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‘The Night Climbers of Cambridge’

17 Apr 2018
31 May 2018
Delmes & Zander
Lindenstrasse 20-22
50674 Cologne

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The Night Climbers of Cambridge, untitled, 1930s (archive-no. 019). Courtesy: Delmes & Zander, Cologne 

The Night Climbers of Cambridge, untitled, 1930s (archive-no. 019). Courtesy: Delmes & Zander, Cologne 

In 1937, an author working under the ludicrous mononym ‘Whipplesnaith’ published The Night Climbers of Cambridge with Chatto & Windus, a photobook documenting the nocturnal exploits of Cambridge university students. In a series of gritty, monochrome plates, a set of which will be on view at Delmes & Zander during Art Cologne, groups of young, white, probably wealthy (almost definitely drunk) men vault over buttresses, shimmy between drainpipes, stand proudly atop distant nave roofs. On the risk involved in such daring acts of institutional critique, dear ‘Whipplesnaith’ (real name, hilariously: Noël Howard Symington) was defiant: ‘If you slip, you will still have three seconds to live.’

As images, and images alone, the series is equal parts beautiful and entertaining: photographs of human feats will always be engaging, as will visual evidence of those able to exploit the gaps between imposed sanctions (physical or otherwise). But there is something tragically funny about the project as a whole. Here, in the 1930s, shortly after the Great Depression buckled Britain’s industry and plunged the nation into a suffocating period of mass unemployment, we have the cream of the privileged class flexing their rebellious muscles in the most ludicrous of ways; asserting their right to civil disobedience from the roof of St John’s College Chapel and then anonymously publishing their acts of sin for fear of academic retribution. Give ’em hell, kids …

- Harry Thorne