Dark Cyanide is an 18-year-old, New York City photographer who describes his work as “urban history”.
In case you haven’t already guessed it, Dark Cyanide is undeterred by security guards or no trespassing signs and his curiosity has taken him to the top of some of the tallest skyscrapers in NYC.
The Plaid Zebra caught up with this underground historian to talk to him about his latest series Rooftops.
What sparked your passion for photography?
What got me interested was how creative you can get with the camera and especially when I discovered the Instagram photography community. Many of the photographers there inspired me to start.
What’s your approach to exploring the city?
Be as safe as possible, and don’t get caught. I like to explore places that I haven’t been and look around for hidden entrances that might lead me to somewhere interesting. I am always looking up at buildings to see what the view would be like and if it interests me. I scout the area out and sneak myself in.
Could you expand on the concept of an urban historian?
The concept of an urban historian is to explore areas that once were. Locate hidden places that the city has either locked away from people to see or visit. Pretty much to relive the past in person there. Finding such places requires lots of research and mapping because the areas have changed since when they were documented.
What’s the adrenaline rush like when your feet are hanging over the edge of a skyscraper?
At first trying to get in position you are all tensed up and that’s probably the hardest part because you can slip or lose your grip and end up falling off. Getting on and off the ledge is the dangerous part. But once you are sitting or standing up, it requires balance and a lot of trust. At first your heart is beating so quick and you are incredibly shaky. Then you can slowly feel yourself settling in. I usually kick my feet back and forth to keep myself calm.
Have you ever conquered the fear of falling?
I haven’t conquered the fear of falling or heights because it kills the adrenaline once you get use to it. I want to keep the fear just to get that adrenaline pumping when performing such stunts.
Do you have a favorite building to photograph from in NYC or do you have a favorite building you like to photograph?
I do not have a favorite building to photograph from because every rooftop is unique and provides different views. My favorite building to photograph is One World Trade Center because of the height and architecture. It’s my goal to get to the top of it one day.
Despite the legal and physical dangers what draws you to rooftops?
I am aware that rooftopping is highly illegal and dangerous but I make sure to stay safe up there. I know my limits if something feels dangerous or if it’s going to get me caught. Pretty much just the view and different vantage points of the city are what draw me to rooftops.
Do you have any advice for other urban explorers?
My advice to other urban explorers is to stay safe at all times and know your limits! Try not to do any feet hanging shots during the day because anyone from other buildings or from the street can see you and that can get you caught. Try to be friendly and do not run if you are caught. 99% of the times, that has gotten me off the hook. Best time do anything is at night under the cover of darkness because there’s less police presence for you to get caught.
Why is it important to document the unseen spaces of our city?
It’s important to document all the unseen spaces of the city because one day the photos and evidence of it being there will be worth something. Cities are always changing and destroying old spaces for new modern things. It’s better to go document and relive the past while you can before it’s gone.
Do you explore alone?
I sometimes explore alone depending on what I am doing. Most of the time I either have another explorer with me or a whole team of us. Its always good to explore with more people because if you are caught, they can’t arrest everyone and they will give you a simple ticket or let you off the hook. Also it’s safer to explore with others just in case something happens.
Is it more about your interest in history or exploring spaces that most people wouldn’t dare to do?
I am always reading and researching the history of cities to find places. Locating them is always the hard part and people aren’t willing to dig deep into documents and go looking for them. They prefer people to show them instead. People are not willing to get caught by the law so that’s another factor that plays in.
If there was one place you could explore in your lifetime, what would it be?
My ultimate goal is to explore Pripyat, Ukraine. The city that was abandoned overnight because of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Everything is still there and worth exploring. Yes, it’s still radioactive but after 20 years the radiation risk has gone down that it is safe enough to explore certain areas.