Friday, May 15, 2015

A View of the City - A Critical Reflection

That's the biggest selfie stick I've ever seen” says the voice. I lift my head toward the rear of a large delivery vehicle, where a man stands on a raised platform above the street level, we both look up at the camera and laugh in agreement. I am walking up Grafton street for the fourth time in the last half hour, pushing a bike with a six metre telescopic pole, atop of which a small video camera is mounted, recording our every move. The camera at this moment in time plunges myself and all others into a visual archive of the city, an archive which maps urban form and encounters. It also paints us into a world of surveillance, within a medium which transfigures between artifice and archive.

The 'View of the City' challenges our definition of what visual archive is? What does it do? What is it's purpose? And what new information and interpretation can we disseminate from the practice? These are questions that I have tried to figure out on my time during these looping peregrinations through, and circumambulations of, this primary route. The project for me was primarily concerned with our experiences and encounters in the city which could be effectively expressed through visual media. The process of walking allows one to reflect on the purpose of this visual practice. 

"A walk has a continuous linear narrative, which becomes a picaresque adventure filled with multiple diversions and encounters, the people and objects you encounter become a vignette within a picaresque story." [1]

You walk as think your way through Grafton Street, and by doing so it allows you to absorb the narratives of street life, its cathartic and experiential. This translocation gives a compendious understanding of Grafton st. providing you are willing to fully engage with an active observation of the city. Through this lens the street reveals its diverse oeuvre. A theory which may seem somewhat laconic, but one which is made possible by viewing a blinding familiar street with a new pair of eyes. The 'View of the City' offers the viewer a simultaneous reading of the non standard 'obtuse' viewing planes of the city. This visual representation traces the things which are fugitive and subaltern to the user whom has an 'a priori' understanding of this embodied local route through the city. The moving image in this sense has the power to illuminate the things which move below the surface and light, to un-nest a series of frameworks and entangled conditions and to reveal a series of realities constructed within realities [2], All of which enable us to produce new knowledge of the city street.

The challenge for the project reveals itself in a simple question, How can this information be disseminated to understand and inform our shaping of urban forms and public spaces? To which my riposte would be; What can we truly learn about the city through visual practice? My pathway along this project has informed my judgement on how photography and visual media has the deeply embedded ability to aid the research and justification of the reality of city life, how the capturing of the dynamic flux and flow of a people in constant movement form the evidential nature of the urban condition and in time the urban archive [3].

The camera become the an apparatus which can provide us with a mode of justification. The camera which we used had an effect upon our methodology of working, in the sense that its small size does not encourage close contact encounters through the intrigue of the public, which is opposed to the group who were doing the portraiture photography on O'Connell street. The increasing availability of inexpensive recording equipment provides us with an opportunity to constantly create and archive. An opportunity which companies like Google have used to create large scale street-scape representations of every major town known. Vast amounts of data, pieced to together to form coherent imagery. Imagery with no framing, no analysis, no awareness of social practice or ritual, no knowledge of its history, it renders it as pointless data in terms of the the visual archive of the city as a digital archaeology. The project aims to tell you about proximity and connectedness of the city, it aims to understand our awareness of the city as a series of linkages across a uniform ground surface which we are all connected to,

The urban visual archive and 'The View of the City' is a process of capturing the city at a moment in time, through which we can revisit and recover the knowledge and lives of the previous societies who ingrained their mark on this street during this moment. The visual archive is a layered series of elements, moving from the physical capturing of light through a camera to capture the raw information, to the condition and meanings which can then be associated to it and finally to its purpose, how will this visual representation be interpreted in the future, will it be used as evidence for change, or as an understanding of the ethics and politics of the time? [4] The Urban Reform Photographers of New York in the early 20th century relied on this visual urban archive as a medium to influence change. The wanted to use the image as a way to articulate meaning. Jacob Riis [5] a police reporter and photographer documented the working and living conditions of the poor in the city, building up an archive of photos which were embedded in meaning and emotion, a commonality of many being rubble, laundry, vandalism, social segregation and isolation. He used the evidential nature of the conditions of the city to propel change in policy and law, for better housing, social facilities and quality public spaces for a people left behind. But, this theory is conceited, by the fact that it was later revealed that many of Riis photographs were in fact staged. Therefore visual representation can be left open to the construction of artifice, which effectively removes the authenticity of meaning attached to it.

