Lamarr Golding is a Londoner, a student, a photographer, a freerunner and an urban explorer. The latter enables him to take some fantastic photos of London, with a unique view of the city that not many of us normally get to see. Not entirely sure what urban exploring is? It'll soon be on your radar a lot more, but for now, let Lamarr tell you about one of London's newest subcultures.
How did you get into parkour and urban exploring?
Parkour came first for me, I started doing it three years ago. A year into that, four of us started climbing buildings and exploring spaces, construction sites and things. We didn't take it seriously until we found out that there is a community that does this and takes it very seriously. It's like a subculture of parkour. From there, it escalated to skyscrapers in central London, and really old, abandoned buildings, too. We're constantly broadening our surroundings and places we'd like to go.
I got into parkour because a couple of my friends at school were doing it, and I thought, that looks crazy, I'd never seen anyone do that before. And one day I asked to join them and they started inviting me out every weekend to the South Bank, to the Royal Festival Pier. And also, a professional parkour guy came to my school – he was in the Harry Potter films and he had an afro, and I have an afro, so I thought, cool, I can do this! I quickly realised how much I can do and that everyone can do it.
How often do you practice?
I still go to South Bank every weekend with the same group. With urban exploring, we go every weekend, too, maybe on a Saturday night, and go sit up on a skyscraper.
How would you define urban exploring?
Exploring the man made structures that are around us; places that haven't been seen much by the public eye. It's just about getting to know your surroundings really well and being in touch with your environment. It feeds my natural urge to explore things.
Has it changed how you see the city?
I see London differently now, absolutely. I'm always looking up at tall buildings, especially ones that are under construction. They always just stick out for me now, as does modern architecture. It really helps me appreciate my surroundings.
Normally people look at skyscrapers and just see a building. But when you’re up there and see everything together, you see a pattern with all the buildings, they all come together. You see how the lighting from some of the buildings all work together, and you notice places you wouldn't normally look at. There's nothing like a nice panoramic view of London.
What was your first experience like?
The first building I went into was an abandoned hospital. It was absolutely terrifying, every second I was asking, what if we get caught, will we get arrested, what if the alarms go off? And my friends were just cussing me and telling me to be quiet.
Have you ever been caught?
I've never been caught before, no. I've got a strong streak going, hopefully it stays that way. It's a lot more technical than you think – it's not like you just see a building and go, yeah, let's climb that! You plan a lot, you discuss the routes and safety element, it’s not reckless.
How do you plan for it?
We watch out for things like key platforms, make sure everyone has the same info, treading carefully if there are nails or shattered glass about. Especially with abandoned buildings, we look out for structures that aren't safe. We don't climb with harnesses, so if a structure is crumbling, one slip and it's really bad. I've never been injured, though. Even when climbing massive skyscrapers and abandoned buildings, and climbing through shattered glass, it’s always been fine. Because I do parkour, it's really helped me maneuver myself through difficult spaces, such as really tight areas or really massive gaps.
Would you say there’s a peak to reach, with either of the two skills?
A lot like parkour, there isn’t really an end goal to urban exploring. It's something you can constantly do, always improve on and get better at. You're always training, but not towards a specific goal – just getting better and seeing more things or doing more tricks.
Is London a good city to live in, to do what you do?
London is a great place to build up on both parkour and urban exploring. It has a really rich history for parkour, and it was the second place to really – France was first. The architecture is really inspiring for movement, too. Same for urban exploring – there are so many fantastic buildings to explore here, like really old warehouses or military bases and stuff like that. It educates you – when you go into these old places where the interiors are still somewhat intact, you learn about what used to happen there.
What other city would you like to go urban exploring in most?
Russia has a lot to offer in terms of high places and abandoned places. There are huge abandoned cities, so it's like an enormous playground for urban explorers. And the security isn't as tight as here.
Is security a big issue in London?
