Bradley L. Garrett reclaims the city, recasting it as a place for endless adventure. He has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it ‘place hacking’: the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.

Bradley L. Garrett, Explore Everything: Place-hacking the City, Verso, 2013

“Volatile and extraordinary ... a gonzo road trip.” – Guardian

It is assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go. But perhaps it is the everyday places around us—the cities we live in—that need to be rediscovered. What does it feel like to find the city’s edge, to explore its forgotten tunnels and scale unfinished skyscrapers high above the metropolis? Explore Everything reclaims the city, recasting it as a place for endless adventure.
Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it ‘place hacking’: the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.
Explore Everything is an account of the author’s escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective.
The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.

“Your task, whether as a poet or novelist or scholar or union researcher or urban planner, is to integrate your own intelligence with the active intelligence around you to enhance articulation. You are not here to impose your signature on a set of materials, raw or cooked, human or inanimate. You are here to discover both their essential and detailed truth, and to then put both into action politically and personally.”
– Robin Blaser
“Then, to write an epic is to see the structure of one’s city or of one’s life as epic?”
– Kathy Acker
Urban exploration (or urbex, UE) is regarded by its more politically-versed adherents as the latest manifestation of the dérive, a debt to the Situationists paid throughout Bradley L. Garrett’s account of his four-year stint documenting and, at times, steering the fortunes of a London-based crew of soi-disant urban explorers. Rather than “the hacienda must be built”, we are instead given such thoughtful descriptive vignettes of life on the edge, sometimes quite literally, from the urbex scene as this: “We found the cab open and sat down inside it. ‘Gary’ pointing to a glowing green button on the control panel, said, ‘Watch this, I’m going to build the Shard!’ and pretended to press the button.”
A Californian skater turned academic, at times more Dangermouse than Debord, Garrett is now a post-doc researcher at Oxford and the book represents an editorialised version of his recent PhD studies, which seeks in part to understand not only the mores and culture of the UE milieu, but also its ethics, the mantra of “leave no trace” as rendering their motives as entirely respectful of property (rather than engage with Walter Benjamin’s decree to “live without traces” here, there is merely a re-reading of his speculation that ruins are a symbol of capitalism’s inevitable destruction). In itself there is nothing faintly novel about UE or that which it seeks to document through photography obtained by ‘beating the system’ (the system of surveillance and security guards that involves feats of circumvention to heighten the UE experience and way of life), we have long become accustomed to so-called ‘ruin porn’ as a cultural product and project following the coincidence of accessible digital photography and economic collapse. Garrett and his crew, it transpires, get many of their lucky breaks into previously inaccessible sites following tips from ravers who break and enter disused sites first for more hedonistic ‘edgework’ (as Garrett deploys Hunter S. Thompson’s term).
Of course, there has been considerable non-branded UE going back to what Garrett acknowledges as at least 1793 with the nocturnal journeying of “a Frenchman named Phillibert Aspairt” among the Paris catacombs, or that of investigative journalist Duncan Campbell writing for the New Statesman in 1980 on the underground citadel below Whitehall and its environs (I suppose my childhood clambering around disused inter-war municipal public baths not long after counts, not to mention explorations of derelict art deco factories in São Paulo more recently – it’s not so much ‘we’re all urbexers now’ as we always were). But the more self-aware declared activity does take on a more organised form in the way of support networks and internet forums, with dystopian sci-fi fanboy names like ’28 Days Later’ and ‘Oblivion State’ (Garrett himself prefers to invoke the railway bridge scene of Stand By Me in one of his accounts however). These internet forums are where Garrett’s book comes into its own in terms of his own brush with the fragile, precious egos verging on megalomania of the site administrators, who police not only the ethics of each below-ground adventure by Garrett and his circle, but also the hierarchical permission required to make judgement calls on which site to visit (he ends up ‘banned for life’ for his temerity to venture inside the preserved Cold War UK Central Government War Headquarters based in a Wiltshire quarry). This goes some way towards illustrating the immediate truth of UE – that by celebrating ‘beating the system’ so openly you are merely alerting the system to the activity and thus making it harder for others to enjoy less openly — sanctions have, so far, ranged from ASBOs to prosecutions for trespass and criminal damage, not least as citing Walter Benjamin in court would make for a weak legal defence.
Critics of UE highlight the staunchly white, male and middle class demographic of what Garrett refers throughout as the ‘scene’. While Garrett’s own role as recent PhD researcher documenting it fits squarely in this bracket, the scene itself and the internet activity associated with it is without question bound entirely by one-upmanship and the fetishisation of photographic equipment (which join seamlessly in the ‘hero shot’ now associated with media reports of the groups’ activities e.g. masked solitary poses in sewer outfalls or on the ledge of tall buildings) and climbing kit, the book does little to dispel this. ‘Predator’ is a typical urbexer identity in the book, which tells you all you probably need to know to visualise the person involved. Though, again, in itself this doesn’t preclude less attention-seeking daily UE activity by people outside of this demographic, for all the obvious reasons.
For Garrett there is a distinct preference and purpose to badge the activity covered by the book as ‘place hacking’, which he defines in its broadest sense as: “urban exploration, infiltration, illegal parties, squatting, illicit art installations and generally accomplishing whatever the group had the desire to pursue regardless of social expectation or legal constraint.” While the book does a good job in depicting and analysing the group dynamic and support networks of the scene, critics (such as Stewart Home) have labelled the enterprise as entirely self-regarding and wilfully ignorant of others’ less media-friendly activity in this vein (e.g. London’s more pranksterish Space Hijackers). If anything, the continuum probably belongs more with London’s almost-forgotten 1990s counterculture emanating from, inter alia, the anti-Criminal Justice Bill campaigns, the road protests and the guerrilla street parties of Reclaim the Streets.