The 'View of the City' cant be read as unfettered evidence of past realities of the daily lives of the early 21st century homo-urbanus, but can only be understood as a visual representation which is embedded in its own entangled history, just as we all are [6]. The ulterior visual representation of the street-scape is only real as a moving image. It moves along the boundaries between documentation and art. It is a hybrid form of visual representation which can be read as a performance art piece, whereby the people within it are vignettes acting out their picaresque journey, or they become the subjects of documentation through visual sociology, where we can attach meaning to them as individuals.

"The lens, the so-called impartial eye, actually permits every possible distortion of reality: the character of the image is determined by the photographer's point of view and the demands of his patrons. The importance of photography does not rest primarily in its potential as an art form, but rater in its ability to shape our ideas, to influence our behaviour, and to define our society" [7]

Which ever way the project is viewed or interpreted at a later stage, it has the ability to serve as a "repository of the collective memory of its inhabitants, mnemonic to their knowledge of previous eras, and a source of ideas about their social identity [8]". I think the act of 'remembrance' is of great importance to this project, for the reason that, 'all we love, we leave behind'. Beyond metaphor this phrase represents our innate understanding that the present dissolves into the past and that the memories of these spaces become de-saturated and sentimentalised. The act of creating the visual archive of the city is a continuous process. We capture, we catalogue, we preserve, we move on. The French historian Pierre Nora [9] explains that memory becomes so much more important if the future does not offer progress. From this we can understand the importance of the visual archive as an interdisciplinary movement, one which can take the work of photographers, architects, sociologists, anthropologists and urbanists to use visual practice as a mode for change, a change which can inform and orientate the way we shape our cities, the way we populate our public spaces and the ways in which we encounter the urban realm.

Is this view of the city useful? Maybe not, but this film promotes debate on how urban visual practice engages and shapes our understanding of public life and public space. The success of the project as an exhibition will only be determined by the engagement of the viewer, or their willingness to look up, and participate in this new obtuse view of the city. The front entrance hall of the building is essential to its spectacle, The initial idea of the installation was to resemble a camera obscura, whereby the functioning of the room as a proto-camera. This would have been a powerful visual expression of the city, as “seeing the unreal created in the real environment is an intense aesthetic experience” [10]. The exhibition had its failings in other areas which need to be addressed, the use of sound would have enhanced the experiential qualities of a 'synaesthesia' for the viewer. By viewing people drift in and out of scene and hearing only parts of their conversations, it places the viewer back into the time-frame at the moment of capture. I believe that this exhibition could be developed further to enhance the experience of viewing these obtuse views. To craft a more immersive experience which concisely expresses the importance of the city as visual archive.  

Kevin O'Brien

[1] Self,Will - excerpt from 'In Confidence' interview - United Kingdom: Sky Arts  - 2009 - TV Series

[2] Halliday, Paul et al - excerpt from TATE modern ‘Urban Encounters - Routes and transitions - United Kingdom: Tate Modern - 2013 - Annual Conference

[3] Halliday, Paul et al - excerpt from TATE modern ‘Urban Encounters - Routes and transitions - United Kingdom: Tate Modern - 2013 - Annual Conference

[4] Halliday, Paul et al - excerpt from TATE modern ‘Urban Encounters - Routes and transitions - United Kingdom: Tate Modern - 2013 - Annual Conference

[5] Riis, Jacob - How the Other Half Live: Studies among the Tenements of New York - New York: Charles Scribner's Sons - 1890

[6] Halliday, Paul et al - excerpt from TATE modern ‘Urban Encounters - Routes and transitions - United Kingdom: Tate Modern - 2013 - Annual Conference

[7] Zox-Weaver, Annalisa - "Quote from Gisele Freund." Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography - United Kingdom: Routledge; 1st edition - 2005

