrapers. Many “explorers” take photos of the views they encounter, often sharing on social media. London-based urban explorer Harry Gallagher, also known as @night.scape, has more than 240k followers on Instagram and posts shots from the sides of buildings and inside tunnels. Ally Law has earned over 3 million subscribers on Youtube with his urbex videos, and once broke into the Big Brother house. Viral videos of urban climbers like Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov, who run the YouTube channel On The Roofs, have also brought the activity to the mainstream. The hashtag “urbex” now has over 7.5 million entries on Instagram.

Like any extreme sport, urban exploration carries certain risks. Depending on the kind of building an explorer decides to climb, floors can be unsafe or even collapse, while bad weather conditions leave scaffolding wet and slippery. Abandoned buildings are littered with trip hazards that may be impossible to see in the dark, when many urban exploration missions take place. Entering a building without permission can also be considered trespassing, and in some cases punishable by law.

Roman, another of Johnny’s friends, says that he knew the risks involved with urban exploration and was respected within the community. “If you do it [urban exploring], it’s not necessarily dangerous, because with everything you do, there’s always calculated risks,” he says. “You’re not going to take a risk you know you’re not ready for.”

urban-exploration-londonTWO TOWER BLOCKS IN STOCKWELL, SOUTH WEST LONDON, NEAR WHERE JOHNNY GREW UP.

Johnny leaves behind a fascinating body of photography that shows London from a completely new perspective. One photo centres on two tower blocks in Stockwell, not far from where Johnny grew up. Another was taken on the Golden Lane housing estate, which he used to describe as the “hat” on top of the block. He also photographed the Wyndham and Comber estate in Camberwell, a popular training spot for parkour that featured in the music video for Goldie’s “Inner City Life” – his favourite song.

“Johnny found beauty in the grittiness of tower blocks,” says Will.

Johnny’s goal was to document these buildings before they disappeared. According to a study from the London Assembly, redevelopment projects between the years 2004 to 2014 led to a drop in social housing, and a huge increase in private housing. Many council estates and tower blocks that were not listed buildings were demolished. The most famous of these is the Heygate Estate, a housing estate in south London made up of more than 1,200 homes that was demolished between 2011 and 2014 as a part of a redevelopment plan for the Elephant and Castle area.

london-urban-explorerTHE “HAT” JOHNNY DESCRIBED ON THE TOP OF THE GOLDEN LANE HOUSING ESTATE.

“Johnny loved seeing the world from up there,” Roman says. “Maybe not 24/7 but 23/6, he was out there [exploring].”

It wouldn’t be unusual for Roman’s phone to ring at 2 AM and for it to be Johnny’s number. He would answer and listen to his friend enthuse about cycling to east London to “check out a new spot.” Sometimes, though, it was a struggle for Roman to keep up with Johnny. “He was the king of the blocks,” he says. Johnny’s friends hope to one day show his photos in an exhibition.

Johnny loved urban exploration despite the risks. But what is it about seeing London from often dangerous viewpoints that can be so inspiring? “For different people, it’s different reasons but the biggest one is simply that they are extremely beautiful and striking and carry a very powerful aesthetic experience,” says Barnabas Calder, an architecture historian from the University of Liverpool and author of the book Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism.

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Calder adds that London’s council housing is also interesting from a social history point of view. “Its [aim] was to improve the housing of ordinary people, and bring up the lowest standard of housing to the highest quality, in terms of technical performance and quantity of housing available.”

For Roman, urbex is about more than just a beautiful photo or even a building’s purpose. “As much as it’s about getting the view and sights it’s also a mission,” he says. “It’s a journey.”

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Pedro, another friend of Johnny’s, sums up why he thinks Johnny loved urban exploration.

“For Johnny, it wasn’t about being on a roof and doing dangerous things – despite what people may think,” he says. “It wasn’t even close to that. His passion was to document the constantly changing city.”

Originally article link: Vice Magazine

 

London’s outlawed explorers.

Words: Melissa

Image: Tomer

In London it’s that time of the night. Even in a city that never sleeps there is a loophole time when young explorers can camouflage themselves within the shadows to avoid being spotted by passers-by. It’s bitterly cold and wet, but harsh weather is not a reason to pass up the chance to explore the rooftop of a block at the Barbican Centre. It hasn’t been explored before, untouched and waiting for an adventure to happen, it’s an opportunity which rarely comes around.

The outlawed explorers usually wear colourful Nike shoes with a good grip, to climb the rusty ladders, black balaclavas which are nearly as good a mask and black Nike hoodies that cover pretty much everything above shoulders except the eyes, blend in with the darkness but still look stylish for that perfect shot.

Maybe someone who lives in one of the nearby tower blocks near the Barbican woke up for a glass of water at night and, gazing out of their window, glimpsed a figure in black standing on the edge of a nearby building. Maybe they thought little of it, putting it down to an overactive imagination or simple tiredness. However, that crazy figure in black standing on the edge of a building very much exists, and there are more like them. They are ordinary people living double lives – normal nine-to-five worker during the day and an adrenaline lover, urban explorer by night.