Garrett’s line as an ‘ethnographer’ seeking to not only immerse himself but live that which he is researching (he claims there is “no central leadership” within the UE community, but for all intents and purposes he has come to represent its sole public face) is at odds with the more conventional detached observer working as journalist seeking to document a movement. At one point, over a pint in South London, a friend counters that Garrett instigated the group and its culture for something to study, rather than the other way around, which he finds hard to deny (and doesn’t omit from the book). There’s probably some limited overlap with the work and method of Bill Buford in his earlier embedded examinations of 1980s football hooligan culture in Among The Thugs (1990). The UE groups themselves even share a similar organisational trait in their names with the increasingly defunct football firms, for instead the London Consolidation Crew and Team B (the much-venerated pioneers of UE, San Francisco’s Suicide Club, co-existed alongside Burnley FC’s Suicide Squad). At times the more alert reader could be forgiven for wondering if such groups, as with previous interventions by the British state to regulate citizens inclined to go off-piste, aren’t some kind of manufactured entity for the purposes of easy observation.
There are brief visits to Berlin, the off-limits parts of Chernobyl, the Las Vegas sewer system and the Paris catacombs, but this is for the vast and welcome part a London book. The UE aesthetic has largely been co-opted in whatever ‘gritty’ imagery some self-styled ‘edgy’ retailers seek to project and even the authorities are in on the act with plans to open up and sell off several of London’s ‘ghost’ tube stations on the back of burgeoning and cashable public interest in underground spaces: the book in itself was grist to the mill for the liberal broadsheets and style mags prior to publication, replete with copious photo spreads and gallery talks with Will Self. It’s now not particularly hard to view the disused Aldwych tube station or Holborn tram tunnel up close, provided you book well in advance. Garrett acknowledges the earlier work of the late ‘Ninjalicious’, whose Access All Areas (2005) was for all intents and purposes the first self-avowed UE scene text, rooted in the look and feel of Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto franchise (later titles of which firmly feature urbex environments as backdrop to their fictional New York and Los Angeles). Tellingly, the UE chatrooms feature almost routine scorn and derision for fellow (largely middle-aged male) enthusiasts of subterranean infrastructure in groups such as ‘Subterranea Britannica’, on account of their desk-bound approach to this shared interest — Garrett himself is at pains to deny it is “a mere hobby undertaken by anoraks”.

The photo imagery within the book, as befits the level of derring-do required for scaling buildings, becomes one of an unreal ‘skyline’ London of The Apprentice opening credits, the ‘Gherkin’ and the Shard. Many of the sites visited and documented are situated inside the City of London (by dint of its on-going skyscraper construction, despite the economy) which allows for a handy narrative of geographically-defined surveillance statism in the form of the ‘ring of steel’ erected by the City Corporation after the early 1990s IRA bombing campaigns targeting prominent City buildings. The impending royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge places the police and transit authorities on high alert as the group seek more notches on their online bedposts below the streets of London amid the tube network, as specialist squads go about their business sealing up manhole covers against would-be terrorists. The LCC often spend the book seemingly dodging an array of other three-letter acronyms, such as the BTP (British Transport Police) and TFL (Transport for London). Many of his associates tell him that a desire to appropriate power for themselves underpins much of the thrill. The authorities themselves come off worse however, a prank to wrap a scarf around Anthony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ results in a £168 “scarf removal fee” invoice from Gateshead Council, while Garrett’s much-needed ‘Julian Assange moment’ is provided when he is hauled off a plane at Heathrow and brought in for questioning (he remarks of an earlier security breach into a secure data facility that Assange would be “pleased to know this was happening: his ethos for transparency so closely aligned to ours.”) Sensing this, Garrett notes as a heavy caveat: “Of course, I am not the first researcher to have a brush with the law,”