[8] Walsham, Alexandra -  The Reformation of the Landscape; Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland - United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2011,

[9] Nora, Pierre - Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire - U.S.A: University of California Press - Representations -  No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (Spring, 1989), pp. 7-24

[10] Scott Brown, Denise - A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays, 1953–1984, (with Robert Venturi), New York: Harper & Row, 1984

Space perception and communication: the architect-flâneur

The aim of the project was to rediscover the city through photography. People move through the city from A to B to achieve a specific goal. The way they move through the city becomes a routine. They have become familiar with the space, they don’t notice anything new. The method of the flâneur allows the people of the city to rediscover the spaces in the city that are familiar to them. This essay will further investigate the potential of the architect-flâneur in site analysis and design communication.


Flâneurs don’t have any practical goals in mind, aren’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere. What flâneurs are doing is looking. Opening their eyes and ears to the scene around them, wondering about the lives of those they pass, constructing narratives about the houses, eavesdropping on conversations, studying how people dress and street life in general. Flâneurs relish what they discern and discover.’ - (Fletcher, 2001). In other words, the flâneur is an observer.


Every person has a unique world view due to the different life experiences and interests. In psychoanalytic psychology the Rorschach ink spots are used to interpret personality. According to R. Archer the “distinct methods of assessment provide largely unique information about a person's personality and functioning(Archer & Meyer, 2001, p. 487). That means that the test subjects who are being analyzed provide mostly unique interpretations of the ink spots. This infers a unique and highly personal interpretation of visual information in general. If most people provide different interpretations of an ink spot, they will also have different interpretations of other textures, colors, materials, two dimensional images or three dimensional spaces. This implies that every flâneur has a different and unique way of seeing the world.

The flâneur as a photographer

When the flâneur is photographing an object of interest, the three dimensional space is captured in two dimensional photographs. When the three dimensional object is translated into two dimensions, information is lost. The information that is captured in the two dimensional images dependents on several factors.

The position of the photographer  

The object of photography is three dimensional. When two-dimensional images are taken of the three-dimensional object, an infinite number of images would be required to capture the 3D model fully. Each image only captures part of the 3D space, but a collection of images will approximates the 3D object.


When the 3D object is translated to 2D images the aspect of time is captured in the images. Every photograph is a record of a specific moment in time and space. It is a factor that will influence the way the space in perceived in the photographs. The day-night cycle is a significant factor in the way photographs are interpreted. Also the position of the people, cars, trees, birds, people, weather, etc. in the space is never the same twice. They form an ever changing composition that will influence the way the space is understood.

Capturing the essence

The goal therefore of the flâneur is not to fully record all aspects of the environment but it is to try and capture the essence of the space, its character and atmosphere and the way it is used. Every photograph captures a fragment of the essence, but a collection of images will approximate the whole atmosphere or experience of the space.
The essence that is captured in the photographs of the flâneur is the way the flâneur sees the space. It can be very difficult to communicate the essence of a space in words. When the flâneur has captured the personal interpretation of the space in photographs, communicating the exact personal interpretation becomes plausible.  

Book format

The photographs taken by the flâneur are presented in a book format. The book format has several advantages. The book format will ensure that a sufficient number of images can be used to approximate the essence of the space.

Narrative construction

The J. Paul Getty Museum states about William Eggleston’s work: ’monumentalize everyday subjects, everything is equally important; every detail deserves attention.("The J. Paul Getty Museum," 2015) His color film photographs capture ’democratically’ unspectacular events of our everyday life. A storyline is constructed in the way the images are arranged in his book ’Los Alamos’(Eggleston, 2003). The composition, activities or difference in time between both images, suggests a relationship between the two. The mostly fictional relationship can however strengthen the essence of the space, it can capture the atmosphere or the way the space is perceived.


Architects, like everyone else, have a personal and unique way of looking at the world. The interpretation of a site and the resulting design will be different from every other architect. A design is a personal statement and it dependents on the way the architect sees the world.

