A couple of weeks ago I was on a rooftop with a mate. It wasn’t something we planned, gopro’d, got engagement from sponsors and instafacetubeioed about our ‘death defying’ dangling afterwards, it was just somewhere we thought would be a good place to shoot the breeze and catch up. Sauntering past a ground floor security desk to the lift, straight through an office full of clock watchers in shirts and suits, out to the fire escape at the the other side and up a ladder on to the roof felt as natural as going for a coffee and in no way wrong, naughty or really anything to write home about.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a sick roof. Perfectly placed right in the middle of town and perched high (but not too high) above the surrounding architecture and ant like populous of Manchester going about their business 200ft below. With the added mini-challenge of getting yourself on top, being up high and gabbing on with your mates whilst surveying your temporary kingdom over a shandy, which I think is rooftopping in its purest sense, is one of the best free ways to spend an hour or two if you’re stuck for something to do in a city, day or night.
Whilst we were up here chatting about the adventures we’d been having over the summer, he mentioned an article he’d come across written by one of the internets most famous toronto-roof-kids, Neil Ta, who had seemingly caused a bit of an online-stir by penning his frustrations on the subject of the slow death of his previously favourite passtime.
Neil’s slow-brewed distaste for how he, his photography and his style was being seen and shaped by the worlds mass and social media had obviously become potent enough for him to set his restraint aside, sit down and write a ‘you know what: Fuck Off.’, ode to the death of purity and honesty in a scene plagued by worthless attention seekers and copycats.
When I got home, I had a read. At first, ‘Five Reasons Why I’m F***ing Done With Rooftopping‘ seemed to make sense. A simple and direct signing off by a man who’d come to the end of a narrow avenue of creative expression, and just wanted to get on with his life away from the endless cityscapes, feet dangling ‘vertigo inducing’ daredevils and sensationalist media that perpetually clog our newsfeeds and inboxes, day-in-day-out. This, I could sympathise with. Granted, I wouldn’t have written an article about it, but my professional career to date hasn’t been defined by going on other peoples roof tops so I’ll cut him some slack. Whether you care about the scene or not, you can stop reading after the first paragraph, go ‘oh, right’, and it’ll make sense.
Where it starts to get a bit more turbulent, is when Neil goes on to list exactly why he’s stopped going on rooftops. In his lambasting of the youth of today and their modus operandi, he starts to twist off into some fantastical word-flailing that reminded me less of the usual pr0 ubender bitching about the media kids and more of that time Roger Daltry complained about One Direction.
In fact, the absurdity embodied in Neil’s ‘when I was a lad’ fuck y’allist hypocrisy is so beautifully crafted, I can’t help but feel that I, as the reader, am the butt of a post-post ironic meta joke that serves no other purpose than to waste my time thinking about the subject of going on roofs for fun.
If this is the case, Neil Ta is a genius.
Have a read, you’ll see what I mean. On this short journey of discontent you’ll have explained to you how the media and the people feeding them have ruined everything, how no one takes interesting photos anymore, how Like-chasing has taken over from fun, and how the Youth don’t seem to understand ‘The Rules'(tm) – which he freely admits, are all the things have propelled Neil and people like him to the elevated (npi) social media hype thrones in which they currently sit. I mean, I thought we knew all this stuff anyway (its obvious isn’t it?..), but if you take time to constructively retort to each point of his rant, you’ll start to feel like the Ghost of Umbecks past is going to pop up and patronisingly ask you if we’ve leaned anything.
In the age of the selfie stick and $$$ for YouTube hits, it’s not an uncommon observation to say that people are so focused on cultivating the notion that they’re having a good time (and getting phat P for it) that they’ve forgotten how to actually have a good time. You can find pages of twaters from the Guardian to the Mail going on about how the modern personal image management revolution we seem to have undergone in the last few years is ruining the youth of today, but I don’t think this alleged corruption of rooftopping is solely due the moronic narcissism of instagram dickheads. The fuel at the heart of Neils vitriolic ranting is probably nothing more an ill-feigned attempt at covering up the fact his entire career to date has just been made worthless by good old fashioned supply and demand.
The fact is, while walking up some stairs and posing on an edge backed by your local megapolis might make you look like Batman to all your mates (who’ve got other things to do in their lives than constantly walk round town checking roof hatches), rooftopping is actually preposterously easy. There’s probably been a good 10 years of low-hanging fruit harvested via the $2000 DSLR pointed at a silhouette and wide angle cityscape, but finally, the bluff of all those university educated social media smarties who used to dominate our newsfeeds has been called by a load of skatty teenagers with GoPros on sticks.
And fair cop to em.
While there’s a fuck load more to this game and the commonality shared between what’s left of our community, the inevitable outing of this low barrier to entry and the countless hype-chatting numpties who’ve come with it is probably the reason our scene is so often the laughing stock of the graffers, the cavers, the basejumpers, the mountineers, the freerunners and any other community of people involved in a passtime that involves even a modicum of physical or legal risk, planning, athleticism or expertise.
Neil’s complaints are obviously just related to photography and I think it’s probably why we might not see eye to eye. There is so much more to what we do than just rooftopping, and so much more to both of them than just taking pictures, and I think if Neil felt that way he probably wouldn’t have written his little article. I’m not done with rooftopping because it’s not something that would make sense to be done with, I’m not trying to make it anything it’s not and I’m certainly not going to be making a career off the back of it.
I’m obviously not the first person to come to this conclusion, and it’s this line of reasoning that has probably led to the steep decline in any good writing on the subject from any of the people who are doing things I’d like to read about. It’s never the pioneers who get credit, they’re normally too busy inventing to care about popularity, and while I’m not saying people like Neil (and the people Neil was complaining about) are the reason the interesting creative heads on the scene have burrowed back, away from the limelight, I am suggesting their existence is probably a sign that the public party is over, and probably back where it was supposed to be in the first place. This happened to the graffers in the 80s and 90s, but rather than hiding from the law, I think we’re just hiding from pillocks we don’t want to talk to. I never asked to share my passtime with people called things like ‘Dave UE SilentStealthUrbex’ who still fill my facebook friend requests thing on the daily, but I guess they say you can’t choose your family, and for now, I’m happy to let them get on with whatever they’re chasing until they realise no one gives a flying fuck about their stupid photos.
So my title was a bit of a lie. I don’t have 5 reasons why ‘I’m not fucking done with rooftopping’, I only have one, and it’s really the only one that should really matter: It’s still fun!
About the Author:
fish is an opinionated little shit of an umbeckser that thinks too much about things that aren’t important and will keep rooftopping for many years to come. His goal as a photographer is to take photographs that make him smile when he’s reminded of all the stupid things he’s done with his mates and how, despite having more close calls than its worth thinking about, still has a full set of limbs and clean record. You can find more of his work on his hard drive and on prints he keeps in his house. You’re free to come round for a cup of tea to swop stories whenever you like. x