There is a resistance against ‘nostalgia’ present in the book, seeking “a personal sense of the past, one that has been steeped in the present”. But outside of the defunct military installations gifted by the end of the Cold War, there is also perhaps a revanchist motivation to much of UE, the targeting of disused public sector assets coupled with the belief that if urban explorers didn’t explore and document the existence of ‘mothballed’ hidden infrastructure (the quirky Mail Rail system under central London, for instance) then they would somehow slip from common memory. In fact, much of the terrain covered evokes interest in, as we have seen in contemporary attempts at ‘psychogeography’ (chortle), pre-selection towards gentrification of hitherto ‘derelict’ sites. The Royal Docks’ Millennium Mills, a particular favourite of entry-level urbexers (and myself), is now fenced-off awaiting transformation as a £1.5bn retail-led housing development, the harder Battersea Power Station a complex of luxury condominiums developed by a Far Eastern consortium for the foreign investor market. Garrett also seems to thrive on the approval of those that other urbexers set out to ‘beat’, for instance the City worker who has never pondered the view from the top of the Shard despite having seen it built from scratch (he can pay £25 for the privilege now) or the detective assigned to bring the LCC to heel who wants a pint once the court case is over (media reports suggest at least one serving police officer as a member of the UE community — I can’t help but notice here that North Face is also the brand of choice for many urbexers and off-duty plod alike.) The detective then adds as a rejoinder that Garrett still needs to be punished for breaching what Baudrillard termed (for graffiti artists) the “territorial order” (albeit in the Met vernacular.)
Garrett is not a natural writer, neither in terms of his craft or indeed the book’s basic editing (e.g. ‘council’ for ‘counsel’) and as a text it is entirely uneven, an assemblage of what would pass for chatroom banter (perhaps it is), Wikipedia (not WikiLeaks) entries on the Bazalgette sewer system and more serious theory. Outside of the adventurism, he is also prone to the odd episode of solipsistic teenaged philosophising below the streets when considering the plight of those who actually live there out of necessity rather than choice: “Maybe homelessness is preferable to the mental vacancy most people inhabit at work every day.”
Explore Everything, by its title alone, often comes across as an attempt to isolate UE alongside the likes of parkour as an urbanised pastime coupled with the nineties ‘Pepsi Max ad’ style thrill-seeking of skydiving, off-limits to all but the risk-taking physically able. There is also more than an element of completionism for completionism’s sake, a numbers game. Perhaps, but Garrett’s anecdotalism is no less readable for it and he pulls back enough times from this unfortunate tic to consider the edgework as “entering the metropolitan metabolism”, in a way that sets him apart from the ‘masculinist’ din of UE chatrooms. As he contends in one exchange, “Rather than asking permission to be involved in the city… we just find our own paths to citizenship”. - Andrew Stevens

