Accepted paper:

Choose Your Own Apocalypse: Urban Exploration, Squatting and Photography


Alex Casper Cline (Anglia Ruskin University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the use of digital photography by squatting and urban exploration communities in London, arguing that underlying political motivations explain differing modes of exhibition.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks at the use of photography by self-described urban explorers and squatters to document the spaces which they explore, explain and inhabit. While previous anthropological work has involved ethnographic work such as oral history projects or study of informal publications, the proliferation and increasing availability of digital camera technology has meant that photography is more accessible and that resultant content can be more easily shared. A number of websites have emerged allowing people to document their exploration of hidden urban spaces: 28 Days Later and Silent UK. Squatters appear more reluctant to share material online, for understandable reasons, but London has hosted a number of exhibitions of photography documenting squatted spaces: the ongoing Temporary Autonomous Arts Exhibition and the Made Possible By Squatting. The fact that these exhibitions are mostly self-organised suggests that there is not so much a reluctance to display material, but rather a different underlying political motivation. We construct two opposed narratives emerging from the photographic and curatorial work. The motivation of squatter photography is to bring people together; both squatters from different areas of the city, and sympathetic members of the public. Associated material is politicised, highlighting the impending chaos to be brought about by increasing housing prices, gentrification and unemployment. By creating public exhibition spaces, the intention appears to be to encourage assembly and action. In opposition, the purpose of urban exploration appears to encourage individual reflection. The processes of decay are inherent to contemporary society and their effects are already manifest.

panel P09
Appropriating Photography: Global Technologies and Local Politics of Self-Representation