I spent years documenting the dumpster divers, punks and squatters of Leeds

From 2009 to 2013, when buildings lay abandoned all over Leeds, photographer Ricky Adam documented the group of punks who saw an opportunity in the emptiness.

May 5, 2018

Photo by Ricky Adam

Its abundance of abandoned terrace houses has historically made Leeds a magnet for squatters. Ricky Adam hails from Northern Ireland, and most of the squatters he photographed for his series, Edge of Living, came to Leeds from Ireland and other parts of the U.K.

“If anything, the recession was an enabler,” said Adam in an email, ”banks were repossessing houses at a ferocious rate. Properties lay vacant all over the city. At one point, there were at least five different squat houses all within a mile of each other, some literally streets away from the next.”

For the series, Adam chronicled Leeds’ punks from 2009 to 2013, documenting the hardships of squatting. Obtaining electricity, running water, employment when you have no stable address. Adam said that one subject, J, once returned home to find the locks changed and his belongings strewn across the street. Edge of Living not only follows squatters’ day to day lives of drinking, smoking, dumpster diving and playing video games but documenting shifts in the policy landscape as the U.K.’s laws around squatting took a dramatic turn in 2012.

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‘C’ laughing in the street around the corner from where he’s squatting. – “I don’t like paying rent, I fucking hate it. The first time I handed money over for rent I felt a sense of defeat.” – ‘C’ (Photo by Ricky Adam )

“In 2012 a law was passed in the UK to make squatting residential houses illegal,” said Adam, “before, evicting squatters was part of civil law. Whoever owned the property had to go through the courts to evict, a process that could take three to six months. Now, the police have the power to arrest and remove squatters, then and there, no questions asked. I know people reading this may disagree with squatting in general, but you have to understand there are many vacant buildings in and around Leeds, that have been lying vacant for years. This group only lived in buildings that had been empty for a long, long time.”

Adam said that since the change in policy, squatting has become much more difficult, and the stakes for facing criminal charges are much higher. While he never witnessed anyone get arrested himself, Adam says that there have been far more arrests up and down the country. Every location he shot in for the project is no longer being squatted in, as abandoned as the day they were pried open. Left to the rats.

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“We didn’t hear anything for nearly a year, then some bloke showed up from the bank saying they were going to take the house over”. – C (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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Going through bins in the student area of Leeds, U.K. – Many bottles of half empty spirits, packets of discarded food and at least 3 vibrators were found on this day. (Students move out for the summer and throw a lot of stuff out during this period) (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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C & R drinking in the street on a misty winter night in November. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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R & S killing time giving each other fresh mohawks. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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Skipping food for dinner in a supermarket skip. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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Curry made entirely from skipped food. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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C in his room with the ceiling falling in holding up his ‘Dirt’ T-shirt: ‘Object, Refuse, Reject Abuse. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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Bad tattoo – May 2008: Unemployment hits 2.2 million after the biggest three-month rise in joblessness since 1981. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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‘J’ inside a boarded up terrace house. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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‘M’ holding up a dead raven. (Photo by Ricky Adam )
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“Everyone has a right to a roof over their head, right?” – ‘C’ (Photo by Ricky Adam )
May 5, 2018