Rather too many of my childhood summers were spent exploring the decaying industrial infrastructure that littered the Black Country in the 1980s. I thought I was indulging in (largely) harmless thrill-seeking, but Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City suggests that my trespasses were invested with rather more social, political and psychological resonances than I thought at the time.
The book takes us into the world of urban exploration, or urbex: a global, if numerically tiny, movement made up of various sub-tribes all obsessed with penetrating the hidden worlds of the city. Ruins, half-completed building projects, bridges, sewerage and underground rail systems are all targets of the crews of place-hackers that the author immersed himself in during the course of his doctoral research for the book. Garrett is an engaging narrator who writes in an exuberant, at times breathless, style that catches something of the ecstasy he and his fellow urbexers must feel when they stand atop a skyscraper and watch a thunderstorm rolling in.
His work has received some serious and sustained media attention. This book has already been the subject of broadsheet profiles and a discussion at the Barbican featuring Will Self; there are also whispers of film rights being optioned. Garrett hit the headlines when he posted pictures online of himself and a number of other urbexers scaling London’s (then unfinished) Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper. Predictably, the images went viral. Urbex has attracted a huge following online, while much of the media, even those at the centre and right, have enjoyed spinning out a series of nerdy hero/playful anarchy storylines with Garrett front and centre.
But Explore Everything, in trying to bring all this together, attempts to be too many things. It is an academic monograph – informed by liberal doses of cultural theory – on the demoralising possibilities that the neoliberal city offers its citizens and how they might (and should) be subverted; it is a fast-paced tale of adventure, exploration, capture, escape and hedonism and also a collection of the incredible photographs documenting the escapades that Garrett participated in during his research.
It’s all a bit too much. At best, it half works. Conceptually, while there is enough here to negotiate a PhD viva, it adds little that we haven’t seen before in the published literature. Iain Borden’s work on skateboarding, for example, covers similar ground. Moreover, there are few surprises in the bodies of work that Garrett cites in Explore Everything. There are some great metaphors and analogies here – I love the idea of the infrastructural city being infinitely connected, while the social city it serves is so divided – but few are pursued sufficiently. The conceptual framing of the work remains somewhat flimsy. The adventure narratives make great reading, but they begin to wear towards the end and become weighed down by interpretation and conceptualisation. The confluence of these narrative strands is successfully realised only rarely. In the end, Garrett isn’t really convincing that the activities he describes are imbued with quite the significance he attaches to them.
Garrett’s fellow urbexers are present throughout but only ever sketchily drawn, an inevitable consequence of the need to protect their identities. Their presence in these tales is too light. Ultimately, I found it hard to engage with characters I knew only through the merest of glimpses. Far more successful, however, are the photographs. They are fascinating and stunning, often displaying an ironic, knowing playfulness. Garrett, with his academic hat on, is best also on the affective qualities of photography. There are three narratives struggling for space here, and none quite gets the room to breathe that it deserves.
Despite the ambivalences that it provokes, there is much to enjoy in Garrett’s account of the place-hacking work that he has been engaged in. There are hints of classic ethnography here, harking back to those intensive, immersive projects of the 1950s and 1960s. He has opened up a world that, although occupied by only a few, is consumed by millions online and through the media. Whatever the limitations of this project, it speaks of aspects of the city that we should know more about, even if few of us will ever actively experience them. - Tim Hall

At first glance, ‘place hacking’ may seem like just another form of escapist thrill-seeking. Sneak into a construction site, poke around inside Battersea Power Station, run along train tracks to discover abandoned Underground stations. Dodge the security guards and the alarms and the speeding trains, and take trophy photographs of yourself in places you’re not supposed to be.
In an age of heightened governmental security measures and increasing privatisation of public space, however, innocent exploration becomes a radical act. In Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City, anthropologist Bradley L. Garrett explores all the implications, tracing the modern roots of ‘place hacking’ back to Guy Debord and the Situationists in 1950s Paris, who believed in reclaiming the city and freeing people from the passive, consumption-driven roles allotted to them by the ‘Society of the Spectacle’.
The modern global city, he says, is ‘a place where sensory overload and increased securitisation have become the norm, where the only acceptable modes of behaviour are to work and spend money on pre-packaged “entertainment”. These restrictions are now so ubiquitous that they’re almost unnoticeable to the general population, but our adventures made them visible to us.’
An odd omission in the book’s charting of the movement’s history is psychogeography, which seems a natural ancestor of urban exploration. Perhaps it’s because psychogeographers tend to be conscious of the political content of their actions, whereas urban explorers usually deny overtly political motives and focus instead on the experience:
Explorers constantly insisted that the desire to do something simply because it could be done superseded any political or transgressive impulse.

There are echoes here of traditional explorers like George Mallory, who famously responded when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest: ‘Because it’s there.’ Although the natural world now has few unexplored corners, the cities in which we live are full of spaces that are abandoned, private, secure or otherwise off-limits. Urban explorers enjoy an almost limitless supply of things that ‘are there’ for them to conquer.
It’s up to Garrett, then, to tease out the political implications, and he does this in a lively, engaging way. Often he delivers his points through detailed first-hand accounts of his experiences, as in this beautiful passage on the existential urge to leave a mark:
Finding an old bottle that is thickly layered with time’s dust, you can get close to it, zooming in on it with your camera lens and watching the light refract in different patterns as you shift your stance, seemingly revealing layer after layer of active life taking place. When you quietly sit down on the creaking floor, feeling like an out-of-place thing – the only thing not covered in dust – and listen to the pigeons coo above you, the eerie ceaseless scratch of a branch rubbing against a broken pane, then the desire to inscribe yourself into the place becomes unbearable. The existential tension stacks until it pops. Slowly you lick your finger and reach out, rubbing it down the side of the bottle.

