ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Ian Cox recalls a perfect moment with FUTURA during the illegal, subterranean Underbelly Project in Paris.
I was invited to document the second Underbelly Project, after New York. It’s an illegal project. It’s not sanctioned, so it’s all in the dead of the night, down in holes, off platforms… That sort of thing. All of the equipment has to be carried in and taken out.
Why would I say “no” to something like that? I always say “yes,” and then think afterwards what have I done?
This was different. The NY project was completed over the course of two years. This one was done in a day. I went down a manhole in the street at around 6AM in the morning. I came out of that same manhole at around 7:30PM that night. So we were all down there for, 12, 13 hours?
It was, Conor Harrington, SheOne, SABER, HOW & NOSM, C215, Alice Pasquini, Will Barras, Tristan Eaton and FUTURA. Oh, and Martha Cooper, the photographer. We all had to get down a hole in the road, without being seen.
It was pitch black. We went down a short ladder. Then, there was another ladder that felt like it was hundreds of feet long. I had a really, really heavy camera bag that I was holding between my legs with one hand as I climbed down the ladder with my other hand because it had a cage around it, so I couldn’t fit down the hole with the bag on my back.
It was a bit hellish. I think the fact that it was pitch black probably helped because I don’t think I could’ve got to the bottom if I’d have seen how far it was. I’d have given up, I think. And now we’re in the Paris Metro system with a few steps beside us that go straight down to the live tracks. There are trains thundering past.
The painting was all done inside what a closed-off tunnel. Something with a door that had been used at one point. It had a track bed in it. It looked like you could actually climb underneath the train if you wanted to do some work on the train. Quite a long tunnel, but not a good place for people to be painting in, I’ve gotta say.
We were using rechargeable LED lights — battery operated lights that were taken down and suspended on wires that were run across the tunnel. They were quite effective, actually and lasted through the course of the painting. What nobody really banked on was how misty it would get. The paint fumes. By the end of the day, there was a fog of paint in there. There was no ventilation in the tunnel and we couldn’t leave the door open, because that could potentially raise concerns in the metro because you could smell the fumes. We were half-aspirated.
I started to feel it, the acetone. My camera bag, even now, still smells of paint. My camera started playing about because it had a film of paint over the sensors. My headphone dissolved, literally. Yeah, it was a pretty horrible place.
Have you ever met FUTURA? He’s an amazing character, he really is. So, he’s got this red blanket ’round himself, which looks a bit like a cape and throughout the day he looked like a superhero. He’s has this blanket over his shoulders ever since we’d arrived at the rendezvous point. I think it was a Delta Airline blanket that he’d brought off the plane with him.
There was a point during the morning, probably before 12 o’clock, when Lenny disappeared. And bare in mind that there’s only two places you can be and that’s in the tunnel or just outside the tunnel. Where’s FUTURA gone? I looked outside and he wasn’t there and I’d sort of forgotten about it and carried on walking around the tunnels and then I fell over something on the floor.
It was his feet.
He was curled up under his blanket on the floor of the tunnel where all the painting was going on. It was almost like his own sanctuary from the madness of painting. I wanted to take a picture of this because (a) it amazed me that he could secrete himself under such a small blanket and (b) it’s just such a bizarre sight, a red blanket with a pair of Converse sticking out from underneath.
I didn’t take the picture of it at the time. I’d only met him the day before for the first time, and it felt a bit intrusive. You know, like the reason he’d covered himself up with the blanket was just to get away from everything that was going on in there at that moment. Snapping away felt a bit… paparazzi?
To this day, I regret not taking the picture of Lenny under his blanket because between all of us there, it became legendary.
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