When I began exploring here in London over a year ago, I was never quite sure how secretive I needed to be about what I was getting up to. But in the interest of academic transparency, I decided to be less cautious that I might have otherwise been. I felt an obligation, being here on a generous scholarship, to put my work “out there” to be crossed-checked, criticized and appreciated. It did not go unnoticed; a couple of people challenged my decisions to openly discuss certain exploits.
To tell you the truth, now that I know these places well, I think there was never much harm done in being open about my nocturnal wanderings. But some things change. Not because writing about the places I have been is going to get them locked down, not even because they are super-secret or ultra-sensitive. The real reason is, I think, a philosophical one.
At some point in the last few months, I started doing infiltrations. It wasn’t really intentional; I just lost sight of the line between UrbEx and infiltration.
To be honest, I am not that interested in infiltration. Being an ex-archaeologist, I get really excited about the histories of sites and love seeing them falling apart and decay. Many infiltrations take place on construction sites and I spent a good chunk of my life working in these sorts of places. I therefore don’t find a lot of magic in them – too close to my own history I suppose, though I often make the argument that they are too close to the mundane existences of those who work there, hence my indifference.
So why are we interested in these places? They might be considered the polar opposite of the derelict building, going up instead of down, though they are both in a transitional state. They are also both, in a sense, “hidden”, off the grid and not to be seen. But I think our fascination with these places lies, as with most things, in the experiential fascination and secret personal histories to be found there.
So okay, yeah I am coming out of the closet and admitting that I have done some infiltrations that I have not shared, neither here nor on facebook. I can’t share them, either because I was recorded there on CCTV at some point during the explore, or somebody I know might have a connection to these places, or… I don’t know… that’s somebody’s job site. It would be like publishing pictures of your desk after hours when you weren’t there and I sat in your chair and went through your drawers. It’s just a little too personal. Maybe this is why we like it, because in these places we touch living histories, not dead or forgotten ones.
I wonder how many other explorers have secret histories of infiltration, how many sketchy night wanders were not photographed, caught in the memory of someone a little too nervous to ever talk about it? How much of urban exploration consists of secret histories of infiltration?