As Garrett gets more deeply involved with his London crew of urban explorers, the lines between observer and participant become increasingly blurred, and are eventually erased altogether. There’s no pretence of scientific objectivity when he tells us:
It was the first time I’d ever felt that life was as it should be: every day was more exciting than the last, and I had never been so close to a group of friends.

He comes to find that he is increasingly living for his nocturnal explorations, the ‘normal’ world paling in comparison. The thrill of exploration becomes like a drug, and the crew develop strong bonds as they brave both physical danger and the risk of arrest together. It becomes clear that Garrett is not an aloof social scientist making notes on his research sample. He’s along for the ride, wherever it takes him.
And this, really, is where much of the interest lies. What could otherwise have been simply an episodic account of buildings scaled and tunnels conquered takes on, instead, a more novelistic trajectory. The crew is becoming increasingly addicted to the risk, pushing itself further and further to discover and breach new boundaries. Garrett writes increasingly of the attraction of ‘edgework’, a term coined by Hunter S. Thompson to describe the process of seeking new boundaries to push, a new edge to explore.
But the trouble with searching for the edge, as Thompson recognised, is that ‘the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.’ Garrett describes the feeling of ‘oneness’ with the world that comes from taking risks, a feeling he refers to as ‘the meld’.
The ultimate oneness, of course, comes in death, and some explorers do go over the edge. We hear about an explorer in Minneapolis drowned in floodwaters, another from Middlesbrough who fell five storeys from a Bangkok hotel, and someone close to Garrett’s team who fell to his death in the mountains of Switzerland. Events are speeding towards a conclusion that, we sense, will not be a happy one.
Conflict with the authorities is inevitable, and when it arrives, it sheds light on just how far the police will go to protect state or private property at the expense of the individual. Yet even as the police are seizing laptops and hard drives and confiscating passports and knocking down front doors with battering rams, there’s still a recognition of the pointlessness of the duty they’re performing. One of the policemen remarks to Garrett as he’s changing the tapes in the middle of questioning him on suspicion of criminal damage and burglary:
‘I have to say off the record, Bradley … I’m just doing my job here, but I would like to buy you a pint when this is all over. These photos are amazing … but we can’t have you telling everyone about going in the Tube after hours.’

Garrett’s close involvement with his crew, and the dangers they share, leads to something of an ‘us against the world’ mentality. In some passages, they look down on the rest of us both literally and metaphorically. ‘Tigger’ tells him as they sit on top of an abandoned tower block at 3 a.m. listening to the drunken laughter of pub-goers returning home, ‘If they only knew how good they could feel climbing this building they have probably never noticed before, they might never go to the pub again.’
In another section, urban explorers are described as ‘staying up all night, wandering, plotting, having significant conversations during spontaneous encounters’, all of which ‘stands in contrast to the importance of work and consumption’ in the city in general. In another, they explain how they never watch films or do ‘other “normal” stuff’ because their own lives are ‘far more exciting.’
There’s a binary opposition here, in which the urban explorers are living life authentically, while the rest of us just work, consume and go to the pub. As with all caricatures, there is some truth to it, but also a large measure of distortion. Many people are trying in their own ways to find an autonomous space to feel free within the restrictive, privatised context of the contemporary global city. Climbing buildings is one way, but it’s not the only way.
A few times, too, Garrett takes his analysis too far. In the drains of Las Vegas, for example, he meets people living in the drains and muses, ‘Maybe homelessness is preferable to the mental vacancy most people inhabit at work every day.’
Yes, maybe. But isn’t it more likely that they’re living in drains for economic rather than existential reasons? The brash capitalism of a city like Las Vegas creates winners and losers, and has little sympathy for the economic effluent sloshing around in the drains beneath the city. Garrett recognises all this, which makes it odd that he insists on the idea of homelessness as a choice. The search for authentic experiences and freedom from consumerism is a form of luxury, after all, which presupposes access to consumption opportunities in the first place. Some people don’t need to sneak into abandoned buildings to find the ‘edge’. They live on the edge every day, and might well be very happy to exchange it for the chance to be a mindless consumer.
These are only fleeting lapses, however. For most of the book, Garrett simply tells us the fascinating story of urban exploration in a lucid, compelling way. Whether or not you want to clamber around on the rain-slick girders of the Forth Rail Bridge in the early hours of a Saturday morning, the adventures and escapades in this book will make you at least think about taking a risk, being more playful, reliving the innocent explorations of childhood.
There is, after all, something very childish about urban exploration. That sounds derogatory, but I don’t mean it to be. Reading Explore Everything has reminded me that a childish attitude is not something to be left behind at a certain age and reminisced over while flicking through the family albums, but something to be carefully preserved and cherished – or, in my case, unearthed. - Andrew Blackman

