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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Streetwalking the Metropolis

I am attempting to give my second dissertation, and all of the reading and notes that have been haphazardly collected over an extended period, a direction. The dissertation is about Women walking and writing about walking in London between the World Wars, there might be a little surrealism involved, some chorography and a lot of feminist discussion. Beyond that I can offer little else by way of explanation.
Walking the streets of Barcelona, thinking, daydreaming, creating stories and then returning to look in detail at the city itself, I began to experience my dissertation. To walk in the city is to feel at one moment utterly alive, a part of an energy and movement beyond us, and then at the next moment to feel overwhelmed, lost in the dark and foolish for wandering aimlessly. I understand both these emotions from my walkings in Barcelona. I love walking the city and this time I decided to document it, writing and photographing as I weaved my way through the metropolis. I am not the first to do this, but am tying myself to a tradition.

Lee Miller in Blitzed London

The city overwhelms us with a superflux of sensory data; sounds of cars and people, signs, posters, architecture, rubbish, the lives of other people, windows in to other worlds, lights and shadows. Lee Miller was associated with the surrealist movement in Paris, working with the artist Man Ray, but she came in to her own independence as a photographer and war correspondent for Vogue magazine. Her incidental photographs of blitzed London, of sculptures and pianos amongst the rubble have a bleak beauty which communicates the power and the desolation of a city destroyed and its accidental surrealism.

Berenice Abbott in New York

In 1929 Berenice Abbott closed her studio in Paris and came to New York City, a city she recognised as having exciting potential for her photography. She spent six years documenting the city, a city that was beginning to change, to be destroyed and regenerated.
'Abbott's project was primarily a sociological study imbedded within modernist aesthetic practices. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection of photographs that together suggest a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realize that their environment was a consequence of their collective behavior (and vice versa).'

Brassai in Paris
Hungarian artist, Brassai, spent his evenings in night-time wanderings of the city of Paris and began to document it. Brassai captured the feel and atmosphere of the city at night; going in to bars and back alleys, as well as focussing on the beauty of fog and light in the dark streets.

These photographers have left behind them documents of their own personal impression, as well as capturing some inherent element of the city itself. We might look at these photographs and see things which we recognise, but perhaps the perspective and the essence of the vision is something beyond us; a thing which only Miller, Abbott and Brassai feel as intensely as the photograph suggests.

So here are a few of my own attempts to document my time in the sloping labyrinth of Barcelona. For me the city was filled with light and it was the ways in which buildings and spaces manipulated light which interested me.

So much of Barcelona is buildings climbing parallel up steep hills, occasionally there are street escalators to help you out. The escalator focusses perspective and reflects the light of the setting sun.

I like this street photo because of the angle which curves inwards and the lingering Christmas decorations which seemed so incongruous with the bright January sun.

Strolling through parks in the dazed shadows of trees, this menage of women captures the living sense of the city.

Now I just have to decide what all of this means and how women use their mappings of the city.


  1. You're definitely onto something that is both poetic and factual. Continue "wandering" until the perfect entanglement those elements happens upon you.

  2. I can't wait to read what you're writing. Walking on the streets is important for me either. Love your b&w photos.

  3. Really liked this post a lot. As you know I am a great walker too and explorer of cities. In London, I call what I do "Wander at Will" and I do just that, wander along, usually looking up, with no particular place I am aiming to be. Sometimes I sketch, sometimes I take photos, sometimes I just look. I think your dissertation sounds facinating, will look forward to reading it if that is possible. Good luck on it.