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.