If you live in the city, you’ve probably heard about rooftopping. However, it is nothing new and spans farther around the world than you can imagine.
Although rooftop photographers have gained notoriety these days for taking to the highest points in our cities and documenting their adventures, photographers have been making the climb for nearly a century – that we know of.
This photo was taken in 1932 of Charles C. Ebbets who was known for these sort of stunts, evoking the same thrill of many rooftopping photos you’ll find online today.
Ebbets most famous photograph, “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” features eleven men seated on a girder with their feet dangling over an 840 ft drop at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, New York City.
The eclectic form of urban exploration remains popular today for a number of reasons. I spoke with a local rooftopper for an inside look.
Maxine Kozak: How long have you been rooftopping?
Anonymous rooftopper: Since March 2015. I had been seeing it on Instagram for a while, so I messaged some people and told them I wanted to go with them.
How do you get up?
If you’re an experienced rooftopper, you know which roofs are open and you can just walk in.
What is the rooftopping crowd like?
Recently, it’s taken on a hipster vibe. It’s a little bit like high school, some photographers will judge others based on their instagram style. These are the people who have their clique of like 5 other rooftoppers that they roll with and everyone else is a bit of an outsider.
So you haven’t made many friends rooftopping?
Nah, there’s good people too. I met a lot of people when I first started, the people who got me into it in the first place. Most of us are really chill people, you just have to know who to look out for I guess.
What is the most dangerous thing you’ve done on a roof?
I climbed onto a crane and swung on it like monkey bars. I was at least 76 stories up in the air.
Have you gone rooftopping in other places you’ve travelled to?
Oh yeah, it’s a huge worldwide thing. I’ve gone rooftopping in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Switzerland, South France, Montreal and Vancouver. I just message people on Instagram and see if they want to hang out, show me some of their favourite roofs. You always get the best view of the city from the locals, they know what they’re doing.
How would you describe rooftopping in a sentence?
It’s like soundcloud – lowkey but popular with the underground artist community.
Regardless of your motivation, one thing is clear: as long as we have cities, we’ll have thrill-seekers looking to make sense of the world around them through underground urban exploration and art.
To me, the notion of “rooftopping cliques” strikes me as counterproductive to the reason we explore in the first place – to experience something new. The insider-outsider power structure is not only divisive, it is limiting. If you only expose yourself to the same group of people, deeming those who do not fit your standards unworthy, you’ll never learn anything.
The clique-culture some find in rooftopping exists in most of the art world. At its best, it stifles creativity, driving artists to follow their clique rather than experimenting and growing with their art. At its worst, it drives new artists out of the community because they feel like they do not belong. It makes me really sad. The art community is supposed to be a place where everybody belongs, isn’t it?
So how do we get back to that? Change starts small. It starts with individuals. Be nice to people; welcome newcomers. The world is bigger than your head and bigger than your group of friends. Step outside of yourself. I think you’ll like what you see.