I debated whether or not to write this introduction or just post my piece as is. If you’ve been following me on Twitter you may have seen a few angry tweets about Smith Journal stealing my freelance pitch idea for their new issue. I guess the wonderful thing about the internet is that it democratises people’s experiences and I wanted to let people know my side of the story. Whether I’m right or wrong – that’s up to you guys.
I wrote to Smith pitching an idea on Bradley Garrett and urban exploration of The London Underground.They originally said they liked the piece and I got to work interviewing Bradley and spending several days researching and writing. Once I sent this through, I was told they had changed their minds. Even though I offered to rewrite it or just publish a Q&A with Bradley, they told me the subject matter didn’t fit with the next issue. So I was surprised to find that they have contacted Bradley directly and will be publishing a first person piece in their next issue. I find it hard to believe their claims that this was done independently of my idea since I had been in contact with both them and Bradley’s publicist months ago and no one mentioned this.
Well anyway, I’ve not read their piece but wanted to post mine here so you can all judge for yourselves how similar it is This is a first person account, as told to me by Bradley and edited by myself…
I’ve always been an explorer. When I was growing up in California during the 90s, I spent most of my time skateboarding, which was mostly about exploring the city to find new spots to skate. When I got a car, I started driving into the Mojave Desert to look for old mining camps and ruins, where I could build a big bonfire, dig around and read. It seems to me that if you’re a curious person, who enjoys the feeling of discovery, you’re going to do that in whatever environment you find yourself near. So when I moved to London and met urban explorers here going out every night to find hidden places in the city, it made perfect sense to get involved.
I am so in awe of the London Underground, which is so immense and has so many in-between spots you can slip into. The train tunnels are threaded though and around bunkers, sewers and drains, the Mail Rail, cable runs and secret government tunnels. A lot of that had to be built blindly as well because the government wouldn’t tell engineers where the “secret” tunnels were underground. The complexity of it all just blows me away. And most of the tourists walking at street level, photographing Parliament, haven’t got a clue that it’s all tangled up under their feet.
The whole city is thick with layers of memory and often they’re very difficult to decode. Fredric Jameson once described ‘ontologies of the present that demand archaeologies of the future’. I love that idea, that we’re not just finding old stuff but we’re actually rewriting the (his)stories of these places with us in them as a fresh layer. Nothing is ever dead or lost. There are all sorts of associations that are connected to places that you can’t erase. They’re like old etchings just awaiting the curious explorer to show up and dust it all off; to start understanding it all again.
Then of course, the more time we spent exploring the city, the more certain things became visible. Like how people build relationships to places, how space is surveilled, controlled and regulated, how the city is built to influence not just our behaviour but to actually condition the way we think about what is ethical, right and even possible. As the geographer David Harvey has written, the freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of the most precious and neglected of our human rights. But that of course, in the current political climate around the world, is a mentality that some people find threatening. It’s a sad state the world is in, where playing seems threatening.
All photos by Bradley Garrett