Jeff Chapman, better known as Ninjalicious and as founder of the zine Infiltration and a leader of the urban exploration (UE) community, passed away on Tuesday, August 23, 2005. He was 31.
I've never been big on reading material that labels itself as UE, but what I've read of Ninj's work has stood out to me as being different. He shows a great reverence for the sites he visits. Besides just visiting and photographing restricted sites, he researches them and advocates for preservation. Clearly, his exploration was driven by love for places as much as it was for sheer thrills. His natural curiosity shows through both in his writing and in the depth of his exploration. Abandoned places scare the crap out of me, and even when I love a building and have visited it half a dozen times, there are often certain places I just won't go in a building because they scare me too much. Ninj, though, would reach a door seemingly leading to nothing, and instead of turning around he'd crawl down a rusty ladder, climb through several tunnels, and then spend hours crawling through a dense maze of steam pipes, just to see what was there, just to know that place. That really impresses me.
Also impressive is his deep understanding of the relationship between his work and architectural ideas. Ninj was involved with the Toronto Architectural Conservancy and in particular its efforts to preserve historic hospitals in Toronto. He created the hilarious Cloney Time portion of the infamous site Not Fooling Anybody, which is edited by his wife and collaborator Liz Clayton. He wrote about buildings and changes outside of simply exploring abandoned and forbidden places -- he understood that there were many ways to consider the captured space that is architecture.
We'd hoped to meet Ninj someday, even though we didn't know him beyond the complimentary e-mail he sent to Michael last year about Ecology of Absence, in which he said he took especially great interest in the writing on the site. The more we've read about him since his passing, the more we wish we'd gotten to meet him. He seems like he was very friendly and inclusive, and like he put so much out there into the world. But I guess we'd just assumed he'd be around and that we'd meet him someday. Now, he's left us. It's not often that I feel so hard hit by hearing of the death of someone I never knew, but Ninj was just such an institution that he can't be gone, can he?
For more information about Jeff Chapman, see Death of a Ninj from The Torontoist (August 25). Better yet, seek out his diverse writings and web projects.