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He pulls himself up onto the ledge, twirling his body around while slowly proceeding to shift his legs, and then his feet over the open air. From behind, he simply looks like he was sitting on a bench overlooking a view of the city’s skyline. From the front, you could see a rooftopper, camera in hand, taking pictures of his feet dangling 500 metres from the ground.
The act of rooftopping exploded in popularity about two years ago when photographers all around the world decided that breaking into buildings and taking daring shots of themselves hanging off ledges would make for an interesting photo. Today, any city with tall buildings and massive skyscrapers are not safe from the prying clutches of these photographers. Chicago, New York, Shanghai and Toronto became some of the world’s most popular rooftopping locations due to their high concentration of bustling business centres and iconically beautiful skylines. Rooftopper Anish Sarkar frequents the top of Toronto buildings regularly and says he started taking rooftop photos last year at the end of summer.
“I started with this guy in my program, he doesn’t rooftop regularly, only a couple of times, but he took me and two other instagrammers,” said Sarkar. “We went up to this rooftop at University and Dundas – back then I didn’t have a camera, so I used my phone to take pictures.”
Today Sarkar has become well known in Toronto’s expansive Instagram community. His Instagram handle, “trymeth” is one among a mainstay of popular rooftoppers in the city.
Sarkar, among many other photographers, became part of the wave of rooftoppers that collided with Toronto in the last two years, but the rooftops weren’t the only thing that these photographers went face to face with.
Since many of these scenic views are on private property and businesses, meaning that rooftoppers would have to find a way to bypass the security that awaited them throughout the building. Even after sneaking past the guards on the bottom floor, they still had to find a way to break into the building’s roof. Cut padlocks, picked doors and broken latches were usually a sign that a rooftopper successfully scaled the building.
In February of 2015, three of Toronto’s most famous rooftoppers were arrested while on top of a building and were charged with break and enter and mischief as well as possession of break-in instruments. These arrests caused rooftopping to take a steep decline for a small period of time. Six months later, the charges would later be dropped against the three because they did not have the intent to commit an indictable offence.
Feeling invincible because of this legal precedent, many rooftoppers once again began to take to the rooftops of Toronto. Since then, Toronto Police issued a call to end all rooftopping photography last February.
“Police are aware that rooftoppers are out there and on the prowl and always looking for that next photo opportunity, so you can’t really scope out when they’re going to appear, it’s hard to say this is the day someone is going to do something so arrests are not always possible,” says Toronto Police media relations officer Jenifferjit Sidhu. “It is popular because of its popularity with social media sites and you kind of get a celebrity kind of status, and I’m not going to lie, they are beautiful photographs, but they are very dangerous in the way that they are taken,”
Rooftopper Ben Va says that he rooftops for the thrill of it and doesn’t really care if he gets arrested. “At first it was the photos, but as I got more comfortable, it was for the thrill, because being up there man, it was like being on something more powerful than you are, something that really scares you to the core.”
All photos taken by David Lao.