Take a look at the below photo. Did you notice the background at all or just the girl that’s about to fall to her death?
That’s Angela Nikolau, a young Russian woman who has made quite the name for herself online and has been dubbed “The Girl Who Takes the World’s Riskiest Photos.”
Nikolau is a self-taught photographer/urban explorer/rooftopper who takes pictures of herself in some pretty dangerous sky-high locations and now has an Instagram following of over 476 thousand (as on 23 July 2018).
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Rooftopping – the practice of climbing to the tops of skyscrapers to take pictures of cities – isn’t new.
But, back around 2010, I guess just standing atop skyscrapers to get photos got boring because a bunch of pictures of feet dangling over the edges of some seriously tall buildings started circulating the internet. If you missed out on this photo fad, just Google “feet dangling skyscraper” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Well, I guess we’ve gotten bored with this one too because the next generation of rooftoppers, like Angela Nikolau, are taking it to the next level. The very extreme next level.
Rooftopping – The Next Generation
I’m sure everyone’s expecting this article to be about how awesome rooftopping is, but I’m just not sure I can pull that off. Sure, I’ve found myself just as intrigued by the sweaty palm-inducing photos as the next guy, but has the trend gone too far?
Rooftopping, or roofing, used to be about getting incredible city shots from high atop buildings, usually just by walking through an overlooked unlocked door.
The images were taken to showcase stunning cityscapes—aerial views of bustling cities and beautiful architecture. Nowadays, however, it seems to be about taking the most extreme selfies in high-up, dangerous locations.
It goes beyond actual rooftops; now it’s all about hanging over the edges of skyscrapers, or reaching the tops of the highest bridges, construction cranes, monuments, anything really that can be scaled.
And usually by people who have no climbing experience whatsoever. All just to get a photo that can be posted on social media, proving they took a bigger risk than the last person.
You could argue (and some people do) that the photos are taken with the intention of showing incredible cityscapes from unique perspectives. That these so-called “daredevils” are adventurous urban explorers and avant-garde photographers searching for the next great shot. Or, you could also argue that the high-climbing selfie-takers are really just attention- and thrill-seeking individuals hoping for instant internet stardom.
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Or, you could also argue that the high-climbing selfie-takers are really just attention- and thrill-seeking individuals hoping for instant internet stardom.
So, as much as the title reads, Daredevil Rooftop Photo Shoots, maybe it should really be, Selfie Culture Meets the High-Risk Trend of Rooftopping.
The World’s Riskiest Selfie-taker
As I said, Angela Nikolau is taking rooftopping to the next level. Her online popularity has exploded over the past year due to her incredibly talented, and incredibly terrifying, photography work.
Nikolau specializes in taking pictures of herself atop some of the world’s highest buildings and structures, often perched or lying on very narrow ledges, or in precarious-looking Yoga poses, or even doing gymnastics inches from the edge.
The 23-year-old self-taught photographer embraces the motto, “No limit, no control.” She loves the thrill of climbing to extreme heights, and has such a lack of fear that she does it without using any safety equipment.
Nikolau says she feels confident doing these things herself, although she gets nervous and scared when she sees people close to her doing them. She tries to stop them from doing anything risky or dangerous. But, she’s so confident with your own physical skills that she isn’t worried about falling.
In an interview with Sputnik News, Nikolau said that she was trained in artistic gymnastics from a young age and that the training has helped her in climbing and pulling her weight up. She said she started climbing roofs in 7th or 8th grade.
In 2013, she met and became friends with other people interested in the sport and they started taking pictures of her on roofs. Eventually, Nikolau got her own small action camera and began posting photos on Instagram.
And the fame that she’s seen on Instagram is, well, explosive. It seems people can’t get enough of Nikolau’s adrenaline-pumping, risky images, and she doesn’t let her audience down. She maintains a constant flow of high-altitude photos and videos featuring acrobatic stunts, first-time climbs, and illegal summits.
People can’t get enough of Angela Nikolau’s adrenaline-pumping, risky rooftopping images.
A big part of the fun for Nikolau is the penetration process: sneaking her way onto a site, getting past security cameras, guards, alarm systems, etc.
To date, she has scaled the
- Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong, the
- the Goldin Finance building in China, and
- the Mirax-Plaza in Ukraine, to name a few.
The Moscow-based daredevil is often accompanied by her boyfriend, Ivan Kuzenetsov, another rooftopping sensation. The couple travels the world together looking for the next big climb. Recently, they made global news after climbing the highest construction site in the world – the 117 story Goldin Finance building in Tianjin, China.
They made a video about it. Of course.
What’s the Motivation Behind Rooftopping?
Roofing has definitely seen a major boost in popularity over the last few years, but where does the drive to go to such extremes come from?
Is it really just about racking up the followers online? Getting praised, making the news, even causing a little bit of controversy? There are a lot of people who think so.
In 2014, Toronto photographer Neil Ta wrote a great article about why he was done with rooftopping. That’s right, even two years ago, some photographers were calling rooftopping a trend that lacked substance and was just a cry for attention.
The bottom line is you’re being admired for your antics, not for your photography, Neil Ta
And this is from a guy who saw success with his rooftopping adventures and work—he sold prints, was featured in magazines and major newspapers, and had gallery shows.
But, Ta believes more and more of the younger generation photographers see the practice of taking these sky high, dangerous selfies as a quick way to internet stardom.
In another article, cultural geographer Bradley L. Garrett wrote, “Relative newcomers to the scene can amass hundreds of thousands of followers in mere months by posting photos of their dirty sneakers dangling off buildings or, even better, photos of themselves dangling off buildings.”
But, he also went on to say that fame alone can’t be enough to motivate rooftoppers to take even greater risks.
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The explosion in popularity has led to deaths in Russia and the US, which in turn has led to legal crackdowns and harsher punishments for those caught. But, people are still roofing in countries where the sentences are most severe. If it were just about fame, wouldn’t they go to places where they are less likely to be arrested?
So, if not for the pursuit of recognition, then why do it? Garret suggests there could be a political drive or the desire to explore, natural curiosity, and the need for freedom and control can be a huge driving force.
What do you think is the motivator behind rooftopping?