Posts Tagged ‘Promenades’
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.”
We will be presenting a paper based on our research at this conference. Once the paper is finished we’ll post more details up on here, along with a programme for the event, once it is available.
You can read the abstract for our paper by clicking here. The final paper is quite a development from this point and incorporates some of the material that we have been posting on here over the last year.
This remarkable video uses Worthing promenade as the site of some ludic recursiveness.
This shows us another range of uses of the promenade; in the taking up of its representations and its being made the subject of bricolage.
Skegness, on the North Sea coast of the east of the country, is one of England’s most famous seaside towns. It is home to the first holiday camp, set up by Billy Butlin in 1936, which I visited last month ago for a conference on seaside development and culture. You can read my thoughts on the conference by clicking here. I spent my spare time over three days in Skegness as a flaneur, experiencing the town and its promenade areas at a walking pace and recording my observations in pictures. This is the first of a two-part post, in the next post I’m going to sketch out some preliminary thoughts on the general form of the promenade, investigating the layered methodology that we keep encountering.
My first observation on Skegness’ promenade is that it has a similar morphology to the promenade at Teignmouth, which I blogged about here. Skegness unrolls backwards from the sea, leaving a layered pattern behind as it has developed. Firstly we have the beach itself, a stretch of golden sand bordering the cold North sea:
Separating the encroaching sands from the built environment is the most obvious strip of the promenade itself:
This first layer of the promenade is, at this point fairly level with the sands and the protection offered is for those brave enough to admire the views on a bracing October day. Walking parallel to the beach, the promenade takes you over the pier itself:
Descending, we are confronted with a pair of signs that inform us not only of the particular economic rationality of seaside spaces, but also of the aspirations of the planners and architects who constructed them:
Despite the regal naming of this strip however, the demands of coastal defences have imposed a less aristocratic and more brutally utilitarian aesthetic on the post-pier promenade:
The next layer of the promenade is a strip of sand and a path, separated by a low wall from the main walkway. This forms a mirror image of the area that it borders and appears to be used mainly by dogwalkers and cyclists. It doesn’t run the full length of the promenade, but forms an interesting feature mainly because of the way it separates the sea from a small moat. Yes, a moat.
The moat seems to be there to protect the fun fair, Skegness Pleasure Beach from invasion. There is small bridge providing entrance from the sea-side,which brings you to a locked gate in the off-season.
The fair, seen from the promenade, presents a skeletal sillhouette. A ferris wheel is an iconic image of leisure and childhood that can’t help but excite the viewer, but it is precisely this suggestion that produces a profound melancholia when confronted with a deserted fair ground.
This walled-off, empty space is foreshadows the pleasures of summer as well as pointing backwards to the time when the queues for attractions like these would be managed in the same way to those at Disneyworld or Thorpe Park now. The high walls around the fair ground are a reminder that the very democratic form of cultural capital that is embedded in the seaside town has always been propped up by an entrepreneurial and exclusionary capitalism. The uncomplicated, unmediated and hence unexploitable pleasures of viewing the fair from the promenade or to look across the elegant steelworks
and out to sea, are denied by the wall that simultaneously obscures and invites you to move from the position of viewer to consumer.
The photo above shows the first mock-promenade that I have come across. The pleasure beach’s own promenade stands between the final layers of the promenade proper and the funfair. It breaks all the ‘rules’ of promenades; it has no view to the sea and runs both vertically and horizontally in relation to the coastline. It clearly exists only to extract profit from seaside visitors but borrows the symbolism of the liminal space of the promenade in its marketing. This excess of this strange dialectic, that which cannot be consumed by the negation of the natural, appears to be the liminal – leaving a space that produces such dissonances, culturally and architecturally, that it cannot be simply synthesised into the form of the seaside economy but instead announces its incongruity as a way of explaining itself. Turning your back to the sea and walking out through this gate, from this space of managed liminality into the hyper-capitalism of the final layer of the promenade you are immediately confronted with seaside commodities, ice creams, doughnuts, inflatables and alcohol. In the next post, I’ll pick up on these themes and start to think about the general spatial form of the promenade that we might be groping towards on this blog.
Here we have a few snap shots of Brighton Promenade in action from 7 June 09.
The promenade as social space concerns itself with movement, surveillance and observation, display and distinction, and the integration of urban space with the sea (the ocean with civilisation).
As suggested by its name stillness is not permitted; only in specified locations can one opt out of movement and more often than not one must leave the promenade in order to be at rest.
The reason for the prohibition on stillness lies in the surveillance and observation which is such a key part of the use of this social space. We use the promenade to watch and be watched and the prohibition on stillness prevents this watching developing into voyeurism. The beach, a temporary space governed by the sea, is the proper site of the voyeuristic on the public shore. The promenade marks the limit of civilisation (i.e. the urban space) and beyond it one enters the realm of nature where the rules of civilisation need not apply.
In this sense the pier and the groins are the ‘strategic embellishment’ of the public shore. It is just that this is a symbolic defence of the space of civilisation rather than a concrete defence of the elite of society.
The main use of the promenade is for leisure and it is this activity that most marks this social space. The various needs of those engaging in leisure are to be met here.
One of the paradoxes of the promenade is its nostalgia and entanglement in its own past. The promenade is a nineteenth century, Victorian, social construct and we know that to be its origin. 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.
Heritage becomes a part of the whole experience and meaning of the promenade because of the promenades connexion to the Victorian age. The entire social space has the quality of Heritage and so we can expect the Heritage Industry to be found here.
The Victorian origins of the promenade and the presence of the Heritage and Culture Industries in this social space force us to recognise the fundamentally capitalist nature of the promenade. This is to be expected; just as the Arcade was an expression of 19th Century French Capitalist Society so the Promenade was and is an expression of British Capitalist (or one might argue ‘european’ capitalist) society.
We’re going to post up a series of readings on here that, although they will necessarily impose a structure on to the project that the text itself will almost certainly resist, are intended more as an aid to collaboration. We will post up our responses to the reading and discuss it online. We hope that others will want to join us in this effort, so please feel free to contribute your own response or get in touch if you would like to find out more about the project.
The first reading is the two Exposes at the start of the work, the 1935 and 1939 versions of “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” pp.1-14 of the 2002 Harvard University Press edition. We plan to post up our responses to these pieces in the first week of April.
Benjamin believed that the Arcade (Passage Couvert) as an architectural form and socio-cultural space was a way into an understanding of Paris, France and the wider world in the 19th century. We believe, I think, that the promenade as architectural form and socio-cultural space could be another way into another form of understanding; of the socio-cultural meaning of the sea-side in the modern & late/post modern periods.