Initial Assignment Proposal.

Email to tutor:

The course has taken us through the evolution of topographics, ways of mapping, appropriation of work originating from elsewhere and intervention with the landscape. Then we came to psychogeography, and this is what I’d like my assignment to be based on.

Psychogeography has a long history in literature.   Various contemporary practitioners such as Will Self and Iain Sinclair, have made ‘deep topographic’ bodies of work that have explored cities, suburbia and edgelands. Their documentary about ‘The London Perambulator’ has opened my eyes to the fact that I could have long identified myself with this way of feeling and seeing communities – albeit on a subconscious level – possibly it is why I loved foot patrol so much.  Something that I will continue to ponder, is the effects of how ‘urban zoning’ of areas can effect the behaviour of the inhabitants.

The book ‘Edgelands’ revealed the ways in which memories can be wrapped up in edgeland furniture and here we can see the more general poetic ways of conveying the psyche of place.  This reinforced the course notes where it is explained that contemporary psychogeographers have swung away from Marxist/ political evolution and back to the poetic, literature – with a dash of psychoanalysis. A term coined in ‘The London Perambulator’ is ‘deep topography’. I am currently starting to read ‘A Field Guide To Getting Lost’ and looking at ‘Land Matters’.

I have read parts of Merlin Coverley’s book on psychogeography about the evolution of Psychogeography from Lettrist’s and Debold’s Situationalists. The evolution of the genre came from various different existentialists, political, poetic and topographic approaches but veered off towards political tendencies when Debold ruled. The likes of Mark Power and Iain Sinclair are very targeted in their strategy – the latter is described as being very targeted and stalker like in his approach . It is a vast subject in its own right that I can’t possibly soak up in its entirety within a few weeks.

In a lecture by Will Self, he explains the effect of the car and technology that leads us to live in micro worlds. Also his anecdotes about people not understanding the wider adjoining geographical area beyond that in which they reside in, or glide past in a car, struck a chord and made me think about my village location (8).

These questions came to me after the aforementioned research:

Why does psychogeography seem to be confined to urban areas?

Do rural villages have edgelands?

What narratives are lurking beneath the apparent rural idyll?

What is the impact of human intervention on the countryside?

Is there evidence of evolution and memory interwoven with the landscape?

Do zones exist in the village that impact the behaviour of the community?

How does the perception of countryside ‘freedom’ to explore compare to the reality?

Are assumptions made about who we are, depending on what area of the village we live in?

I decided that instead of taking my assignment to an urban environment, I should try and translate the practice of Iain Sinclair’s  ‘deep topography’.  Mark Power (in his project about the end of maps) and Chris Coekin (in ‘Hitchhiking’) both provide a ‘snapshot’ aesthetic (to my eye). This lends itself to the flavour of exploring and explaining a location in an honest, albeit in a vernacular way.

I think this approach is really the only way to provide a flavour of my route. The forensic topographic approach to urban architecture that Becher and Ruff present won’t translate so well. Looking at Sullivan’s ‘Maze’ and the crumbling environment depicted could work. Would it do to mix the styles and match to convey the ‘sense of a place’?

Response from tutor:
It’s all sounding fine to me Claire. I certainly recommend that if you have a couple of strategies in mind that you’re keen to explore and unsure of which to select, you should start by testing out both for a little while, then break, review and see what you have – recording your responses ton your log.
Then you can start to see what fits and what just isn’t looking that strong on reflection – you might be pleasantly surprised.

I think there are ways to incorporate different strands to a project, but it’s hard without seeing any of your initial experiments. It is totally up to you how you prefer to work, but I would keep going, follow your research and your instinct and ensure you research your chosen physical journey route. You’ll soon know when something isn’t working quite as you hoped.

You could always check back in with me when you’re a little further in to the shooting stages? For situations similar to this, I would recommend trying to load up shoots and reflection as you go, if it’s possible.

3 thoughts on “Initial Assignment Proposal.

  1. Your questions are so apt. I too have a query regarding psychogeography and the urban. Debord’s definition states ‘geographical environment’ which is much wider. Maybe he couldn’t see beyond the City. Perhaps the prospect of wandering outside its safer confines was too frightening a thought!


  2. I have to admit that I have had a cursory look at the historic aspects of Debord’s tyrannical scientific approach thus so far – for contextual purposes. I have largely concentrated on the contemporary poetic approach. Having written this proposal, I have turned the page in Liz Well’s book ‘Land Matters’ and have found her referring to the likes of Jem Southam who I hadn’t considered as a psychogeographer.

    I haven’t found any village psychogeography out there yet. Another book that I have just opened ‘The Art of Getting Lost’ might well prove that a discourse on rural/ wilderness psychogeography does exist.

    I also wonder if I need to reconsider the documentary and landscape labels that I have put on other photographers who have made studies of rural life. The problem is that rural observations don’t have the geometric contemporary feel that urban work does and I wonder if it is easily be dismissed as been an exercise on nostalgia. I’ll see how things evolve over the next week or so.


  3. Pingback: Part 2: Developing an approach to A2 | OCA: LANDSCAPE

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