Guerrilla History & Urban Exploration

NYC Urban Exploration with videographer Andrew Wonder

Check out this very cool cut of some footage shot by videographer Andrew Wonder from our explorations in NYC. View it on his Vimeo page:

UNDERCITY from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

Underground Expedition through New York City with Erling Kagge

In December of 2010, I spent a week with Norwegian polar explorer Erling Kagge (email: erling@kagge.no) making our way through the underground of New York City. Starting in the Bronx and ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Jamaica Bay, Queens, our idea was to make our way from one end of New York City to the other through its myriad tunnel networks. In the process, I knew we'd also be exploring New York City's past -- making our way through more than two centuries of urban development, including streams that were once aboveground waterways in the pre-urban topography (17th & 18th centuries), to the city's first enclosed sewer along Canal Street (early 19th century), to the completely 20th-century labyrinth of the subway system. We wouldn't sleep in hotels during the week-long trip, but would camp in the tunnels or wherever we could find a spot.

It was freezing cold, often wet and miserable, far more difficult than I expected in many ways, and we only made it through a portion of the tunnels we planned/hoped to. It was also an absolutely wonderful trip. Overall it was five days and four nights, monday-friday. We slept three nights underground, and the fourth night didn't sleep at all.

The trip was originally Erling's idea and I can't thank him enough for the leadership, inspiration, and-- above all-- his complete willingness and excitement to do crazy, stupid, foolish, wonderful things like this. I also want to give me deepest thanks for the other people involved, both friends who helped to make the trip possible and journalists who were willing to accompany us on some or all of the trip to help make public the amazing world of the urban underground.

My co-explorer:
Erling Kagge (Click here for one of many online pages about him. Also, many thanks to his wonderful family for sparing him for ten days prior to Christmas!)

Moses Gates (www.allcitynewyork.com)
Shane Perez (www.shaneperez.com)
Will Hunt (http://willunderground.wordpress.com)
Andrew Wonder (http://andrewwonder.com)
Elizabeth Rush (http://www.elizabethrush.net)
Jacki Lyden (NPR)
Brent Baughman (NPR)
Alan Feuer (NY Times)
Michael Appleton (NY Times)

Researching New York: Perspectives on Empire State History

My first presentation at an academic conference:

Researching New York: Perspectives on Empire State History "Modeling Minetta," a project created with Liz Barry

Nov 19, 2010
University at Albany - SUNY, Albany, NY

"On Top of the World with the Recreational Trespassers" - London's Guardian

 My photos appeared in a short article:
"On Top of the World with the Recreational Trespassers"
Guardian (London)
Nov 15, 2010

Press on Conflux 2010

Had an absolutely wonderful time at Conflux 2010! An amazing set of people showed up for the festival. Really glad to be involved with it.

My Keynote Address from Friday Oct 8 (sound is not very good for the first few minutes, but better after): http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/10078519

Panel discussion/Long table talk, with me, Moses Gates, Miru Kim, and Julia Solis from Sunday Oct 10: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/10121777 

The Conflux channel on ustream.com: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/conflux-festival-2010


Keynote Speaker - Conflux 2010

Steve Duncan is Conflux 2010’s keynote speaker

Steve Duncan is Conflux 2010’s keynote speaker

Artist, historian and urban spelunker Steve Duncan will be giving a keynote talk October 8 in the auditorium at Conflux HQ.

Steve’s photography explores the hidden side of quotidian urban life, taking his audience to the forgotten spaces of New York, Paris, Rome and beyond. As of late you may have caught him talking about the Paris catacombs over at Flux Factory.

Beyond making pretty images, (more of which can be appreciated at undercity.org) Steve’s explorations are also the springboard for historical research. In his words, he tries “to peel back the layers of a city to see what’s underneath.” While delving into the physical urban layers he also digs into the temporal layers by researching the history of urban terrain all over the world.
Be sure to catch him in NYU’s Barney Building auditorium the Friday evening of Conflux!

"What Lies Beneath" - Metro New York, Thurs Oct 7

"What Lies Beneath: Uncovering NYC's Lost Underground"
Metro New York
Thurs Oct 7, 2010

Article on Underground London

Online article about underground London and its lost rivers

"Exploring Sewers" - Arcade 29.1

"Exploring Sewers"
Article and photos by me published in Arcade 29.1, Fall 2010

Link to the article text, without the pictures, is here

"City of Light, City of Darkness" - Slideshow Thursday July 15 at Flux Factory, Queens


City of Light, City of Darkness: Panel on the Paris Underground

As part of Flux Factory's Going Places (Doing Stuff) III, urban explorers Moses Gates and Steve Duncan will present adventures from far-off Paris. Though it's known as the City of Light, there are 170 miles of absolute darkness that exist under the city -- a network of limestone quarries dotted with WWII bunkers, ossuaries, unofficial art galleries, and other assorted surprises colloquially known as the Catacombs. It is home to a subculture of people of all ages, interests, and nationalities who make a hobby of exploring and utilizing these and other hidden spaces throughout Paris -- the Cataphiles.

