All posts by Andy Day

Brimham Truly Rocks

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On 19th September 2014, after a morning of fudge and coffee, Zofia and I climbed together at Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire. You can follow Zofia Reych on Twitter and read more about her thoughts and adventures on her blog.

Bärenquell Brewery: Exploration

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Baranquell Brewery

This series of photographs was produced as part of my exploration of the abandoned Bärenquell brewery in Schöneweide, Berlin. The photographs constitute more than a record of my adventure; image making is a motivation for and a means of engaging with a place, allowing a reassessment of the self and of the city through the exteriorisation of the encounter.

At the point of each photograph’s creation is an attempt to capture, establish and assert a personal history, all of which occurs during an embodied engagement with a pervasive decay seldom seen in the city, achieved through a deliberate incursion into liminal space. It is a space that, through its eminently visible entropy, gives an overwhelming sense of its history in the present to which my photographs seek to give a degree of permanence. My own narrative, transcribed into images, allows a vision of its past to be projected into the future.

Urban exploration of modern ruins entails a heightened degree of physical engagement with urban space; broken glass crunches underfoot, paint flakes at the slightest of touches, and rotten floorboards prompt a tentative step. Entry often requires climbing walls or squeezing through fences, the camera sometimes compromising ease of movement. Physical exertion combines with the trepidation of negotiating various dangers and the pleasure of transgression, of being where one should not be, of positioning oneself outside of normative behaviour.

Adrenalin already high, there is then the exhilaration of exploration, in the novelty of the previously unseen, in delight at discovering what you had hoped to find, and of course, in the unexpected. The encounter is edgework (1), reaffirming subjectivity and offering a renewed sense of self.

The camera, though sometimes a hindrance, becomes a digital prosthetic (2), a part of the body that determines what is sought out, where becomes a moment to pause, and which vantage points are chosen. It is an inextricable part of the reason for the body’s incursion and offers an extension to vision, both a reason for and a mode of seeing. Flusser observes that “photographers are inside their apparatus and bound up with it” (3) and in this instance, the organic eye sees with the lens in mind.

The inclusion of another body, that of my companion, is not entirely deliberate but nor is it accidental. Whilst my body and the camera might “merge into one indivisible function” (4) Frank’s presence is an added reminder of the corporeal intervention, emphasising the physicality of our embodied praxis.

2013_07_04_berlin_brewery_128_webHis inclusion is an aid to the process of exteriorisation – what Jean-Luc Nancy would regard as the result of being “’posed’ in exteriority” (5) – that occurs in producing the photographs; translating the encounter into images offers a means of metaphysical separation of the self from the experience, both at the point of the photograph’s creation and its later consideration (each of which informs the other).

It is what Barthes hints at when he describes seeing his portrait as a “cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity” (6). This layer of mediatisation allows the subject to the see the self from an alternate perspective, providing future anteriority: an opportunity to reflect upon and renew the encounter. In making and viewing the photographs, I see myself looking at Frank, and get a glimpse of how I myself am seen.

In one sense, Bärenquell is a monument to Berlin’s complex past. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the brewery struggled to compete with the sudden profusion of choice and the forces of capitalism. It is now a morgue to a failed enterprise. Characteristic of the touristic nature of urban exploration, it could be argued that these photographs do not engage with that history beyond its superficial study of decay as a visual spectacle.

However, urban exploration seeks out an alternative narrative of the city, one that is outside of the everyday experience of grand projects and utopian designs, of ever-taller, shiny buildings and evolving infrastructures. What it discovers in Bärenquell is not history but a multiplicity of histories, both real and imaginary – “portals to other worlds” (7).

It conjures stories of the people whose daily lives were contained by these walls, and finds evidence of nature reasserting itself where urbanisation once sought to keep it at bay, of the countless encounters and expressions as evidenced by the broken glass and layers of graffiti.

As opposed to history, it investigates the historicity of its socio-spatiality, embracing fragments that connect this site to the complexities of social, cultural biological and economic flows.

