December 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
This might be of some interest: Mitch Epstein’s American Power series is fairly well-known but its theatrical presentation is not. Details to be found on http://places.designobserver.com/feature/mitch-epstein-american-power/38217/
September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
Most of what I think needs to be said has been said in the comments on John’s ‘Some Items on Curating the Traverse’, especially if one reads Nick and Carol together. What is left is perhaps to encourage thought towards the practicability of means of showing the traverse; towards the need for a budget for the presentation; and to illustrate some ideas which came out of the conference. They will almost certainly not be the last ideas. They all seem more or less workable and yet each begs some questions on the aims of the project. I am appending rather diagrammatic drawings of a sample wall in the Greenwich Gallery, one for each idea. Detail discussion should wait until the meeting on the 4th October.
A brief note on each:
1. A scroll for each participant. Probably needs quite tight control of the layouts within each. Requires scroll width limited to 400mm. Does not read as a continuity. Is visually striking. Emphasises individual contributions.
2. A grid. Each participant takes six boxes, locates photos and text within. Absorbs different print formats. Continuity muted. Visually striking.
3. A line. The most literal presentation of the traverse. Near absolute continuity. Even with sizes standardised, three rows (at least) will be needed. Little space for text. Relies on content to establish participant individuality. Muted appearance?
September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
Now I have started editing, I think I may have been a little unfair to myself. To be sure there are far too many pix (over 300) and as art works they are pretty null, but as record they are not as bad as I thought, not as thoughtless. But the editing is hell. Can I whittle down to ten images and show the complexities (spatial, social, economic, historic) that characterise where I have walked? No. Can’t be done. So what can be? Don’t yet know.
It throws up questions, though. Are we simply recording or trying for something else? Do we walk the city to find subjects for photography or do we walk the city, photographing, in an effort to understand the city? Or both? Or neither? Is a search for subjects for photography a reflection of aesthetic or biographical promptings or is it a product of earlier knowledge, be it from whatever discipline? In the effort to understand, is the photography really necessary as anything more than an aide memoire? Or is it essential to the communication of that understanding or to the fuelling of debate?
Turning aside for a moment, where did we walk? I started with a landfall in East London. For half the sequence we stayed in the East End. Does this indicate something of shared concern or was it a chance combination of, perhaps, ease of access and familiarity? This is a question for the group and for each of us individually. This too: can we characterise the places we looked at, whether residential, industrial, commercial, pre- or post-war, or nineteenth century, public or private, and so on? Does this also show the things we did not look at? And what do we make of that?
The root-question of the project really is, what is it that matters to us in the urban condition? As photographers, how do we make that evident? Can we affect it? I think we may be discussing this long after the project is ended. I hope so.
And if we aim to clarify, how do we do that when having to shoe-horn accounts of twenty-six linked walks into a very small gallery? Do we each ‘do our own thing’? The risk is incoherence. Do we agree on a standard, modest mode of presentation? The risk is dullness. If, in discussion, we draw some (probably, rightly, tentative) conclusions from the walks, how do we present them? Separately in addition to the walks, or somehow through the walks? I have no final answers (preferences, of course) but we will need to have agreed answers before mid-October.
September 8, 2013 § 3 Comments
When I proposed the Loose Traverse project in late June (see Putting One Foot Before The Other), I made a crudely tentative categorisation of modes of walking in the city: the everyday walk, observing walks, investigatory walks and the art-walk. What I then proposed as a project, which we have now half done, was not an everyday walk and, for me, it plainly fell into the observing and investigatory modes. I questioned the art-walk and the resulting art-work: “Is the production of an art-work enough? Or sufficiently direct? (I’m inclined to answer, no.)” I think I was concerned that the walk should not be undertaken overly self-consciously, or overloaded with conscious a priori concepts, that the walk might be called “innocent”. The obvious paradox is that as soon as thought and a camera intervene the innocence is lost. Nevertheless, I hoped the walks as walked would be as free of influence as possible.
It was probably an unreasonable expectation: it certainly wasn’t true of my own walk. To begin, I felt it needed a gesture, a marker of beginning, so it starts on the Clipper – landfall at Canary Wharf. Why Canary Wharf? Because it would be the first part of a passage through the distinct realms of Big Capital and ordinary London, a metropolis of increasing and disturbing inequality. The route was consciously wrapped around and through major public housing developments, Robin Hood Gardens (1970s and awaiting demolition), Balfron Tower (also 1970s and listed), the Lansbury Estate (1951, the Festival of Britain social exemplar), then projected through where industry had been alongside the Limehouse Cut and on to satisfy a long-standing curiosity about the Tower Hamlets Cemetery, first seen years ago from the train and seeming to be, of all improbable things, an inner city forest, and so ending up at the edge of Mile End Park, a major planning intervention of the last few decades, carving out a large green area where there had been none.
If the traverse was planned, the photos were not. They were pretty much thoughtless attractions, a hell of a lot of them and, me being unfamiliar with a fairly tricky little digital camera, a lot of them alarmingly incompetent. Oh well, heavy editing.
More to follow: thoughts on the whole traverse and how to present it.
In the meantime, can I echo John’s plea for material, especially brief accounts of walks. Even allowing for the inevitable absences, the two meetings on the project will be pretty crowded with material – better to arrive with some foreknowledge.
