Monthly Archives: May 2010

Photography workshops

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Filed under postcards project

If you’ll pardon the pun, taking on a series of workshops was uncharted territory for me, so I was intrigued to see how people of different ages and backgrounds would view the town we live in.

The first thing I wanted to know was how many people from within the group were actually born in Scarborough and how many had moved here from another place. I was astonished to discover only three at that first workshop had been born in the town; the rest had all come here either as children with their families or had moved here out of a love for the place. I think people are drawn to the sea, and to the big open easterly skies; there is something special about living somewhere bounded by water on one of its borders. There is a real elemental sense of place when you live on the coast.

My aim was to get a series of visual clues from each of the people attending that would give me a mental map of the places that were special to them in the town; or an idea of a journey regularly taken by them, whether a walk to school or work, or to a favourite place.

We gave everyone a cheap, disposable camera, fixed lens, no zoom, quite basic really. The aim was not to get people to produce technically brilliant pictures, but to record a journey, or a week in their lives, maybe taking in any special places, people or events we had talked about the previous week. The results were better than expected for me: I discovered I could plan a route across the town from south to north, from the Shuttleworth Gardens, across South Cliff, over the Valley Bridge and out towards the North Bay and Peasholm via the Castle Headland. There were also some surprises in there: Robert’s fondness for graffiti art, Charles’s view of the world from his wheelchair’s level, and Devon’s gritty bit of photojournalism showing a derelict building with a bike in front, its reflector winking back red light from the camera flash.

My job now is to work with these themes and ideas and interpret the different locations each individual has highlighted: I can’t wait to get started!

A bit of philosophy

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Filed under research & consultation, what is...

As promised, a teeny bit of philosophy. A caveat first though – I know nothing about philosophy. But this project has prompted some fascinating background reading to help inspire and define what we were trying to achieve and one route I found us heading off on kept bringing up the same names – Debord, Benjamin, Lefebvre. So light up a Gitanes and prepare for the map as political act (that’s a smidgen of Walter Benjamin right there for you).

The theory of ‘the production of space’ (Henri Lefebvre) suggests that as we shape the world around us, in return we are shaped by that world – we become what we experience. Therefore a map that communicates a strong sense of place says ‘this is who we are’. We’re not just saying ‘this is Scarborough’, but ‘this is what creates a Scarborian’. With my town branding head on I’m thinking there are also positive image implications of producing this map, with my creative coast head on I’m thinking about making clear the impact of cultural activity on economic regeneration (over to Richard Florida on that one but Scarborough was, after all, declared the Most Enterprising Place in Europe as a result of activity in which culture played a pivotal role).

Clearly we’re heading into urban space territory here – if you want to change the mind, change the geographic conditions that shape it.

Further to this, if we accept that anything created has to be inserted into a living social content (Walter Benjamin), and that cultural production and production of space cannot be separated (Lefebvre again), then such a map is a political act as it will change the space it is mapping and thus change the lives of the people who move through that space (Guy Debord).

That’s all either pretentious crap blogged here to justify the project, or reveals some of the impulses that drive some of Scarborough’s cultural activity which are/will be illustrated on this map.

Ok, I’ll stick to design in the future. But the beauty of CHART Scarborough is that it has no end point – this first version of the map is intended to be a catalyst. And this research reading and the subsequent conversations with various people about the project has set me off on a real psychogeography tip that I hope to explore as one of many people engaging with CHART Scarborough post-publication of the map. Which, by the way, is pencilled in for mid July.

(The image at the top is a model of part of Scarborough that’s currently in the Renaissance Centre. I snapped it on my phone when we were running one of the project’s workshop’s there.)

Of cartographers and philosophers

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Filed under design, progress, research & consultation, the map

We’ve been getting some feedback on the map from cartographers who draw a lot more maps than we do. Very useful it’s been too, highlighting some key aspects that have slipped past us as we’ve developed that design-blindness that sometimes happens on a long-running project. But something I’ve detected in the resulting discussion and from observing others is that are sometimes two distinct trains of thought about map-making.

One is that maps have developed their own visual language over the last few centuries and a map that follows in this tradition is the best a map can be. It’s tried an tested and refined and it asks that potential users learn how to understand and use such maps.

The other train of thought is that maps are fluid and that cognitive mapping theory, usually in relation to urban maps and particularly in the context of city centre wayfinding, is rewriting the rules. Maps can be far more intuitive that most currently are. This isn’t to deny that cartographer’s skills are just as valuable as before, but that a map can have a different theoretical starting point to which those skills are applied.

Under challenge from the former perspective and a wealth of cartographic experience it’s given me cause to stop and question some of the non-traditional decisions we’ve made, even going back to the theories and philosophies that underpin this project. So buckle those mental seatbelts, and whilst we make some design tweaks, my next post on here will be a whistle-stop ultra-condensed look at situationist theories and whether a map can change place. I bet you can hardly wait.

Elsewhere

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Filed under progress

Lack of activity on this blog usually indicates a flurry of action with the project (so take a look back and where we posted lots we were probably doing absolutely nothing…). Here’s a quick update.

James, who has been doing most of the work on the map itself recently posted a few thoughts on the electric angel blog: http://www.electricangel.co.uk/2010/04/20/back-refreshed/

James has also been out taking photos (such as the one above of marine drive) for the other side of the map which will include text by three local writers/poets: John W Clarke, Kate Evans and Jane Buckley.

The interventions prompted some interest in the street, in the local newspaper and via mobile phone as people texted in their cultural hotspots. There were no real surprises although we do keep spotting cultural spaces and places we hadn’t considered before. As the map approaches completion we’re planning a day when we re-walk every street on it to double-check the accuracy and be sure we haven’t missed anything.

This evening sees the final session of the CHART Scarborough postcards project which we haven’t mentioned on here yet. In short we have brought together a group of both young and retired people to work with a poet (John again) and photographer (Tony Bartholomew) to produce a set of postcards that explore how they perceive and interpret the town. These will both promote the launch of the initial CHART Scarborough printed map and, we hope, encourage people to think more about the place they live and what it means to them.

This evening’s session will be the first time I’ve met the group – I’m the designer who’ll take the resulting images and text and turn them into postcards so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been produced and gauge some opinions from the group as to how they might work in the printed format so closely associated with the seaside.