They sit poised high above the cities of the world. Brave as superheroes. Silent as gargoyles. From their vertigo-inducing vantage point they render the cities of the world as images of the night like a neon dream—a Blade Runner portrait of modern life. Or, they might reveal the natural wonder of our urban creations in afternoon light, but it’s a wonder that’s only properly spotted from the perfect angle—high above. Gifted with artist’s eyes, these urban daredevils capture the mad beauty they see from up there at the top of the world. They make photos that look like someone gave a camera to King Kong.
Some call them urban explorers. The British academics prefer to call them place-hackers. The writer Adrian Chen dubbed them Outlaw Instagrammers. It does not matter what you call them. You could call them edge-runners and it would not change what they are doing. And, what they’re doing is what matters most:
“I personally believe place-hackers are performing a valuable service by reminding us that the city should, in principle, belong to its citizens, and should mostly — if not entirely — be accessible to them. I don’t expect everyone to be as radical as me on this point but surely public money would be better spent on improving our transport infrastructure rather than prosecuting a group of harmless eccentrics…” – Dr Bradley Garrett (author of Explore Everything)
These daredevils aren’t just doing it for the likes. Although, let’s be real, certainly, social media motivates them. Just as fame and glory have always motivated the daring ones, dating back to antiquity. They used to call it “making your name known across the land.” The impulse is still the same. But you’ll notice that most of these Outlaw Instagrammers rarely post selfies. It is not the self they seek to capture. Instead, quite the opposite. Up there, with the wind, perched at the highest point in the city, looking down on life, they seek to free themselves.
Our public spaces no longer feel free. Watched by the dead eyes of cameras, felt-up by frisk-happy police, our streets are becoming more suspicious and fearful. The major cities often feel like a lazy imprisonment. But up there, above it all, gazing down on the urban world from a rooftop, the city still looks beautiful. And free. It flows with life like an active orgy. Similar to those bad men in black hats that came before them, the Outlaw Instagrammers are a reminder that to enjoy the fullness of freedom, sometimes, you must flaunt the law–doesn’t matter if it’s cops or the law of Gravity.
You may be wondering: But how in the fresh hell do they get up to those places? What about the life-threatening danger? What about the risk? What if they fall to their premature death?
To all those questions, there is only one answer: To explore the world always invites risk.
But would you rather not explore?
*We simply snuck pass the security and walked up the 90+ sets of stairs. When we made it to the top it was so foggy since it had been raining that day. It looked so cool to be above the clouds. We decided to keep going and climbed to the top of the crane, and from there we shot our photos.The feeling there was amazing. I’ve never been that high up; it was so quiet and didn’t have that common “ New York city smell” in the air. The pictures we took don’t justify the feeling you get from being up there. We eventually left by running down the 90+ sets of stairs just before work hours started, and at that point I thought we were free. Although me and Demid where taken from our homes by police and arrested, it was all worth it—the view for that place costs millions of dollars and we got it for free (well besides any charges being pressed.) It was a once in a life time opportunity. – night.shift
Here are nine edge-runners, urban explorers, place-hackers, and Outlaw Instagrammers to fix your feed with visual freedom:
One of the most badass urban explorers, Makhorov, is a globe-trotting citizen of the world. Here’s a video of Makhorov and Raskalov on an urban ascent in Shanghai. The vid gives you a POV understanding of what it takes to capture those images you only find at the upper limits of humanity’s ability to scrape the sky. It’s cool to see how they get to work like ninjas in the night.
(Fair warning: this vid may make you want to vomit … some of it is sketchy af.)