July 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
I have to contest John’s last statement under ‘Walking Practice’. It is rather at variance with the intentions underlying the project proposal. The project is not proposed in relation to a process, it is a process and the purpose of the process is not self-explication. We are concerned with the city, the urban state-of-things, not with our own workings. Therefore the focus is on our observations of the city, as far as possible untrammelled by a priori categories. This is not to dis-value individual responses which will inevitably be affected by our life-experiences, including concepts picked up along the way, but to leave the discussion of them to the end when they are (potentially) made evident in the photos we shall have taken. They then become part of a process of reflection after the walking is done.Then we question ourselves and we question each other: what guided our footsteps? what were our concerns? what theories were in mind? what do we think we have shown? We will, with any luck, come to some conclusions about the range of our concerns, the degree of consensus or lack of it, perhaps even some appraisal of the state-of-things, and a means of presenting these things in a clear way. We should not set out at the beginning worried whether our walk is a march, a reverencing or shopping – that can come (along with any other categories we think relevant) in the period of reflection.
It’s a GAME
But a serious one and I’m hoping that the meeting on 16th July will concentrate on actions and leave the theory aside.
June 21, 2013 § 1 Comment
There are many modes of walking in the city (as everywhere). A crudely tentative order might differentiate between the everyday walking we all do in the course of doing whatever we do do (the practice of everyday life), various sorts of observing walk (derives, tourism, photo hunts of one sort or another), investigatory walks (architecture hunts, professional townscape assessments etc) and the self-conscious art-walk highlighted in recent postings here.
For the moment let’s set aside the everyday and think about the observing walk, how we might “investigate the territory, avoid the conditioned response, the consensual places.
Follow the grid line: street atlas. Follow very close, so traverse the city, section it. The trajectory is given, preselected, the path not. Walking in the gutter simplifies the choice of grid line.
Bus route or tube line, every stop: I tried this once long ago. This game needs rules else too long a derive at each stop, but the rules can be stultifying (I remind myself: weren’t they? Other rules liberate. Epiphanies granted.)
Derive: the spontaneous wander, a group at least slightly drunk, transforms (cleans up) into free improv (solo) for feet and camera. Leave the camera behind? The route materialises, ungiven. Considered, revisited?
Round the block. No distance. Circling, examining, piecing together.
Following an old way: Roman road, cattle drive, river.”
This was part of a piece I wrote for the Routes edition of fLIP, and also a kind of preface for a photo-study of the Commercial Road. The piece remains unpublished but material from the study has recently been exhibited. I wrote then of the photos in the exhibition:
………the pace of change and the general uncertainty about the intentions and agencies behind changes to the fabric of our environment generate anxieties and disorientation.
These photos are not intended to get behind the changes, they deal only with the superficial appearance of things. But the appearance is still an index of the state of a society – what survives and what does not, the condition of places, implied decisions, value judgements, relative economic and political power.
This was, more-or-less, an instance of following a (not too) old way, somewhat observational, somewhat investigatory. The questions now in my mind are prompted by scepticism of the art-walk. Does it illuminate, or alert us to the state of the city? Does it illuminate our own state of mind? Does it relate the two? If so, how? In what terms? Will it help equip us to perceive the everyday? Is the production of an art-work enough? Or sufficiently direct? (I’m inclined to answer, no.)Are other modes of walking inadequate, in need of the art-walk as critique? Does the element of performance illuminate or obstruct the perception of the actual? At the moment this is a zone of extreme unclarity, at least for me.
Is there an exercise, a project which could be undertaken within the scope and disappearing time-frame of November which could begin to answer some of these questions? Or at least re-frame them within a shared experience? Is it worth a group assembling and debating how it might go about this? (Face to face: e-conversations or more blog postings are too clumsy and time-consuming.) And, having gone about it, re-group and consider what might be drawn from it? And what might be presented as evidence of the thought and action we have undertaken? And conclusions, if any and however tentative, that we have reached? Better be quick about it.
I suppose I want to answer ‘yes’ to the last questions but I’m very uncertain about the nature of the project. Could it be something like this, an idea in need of a discussion, a kicking around before we go off and do something?
So first, the meeting which refines or supplants everything following here. A list of willing participants is drawn up with contact details and someone makes the first move. It’s very much a game structure.
That first move is to take a walk in London, solo or in company as preferred, and record the walk in photos. At the end of the walk, keep the photos out of sight and map the route taken on a street atlas. Hand the map on to the next participant.
The next person follows a part of the mapped route until such time or place as they feel they want to take a different path, which they then do, photographing from the beginning, keeping the photos and the first map out of sight and mapping their own route, which they pass on to the third person………….
And so on until all players have played when the photos and maps are brought out and discussed along with participants’ motivations and concerns. From this a presentation of territories and concerns may arise.
Timescale? All walks done by early September. The two months to think, discuss and present.
June 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
I read Keith Ellis’s thought on sitting still with some pleasure. It brought to mind two things.
First, Istanbul 1980, sitting on the terrace of the Rustem Pasha mosque making the only meticulous drawing I’ve ever produced and recording the sounds arriving there. A clutch of young imams were concerned at what I might be doing. They had no English and I had no Turkish but somehow we managed in no-language to agree I was harmless and could carry on. The noise of tin- and copper-smiths in the street below was deafening but the place was calm. One of the better times.
Second, E T A Hoffmann’s tale My Cousin’s Corner Window. The crippled cousin lives on the first floor overlooking the main market square of Berlin. He cannot move independently but learns to see and analyse what he sees, moving freely back and forth between evidence and imagination. Although the cousin imagines lives for people he sees, he bases these imaginings on precise observation of their behaviour, both in space and in their dealings with each other.
If we are considering public space then the ordinary use of that space (to hijack the title of a book I haven’t read: the practice of everyday life) is very much our proper area of study. The various modes of walking and staying still in the city may or may not aid in that understanding, may allow us to see, hear and record with sensitivity to the actuality. I think staying still, quiet and open may help a lot.