The reassessment of self and one’s urban identity is thus threefold: edgework allows the subject to seek out “new possibilities of being” (8), taking place in a location where the liminality offers “the potential for assuming new identities” (9). Secondly, this temporary immersion into a multiplicity of histories and possible futures sees urban explorers – with photography immanent in this practice – “pushing back the limits of doxa” (10), prompting a reappraisal of self and society, and how one shapes an understanding of the other.

Finally there is photography, an aesthetic means of inscribing the self onto the city and thus seeing oneself inscribed; a stylised motivation for and method of bringing together edgework and immersion in order to see the city and self anew.

 


 

My thanks to Frank Sauer for making this exploration happen and appearing in these images.

  1. Lyng, S., 2004. Edgework: The Sociology of Risk-Taking, New York: Routledge.
  2. Garrett, B.L., 2011. Place Hacking: Tales of Urban Exploration. Royal Holloway, University of London, p.208.
  3. Flusser, V., 1983. Towards a Philosophy of Photography, London: Reaktion, p.27.
  4. ibid., p.39.
  5. Nancy, J., 1991. The Inoperative Community, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Cited: Kaplan, L., 2001. Photography and the Exposure of Community. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities; Sharing Nan Goldin and Jean-Luc Nancy, 6(3), p.7.
  6. Barthes, R., 2000. Camera Lucida, London: Vintage, p.12.
  7. Garrett, p.327.
  8. Lyng, p.4.
  9. Shields, R., 2003. The Virtual, London, New York: Routledge, p.14.
  10. Bourdieu, P., 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge, New York, Oakleigh: Cambridge University Press, p.169.

Misinterpreting Architecture

Misinterpreting Architecture

Bobby at Trellick Tower

On Friday 20th December 2013, we walked from Latimer Road to Trellick Tower, seeking out climbs.

The city opens itself to the urban climber and our dérive was one that incorporated the vertical and transgressive, giving ourselves a heightened appreciation of the details of mundane walls and unremarkable urban furniture that typically go unnoticed, untouched and unexplored. Such engagement with the built environment involves employing a vision that is developed as a result of an embodied practice that cannot help but overflow into everyday experience.

Regardless of any intention to climb, the eye seeks out routes and paths; geometries and textures suddenly acquire meaning and potential.

A playful reimagination is achieved; imagined futures are enacted and recorded and the praxis produces a fresh set of features. For a brief moment, ledges become crimps, a protruding brick becomes a sidepull, a drainpipe becomes a layback.

Nadja reaching the roof

Photography offers a means of granting a provisional stability to these transitory forms, a visual permanence to the angles and surfaces. A quirky, niche, everday practice unfolds onto the city, and an everyday medium gives it an existence beyond its own temporality, emanating digitally through a network of likeminded individuals clutching similar devices.

As this method of seeing the city reaches into an individual’s every encounter with the urban, it seems appropriate to employ an apparatus that lends itself to the everyday: the mobile phone. The camera is not felt. Unlike some of our explorations, our journey that day was not one of performance with any conscious consideration of representation. Instead it was one of play and discovery, of ‘drifting purposefully’ (Sinclair, 2003, p.4).

Trellick Tower, by Erno Goldfinger

Trellick Tower, by Erno Goldfinger

En route we inevitably stumbled across landscapes and the flotsam and jetsam of the city: old mattresses with accusatory notes and spaces set aside for no discernible reason.

Emerging as a product of and subject to contemporary digital technologies, parkour and buildering are inherently social activities and a sense of connectivity contributes to a practitioner’s understanding of identity and positionality. Essentially, to go out and encounter the city through such praxes is, in many regards, as much about the image creation as it is about the physical engagement of running, jumping and climbing.

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Parkour and buildering, as expressive, ludic, experimental and sometimes narcissistic urban social formations (Daskalaki & Mould 2013) create and recreate themselves through a constantly evolving network of imagery and interconnectivity, through virtual expressions and digital media. The instantaneity of mobile phone photography might be assumed to give its resultant imagery limited value, but the images’ transience and temporality are fundamental to their expression and these aspects contribute to a non-visual aesthetic.

