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Skywalking is an extreme sport that involves standing or walking atop very tall structures at dangerous heights, such as the rooftop of a skyscraper building or a bridge. The photo fad surrounding the practice began in 2011 after videos and photos of Russian teenagers skywalking surfaced online, eventually spreading to the English-speaking web.
Russian teenager Marat Dupri began scaling buildings and other high-rise structures in Moscow to take landscape photographs as early as 2011. In September of that year, several of his photographs were featured on news sites including the Daily Mail, New York Daily News, Metro UK, and the Telegraph. Portugese news site Busk shared several other photos of Russian teenagers mimicking Dupri’s style that month.
On November 23rd, 2011, Dupri was interviewed by Russia Beyond the Headlines, in which he stated that the views he captures greatly outweigh the risks he takes to photograph them. A video of Dupri and his friends scaling a freestanding structure for photographs was first uploaded to YouTube on January 7th, 2012, by DeAeMe. A photo taken while this video was being filmed won an award in the 2012 Best of Russia photography competition organized by the Telegraph UK.
Russian photographer Vadim Mahorov began collecting the photos of Duprim and other photographers on LiveJournal. On April 23rd, 2012, lifestyle site Mother Nature Network covered Dupri’s photography project in an article titled “Russian teens risk their lives for dizzying, sky-high photos.” In the following week, the images were featured on German news site Spiegel, photography site PetaPixel, culture blog Tested, the International Business Times, the Daily What and ABC News. Skywalking photos can be found on Twitter and Tumblr.
There has been some opposition to the trend by Russian authorities. On May 3rd, 2012, the Moscow Times reported a trio of Skywalkers led by 19-year-old Vitaly Raskalov were arrested after scaling a pair of bridges in Vladivostok. Police were tipped off by pictures and video on Raskalov’s Vkontakte page, in addition to tweets and a claim from Raskalov that he and his friends would climb the Russky Island Bridge the following day. The story was picked up by Gawker and the Daily What on May 18th, 2012.
Sometime in the mid-2000s, Urban Exploration groups began “rooftopping,” which also involved climbing to tall, often off-limits roofs for photographs of the view. Though photos of this type were taken as early as the 1920s, the earliest known online mention of the practice can be attributed to a thread posted on the Scottish message board The Hidden Glasgow in March 2004. “Rooftopping” was defined on Urban Dictionary in 2009 and an instruction guide for how to get into off-limits areas was shared on Urban Exploration Resource in 2011. Photographs from these excursions were often shared on Flickr in a tag pool as well as a group pool.
On April 24th 2011, photographer Tom Ryaboi took a photograph entitled “i’ll make ya famous” while sitting on top of a high rise in Toronto, Canada. In the following month, this photo was used as a lead in for several news stories about rooftopping that were published on city culture blog My Modern Met, photography site PetaPixel, the Daily Mail and Laughing Squid. In February 2012, the photo was posted to Reddit and received 3978 up votes and 1180 points overall. The photograph led to several career and licensing opportunities for Ryaboi, who published a retrospective on his famous photograph a year after it was taken.
Team Fortress 2 Exploits – Dustbowl Skywalking Exploit Still Works After Patch
The Telegraph – The Best of Russia 2011 photography competition winners
Mother Nature Network – Russian teens risk their lives for dizzying, sky-high photos