Urban spelunking

August 27, 2007 | By | 2 Replies More

In an article recently published on BldgBlog (HT: Boing Boing), there’s an absolutely fascinating interview with Michael Cook, a Canadian writer and photographer who devotes himself to exploring the subterranean infrastructure – that is to say, the storm sewers, spillways, abandoned hydroelectric complexes, dams, and all manner of tunnels and drains – that lie unseen beneath our cities like a vast, hidden world under the world.

The interview includes many truly stunning pictures. Many of these places are quite beautiful – often in a sort of noir, industrial sense, granted, but there are also concrete spillways running through wilderness and forest, storm drains that form spectacular waterfalls, and vast, soaring tunnels where light pours down as if in a cathedral. (There are more pictures on Cook’s own site, Vanishing Point.)

But even the less beautiful tunnels give me a feeling of obscure fascination. All my life, I’ve been enthralled by the idea of hidden places – those secret, forgotten realms, lost in the interstices of society and accessible only to the privileged few who have knowledge of their existence. There are, as Cook notes, whole interconnected layers of human history down in the dark that cry out to be studied and recorded.

As well, these explorations can give one an entirely new perspective on our society and the vast, complex infrastructure that maintains it – an infrastructure that most people never even know exists, much less see. It may well be that many people dismiss the notion of environmental protection only because they are unaware of just how much effort goes into sustaining our civilization, and what a fragile balance exists between humanity and nature.

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Category: Culture, Entertainment, Noteworthy, photography, Whimsy

About the Author ()

I'm an author, skeptic and computer programmer living in New York City. I'm also an unapologetic atheist, and believe passionately that freethinkers deserve a much stronger voice in our culture than they've been given in the past. Since politicians and the mainstream media aren't willing to give us that, it falls to us to take our case directly to the public. Both on my own weblog, Daylight Atheism, and here on Dangerous Intersection, I hope to be able to spread the good news of freethought!

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    What an incredible article! It's difficult to decide whether Michael Cook is best at being an explorer, a philosopher or a photographer. In the end, I assume it will be those incredible photographs that will stick with me. Stunning self-portraits, for the most part (I assume it's not easy to get your buddies to go down into the sewer with you).

    The cartoon super-hero, The Tick, had a friend whose superpowers bloomed in the sewers. His name: Sewer Urchin. Cook's article repeatedly reminded me of Sewer Urchin. See http://www.thetick.ws/tvheroes.html or http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/s/seaurchn.htm

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    Beautiful photos! Do people still go steam-tunnelling on the Wash. U. campus in St. Louis?

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