The temporality of the medium seems to correspond with the temporality of the praxis.

Our parkour that day was an intermittent and transient engagement with the terrain, bringing vertical paths momentarily into existence before erasing their presence with our departure. When received, the images are comparatively brief visual experiences; they appear in Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds for only a short period before disappearing amongst the noise of other exchanges. But it is the brevity that also grants these images their reach: what an image might sacrifice in longevity is redeemed through its accessibility.

Parkour is a fundamentally embodied experience that encounters surfaces and fear, where physical preparation and maintenance combine with mental and emotional conditioning. It is a heightened appreciation of spaces that might otherwise go unnoticed or unseen, taking value in details and establishing an understanding of a passage of time that is not felt by anyone else. Bricks crumble. Cement gives up. Railings become loose. Paint flakes away. If we return, we might find that favourite routes have disappeared whilst others may have since emerged.

The apparent permanence of the built is seen instead as flux, as subtle, inevitable shifts, as entropy and regeneration which in turn present new opportunities for physical engagement.

The insertion of the body brings new meaning to the city, as a site for experimentation and serious play.

 


 

Explorers:

Bobby Gordon-Smith, Nadja Hahn, Farid Herrera.

References:

Daskalaki, M. & Mould, O., 2013. Beyond Urban Subcultures: Urban Subversions as Rhizomatic Social Formations. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(1), pp.1–18. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01198.x [Accessed January 12, 2014].

Sinclair, I., 2003. Lights Out for the Territory, London: Penguin.

Commercial Pressures

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A few months ago I wrote a deliberately provocative article about the inevitable commercialisation of parkour. This polemic was intended to get a response and I was somewhat reassured by the number of people who got in touch via social media and otherwise to offer words of thanks for crystallising a feeling amongst the parkour community that is rarely articulated.

For some, it was perhaps uncomfortable reading and for that I feel a little guilty. I would like to re-emphasise the first paragraph: turning down morally questionable money that offers fame, progression and adventure would be very difficult if it were presented to me. In addition to this, I’d like to add that railing against this trend is not in my interests. By being difficult, I risk cutting myself off from friends and cohorts whose skills and abilities I value. I hope that whatever you feel about the article, the risk I’m taking can be appreciated.

A few people picked me on the suggestion that parkour and freerunning are two different things and I felt that a response was needed. For me, parkour and freerunning are identical and yet entirely different. They can be both at the same time, an ambiguity that I think is part of the movement’s nature. These labels are not fixed; they are contradictory, in the same way that a subculture that offers freedom can also give itself to commercialisation and institutionalisation. Or a photographer that sells the spectacular before criticising those who perform such spectacles. (The irony is certainly not lost on me.) Such inconsistencies are part of parkour’s nature.

What interests me at present is the notion that, in response to being co-opted by commercialisation and mediatisation, parkour has developed a mechanism to retain its authenticity: it has created a part of itself that is a commodity and developed a separate identity for it, whilst the non-representational aspects – ie, the spirit, the humility, the daily training in the rain – remain pure and, in a way, untouched. It means that there is something for traceurs and freerunners alike.

It’s a theory – one that might not stand up to scrutiny – and your thoughts would be very welcome. Please get in touch.

Below is the original article, first published here on the Parkour Generations website.


Spectacle and spirit; parkour needs better sponsors

My position on energy drinks is not something I’ve kept quiet about. Before I get started, understand this: if I were a top-level athlete and an energy drink came knocking, I would have a really hard time turning them down. This makes me sad. Hopefully this confession of hypocrisy will give you an understanding that I appreciate the difficulty that energy drink sponsorship creates. Now that’s out of the way, hear this.

Every athlete who does any work for an energy drink company knows in his/her heart that the product is toxic. Just like beer and deep-fried Mars bars, energy drinks are simply not part of the diet of a high-performing athlete.

It’s widely reported that sponsored athletes seen on screen sipping from a can are often drinking water. There’s a reason why there are virtually no Olympic level athletes receiving sponsorship: both the companies and the athletes know this stuff is not good.