Site analysis

In order to make a design for a building the context has to be understood. The site analysis is a key factor to the design process and will greatly influence the design. The goal of the site analysis is to build a comprehensive understanding of the site.  The architect who is analyzing the site is there with a goal in mind. The flâneur who is just observing might see the space differently. When the architect visits the site for the first time, the architect should behave as a flâneur, without a predetermined notion of what the space should be like. It might help the architect in understanding the space more objectively and it might generate a better understanding of the essence of the space. The photographs that the architect-flâneur takes will communicate with the client the way the architect sees the space. As a method for site analysis the approach of the architect-flâneur could be very suitable.

Design communication

The architect traditionally communicates the design trough 2D drawings, such as floor plans, sections, elevations, details. Drawings or renderings of the building are sometimes added to show what the building will look like. Clients might have a hard time reading the technical drawings and it could be difficult for the client to understand the building as it exists in the mind of the architect. If 3D renders or drawings are added, they will give an impression what the building will look like, but only from a one point of view and during one moment in time.
The architect-flâneur approach has potential in communicating the design to the client. The book tries to capture the whole essence of the building in the way it is used, perceived and feels. The book should contain rendered or hand drawn fragments of the building that capture the essence.  
Relating two images together in the book will suggest narratives and will strengthen the atmosphere or it character. The images could correspond to different times of the day, inside and outside spaces, the way light enters the building during the day, the way the users could use certain spaces. Or small fragments that give a good understanding of the design. This will ensure that the essence of the design can be understood by the client. The client can compare his expectations to the architect’s vision. The book could be used as a way to communicate those abstract aspects of design that are hard to capture in words like atmosphere or the character of the building.

 Arwin Hidding


A Reflection

Views of the City

     Our project is concerned with both looking up and looking down on Grafton street, significant on this street where shop fronts and advertising are composed to streamline the view to one level. This is not necessarily a commentary of this particular street, but a relevant inquiry into how we see Dublin city and other cities today.

     Stills from footage looking up and down

The intention of the project was to question the city, to expand our knowledge of it and to show it in the form of a composed view from which the observer can procure his or her own ideas. The challenge of composing a view is where to begin. Kevin Lynch, in his book 'Image of the City' alludes to our comfort on a street; “We are supported by the presence of others and by special way-finding devices: maps, street numbers, route signs, bus placards. But let the mishap of disorientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to out sense of balance and well-being” 1. The views we have chosen to bring together are disorientating, as is the way we have decided to show it, by projecting on to the ceiling. The idea of challenging the viewer comes both by disorientating them and giving them views, which are abstract, where the only direction is that which the camera decides. In this sense, while the view may be out of the comfort zone of the observer, they are still being carried and shown the way by the stream of video.

     John Berger reminds us in 'Ways of Seeing' that “Seeing comes before words, the child looks and recognises before it speaks” 2 It was in two views which only an infant is used to perceiving which we thought could best illustrate our question to the city. It forces the observer back into a state of infancy, being carried through the street. Looking up from a height of just under a meter, as if being pushed in a pram, and an exaggerated piggyback on the shoulders of a giant, looking down from a height of five metres. This defamiliarization is not a new technique. In the story Kholstomer (the story of a horse) by Leo Tolstoy (1886) 3, it shows the human world from the viewpoint of a horse, exposing the irrationalities of human convention. It is these conventions that our project may begin to question. Without the shop fronts in view we begin to further question our habitation of the street.

Grafton Street looking up

     Ed Ruscha’s “Every building on sunset strip 19664 has both similarities and contradictions to our project on Grafton Street. Ruscha takes single elevation photos from a moving truck, sticking them together, with no other reason than to show what is currently there. The repercussions of his work, then and today, showed the viewer a moment in time. It disseminates the social, economic and culture of the period. We are presenting two views which are unfamiliar on this street. What we show is the background to what the viewer usually sees on the street. Our interest in this says something about where and what we were pushed towards in this project. It is a disposition away from the commercial, from the ordinary, which we found a need to communicate.

