The Night Climbers of Cambridge

17th of April - 31st of May 2018

  • untitled, 1930s, vintage print, 13.5 x 8.5 cm

„If you slip, you will still have three seconds to live.“
Whipplesnaith

The book The Night Climbers of Cambridge was first published in England in 1937.

It is the collected documentation of the activities of a group of Cambridge students with a fondness for a death defying hobby: to secretly scale the century-old Gothic stone masonry of college and town buildings at night. In their obscure interaction with the surrounding architecture, these young men appropriate themselves of the urban landscape and turn King's College campus into their playground.

They capture their nocturnal activities in a remarkable photographic record. It is a documentation of fearless acrobatics, taken from vertiginous angles and illuminated by camera flashes – a testimony of death-defying dauntlessness. The stark contrast between light and shadow results in a breathtaking photographic style that is uniquely dramatic and reminiscent of old film noir thrillers.

The students published the book under the pseudonym 'Whipplesnaith'. Apart from the illustrated photographs, the book features a compendium of climbing routes across the rooftops of Cambridge. The Night Climbers of Cambridge reached cult status amongst climbing societies. It was reprinted in 2007.

The fascination for the night climbers, pioneers of urban exploration, continues unchanged to this very day. Vice Magazine titled a story published in 2013 about the climbers: „Amateur Cambridge Climbing Societies were punk before punk existed.“ They embody the anarchic spirit of punk before punk and instantly bring to mind the daredevil antics of urban climbing or parkour as seen on YouTube or comparable social media channels today.

The artist Thomas Mailaender discovered two sets of the original vintage photographs of the Cambridge climbers and released a comprehensive publication in collaboration with the Archive of Modern Conflict, London, in 2014. One of the two sets is in the possession of Delmes & Zander and will be now shown at the gallery for the first time.