Sponsorship and commercialisation is inevitable. The authenticity of parkour – the pure, alternative, liberating power of our subculture – is often damaged when money becomes involved. This is unavoidable: in our neoliberal world, commercialisation is par for the course.

However. The least that communities and individuals can do is try to choose companies that produce something beneficial towards parkour, health, or being physical. The beauty of parkour is that it requires nothing. The flip side of this is that parkour can be used to sell pretty much anything. By comparison, the climbing community is supported by a wealth of progressive companies engineering fantastic products and funding athletes, events and expeditions around the world. It’s a healthy symbiosis.

If there is a compromise to be made when choosing our path, then surely it should be towards something neutral – not something negative. Any degree of commercialisation entails a compromise of ethics and authenticity; we need to be more aggressive in deciding where we draw the line. And here’s why.

If you associate yourself with an energy drink or a casino, all of your inspirational words of wisdom regarding health, training, diet and philosophy is meaningless. It’s not just that you sold out; you sold out to a product that you know undermines the healthy body/healthy mind mentality of a traceur.

Energy drinks have bought lifestyle sports. The two are almost inseparable. These companies have created incredible events and sponsored athletes have pushed the limits of human capacity. Why? Because it taps into a youth market, and there is no way that these products can be marketed to children based on what it contains. The sugary, caffeinated water topped up with questionable chemicals is not the product. It’s all about the brand.

There’s a part of me that sees parkour and freerunning as two distinct things; the first is a global community that trains not for the camera or a social media presence, but for itself. By contrast, freerunning is what we see selling beer, energy drinks and online casinos, with high fives and shouts of ‘bam!’ after nailing an extra twist into a sandpit landing and a sketchy, one-handed recovery cartwheel.

Parkour remains pure and authentic thanks to a vast, often silent majority. You can’t properly convey spirit and humility through YouTube and Facebook, and the subtlety of a showreel will never convey that the landing on this catpass-pre is unsighted and therefore terrifying. Parkour keeps its head down, quietly teaching, training, travelling and finding adventure. By contrast, freerunning, parkour’s brash, noisy brother, has sold a huge chunk of itself to the bright lights and boy, does it make it a lot of noise.

The spectacle is on sale. The spirit we keep for ourselves.

Southbank versus Southbank: Façade and Authenticity

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Long Live South Bank

The argument over the proposed developments of the South Bank and the consequent relocation of the skaters from the revered Undercroft continues apace. You can read up on the various thrusts and counterthrusts by visiting southbankforall.org and llsb.com.

Merry-go-rounds and deckchairs, fake grass and street performers, graffiti alongside gaudy paintwork, food served from carts strewn with colourful bunting, and row upon row of second hand books; for tourists and residents alike, the South Bank is a magical part of London. A walk alongside the river brings playful, unexpected encounters that give a feeling of novelty and curiosity, a sense of being outside of the commercialism and control typically felt elsewhere in the city. For a moment, it feels as though you may have stepped into a world where everyday rules are not quite the same.

grey_and_redThe geography of the South Bank helps: whilst the river is a reminder that we do not have complete control over how our cities are shaped, it’s often difficult to negotiate the South Bank’s terraces, tunnels and stairwells even with the bright colour coding that has been introduced in recent years. The blank concrete walls soon looks the same and the blurred distinction between inside and outside intended by its architects is often confusing; levels that should connect simply don’t. Getting lost and wandering unwittingly into loading bays, car parks and wheelie bins is all part of the experience.

Alongside its confusing terrain, urban arts have a role in creating the impression that the South Bank is a site for alternative behaviour; there are regular festivals featuring workshops and performances of breakdancing, parkour, hip-hop and BMX. There is a sense of charitable inclusivity, of openness and a recognition of the value that street culture can bring and a celebration of how they shape our perception of the city.

leon_hudson_yellowAll of this is a carefully engineered façade. The graffiti is commissioned; the food stalls have paid for their pitch; urban arts are partially co-opted with security quick to step in if you’re not part of a controlled performance. The grass, deckchairs, bunting and sandpits are all fragments of a faux-carnival that deliberately toys with your understanding of what is permitted and what is subversive.