Grafton Street looking down

     The view questions our relationship with ground and sky on this enclosed and narrow street. In one sense it longs to soar above the buildings and out of the built environment. The other, looking down, is more inquisitive as to the built environment. The breaks in granite paving, filled with tar, or the milieu of red brick ground cover, displaced or skewed, give us a sense of inhabitation and history. These images from the video remind us of Andreas Geffellars 5 work, which takes the unfamiliar view, the unpopulated view, yet one with memory of inhabitation and shows it to us in stunning detail. It is inquisitive of both human habitation and the left overs of habitation. Geffelars photographs, while becoming about human habitation, rarely has people in them, where our video has people, many of whom do not notice they are being filmed. This provokes a sense of surveillance. David Rokeby 6 talks about the power of these technologies and visual artists in his essays, bringing up the ethical side, where “subjectivity and control” are the main issues. He hints at the idea that we may be “in danger of becoming apologists for industrial, corporate, and institutional uses of these technologies.”

Stills from video footage looking down

     We are so rehearsed in seeing Grafton Street from eye level, that when it is shown in this extreme way it becomes ever more interesting. It adds a depth to the layers which the viewer already understands. What our projection will physically show are the tops of buildings and the ground cover on Grafton street. We see people move past these views from uncommon angles, yet it still shows occupancy. When we see people occupying the street it does give us a familiar starting point. It points to this view as archive, and survey.

     To exhibit our work, we will use the main entrance hall in the Richview house. Including the bicycle which we used to film both views was an essential part of our thoughts for the exhibition. By building a frame to hold both the bicycle and projector, where both depend on each other, it shows reference to both method and exhibition in the same piece. A frame holds the bicycle steady, while also holding a perforated box, which carries the projector. The bicycle counterwights the frame, allowing the perforated box to be suspended between two timber elements and appear to float. The projector plays the videos on a split screen, which will loop approx. every 10 mintues.

Final Exhibition

Adding of perforations for air intake

Cormac Friel


Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. London, The MIT Press, 1960

Berger, John.  Ways of seeing. London, Penguin, 1972

Tolstoy, Leo. Khlolstomer. Montana, Kessinger Publishing, 2005

Ruscha, Ed. Every Building on Sunset Strip.  1966

Geffellar, Andreas. Supervisions. 2009-2013

Rokeby, David. Watch. 1995
RE:DISCOVER THE CITY, the modern flaneur
Christina Kerr

The objective of the instillation was to find a new way of observing the city, aiming to discover new elements that one may not have seen or thought before. Originally the concept was to create a large scale instillation that involved a distorted space of the city itself, allowing the viewer to wander through the space using all their senses.The aim was to create an experience of the city one never imagined. Images would fill the space taken from the point of view of a wanderer, without restriction and of any element that the photographer desired. One hoped the images would add to the sense of unfamiliarity of a place one knows so well.

Many writers and artists where fascinated by the effects of the city on its inhabitants and how the
people use the spaces. Fletcher describes the phenomenon of the flâneur and Charles Baudelaire
also wrote about the city wanderer. But what about us as the viewers of the twenty-first century? Are we still into the city? These questions became key in how we thought about our project. As fletcher describes,

Flâneurs don’t have any practical goals in mind, aren’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere. What flâneurs are doing is looking. Opening their eyes and ears to the scene around them, wondering about the lives of those they pass, constructing narratives about the houses, eavesdropping on conversations, studying how people dress and street life in general. Flâneurs relish what they discern and discover.1

These words really describe the essence of our work. We took the images without force or goal, really looking at the details of what makes up the experience of the city space. Constructing narratives was a key aspect we wished to focus on. One wondered about the lives of the city and how we could create stories within the landscape using images. After many discussions it was decided that the project would involve a book with a series of photos from the point of view of a flaneur, allowing these untold stories about the life of the city to be created. 

Book Placed in Exhibition Space

I studied the work of Richard Misrach, in particular his series of photos called ‘On the beach’. In this series of images, taken in Hawaii, he removes all reference to the horizon and sky, recording
people immersed in the idyllic environment. He allows the viewer to create ideas about the environment and human interaction, the details are ambiguous. Its hard to distinguish if the figures are relaxed or drained of life. By studying this work it helped encourage the idea that stories can be created from a series of photos placed together. Photographs can create a better understanding of the environment and human existence.

