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.