A short snippet from our paper for the Liminal Landscapes symposium next month. This shows how we are using web technology to collect material for a ‘working convolute’ on Brighton. We are gathering images taken by other people that have been uploaded to the web, as a way of accessing representations and uses of the promenade, in an attempt to develop a methodological approach that builds on Benjamin’s methods in the Arcades Project.
“Becker (1974) provides a methodological way of thinking about this potential social research resource. This relates to the second conception of photography held by Benjamin. The possibilities for producing new constellations of knowledge by using photography suggests possibilities for the collection and reconfiguration of images of the promenade as a way to access its history. Becker imagines the ‘sociologist photographer’ as collecting a plethora of images of a social situation, almost at random, taking care not to pre-judge what is of value in the resultant images. A consideration of the photographs then guides a further concentration in the research as the sociologist photographer spends time with “his [sic] contact sheets and work prints” and developing questions about the practices and situations that he observes. This process of collection and interpretation then opens up further avenues of enquiry and begins to produce social knowledge. In Benjamin’s terms it constructs new configurations of the past, of a kind only accessible through these technological means. In this study we update Becker’s work, and by seeking to reduce the impacts of sociological bias in our approach to the collection of images we aim to prevent any imposition of the very false coherences that Benjamin had tried to prevent through his parataxic method.
In practical terms, we have utilised web-technology to trawl through the online photo-hosting site flickr in an automated process. We have set up a yahoo pipe, a relatively new piece of web 2.0 software which aggregates data from the web in the form of RSS feeds, images, blog posts and visual media. Crucially, a pipe then provides a visual interface through which you can access the aggregated data. A pipe can be user-customised to a great extent. Although, following Becker and Benjamin, we aim to collect data without prejudicing it in advance, we are also conscious of sociological / historical practices and the way in which fields of inquiry are constructed to guide even the most inductive studies. In this respect we have delimited the ‘feeds’ to the pipe to include only the most popular photo-hosting site and also set up keywords to structure these feeds. Images uploaded to flickr are ‘tagged’ by users to aid retrieval and to publicise the images to a wider audience. The processes by which images arrive in the virtual public/private spaces of the internet and are distributed throughout them via social networks, direct our attention to ‘sociogram’ quality of all photography.”