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Monthly Archives: April 2012

I’ve been writing some words for our book about to be published by Shopwork. In my chapter, I’m trying to unpack the ideas around photography, image production and consumption, politics and social media found within the Green=Boom project.

One of the main ideas in the piece is how the act of image production operates as a means to construct a form of social reality. By composing, capturing and sharing our lives photographically we ‘art direct’ how others view us, and therefore how we view the world.

With all this talk of a New Aesthetic, it’s made me reflect on the mechanics of seeing and being seen, the politics and power relationships of visuality and the boundaries of identity in the capture and representation of the world around us. This takes me back to some old and much loved art history – in particular Vision and Visuality edited by Hal Foster. A fantastic book, well worth a read (I think there’s a longer post/paper on how the NA is part of what Martin Jay describes as a (post)modern ‘scopic regime’). In Vision and Visuality there is a conceptual split between vision – the mechanics (or biology) of seeing and visuality – the socially constructed gaze. This split, although problematic at times, gives us an interesting way to look at the objects that allow us to see differently. From drones to webcams, satellites to hasselblads, we can start to look at the philosophical and political potential of our visual prostheses.

On a slight tangent, my all time favorite use of a visual prothetic within cinema is in Hitchcock’s Rear Window – here is a wonderful project by Jeff Desom where he expands the view to recreate a cinematic landscape:

To ground this somewhat theoretical discussion, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about lenses recently. I’ve been working out the correct FOV for our latest installation: MIlan = Boom (part of Hacked Milan), the decisions are both practical (minium focal distance and speed) and aesthetic – in terms of cinematic  FOV / screen ratio reference:

or specific cinematic moment:

We have to think about the FOV as a reality distortion field, we can manipulate the images we construct to make the audience work harder. Or as David English describes 35mm; ‘It’s more powerful because the perspective skirts along the outer edges of reality’. It is this formation and manipulation of reality through cinematic and photographic devices that I find so fascinating. More from English:

“Because a 35mm lens slightly enhances what we normally see, it invites a more subtle interpretation of everyday events. A 50mm lens suggests that this is what you could have seen for yourself, had you been there. It’s reality as we know it. A 24mm or 28mm suggests a somewhat curved reality — a reality that appears to be in flux with a frame of reference that seems reluctant to settle in place. A 35mm perspective holds a special position in between. It seems to hold time still, as though the scene is carefully balanced between life as it is and life as it could be. Think of it as the subtlest of focal lengths, because it enhances the perspective so gently that you don’t realize it without careful study.” David English, Stillness in Time

What is important here, is that all viewing devices (all optics) help us construct the way we see our world. All devices are wrapped up in messy political complexities that need to be unravelled in order to gain a level of mastery. What we’re witnessing at the moment is not the shift in vision, but also a continual shift in visuality. One where our social reality is made up my both man and machine, but who holds the power in our robot readable world and how is life distorted by our optical manipulations?

Timo Arnall, Robot Readable World

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Bedford square

Bedford sq is fascinating at the moment; on one corner there is a pro-life protest outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, on the neighbouring corner there’s a counter protest by a pro-choice campaign. A couple of weeks ago I was on the square with Herbie. He ran up to the pro-life people, to be greeted with pious scowls, he soon ran off towards the pro-choice desk. He was met with smiles and warmth / laughter and conversation. Ignoring my political position on the matter, I find it ironic that those stood on the corner, fighting for ‘life’, didn’t seem to see the joy of it. It’s was quite sad.

Pro-life protest

Beyond that, I find the spatialised aspect of the protest intriguing. Both camps ignoring each other, creating a geography of decision making. As you move around the square you encounter different ethical positions, it’s an argument in spatial terms. You move to locate yourself in the debate.

This is spatial politics at its most explicit. The thing that struck me, was that the process of understanding and navigating the ideas was far easier when physicalised. The contradictions and aesthetics of the philosophy involved was unmasked. The agendas were exposed for all to see.

This is something that gets lost on the internet, the abstraction and reliance of language means that complex debates spiral into rhetorical and circular debates… forget the internet of things, I want the space of networked political debate… this is a lot harder to do, when faced with a man and a toddler.

Herbie is pro-choice

For nearly two years I’ve been taking photographs and tagging them with the phrase ‘boring urban landscapes‘. The ‘project’ began with a general interest in the over-looked, the parts of our cities that aren’t seen as beautiful or interesting – the underrepresented, the marginal. By no means am I the first person to look at this, there are some wonderful photographers and a great tradition of looking for a non sentimental representation of our human-altered landscape.

New Topographics, as a term was coined around 37 years ago by William Jenkins for the curation of a show of the same name. It was a reaction against the overly romanticised view of the landscape typified by photographers such as Ansel Adams. However, this approach to photography has a varied and complex past, with masters such as William Eggleston and his representation of the ordinary. Anyway, It’s been going for 30-40 years and has a keen following on flickr, and I’m by no means a master.

What I’m going to do is use my photos as a starting point; a conceptual spring board for a range of unconnected ideas and thoughts. These have been rattling around my mind for a while.

I was first attracted to these kinds of spaces because of the way they seemed to collect objects. They acts as some sort of net for the flotsam of our material culture. In South East London, they operate in two main ways; part fly tip, part recycling centre. Here both operations are outside of the law, a black market space for material transfer. Things get left there, people pick things up there. These are spaces that get given a programmatic identity through the community that surround them, I therefore suspect that they are good as a form of social barometer.

I’m fascinated with how these ‘non-spaces’ acquire an unofficial function. Through the very fact that they a free from programme, they assume and grow a function organically.

I also like that these spaces are often found near transport infrastructures. It’s not a big surprise that land use isn’t as dense or populated by high-density lines of transportation. But I hold onto the mental image that the speed and flow of people has knocked the culture and life out of these spaces – blowing it away – like the dirty bits of motorway verges.

When we plan our cities, these bits are rife with failure; they always turn into deserted and intimidating spaces. These are the space of deviance and disorder, the city in peril. The true margins of society… maybe ‘boring urban lanscapes’ is the wrong title.

The final idea that has arisen from these is how we can start to think about the underrepresented when thinking about the future of our cities. These are the types of space that never get visualised and thought about, however, they are the spaces of a sort of Ballardian future… banality spatialised. I think we need to think about the future that has these sorts of spaces in, they ground us, they allow us to image the cultures that will adopt, occupy and transform the boring urban landscapes of tomorrow.