We know it’s not real and yet we don’t mind – for several reasons. We forgive this mild deception because the South Bank is not a giant corporation painting itself as friendly, approachable, socially conscious institution; it’s a collective of theatres, public spaces and galleries whose intentions are not undermined by any tactics to squeeze you for money.

And there is the Undercroft, the one genuine site of alterity, playfulness and physicality that the South Bank then builds upon throughout its concrete maze. The skaters are not selling; they are not commissioned performers or passing a hat around. And for the passers-by, they give an authentic sense of ‘fuck you’ to conventional behaviour. For the South Bank, however annoying it finds its unwanted residents, their otherness provides a platform from which it has built its culturally sensitive persona. It draws on the skaters to give itself edginess and create this sense of cultural inclusivity.

And now the South Bank wants (or perhaps needs) to move them. The presence of the skaters, BMXers and aggressive in-liners – and the fact that the space was originally borrowed from a city that didn’t know what to do with it – lends integrity to the South Bank’s cultural identity. The danger is that moving the skaters elsewhere, however close, may crack the façade. Replacing the skaters with shops and restaurants may undermine the South Bank’s identity altogether.

steve_moss_wallrun_bottom525This article was originally published on Long Live South Bank on 18th September 2013.

 

The Boat

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Next month sees the release of Explore Everything; Place-Hacking The City, a book on urban exploration by my friend, occasional cohort and star/villain of the urbex underworld Bradley Garrett. It seemed like a good excuse to dig out a couple of my previously  unpublished adventures from the last couple of years. First up, the Mostyn Funship.


 

In October 2009, Johnny ‘Sticky’ Budden was living in deepest North Wales in preparation for his epic sponsored run. On his travels he had spotted what seemed to be a derelict ship parked up on the coast somewhere between Rhyll and Chester. A little investigation led us to identifying it as the Duke of Lancaster, aka the Mostyn Funship. One autumn afternoon, an eight hour drive from London landed me somewhere near Morfa Nefyn, drinking a quick beer with Johnny and crashing on his floor. At 5am the next morning we drove an hour up the coast to Mostyn and tried to figure out how to get on board.

Johnny thought it would be quite straight forward. I assumed otherwise and packed some climbing gear. After a good half hour of walking around the ship we realised that the only means of getting on board would be for one of us to climb up 15 metres of anchor chain. I taught Johnny how to lead belay, fitted him with an improvised chest harness and waited for a few dog walkers to disappear. With a large sling looped over the chain to allow me to rest, the first half of the climb was easy. The second half was a battle with anti climb paint. And then I had to get on top of the chain and fight my way through a few layers of razor wire. Something of an ordeal.

After we left the boat, I had to reclimb the anchor chain to retrieve some gear, giving Johnny a chance to grab a photo.

I rigged a rope for Johhny to climb up at the back of the boat, belaying him up. What followed was an unforgettable 7 hours of exploration and unexpected delights from the 1980s: cafes, restaurants, arcade machines, pool tables and more. A large car deck was locked but upon fumbling our way through the pitch black lower decks, we found an emergency chute that allowed us to climb up and into this open space in the middle of the ship. We found a huge stash of goods left over from the mid-90s when the ship was used as a large market.

The ship looks a little different today as it has been taken over by graffiti artists but it retains an aura of beauty and implausibility. Its future seems to remain uncertain but if you’re ever passing through that part of the country, it’s well worth a visit.

Climbing Public Art

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Next to the Serpentine Gallery there is a sculpture entitled ‘Rock On Top Of Another Rock‘ by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, a pair of world-renowned Swiss artists. The artwork is two carefully positioned boulders, one sat on the other in a seemingly precarious arrangement.

I spent a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon with Bobby attempting to climb a tricky line up the steeper side of the two boulders. Reaching the crux was relatively easy but we were shut down by two factors. First was the stopper move: a slippery pinch that needs to be matched before releasing a knee bar and sorting your feet out. The second was the Serpentine Gallery’s ban on people climbing the artwork.