When I find out there's security I'm not really scared, just more cautious to make sure we don't get seen or don't project a wrong idea. We don't aim to destroy anything, we just want to observe, explore and educate ourselves. So it’s important that we’re not perceived as a threat, from the offset.
Tell us a bit about your photography.
I do photography at university, so urban exploring is a bit of an advantage for that. I got a really good critique from my tutors for it. Sometimes, when it comes to big sky scrapers in central London, we just wait until we get to the top to take our tripods and cameras out. At the back of my mind I worry about my camera falling off the edge, or the wind blowing it off the roof top, but I'm really quite calm about it.
What building is at the top off your urban exploring wish-list?
The Shard would be the ultimate building I'd like to climb. It would be an absolute honour to explore there and see an amazing view from there. Unfortunately it's complete now, but that would be London’s Mount Everest.
And which is your favourite of the ones you’ve climbed so far?
A massive one on the South Bank – it has the most perfect view. On one side you’ve got the South Bank, the Thames, the other side you’ve got Canary Wharf, Shoreditch, and Central. Waterloo area is the best, the lighting is amazing. And you can sometimes hear the music from the piers from the tops of the buildings.
What might someone who has never been at the top of the skyscraper be surprised about?
It's really, really windy on top of buildings. Unpleasantly so. You have no cover and you're storeys up. Plus at night, which is normally when we go up, it's super cold. But the view is more pleasurable at night, you can relax a bit without worrying that you’ll be seen.
Do you have any special gear, or dress in a certain way?
I don't really have any special clothing. Sometimes I do skyscrapers in jeans. In terms of shoes, just anything with grip. I don’t use gloves – you only really need those if you're going up super high and it's cold.
What about your photography?
I just use a regular DSLR. People think I have a massive huge camera, but it's really just a beginners camera with a standard lens. And I always bring my tripod; it’s attached to the side of my bag. I do long-shot speed pictures, so I set it to take picture for 15 seconds and I need it to be perfectly still.
What do your friends and family think about what you do?
My parents, they weren't ok with it at first. They’d say, Lamarr, what are you doing up there, what if you fell! But by now I'll show my mum shots and she'll say, oh yeah, that's nice. I'm sure in the back of her mind she still thinks I'm a nutcase. My friends are really interested and always ask to join me sometime, but it's not that easy, you can't just take someone along. Everyone that I go urban exploring with, they have a background in parkour.
What would you say to people who want to get into either of the two?
For people who want to get into urban exploring – don't just dive straight into it. You'll probably get arrested. It’s something where you have to know people and have to know how to do certain things, and always have health and safety at the front of your mind. Same with parkour, you need to practice a lot, and always in a safe environment.
What are the communities like?
The parkour community is massive, it's worldwide. It's branching out into corporate stuff now, too, into adverts and films. And also, large companies like Red Bull and Monster now hold competitions, so it's getting a lot of coverage. Urban exploring is still low key – it’s not that well-known. If you went up to someone on the street and asked them what it is, you probably wouldn’t get an answer. But Instagram is making it more well-known. It's a really tight community – it’s growing quite a lot. It's never competition – it's just about exploring your surroundings. You're not trying to outdo anyone. If you do that, you might get hurt, or arrested.
Does doing parkour eat into your spare time a lot?
Parkour to me – a lot of people see it as a lifestyle, and other people choose it just because it's a fun hobby. For me its just something to do, something I can really work on and build on. Other people see it as a way to get into stunt jobs in the future. It doesn’t affect my free time at all, because it's so flexible. Kind of like if you decided to go for a jog.
Have people started recognising you?
One time I was on a roof top in Canary Wharf, and two other people randomly came up. We thought they were security at first, it was so intense! But then we saw that they had tripods, and security don't have tripods, so it ended up being really cool. They were from Hong Kong and when they heard my name they knew who I was! That was really cool.
What’s the best thing about it?
My favourite part about urban exploring is the community. It’s so great meeting creative and new people. It’s really inspiring.