Explore everything: place-hacking

Bradley L Garrett asks what exploring hidden and forbidden spaces can teach us about ourselves

Over the past four years, I’ve been spending most of my time sneaking into places closed off to the public while the city sleeps. Tagging along with some of the most skilled urban explorers in the world, I’ve visited abandoned buildings and subterranean tunnel systems and climbed skyscrapers and bridges across eight countries. I even descended into the London sewer system. Cracking open a sewer lid releases a blast of hot gases and warm air in the cold of winter. Inside, the sewer lid clangs overhead, plunging you into darkness until a torch clicks on. Underground, the noise of urban traffic is attenuated to a dull hum, drowned out by the sounds of dripping chunks of caught-up toilet paper and opaque water flowing over glistening Victorian brick. For some reason, there’s a unique feeling of comfort, which is odd, given that you’re breaching urban security and if it were to rain suddenly you’re likely to die, swept away in a flood of soap and sewage.
Legacy Tower, Chicago, Illinois. "We infiltrated Legacy Tower on a whim, just walked on a sunny summer day and took the lift right the the top. We stayed for sunset and it was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen." Photo courtesy of Bradley L Garrett
Some places are more difficult to get into than sewers. Last year, back home in California, we found out about a massive boneyard of hundreds of “retired” planes, beautifully preserved in the dry Mojave desert air, 100 miles from Los Angeles. But the boneyard is connected to an active military base, so we needed creative solutions for entry or would be more likely to end up in a United States military prison than a 747 jumbo jet. We arrived at 2am, and as we neared the gate security were doing their patrol. We saw the truck’s headlights and dove behind some knee-high sage bushes. After they passed, we ran fast, threw towels over a barbed-wire fence and clambered over. Inside, we ran for the first plane we could see, a massive British Airways 747. We popped the hatch behind the landing gear and climbed in. Inside, it was sticky and hot, and intact. 
The windows were blacked out but we sat at the controls anyway, wrenching back the flight stick. Outside there were planes of all sorts – Learjets, FedEx delivery planes, little short-flight hoppers and massive military cargo aircraft. 
It was like a vast playground and led to a long night of adventure. Experiences in these hidden spaces are sometimes terrifying, but always liberating. 
I’ve realised that they’re something that can’t be purchased – experiences like these have to be found and created.
We arrived at 2am, and as we neared the gate security were doing their patrol. We saw the truck’s headlights and dove behind some knee-high sage bushes. After they passed, we ran fast, threw towels over a barbed-wire fence and clambered over
The problem is that many of our relationships to places are coded for us these days, often through the assertion of a singular economic agenda. I want to undermine those narratives by creating unsanctioned, unexpected new relationships to places. Adventures like these, which reconfigure those associations, can be shocking, beautiful, confusing and bizarre, but ultimately bear a particularly rare authenticity in an increasingly Orwellian world in which our actions are channelled, regulated, surveilled and controlled. The spaces explorers find and share are recreated through a profoundly social process, seeded from a visceral right to define places on 
our own terms.
Lightning strikes Lake Michigan in the background, seen from atop the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Bradley L Garrett

As a geographer, I think attentiveness to time and space is evident in everything urban explorers do, from the appreciation of derelict remains to the awareness of the fact that every adventure we undertake, be it an exploration of a nuclear bunker or spending the summer in a squat, 
is temporary. Photographing these places is an attempt to relay those fleeting moments, to create a visual mark of this time and place with reference to what came before, what will come after and how it is all connected through us.. - Bradley L Garrett


  1. In another, they explain how they never watch films or do ‘other “normal” stuff’ because their own lives are ‘far more exciting. There’s a binary opposition here, in which the urban explorers are living life authentically, while the rest of us just work, consume and go to the pub. Many people are trying in their own ways to find an autonomous space to feel free within the restrictive, privatized context of the contemporary global city. Climbing buildings is one way, but it’s not the only way.

    Komatsu Parts


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