The Power of Parkour - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because looking at pictures of parkour is easier than healing a compound fracture.

Here’s a question for you: who invents dances? These stylized moves don’t exist and suddenly they do and then everyone is doing The Twist. Or the Lambada. Or Twerking.

Same deal with parkour, the free form flipping, jumping, gymnastic attack on cityscapes and near cityscapes that looks for all the world like a gravity game without a board, bike or rollerblades.

Whether you saw it in a James Bond film or in YouTube videos, parkour crept into the public consciousness.

And in the case of parkour, we actually know who invented it: a French cat named David Belle who, in the late 1980s got the idea from his father’s stories of military obstacle courses. Belle adapted the military-esque gymnastics to an urban setting, and a figuratively new dance was born. Footage of freerunners started spreading widely in the 2000s, so whether you saw it in the opening of a James Bond film or in YouTube videos, parkour crept into the public consciousness.

Which is where photojournalist Mark Madeo discovered it. A former skateboarder and punk rock kid, Madeo’s photo work has appeared in Thrasher skateboard mag, Rolling Stone and MacLife magazine. Whether he was doing generalized corporate or straight world work, or following his own deep and abiding obsession with parkour, Madeo has captured freerunners in wild locales and in standard spots done guerilla style. He’s followed the tribes up and over walls, fences, and wherever else air can be caught to catch the fluid grace of bodies in motion in the places we call home.

While parkour itself is a practice of carefully avoiding actual danger, photographing parkour has no such pretense. This comes across clearly in Madeo’s photos, which brim with a kind of anarchic, but weightless edge. A lot like skateboarding’s frozen moments which he had previously captured in his photos for Thrasher.

Parkour (say par-KOOR) is the art of moving through a natural or urban environment as swiftly and effectively as possible using only the human body. Also known as freerunning.

“I’ve tried it, and it can’t really be compared to skateboarding,” says Madeo from his San Francisco studio. ”Every step of parkour is thought of as a physical and mental challenge and requires physical and mental introspection. People who do it more readily compare it to a martial art or gymnastics.” So say the photos, with their depictions of well-muscled 20-somethings leaping and flying through the air, hanging for the briefest of moments before they land their jumps. Or don’t. 

While Madeo is almost done selecting a final edit of parkour photos for a book he’s planning on publishing in 2014, OZY got a first look and so we’re giving you a sneak peek. Like now. 

“It’s sort of very simply beautiful and therefore kind of great,” Madeo says. “And that’s what I’d like people to see.”


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