We’ve just had the abstract below accepted for the ATLAS 2011 conference in Valmeira, Latvia. The theme of the conference is ‘Landscape and Tourism: a dualistic relationship”. Our plan for this paper is to take the methodology that we’ve been developing on this blog over the last two years and apply it to other tourist spaces, in order to test its value as a new approach.
Posts Tagged ‘Photos’
I have been alerted to these two photographers by the sound artist, Reid Dudley-Peirson, who, coincidentally is performing in a new piece called ‘Songs of the sublime’ at the Turner Contemporary gallery in the seaside town of Margate this weekend.
Reid informed me, after reading an early draft of some of our work, that we should supplement our analysis of seaside photography and the Arcades Project with considerations of the work of Eugene Atget and Martin Parr. This may take some time for us to process, but we offer up a couple of images here.
Atget was a contemporary of Walter Benjamin, taking photographs of Paris streets that influenced the surrealists and Dada at the time that Benjamin was working on his study of the Parisian Arcades. Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer, whose study of the seaside ‘The Last Resort’, clearly sheds light on our work on the links between tourism and the everyday within the capitalist constraints of the promenades.
In his ‘little history of photography’, Benjamin makes the case for photography, still in the early stages of its development, to be “moving out of the realm of aesthetic distinctions to social function”. Leslie  locates this movement in the dialectic, claiming that there is always an excess in photography, a residue of the social. In this sense, photography can provide research material, historical evidence that goes far beyond merely that which is represented on the surface of a photographic image.
Leslie goes on to identify three ways in which Benjamin conceptualised photography:
Firstly, as analogical representations of an external reality. Photographs provide a way of capturing natural perception and thus, of making the subjective objective.
Secondly, “the photograph fixes on celluloid a view of reality, held in the consciousness of a class when it imagines itself and the cosmos. Technological art is capable of tendering in ocular form the ideology of the self-representing class” [Leslie 2000: 49]. Benjamin refers to this as ‘optical-unconscious’, a relationship between the unconsciousness of the subject and the a-conscious machine perception of the lens
Finally, photography disrupts the ‘natural’ flow of images and perception and allows for reconfigurations of space and time, new constellations of knowledge.
“Photography…was first adopted within the dominant social class…:manufacturers, factory owners and bankers, statesmen, men of letters and scientists” Gisela Freund, “La Photographie au point de vue sociologique” (manuscript, p.32). Is this accurate? Shouldn’t the sequence be reversed? (Benjamin, AP, Y3, 1)
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.”
A collection of photos from Brighton’s promenade that have been brought together to illustrate the concept of ‘managed liminality’, which is a term we are developing in our work to describe how the carnivalesque freedoms offered by the concept of the liminal can come to serve dominant power relations. These images show how the liminality of the shore is limited and exploited through the regulation of the promenade itself.
At St Pancras Station there is an instance of the liminal made physical because the there is a division within the station between the internal (sub-urban & national) rail system and the international (eurostar) rail system. The international is made present at the station and there is a clear sense in which to be in one space is to be in one status (stand in Weber’s sense) and to be in the other space is to be in another status. As these to status-spaces share the same volume and because the status transformation involved is problematic and socially difficult (the national/international is always a significant division) there is a strict regulation, strict enforcement, of the distinction between the two (principally marked by ‘passport control’).
One of the means of policing this division is found in what is now the upper level of the station; a glass wall.
This wall seems to be the very epitome of transparency and openness but this is merely the appearance as it is of course a fortification. Moreover, it is a governmentally regulated fortification whose restrictions extend beyond the merely physical.
This is all indicative of the need to treat such actually transformative and problematic spaces as hazards requiring tight control and classification. What is at stake here is the Purity and Danger (Douglas 2002) of liminal spaces. Liminality involves transformation and socio-cultural movement and all societies seem to require the tightest regulation of such movement; preferring the classificatory status quo to any instability of categories.
This manifestation of the limit is atypical in its urgent efforts to disappear from plain sight and give the appearance of not being there but the network of power relations this is the expression of are utterly typical. The liminal is always policed because the system of power in a society cannot bear to much status (stand) disruption.
In the case of St Pancras liminality is managed and policed by allowing one space (the international) to ‘overwrite’ the other (the national) so that the purity of the two is aggressively maintained.
This website details the post-card history of several Sussex piers and some of the post cards contain telling social details that illuminate how the ‘tourist shore’ was used. It is not alone in utilising post cards as a source of information – or rather of nostalgia as this site and the ‘nostalgia industry’ makes clear – and there is in it use of images something close to that we which are attempting. It was, after all, a photographic exploration of the seaside that helped inspire this project.
The starting point for this post was a thought about one of Wesley’s earlier posts on this blog in which he said:
“The promenade thus has the odd quality of being of the past and of now and so it is a key locus of that strangest use of the past, Heritage.”
I was thinking this through during a visit to Deal, a Kentish seaside town. All along the promenade at deal we see benches, not the strategically placed municipal furniture common to the promenade form, but in this case small wooden benches, in some place standing alone and in some places squashed up against one another. These benches ran the length of the promenade.