The boulders stand in direct contrast to the two works by John Frankland, proud features of public parks in east London. Frankland’s sculptures are intended to be climbed and both of his boulders receive regular ascents from adventurous children and keen climbers alike.

That afternoon as we rested between attempts, we watched people’s reaction to seeing the Serpentine boulder for the first time. As well as being intrigued by its precariousness, every child – and countless adults – immediately wanted to climb it.

The Serpentine Gallery describes Fischli and Weiss as having “a spirit of discovery that encourages us to take a fresh look at our surroundings”. As we watched, this spirit of discovery led countless children to clamber a metre or so up one of the easier faces and pose for photos, shortly before being hounded down by an overzealous Serpentine employee.

Fischli and Weiss have a similar sculpture in a mountain pass in Norway. It seems that climbing this one is perfectly acceptable.

I strongly urge all climbers to go and demonstrate their own true spirit of discovery. I’m not suggesting that we should be entitled to climb all pieces of public art but I resent the hypocrisy of installing something that provides such a fantastic opportunity for physical interaction, coating it with wordy, artistic notions of adventure and exploration, and then telling children to get down.

[My estimate is V5-V6. There are some easier warm ups elsewhere on the boulder but these faces are directly in sight of the gallery’s entrance and may prompt swifter visits from vigilant Serpents.]

Creative uses for fingertape were employed shortly before heading off.

Creative uses for fingertape were employed shortly before heading off.

On my way home I found some more children employing a true spirit of discovery.

On my way home I found some more children employing a true spirit of discovery.

 

Berlin: Training At Kreuzberg

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On the day that I arrived in Berlin, the traceurs that I’d contacted were training in Kreuzberg in the city centre. Across the road from the U-Bahn station Platz Der Luftbrücke is Familienzentrum Mehringdamm, a complex of white buildings with white walls and distinctive yellow window frames. It seemed an ideal spot: in addition to the various rails and wheelchair ramps there is a small playground with a sandpit, perfect for drilling flips. Training was undisturbed; being a Sunday the family centre was quiet with only a handful of people passing through.

The scene in Berlin felt tight despite those training together having different focuses and interests. Some drilled complex but efficient sequences whilst others worked specific jumps and flips. I really appreciated that one of my hosts, Basti, trained entirely in bare feet. I was made to feel incredibly welcome despite wandering around like some mute zombie, having only had a tiny amount of sleep the night before.

My thanks to Basti, Eric, Panda, ToBe, Tomek and everyone else training that day.

Why Buildings Matter

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Over the last few years I’ve given numerous talks, run various workshops and taught lots of people about how I work. When asked for advice on how to take good parkour photographs my answers include: take a LOT of shots, get low, use a wide angle lens, use a fast shutter speed, pre-focus, don’t put the body in the middle of the frame, create space underneath the body to increase the sense of height – lots of rules that work about eighty to ninety percent of the time. Of course there are plenty of other ways to capture parkour but this is what works for me and forms the basis of my approach.

I’ve since realised that amongst these rules there is one that works for me almost one hundred percent of the time when creating what I call ‘performance’ shots: the architecture must determine the frame. I don’t track the body’s movement with my lens; I compose in advance, visualising where the body will be, all within a frame that is decided by the shapes and surfaces in front of me. Within many of my pictures, the body is almost incidental. If it were to be removed, you would hopefully be left with a photograph that is still effective in terms of its composition.

This led me to question why it works out this way. For me, the interesting aspect of parkour is not the movement itself but rather its physicality combined with the architecture. Without architecture, parkour is just gymnastics or dance. This is not to say that these disciplines aren’t interesting, it’s just that parkour’s significance comes from its setting. When you take it off the streets and into a studio or amongst purpose-built structures, parkour loses both its impact and its importance as a spectacle.

Our feeling for what impresses us is linked to an understanding of familiar textures and surroundings and seeing them negotiated in new ways. It’s when I’m able to capture the perfect form of both body and building together that I’m able to produce my best photographs.

