Earlier this year I visited Moscow along with the other members of the photography collective MAP6. Each of us set out to create a body of work that would capture our own individual perspective on the city. These perspectives will soon come together in the form of a group publication and exhibition. For now you can see my series Moscow Circular here.
Iain Sinclair is perhaps the most significant literary figure responsible for the modern reincarnation of psychogeography. He has been working since the mid-1970s on a continuous exploratory project of London that incorporates poetry, novels, documentary film and photography. Sinclair uses walking as a way of re-engaging with the city in a world that he feels we have become disconnected from due to the modern-day media. For Sinclair, the docks, motorways, suburbs and industrial sectors that lie on the extremities of London are of equal interest as the popular touristic monuments that London is renown for.
Sinclair is perhaps most widely known for his book London Orbital (2002), where he circumnavigates London’s M25 on foot. However, it is his collaborations with Marc Atkins that cleverly introduces the photographic image into his work. The book Liquid City (1999), his second collaboration with Atkins, brings together the various walking journeys of the duo, which were undertaken for what Sinclair calls “urban research”. The walks featured in the book take part around the Thames which seems to be used as a visual metaphor to illustrate the city’s transience and the continual flow of people through the urban landscape. The pair takes the reader on a bleak adventure through modern industrial London, on a quest to interrogate and record the changing landscape. We are shown dilapidated graveyards and decapitated statues as a way of demonstrating how history often becomes faded and forgotten if not continually revisited. The darkness of Atkins’s black and white photographs bring out the city’s dramatic shadows and the hauntedness of the urban space conjured up with Sinclair’s words. The photographs show the way London’s inhabitants are dwarfed by the towering architecture and how the modern construction of the city can create feelings of isolation and alienation.
Once again, Liquid City reveals how the freedom of everyday walking can be applied as a form of artistic exploration. The book shows us the city from the perspective of two pedestrians who through walking, watching and recording manage to tap into the historical heritage of zones that are usually left ignored. The mixture of writing and photographs offer the reader different devices for viewing the city, this gives the book a unique perspective from those that exploit only one or the other. It demonstrates that by using text and photography together, we can find new ways of understanding the inner-city landscapes that shape our everyday existence.
Recently I came across the excellent work of photographer Tim Mitchell. His new self-published book, Up & Down the Pyrenees traces his 150 mile walking journey, where he joined David Lintern for part of his 600 mile sea to sea charity walk.
Francis Alÿs is a Belgian artist currently based in Mexico City. His practice is difficult to define as he employs a broad range of media and adopts a number of different approaches. Having been influenced by Baudelaire’s Flaneur he also uses walking to make ephemeral works that draw attention to a social or political point of view. One aspect that makes Alÿs exceptional to other artists I have mentioned here previously is that he uses photography to document the temporary and performative aspects of his work. After the performance is over the photographs can then act as a document to be used to perpetuate the work in a gallery space. Below are a few examples of his work to show his unique, inventive and humorous approach to walking in the city.
LOS ZAPATOS MAGNETICOS, 1994, PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF AN ACTION
“During the 5th Havana Biennial, I put on my magnetic shoes and took daily walks through the streets, collecting scraps of metal lying in my path”
As Alÿs wonders around the city collecting detritus with his magnetic shoes, the shoes become a symbol of recycling as well as a meditation on the allure of objects as consumerist commodities.
WALKING AND PAINTING, 2002/04, PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF AN ACTION
“A Painting is hung on a gallery wall. As the gallery opens its doors, the carrier takes the painting off the wall and walks it through the city. As night and closing time approach, the carrier brings the painting to the gallery, hangs it on the wall and covers it with a veil for the painting to sleep. The same action is repeated the following day.”
PARADOX OF PRAXIS 1, 1997, PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF AN ACTION
“Something making something leads to nothing.”
Alÿs pushes a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City for six or seven hours until it melts. On the same streets, manual workers routinely spend their days pushing and pulling carts and boxes. The results are the same: nothing to show for all the hard work.
“Walking, in particular drifting, or strolling, is already – within the speed culture of our time – a kind of resistance. Paradoxically it’s also the last private space, safe from the phone or e-mail. But it also happens to be a very immediate method for unfolding stories. It’s an easy, cheap act to perform or to invite others to perform. The walk is simultaneously the material out of which to produce art and the modus operandi of the artistic transaction. And the city always offers the perfect setting for accidents to happen. There is no theory of walking, just a consciousness. But there can be a certain wisdom involved in the act of walking. It’s more an attitude, and it is one that fits me all right. Its a state where you can be both alert to all that happens in your peripheral vision and hearing, and yet totally lost in your thought process.”
(From an interview with Russell Ferguson found in the monograph Francis Alÿs)
As a photographer it is interesting to re-visit your older work to see how your approach to photography has (hopefully) moved forward. I have recently been going through the photographs I made between 2009 and 2011 on my walk across the south coast of England. Here are a few images I omitted from the final edit of Isolated Coastline.