Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Trespassers will...

He may look like a kid in a hoodie, but Bradley Garrett holds a degree in an
 anthropology and history, a PhD in social and cultural geography, and is about to take up a research post at Oxford University. But away from his lofty academic work, this bespectacled American is a trespasser – “urban explorer” has a nicer ring – who infiltrates abandoned buildings, sewers, bridges and office block rooftops, filming and photographing them to bring these hidden spaces to public view (his work is on show at the Brighton Photo Biennial from 6 October). 

Garrett’s curiosity about what lurks above and beneath our cities has taken him, among hundreds of other places, to the top of The Shard, the drains of Las Vegas, St Sulpice church in Paris and New Court, headquarters of Rothschild Bank in London, where this shot was taken. "I've been to lots of cities, and feel an intimate connection to them, but I couldn't recommend a good restaurant to you. I've spent most of my time underground," he says. 

While studying for his PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London – subject: Place Hacking: Tales of Urban Exploration – Garrett and his fellow explorers snuck into steam tunnels under campus and onto the college roof. With names like Winch, Marc Explo, Furtle and Shotgun Mario, they cut undeniably glamorous figures – young, good-looking, dressed in combats and tattoos, kit swinging from their backpacks. 

Garrett believes we aren’t drawn to off-limits spaces in built environments the way we are in the countryside, where we happily explore mountains and woods. “We’re reacting to increased surveillance and control over urban space,” he writes. “Essentially, we’re trespassing, so in some ways what we’re doing is always illegal. If we're ever caught, we're treated differently depending on where we are. Europe is more relaxed. But in the US, security guards will restrain you, and the police take it much more seriously, whether or not that's justified." 

Now he’s left Royal Holloway, Garrett hopes students there will continue to explore its hidden nooks. Meanwhile, he is currently “exploring” somewhere in the world until he heads back to the UK in October to take up his research post. Oxford City Council, watch out. 

Monday, 10 September 2012

Reactions to cancer

In April 2011, Angelo Merendino’s wife Jennifer was hospitalised. Diagnosed with breast cancer 2008, her condition had worsened and she remained there for two weeks. When she was discharged, doctors advised her to take a walk every day, so she wasn’t stuck in the
couple’s Manhattan apartment.

With no hair from chemotherapy, and a walking frame, Jennifer was “not what you would expect from a 39-year-old woman”, says Angelo, on the phone from New York. “We couldn’t cross the street without people staring.” Struck by people’s reactions – some shocked or pitying, others curious – he started to shoot these passersby when he and Jennifer were on their daily strolls. 
He photographed at hip height so people would react to her, not his camera. “We weren’t mad that people were staring. We just wanted to show this was what life was like for her.”

Angelo had already been documenting Jennifer’s battle with cancer, keen to show the daily reality of pills, injections, doctor’s appointments and paperwork, as well as the fear, sadness and frustration. He had no intention of making the photographs public, beyond friends and family, until he entered a few in a competition. It was then the emails started coming in – condolences, thanks for what he was doing, and experiences shared, all from strangers. 

“From then on, we felt we had an opportunity to help other sufferers, and to give people who had no experience of cancer a deeper understanding of what it involves.”

Jennifer died on 22 December. She fell ill just five months after she and Angelo were married, in Central Park. He can still remember the numbness that enveloped him that day, and says it has still not left him. “Life is quite strange these days, and I am taking things a step at a time.”