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Ten Years

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April marks ten years since I took my first parkour photograph.

On Sunday 20th April 2003, I drove to London to meet up with a random collection of people who were gathering to train at PK3, the third ever gathering of traceurs in the UK.

At this stage of its evolution, parkour had not entered mainstream consciousness. I stumbled upon it randomly on late night cable tv and wondered if it might be worth investigating as part of a research paper for a Master’s degree that, thanks to parkour, I never finished. I started searching online, finding a handful of badly compressed videos (this was long before YouTube) from the Parisian suburbs and a couple of French-speaking forums. Eventually I came across Urban Freeflow, the only English language website at the time and whose forum served as the main means of communication between fledgling UK practitioners.

2003_pk3_blogedits_01Facebook and Twitter were still several years away and it was normal to use a nickname when posting on internet forums, both to protect one’s identity and to create an online persona. Soon enough, as Kiell, I was chatting regularly with ez, Kerbie, Asid, Cable, Bam and many others. (To this day many people in the parkour world still call me by my nickname.) The group were planning to meet and I asked if I could come along in order to interview them and watch them train. It made sense to take my SLR camera along as part of my research, despite not really knowing how to use it. Blue Devil was living in Redditch and I arranged to pick him up en route from Birmingham.

The group of around twelve gathered outside the McDonald’s at Liverpool Street station. Meeting a number of strangers and knowing them only by their internet handles was a curious experience. All young men aged between 14 and 35, it was an odd mixture of people. Many were athletic with backgrounds in martial arts and breakdancing. Others were less sporty but drawn to parkour through what they saw as its subversive tendencies. I think these guys left after an hour or two, possibly a little disappointed that it was not quite the anarchy that they had envisioned.

2003_pk3_blogedits_04After introductions we wandered a short distance to the back of St Botolph-Without-Bishopsgate, a small, church that only just survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. In the shadow of a shiny, city office block we warmed up, making use of the rails and low walls. This was also the site of what was dubbed ‘The Leap of Faith’ by the community, a gap between sections of roof connecting part of the church with the office block’s large air conditioning enclosures.

2003_pk3_blogedits_02For the most part, the jumps weren’t pretty or skilful. Our understanding of what constituted parkour was extremely limited. Attempts by the Urban Freeflow community at contacting the French to gain insights were few in number and largely unsuccessful. The language barrier didn’t help and I can understand the apparent French disdain for what was happening in the UK; we were taking something of theirs and making it our own. Our limited knowledge and skill made our appropriation even more objectionable, building on a natural, pre-existing protectiveness amongst the French practitioners.

Being Sunday, the City was quiet and we drew little attention. In the coming years people would realise that housing estates offer much better terrain than the city centre, and much less chance of encountering security guards and the police.

After lots of rocket vaults and rollerblade-style grab jumps, attention shifted to another rooftop, this time much higher, much more visible. We later realised that it forms part of Liverpool Street Station, one of London’s busiest public transport hubs. I stayed on the church, switching to a longer lens as I wasn’t sure of my abilities to keep up. It proved a prudent choice as, suddenly, police arrived on the rooftop and everyone made a run for it, dropping back down to street level using what was possibly the only bit of parkour that took place that day.

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Attempting to shake off some police attention we made our way to The Barbican, its coarse walls and courtyards offering a couple of jumps and vaults. My memory is vague but I think we returned to Liverpool Street a few hours later, prompting a quick visit from the police who were justifiably concerned about gangs of youths climbing onto rooftops. The day came to an end eating chocolate and relaxing on the roof of the church as the sun dropped.

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So many aspects of parkour and its community has changed since then. A supremely talented global scene exists, both hugely fragmented but, in some respects, also united and always progressing in ways that one would not think possible. I never envisioned that ten years later I would be living in London with a life that is almost completely dominated by the sport.

To all of those that were present at PK3 – ez, Bam, asid, Hasan, Kerbie, D-Man, Cable, Blake, Skin and Blue Devil – thank you. It was an incredible introduction.