On closer inspection it became clear that these benches were part of a heritization of the promenade at deal, but on the level of the individual and of the family, rather than as a selective social history of the seaside. These personal histories have now been made public. These stories told by these benches are now told together and the individual connections of the deceased to the seaside are stitched together in a patchwork of memories that illuminate an otherwise unremarkable stretch of concrete sea-defences.
These benches all commemorate the lives of individuals, sometimes groups of related individuals. The wood of the bench is typically engraved with the name of the deceased, their dates of birth and of death and a message. The message is sometimes an expression of the grief of the family left behind and sometimes a short phrase that in some way sums up the life that has passed: “Shine on you crazy diamond” providing an example that presents us with a new constellation of the seaside and 60’s psychedelia….
By turning our backs to the sea and lowering our gaze we can access these personal heritages, artefacts of the social space that offer us glimpses into the lives lived on previous promenades.
The Bourgeois Re-Colonisation of the British Sea-side.
One of the interesting things about the British Sea-side is its partial return to the field of bourgeois leisure possibilities.
Consider these architectural structures from (what is effectively) either end of Littlehampton Promenade.
First we have a set of kiosks in a rather remarkable flowing concrete style.
These are an extension of the leisure industry complex (now called Harbour Park but with a long pedigree) that lies behind the shore. Theses kiosks are for the sale of plastic beech goods (parti-coloured windmills and so forth), the greasy food of the english sea-side, rock (of course), & big brand ice-creams. They are somewhat tacky and down-at-heel and essentially class (or perhaps distinction) less and thus utterly opposite the next architectural form we need to consider.
The East Beach Cafe is perhaps an even more remarkable architectural form (and from my own experience an effective Faraday Cage) but it is its class (or distinction) opposition to the flowing concrete kiosks that is of interest.
This photograph contains a hint of the distinction function of this structure and business; the broken floor light in the right foreground is not the only one of the cafe’s illuminations to have been ‘vandalised’ (more below).
The differences are perhaps clearest in the type of ice cream advertised for sale at the two different locations; Nestle’s at the kiosks and Downsview Farmhouse (a ‘locally sourced’ item) at the cafe.
The ‘rusted’ metal insanity of the East Beach Cafe is emblematic of the re-gentrification of this part of the british sea-side. The whole of the South East of England was very strongly effected by the last asset price bubble in the housing market and Littlehampton was the site of a great deal of housing development – especially along the town-side bank of the river Arun – and this has brought a wave of settlement by more affluent people who require services and goods that meet and mark their status regardless of the economic & status conditions of the surrounding community (hence the appearance of shops such as this – cycling having moved firmly into a bourgeois orbit in the past decade because of its green distinction function).
Home (or second-home) ownership is not the only cause of this bourgeoisification of the sea-side. The distinction function of green & of ecological symbolism also plays a part. The Britain and the other island of our archipelago are sufficiently small that one is never very far from the sea and either via the still functioning remnant of our public transport system or by ecologically friendly automobile one can easily indulge in leisure by the sea with a relatively limited ecological effect thus proving ones green bona fides. Combine this with the continuing importance of the sun spots of the Mediterranean – especially Spain – to the upper-working class & petit-bourgeois and we can see that the sheer absence of the less capitalised social group (always a welcome dimension of status play) allows the british sea-side to act as a field of bourgeois distinction.
The opposition to this bourgeois incursion is plain to see in the response to the the East Beach Cafe.
Most of the illumination lights positioned around the cafe in order to render it visible at night where broken in this fashion at the time of this particular visit. The uncleared away glass that is obviously visible in this photograph testifies to this being recent(ish) damage (at the time of the image) and it seems likely that the cafe and the local youth population are already engaged in the endless call-and-response of vandalism & repair. The class disposition issues of this are obvious; one local group feel as though the cafe is not for them because they recognise its symbolic violence and exclusion activity and react with the damage to property that is the most common class response of the excluded.
Benjamin’s notes for the Arcades Project, that were saved and brought together by Bataille to leave us with the fragmented text that we have for this project today, originally included a folder of photos. We assume from references within the text and elsewhere that Benjamin intended to include photography within his final work, but this folder has never been found. We’ve been trying to find a way of incorporating photography into our adaptation of Benjamin’s approach for the study of the seaside promenade. You’ll see we have used photography quite extensively in previous posts here, and here (for example). We’ve now also decide to make use of an online tool for aggregating photostreams from flickr and merging them into a stream of relevance to this project.
The tool we are using is yahoo pipes, which allows us to automatically retrive photos from flickr taken by anyone who has stored them online in this way, where those photos are tagged with keywords that we select, like ‘promenade’ or ‘esplenade’. Benjamin was developing methods in his analysis that dealt with snippets of information, the detritus of society, adverts, merchandising, observations of what might otherwise be judged insignificant; this yahoo pipe helps us to collect images in a similar way. You can click on the image below to go straight to the pipe, which is a constantly updating stream of images. We’ve also included a feed of these images at the botom of this blog.
We’ll be developing this pipe over the coming months, refining our use of tags and developing a method for anlysing a dynamic flow of images.