Moses Gates and Steve Duncan will be covering the history, culture, and structures of this underground world in a slideshow presentation, as well as explaining how you, too, can become a Cataphile.

Flux Factory
39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, Queens
8p; $free

Email of the day - Sewer hazards

Tomasz Kupiecki to steve
Jun 2

Hi Steve!
Your site is very interesting, it`s a good job. I`m Tom, sewer worker from Warsaw, Poland. Photos of London sewers were so familiar- we`ve got sewer net projected by Wiliam Lindley about 1880`s.

I wanna warn you- sewer can be a deadly trap, because of poisonus gases, poor oxygene atmosphere, explosive gases, fast rising level of water, so please, be very, very carefull.

For example I was a victim of explosive gases, in Poland work is still „in oldschool style”- rubber waders, coats, gas masks, tripods from communism era, etc. So- I put my black rubber chest waders and went to manhole. I wade about 30 meters from there in knee deep sludge, to check condition of sewer line (high about 1,9m, wide aobut 3m)... So I was wading, and suddenly I heard somethig like thunderclap, and a mighty force thrown me back, to the manhole. I feel very high temperature, I was knocked down and all covered by sewer sludge... Waders were filled by this... I was trying to keep head above it... My co-workers on the surface were yeling: Tom what is it? I babbled: for God`s sake, pull me out from here, and I fainted. The cause of explosion was someones fag putted to the manhole... Before I was taken to hospital, rescuers had to clean me and remove from me waders filled sludge... In hospital I was all in gypsum costume about half year.

So, please- be very, very carefull.
Best wishes, and sorry for my English, Tom from Warsaw.

I emailed him back and mentioned that I usually carry a gas meter that checks for explosive/flammable gases as well as for hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide, but that I don't currently have a working oxygen meter. He sent this diagram and explanation for helping avoid low-oxygen atmospheres:

Greg Brotherton's sculpture

Aawesome sculpture from Greg Brotherton - "Sewer Man," inspired in part by one of my pictures from the underground Park River in Hartfard, CT....

Columbia Magazine - "The Night Hunter"

 Columbia Magazine, Spring 2010
Cover Story:
The Night Hunter
By Paul Hond
"Urban explorer and photographer Steve Duncan approaches history from a different perspective."


Underground London Rivers - in Croatian!

From VelikaBritanija.net: All Things British, in Croation

"Zaboravljene rijeke"
Piše: Vjeran Stojanac , 01. 04. 2010.
I think T.S. Eliot had an urban explorer's sense of history and the past. A couple lines from "Little Gidding" (Number 4 of "Four Quartets"):

...History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern....

...What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning...

...We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Sven Johne

A while back I was contacted by a Sven Johne, a German conceptual photographer, who wanted to integrate my work into a project. I didn't know what a "conceptual photographer" was but the more I found out about his work, the more I liked it. The end result is here: http://www.svenjohne.de/svenjohne_work_nytunnel.html

Slideshow Jan 15, 2010, in Riverside, CA (Near UC Riverside)

Slideshow Jan 15, 2010 at Shutterstories in Riverside; Photos on Exhibit through April 2010

On Friday January 15th I'll be doing my first slideshow/presentation in Riverside, CA. Many thanks to Terry and Melissa Tippie for the chance to do it at their gallery.

This is also my first chance to show pictures from my trip to Eastern Europe this past summer! Amazing tunnels and excellent adventures in Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. You can see some samples on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/organize/?start_tab=one_set72157622892006485

January 15, 2010
At Shutterstories (gallery/studio space), 981 Iowa Ave., Riverside CA 92507
Doors open at 7pm, come and have a drink or a snack
I start showing pictures at 8pm.
Generally these run about 45 minutes of me presenting, plus time afterwards for questions.

One Case silent auction by Resource Magazine

Four of my prints are being offered as part of the One Case silent auction in New York, organized by Resource Magazine, which will take place January 7th 2009 night at Milk Gallery (450 W.15th St. NYC)
Facebook event page: