Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014


One City, Multiple Stories: Visual Narratives of London Urbanism

Location Stevenson Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 31 May, 2014 at 13:00


Kristin Koptiuch (Arizona State University)  email
Akanksha Mehta (SOAS, university of London )  email
 Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Photo essays by an international collaborative of urban studies specialists, architects, and photographers bring interdisciplinary perspectives that provoke critical insights on London urbanism and pursue a fresh, interpretive visual practice of photographic ethnographics.

Long Abstract

Visual documentation and representation of social changes in urban frames present a challenge and an opportunity for anthropologists; thus, a collaborative approach with specialists in urban studies, architects, and photographers offers new pathways for understanding temporal and spatial transformations in a complex and multifaceted metropolis. A panel of international participants in University of London Goldsmiths' International Urban Photography Summer School tackle this challenge by bringing interdisciplinary perspectives into photographic essays that provoke novel ethnographic insights on London urbanism. Panelists use photos analytically to disclose critical glimpses into the emergent culture of the city's neoliberal urban transformation. Adopting a photo essay format, our photographic ethnographics visualize a variety of London urbanism's traces, treasures, figures, costs, and consequences. Each participant brings theoretical reflections on visual practice through deployment of their own camera lucida to trace original refractive angles on the city's urban ethnographics: imaginary, symbolic, and Real. The panel's interdisciplinary approach also allows a theoretical reflection on the double role of anthropologists as producers of images and observers of other people's image production. Thus, from our diverse fields of anthropology, architecture, geography, literary criticism, photography, sociology, urban planning and more, we learn from the dialogue between the city of London and us, and between us as visual practitioners coming from different backgrounds. This dialogue pursues a fresh, interpretive practice of photographic ethnographics.

Discussant: Paul Halliday

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Scribbling Notes on the Landscape: Encountering the Ludic and Dramatic of Urban Life

Author: Jan van Duppen (Open University) email

Short Abstract

In this photo essay, I present a series of accidental evidence of urban life; it is a documentation of the ludic and dramatic found in between the mundane.

Long Abstract

I'm chewing on the word wandering … wandering … it tastes almost like wondering… only steps away from bewilderment … the wild? … No, it's not the wild. It's the cracks within the urban. Lost rhythms found… I wandered around and found objects on the way… I encountered unfinished stories… working with traces … the past present … playfully framing a setting… re-constructing a scene… there are clues … materials … things well-placed in their misplacement… wandering, wondering, imagining… the camera my instrument to scribble notes on the landscape… curating temporary worlds…

As the above indicates, I have employed the method of walking to understand and analyse the city of London. On these trips, I was attentive to traces and objects that seem to tell stories of former encounters between people and things. In this paper, I present a series of accidental evidence of urban life; it is a documentation of the ludic and dramatic found in between the mundane. Was I 'irresistibly drawn to the detritus' like a child, as described by Walter Benjamin (1928)? Did I attempt to visualise the temporary worlds of play, as theorised by Johan Huizinga (1948)? Without a doubt, I attempted to analyse, and work with traces of inhabitation, informed by a discussion on what is to be playful in the city. In addition, I tried to engage with questions around the role of the photographer: who has actually made these scenes?

Retracing Jerningham Road: A journey exploring materiality, territory and a socio-sensory landscape.

Author: Martha Mingay email

Short Abstract

The urban ground is a socio-material production, earth territorialised by asphalt. Retracing Jerningham Road examines the materiality, landscape and politics of a site of sensory conflict between public movement and private residence.

Long Abstract

"The only true voyage would be not to travel through a hundred different lands with the same pair of eyes, but to see the same land through a hundred different pairs of eyes."

Marcel Proust

Retracing Jerningham Road repeats a journey made with a distinct purpose for a different one. As a regional government officer, I had walked the length of the street in the wake of complaints about vibrations caused by buses passing, a problem attributed to the worn and weathered asphalt of the street surface. As an urban geographer, armed with this privileged, silent knowledge, Retracing Jerningham Road as a photographer reveals the asphalt as a micro-landscape, the site of social production, direction, tension and the political mediation of conflict between the public and sensory expectations of the private realm. Asphalt is equally material object and technology, the social, administrated material of urban territory, reducing friction, mediating traffic and risk, ultimately an economic infrastructure. Yet it records movement, rhythms and the weather in its material erosion, a memory tape revealing the social forces acting upon the urban realm's synthetic ground and its vulnerability to the degrading forces of nature, time and repetition. As such, Retracing Jerningham Road is multi-purposed; questioning the boundaries of subject between landscape and object, the natural/social and the idea of the street scene found in urban geography, urban photography and visual anthropology.

Camden Town Station (X) October 2013 - January 2014

Author: Christina Paugger email

Short Abstract

Investigation of a local bus stop in Camden Town from October 2013 to January 2014 during different times of the day.

Long Abstract

Camden Town Station (X) focuses on the idea of urban rhythms. This photo essay developed out of an interest in exploring a specific place during different times of the day. The project lasted from end of October 2013 until beginning of January 2014. Investigating a local bus stop in Camden, it was of particular interest whether there were any patterns to be recognised during different times of the day. More specifically, it was the aim to explore who takes the bus at what times of the day and if the same people would recur during the same times each day. Each time of the day had a different rhythm to it.

The project evolved in a way that was rather unexpected. As opposed to the expectation that people who were at the bus stop would turn away from the camera as soon as they saw it, most people did not react to the camera at all. People seemed lost in their thoughts, not paying any attention to their surroundings. This absent-mindedness with which people moved through urban space reminds of what Georg Simmel termed the blasé in the metropolis.

project_continuance: Urban Paths

Author: Babz Jewell (Ohio University) email

Short Abstract

project_continuance is a frame through which to see our civic selves. These images flicker between urban beings and the scaffolds of built space; selected photographs verge on abstraction as they record the overlap of organic and industrial bodies.

Long Abstract

project_continuance is a frame through which to see our civic selves. Images flicker between urban beings and the scaffolds of built space, verging on abstraction as they record the overlap of organic and industrial bodies. We are caught in the performance of our everyday: the professionalized and the marginalized.

These images are of London, England, but represent us all: a humanity universally in motion.

Drone Vision: High Perspective Portraits at the Tate Modern

Author: Jeannine van den Boer email

Short Abstract

When viewing scenes from a certain height, one can see colors, shapes, harmonious rhythms and graphic patterns. Seeing the world from above doesn't just flatten things. It makes spatial transformations more clear.

Long Abstract

Now only employed by the gadget lover in our midst, in the near future the camera drone will play an increasingly important part in our daily life. The moral objections are numerous. Opponents fear privacy violation. A drone is invisible and can fly anywhere above your head without you realizing it…

The perspective of portraits affects our perception of people. People who are photographed from a low angle are seen as powerful, while people on photos taken from above are seen as less influential. In my project I wanted to avoid this phenomenon.

In streets we run past each other, with only our own destination in mind, efficient. Other persons just bother us on our way. We especially take care not to bump into someone. We all say 'sorry' when that happens. From above you can see a sense of stability; people look focused.

From a certain height, and the same angle, I took photographs of everyone who passed the spot at the museum entrance (136 photo's). Nothing was staged; no sign of habitual gestures indicates the subject's perception of my presence.

In every single photograph a white piece of paper can be seen. It was blowing in the wind and kicked against, but it was always in the part of the street I photographed from above. When the museum closed and no more people were there, the paper remained as a lingering trace of human presence.

Boxers (in search of language-less space)

Author: Jessie McLaughlin email

Short Abstract

This photo essay is keen to glimpse a language-less place. At a boxing hall in Archway, North London a group of boxers meet and train. This space, though unquestionably “urban” appears to shut the urban out, appears to shut language out. This space speaks in silence, through body and through strength.

Long Abstract

This photo essay is keen to glimpse a language-less place. I photographed women boxers training in a hall in Archway and in doing so I found a unique space. This space, though unquestionably "urban", appears to shut the urban out, appears to shut language out. Why might a woman seek to shut out (or retreat from) neoliberal urban transformation like this? It is often to voids and negative spaces that I look to understand populated and positive (urban) spaces. Where can solace (from the urban, from its all encompassing nature) be found? On reading Kathy Acker's wonderful essay "Against Ordinary Language: The Language of the Body" I came across the concept of "rejecting" or shutting out language.

'After each workout, I forgot to write. Repeatedly. I ... some part of me ... the part of the 'I' who bodybuilds ... was rejecting language, any verbal description of the processes of bodybuilding.' - Kathy Acker, 1992

To attempt a language-less and body-full state, a 'geography of no language' as Acker puts it, strikes me. The photographs I present here of boxers attempt to speak volumes using no language(s). Quite different from "body language" these portraits attempt to capture the "Language of the Body". Sheltered momentarily from the urban, the boxers/ bodies here are poised and full of strength. In this language-less space the boxers shed identity as dictated by language - they may be women of colour but within this space, language--which makes and encourages distinctions--appears banished. Instead through body and through strength it is silence that speaks.

Emigration, Exile, and 'Everyday' Existence: A Visual Ethnography of Southall, London

Author: Akanksha Mehta (SOAS, university of London ) email

Short Abstract

This paper employs visual ethnographic research methods to examine the plurality and multiplicity of 'everyday' narratives and narrations in the neighborhood of Southall in London. In doing so, it aims to challenge binaries that seek to create and 'explain' a homogenous 'migrant' experience.

Long Abstract

Southall, a Western London suburban district, has one of the largest concentrations of a South Asian population outside of the Indian subcontinent. Industrial development and ensuing employment opportunities brought the first wave of South Asian migrants to the region in the early 1950s. Since then, the community has expanded considerably and has transformed into a diverse urban space with intersecting, overlapping, and contesting narratives of migration, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, class, caste, gender, sexuality, belonging, and identity. While urban space in Southall has been 'marked' by the 'visibilities' of 'everyday' experiences of emigration and Diasporic exile of a highly pluralistic community; scholarly, visual, and political/policy examinations (including those by the UKBA) have often portrayed the community as a sharer of a unified 'migrant' experience enforcing dichotomies of centre/periphery, legal/illegal, rooted/marginal, home/away, belonging/unbelonging, personal/political, subject/agent, native/migrant, and us/them.

This paper uses photography as a research method to dispel the notion of a homogenized 'migrant' experience. The photographs presented in this paper use intersectional analytical categories (gender, race, class, caste, citizenship etc.) to challenge the aforementioned binaries and draw out the contradictions inherent in them. They aim to problematize the sheer possibility of a coherent 'migrant' narrative and assert that Southall remains a 'neighborhood' of multiplicity and plural emigrant experiences from exile to the everyday. While this paper definitely does not aspire to construct a narrative, it aims to add to visual and scholarly work on migration, identity, Diaspora, and the broader realm of Urban Anthropology and South Asian studies.

Ethnic markers in urban spaces: Turkish-speaking communities in London

Author: Valeria Ferraro (Magna Græcia University of Catanzaro) email

Short Abstract

Migratory fluxes in London reshape the ethnic and urban landscape and require a constant reflection on their impact on the urban fabric. This photo essay focuses on Turkish speaking communities searching for visible ethnic markers in North London, addressing the issue of integration and seclusion.

Long Abstract

Continuous migratory fluxes in London constantly alter and reshape the ethnic and urban landscape of the city, thus requiring a constant reflection on their integration in the urban fabric. Distinctive buildings, representing vestiges of the English heritage and its contemporary power, overlap with those of Black and Minority Ethnic groups, as religious buildings with visible marks and ethnic restaurants, which became an integral part of social imaginary on the City.

Based on a visual research for the International Urban Photography Summer School 2013 at Goldsmiths University of London, this photo essay focuses on the case of Turkish speaking communities, which according to the Home Office's estimations stand for at least 200.000 people, including Turkish, Turkish Cypriots, and Alevi/Kurds with Turkish citizenship, ranging from asylum seekers to economic migrants.

The search aims at portraying how members of these communities carve their spaces in the northern part of London dealing with issues of integration and seclusion, while establishing an interrelation between themselves and other inhabitants. Photos chosen for the essay portray examples of religious markers, ethnic economic activities, and controversial area, dominated by Turkish gangs, since the 1970s.

The output of the research observes how the presence of Turkish speaking communities influenced the recovery of buildings, the shaping of a local "informal economy", and emerging social issues. Conclusive remarks support the use of visual research as a tool for providing insightful perspective for addressing the issue of integration/visibility in multicultural urban spaces.


Author: Yanni Eleftherakos (Goldsmiths, University of London) email

Short Abstract

Visual ethnography exploring domesticity as practiced by male, homosexual, non-British sex workers who receive clients in their homes.

Long Abstract

The photo essay is the visual component of an ethnography enquiring into the ways male, homosexual, non-British sex workers who receive clients in their spaces make home in London. From the social sciences perspective, the research looks at issues of gender, sexuality, migration, precarious employment and housing through semi-structured interviews followed by photo sessions of the domestic spaces. The research reveals the degree and the ways in which participants of different origins make home in a city where housing is overpriced and restrictive. Moreover, it addresses the typical private / public binary by examining the change of the place's dynamics and identity when a stranger wanting to buy a most intimate service enters a space supposed to be one's sanctuary. Photographically, apart from visually capturing and presenting the aforementioned issues, the intention is to de-mystify and de-demonise the spaces photographed along with the intrusive photographic practice itself.

Psychopathic Space

Author: Kristin Koptiuch (Arizona State University) email

Short Abstract

Psychopathic Space captures a predisposition to psychical-spatial violence found on the dynamic urban edge where “city meets fringe.” It makes legible the psychopathic clues inscribed in discourses used by London mega-projects to mark spaces of impending violence and reshape urban imaginaries.

Long Abstract

Psychopathic Space captures a predisposition to psychical-spatial violence found on the dynamic urban edge where "city meets fringe." Here the tectonic collision of the corporate-class (w)edge of neoliberal urban mega-projects disrupts the fabric of older neighborhoods. Such spaces epitomize the vertiginous, (trans)formative urbanism now reshaping not only London's materiality and sociality, but also its residents' urban imaginary.

Psychologists diagnose psychopaths as opportunistic and impulsive; lacking in affect, empathy or remorse, they live a parasitic lifestyle, propped up by superficial charm; they possess a grandiose sense of self worth and uninhibited disregard for others' rights. Importantly here, they tend to leave clues to the violence they are about to inflict—clues their victims refuse to take literally.

This project makes legible the clues inscribed in discourses employed by London mega-project developers to mark the spaces of impending psychical-spatial violence to be inflicted upon transitioning cityscapes. Critically reading the glib, psychopathic language embedded in signage, architectural form, and jarring juxtapositions imposed upon the built environment, discloses developers' compulsive-repetitive efforts to interpellate sublime subjects who readily envision themselves at home in elevated, brave new urban landscapes. Clues on hoardings surrounding construction sites exhort entitled subjects to "set their sights higher" and aspire to spectacular vistas of skyscraper living. More subtly, this same meritocratic discourse conveys that luxury condo/office projects inevitably will decant the area's subaltern denizens; subjects caught in between are consigned to the trauma of status anxiety. Psychopathic Space employs interpretive, photographic ethnographics to map emergent edges of uneven urban development.

Drawing onto Sky

Author: Paulina Nordström (University of Turku) email

Short Abstract

This visual project is a path to the life of contemporary urban materialities and to the pace of urban transformation. The pictures are encounters along the path that present the capitalist city symbols as equally important with the mundane objects by the power of perspective.

Long Abstract

The visual project in this presentation is a path to the life of contemporary urban materialities and to the pace of urban transformation. The photos touch delicately the urban material renewal that is molding London landscapes and skyline. The pictures present lightly the heavy construction work by the power of perspective and distances between the material objects inside the frames. The urban renewal appears as an ongoing project of construction and demolition: coloured glass balconies and facades replace bricks and concrete. The eyes of the city monitor London's strategic views. Yet, there are many perspectives and alternative ways of seeing the cityscapes. The presentation style of this photo project is based on an idea that the ephemerality of the city cannot be captured in a representation. The photo project can be read as outsider cowboy trying to present the affective atmosphere of the contemporary city. The city cowboy wanders back and forth on a bridge crossing the orange line at Shoreditch High Street Station. The pendulum is a symbolical path in between the London of low rise and city of skyscrapers. Momentarily the city cowboy leaves the bridge to encounter the city materialities: the concrete and glass shaping the sky, and the cranes as an enduring part of the cityscapes. In the pictures the symbols of the capitalist city and the legacy of the Olympics become equally important with the mundane objects of the city.

An Image Narrative of the Tottenham Court Road Station Upgrade

Author: Twy Miller email

Short Abstract

This image narrative investigates the £1bn upgrade of Tottenham Court Road Station, in the midst of one of London's busiest streets.Images catalog the spaces of construction to reveal the pressure of noise, herding, confusion, crowding, claustrophobia and nostalgia for buildings lost in the upgrade.

Long Abstract

This image narrative investigates the £1bn upgrade of Tottenham Court Road Station, which is situated in the midst of one of the busiest streets, pedestrian and vehicular, in London. Documentation catalogs the spaces surrounding construction, the ever-present blue hoardings surrounding the site, and the movement of users around the site.

London runs on transport. Without the myriad of transport services available, such as underground, train, bus, and the coming Crossrail, London would grind to a halt. Most activities would be confined to smaller areas without an efficient transport system, as moving users through the dense urban areas of London would be impossible. The city would become a collection of villages.

In The Image of the City [1960], Kevin Lynch argues that a city should be shaped for human purposes, and describes the ways in which users negotiate complex objects, such as buildings or hoardings, and the mental memory maps used to navigate. Lynch coins the elements of a city, defined as users understand their surroundings: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. At the Tottenham Court Road Station construction site, which lies at the junction of four major roads, a more complex situation occurs, as familiar landmarks and accesses disappear, and new paths and edges are created. Users, vehicular and pedestrian, discover that landmarks that previously marked the district have disappeared. This image narrative reveals the pressure of noise, herding, confusion, crowding, claustrophobia and a touch of nostalgia for buildings that have been removed in the upgrade process.

This is not Whitechapel Gallery

Author: Carla Duarte (Lisbon City Council) email

Short Abstract

This photo essay regarding Whitechapel's Street Art shows its significance as the expression of a lively and provocative urban culture, its actors, concerns, images and beliefs. Street Art is a central key of this area's urban space image.

Long Abstract

More and more often, art is on the street. It leaves the walls of museums and galleries, the inaccessible and closed showcases covered with glass, which nobody can touch and sometimes hardly see, and walks straight into the eyes of passersby, becoming a part of their daily life, as it fills in building facades, garden walls, construction fences. It is everywhere, spontaneous and illegal interventions that bring Monalisa to the streets and Banksy to Christie's high-bid auctions. It places images in our eyes, messages in our head, shocks us, pleases us, revolts us, makes us think, we love it, we hate it. But we are certainly not indifferent to it. It's ephemeral; today it's there, tomorrow it's gone. Today it makes sense, it's actual, mirrors our contemporary urban culture; tomorrow it is replaced by another image, such as TV images, newspaper news, our own concerns are replaced at dizzying speed, very hard to follow. We can't keep it, frame it, it's difficult to place it in a museum. At the same time, it's a mixture of various interventions and authors, overlapping each other, constant work in progress, such as life and society are. But it's so much more than that. Street Art is the art in public space, which works as its support, its canvas, dignifying and identifying it and, at the same time, dignified and identified by it. "This is not Whitechapel Gallery" but it might as well be.

Players: Capturing the performance of street music in London

Author: Jude Robinson (University of Glasgow) email

Short Abstract

In this photo essay I consider how London's street musicians temporarily transform marginal urban sites into performance spaces, and reflect on how images of hands and instruments set against fragments of urban landscape can give an insight into the phenomenon of playing to transient audiences.

Long Abstract

Bards, waits, minstrels and strolling players have been part of England's landscape for centuries, and are likely to have contributed to London life since the city's foundation. Often on the periphery, street musicians, or 'buskers', offer a challenge to the changing city, as while their fluid, reflexive and opportunistic ethos conforms with neoliberal values of entrepreneurialism and can be viewed as making a positive contribution to urban public life, their mobility and legitimate freedom to create spontaneous music in public places can spark darker commentaries, as being dangerous and antisocial and therefore in need of control, regulation and censorship. Through this series of images of buskers in various locations in London, I explore the act of performance and 'playing' outdoors in public places, and reflect on the use of photography to capture the transient and situated qualities of street music. The buskers briefly transform mundane urban places and spaces into performance spaces, extending beyond the footprint of the performer to the reach of the music they produce. As their audiences are mostly in motion throughout their performance and may only hear a 'snatch' of the repertoire, the performance must be 'complete' for that moment of engagement, and I reflect on the extent to which images representing the position of hands and instruments set against fragments of urban landscape can hint at a wider life narrative and relationship to music, the city, and to audience(s).

London: A Close Encounter

Author: Dean Weston email

Short Abstract

Multiple surfaces mingle in this photo series, revealing a close encounter with London's urban space that contemplates the presence of self in our images, the interplay of intention and diversion important to theorizing visually, and the shared role strangeness and familiarity plays in image choice.

Long Abstract

I came to shoot London's urban space. The close encounter is revealed here in a short series of images. Camera in hand, my methodology involved wandering the streets of London - observing, finding, pursuing - motivated by the interplay of within and without that propels one step in front of the other. I focused on the various surfaces clean, cracked, wild, and tame which we journey upon and past in our urban environments. Along the way, concrete pathways yielded to something extraordinarily intimate and ephemeral. I encountered a London that imagined me imagining it in image.

This photo essay conveys my approach to and impressions of London as a visual experience, asking us to ponder three ideas pertinent to theorizing in image: we are never outside the images we take, important photographic opportunities reveal themselves when one wanders effectively the terrain between intention and diversion, and significant images regularly select themselves by instilling in us at once an impression of strangeness and familiarity.

Flânerie in a 21st Century London

Author: Kelsey Williams (George Mason University) email

Short Abstract

The flâneur is the quintessential icon of the urban experience. This project depicts the life of the London flâneur in a 21st century urban setting displaying the visions of the flâneur if he were to meander the London streets today.

Long Abstract

In a city such as London the rich history is inescapable yet a person is simultaneously juxtaposed with the advancements of the future. As I wandered the streets of the city I could not help but to be reminded of the 19th Century flâneur, the quintessential icon of the urban experience. He emerged on the scene at the time of the technological advancement of the industrial revolution. With traces left behind from his era across the city I began to wonder what he would witness from our continued technological revolution. As I spent every day of a warm summer month strolling through London I was immersed in my own flânerie. The photos depicted in this project are a fusion of a past and present London. They are a perception of the 21st century flâneur and a visionary embodiment of what he would discover in London today. The photos are meant to transport the viewer into the eyes of the urban explorer, as he would see London this century.

Lost in London

Authors: Jetsada Leelanuwatkul email

Short Abstract

The atmospheric landscape photography essay explores the relationship between the city of London and myself, which is diverse, dynamic and complex.

Long Abstract

Imagine visiting a city for the first time, what would be the one photograph that describes the story about the city from your first impression? Then, after living there for a while, what would be another photograph that would tell the city's story from the feeling at that later moment? Are the photographs going to be the same, alike or totally different in terms of perspective, mood, or tone? It depends, on the reaction between oneself and the city.

Due to the fact that the city always changes over time, so do the people living in this city; they are also shaped and transformed by the society and the surroundings in which they live.

I have been staying in the city of London for more than a year. During my stay I myself have changed a lot and this change is ongoing everyday in many aspects. I have taken on many roles: a masters degree student, a tourist, a waiter, a part-time jobber, a guide, a photographer and so on. From the continuous changes in the city as well as myself, therefore, what photographs can clearly reflect my feeling towards the City?

In this photographic essay, I adopt Impressionist landscape photography as my visual documentation approach. For my methodology, I position myself as a participant observer, immersing myself into the city to see and feel the particular moments of London, and then photograph them! The photographs are my interpretive description of the city of London.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.