The project focuses on Findlater Place, a cleft place in Dublin 1, dividing different functions from each other. It can be seen as a transition space with in the city. The space is used in different ways because of different functions: Bord Pleannala is next to the Best Western Academy Plaza Hotel and DIT, College of Catering faces the St. Thomas Church. All these diverse functions attract different people, who usually would not congregate in the same space. The variety of people and activities in this one location enabled a diverse collection of images for the project. 

Location of site and path of photographers

The method of taking the photos involved each of us going to the space on Findlater place, individually and at different times. Each individual has a different approach to the city; what interests them, how they study form, light and shade, and how they view architecture and their approach to the design process. Alan Fletcher said,

Goethe thought thinking more interesting than knowing, but not so interesting as looking. Certainly when confronted by a boring conversation my concentration is inclined to fold its arms and divert itself by observing the visual dialogues of my surroundings: the chit-chat between dappled sunlight and a chintz fabric, the point of contact between the edge of a near chair and the silhouette of a far lampshade, the dissolving outline of a face as it passes in front of a bright light. As Georgia O’Keeffe pointed out: ‘Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.’ 2

This idea is true of our photographs. By having four points of view we enhance the experience of the images due to a multitude of interests, and by spending more time observing the space one starts to see so much more. This form of taking the photos was key to our project and insured a diverse range of images. There was no restriction on the requirement of the photos, they could be taken by any camera and of anything. This all added to the experience of a Flaneur.

The writer was the one to choose, pair and order the images. In a sense they were the true flaneur. The images are laid out to tell a story that otherwise would be forgotten. In choosing a book one tries to immerse the viewer within the city landscape, allowing them to decide the stories inside. There are no words associated with the images either, again enabling the viewer to be the flaneur within this city space.

As a group we were inspired by the work of William Eggleston. His colour film photographs capture ‘democratically’ unspectacular events of our everyday life. In his book ‘Los Alamos’ Eggleston suggests through the arrangement of different images stories can be found behind the images. This is something we aimed to create with our project, taking everyday sightings and viewing them in a different way through the presentation of a book. The J. Paul Getty Museum explains that William Eggleston’s work “monumentalises everyday subjects, everything is equally important; every detail deserves attention.”

Beside each other these images try to evoke the idea of freedom and nature. On one side we have a seagull, he is free to fly over the city, and observe the landscape from above without having to interact with the spaces below. On the other side a man, he looks trapped in a space, perhaps showing how it sometimes feels to live in a dense city landscape.

In these series of images it shows a man that one can only imagine is taking a break from a busy work day, escaping the indoors for the sunshine filled lane. The sense of movement can be seen in the images bringing life to an otherwise static environment. 

These photos are paired to bring a sense of time to the flaneur. On the left a woman is holding a suit bag, on the right is this the same suit bag, hours or days later? One can create a story of what has happened over time.

This way of working could be applied to design studio. Taking photos in this way enables one to observe spaces one usually would not focus on. One returns many times and spends a lot longer wandering through the space gaining more of an understanding of the life and character of the city. One can find little moments of light and shade, and really begins to understand the form and essence of the city. A new way of perceiving the space and events within the city encourage one to rediscover the familiar surroundings. The city is more than just a transition space.

Peter Brook said, “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”4 The modern Flaneur is creating theatre within the everyday city. 


1. Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways (Phaidon Press: 2001)

2. Bryony Quinn, “The Art of Looking Sideways,” It’s nice that, August 25, 2011,

3. “William Eggleston.” The J. Paul Getty Museum. Last modified 2015. collection/artists/1505/william-eggleston-american-born-1939/

4. Peter Brook, The Empty Space (Penguin Modern Classics: 2008)

Bobby Seal, “Baudelaire, Benjamin and the Birth of the Flâneur,”
Psychogeographic Review, November 14, 2013, http://

Martina Lauster, “Walter Benjamin's Myth of the “Flâneur.” The Modern Language Review 102, no. 1 (2007), 139-156 Simon Ford, The situationist international a user’s guide (Black dog publishing: 2005)