Urban exploring – urbex for short – is the exploration of abandoned man-made structures, locations to which the general public would not have access. Climbing rooftops of famous buildings or even something as common as tower blocks is also a part of the game, and photographing and documenting these places plays a crucial role. As an urban explorer myself, believe me when I say that urbexing is a lot more than simply just a hobby. It is an escape, a way of life for those involved.

People have long been attracted and drawn to the mystery behind abandoned places and locations which are not easy to access. The origins of urban exploring date back to the 1970s with a group known as the Suicide Club in San Francisco, who are commonly accepted as the progenitors of modern urban exploration. Over recent years urbex has crept its way up to be one of London’s most desired and appealing mainstream pop culture.

However, fancy skyscrapers in the city are not the only desirable attraction for explorers who also seek out tower blocks in Hackney, Ladbroke Grove, and normal buildings in Shoreditch and even Camden. The ArcelorMittal Orbit, the 114.5-metre observation tower cum sculpture in the Olympic Park in Stratford has also been hit before, as has the West Ham football stadium.

Regardless of how bad the weather conditions make the view of the skyline look finding beauty in the city during the darkest hour of the night is an undeniable part of an urban explorers’ routine. Photography in a way beautifies what we would normally consider ugly if we saw it with our naked eye, and therefore photography simply frames the subject to beautification, and as Susan Sontag says, “nobody ever discovered ugliness through photographs.” Not many have the perks to experience and see the view of London’s skyline from that high up, thus it something to deeply value.

Urban exploration offers different things to different people. “I always liked photography but once I was introduced to urbex that’s when I truly started enjoying it” says the 19-year-old who goes by his Instagram name, ‘Newnotes’. Newnotes was introduced to urban exploration by a friend from school in October 2016. He has a full-time job and says urbex plays a huge role in his life, as a release from all the stress of work. As well, having access to views of London from a perspective which not many people see is something that he values, as well as the social aspect of king like-minded friends for Newnotes, and sharing with them the experiences and the views they get to see and photograph together.

Urban explorer who also lives a double life goes by his Instagram name ‘Kaizen’, he is a 19-year-old full time student and a part time photographer, he was introduced to urban exploring by a friend which then later on led him to go out in the midst of the night more regularly, he values the excitement of urbex. “The freedom that I get and the adrenaline that comes with it; like will we be caught or will we actually make it. I enjoy the uncertainty. And also looking down on people from above them reminds me just how small the world really, and how unimportant most of our worries are and this mindset helps me to relax.”

London and its burgeoning skyscrapers has been a prime playground for urban explorers. The giant blocks in the Canary Wharf financial district have certainly been a particular attraction and some explorers who were caught by police officers have even been banned from the area from 12 to 24 months and will be arrested if they go there. Urban exploring is not a criminal offence but it is a civil one, under the law of trespass. So explorers in London can explore buildings without the fear of being handcuffed and locked up in a cell. Newnotes says, “Every officer you meet is different, some will want to lock you up some will want to see your shots and then take a selfie on the edge.”

Urbex carries real dangers, particularly for younger people who try to emulate more experienced participants but without a proper understanding of the risks, while filming every step of their journey for to post on Instagram and YouTube.

There have been many deaths of explorers over the years. In 2017 a 44-year-old Eric Paul Janssen fell to his death from a ledge on the 20th floor from a luxury hotel in Chicago, reportedly while taking photographs. Christopher Serrano, a 25-year-old New York based explorer who went by the Instagram name ‘Heavy Mind’, died as he attempted to climb onto the roof of an F line train as it passed through Brooklyn. Jackson Coe, 25 who was known for doing backflips on top of skyscrapers was discovered dead at the back of six-floor building in the West Village in Manhattan, New York.

One of the best-known urban explorers on YouTube is Ally Law who has trespassed into the Big Brother House and Thorpe Park, where he climbed a rollercoaster and has also been banned from TV studios and theme parks across most of the UK. Many explorers have strong opinions on him, Mouse, who goes by his Instagram name ‘mousegreen.art’ believes the social media can encourage inexperienced explorers to take dangerous risks. “Ally Law and anyone who are doing these kinds of videos [Urbex YouTube videos] are fucking it for us. I don’t believe making viral videos with no regards for influencing other people is very sensible.”

As urbex has become more popular, the risk has grown of young and vulnerable people copying what they see on social media. Equally, some argue, the videos can be effectively a hand book on how to break into buildings for real criminals. Experienced explorers fear that this will lead to stricter laws and, perhaps, the criminalisation of their hobby. This has led them to a surprising and perhaps paradoxical understanding of the police and their position. Newnotes says: “It is important to always respect the police not just because they’re doing their job but because they’re normal people as much as us. It’s hard to respect someone who wants to arrest you however if you can you’re likely to walk away without any problems. However, the influx of new explorers who do not have this attitude often make the police’s life very hard making the police make more radical decisions.”