After a Period of Contemplation, Identifying Sites

One of the areas of my research that I have had to define for my proposal is the geographic regions I will be working in.

My photographic practice will be undertake in five geographic regions of Great Britain based on Nairn’s map of proposed subtopian development:


Map of Subtopian Development
Map of Subtopian Development
  • Thames Gateway (Docklands- Sheppey)
  • M4 Corridor (Bristol- Swansea)
  • Central Midlands (Leicester- Leeds)
  • North East (Middlesborough- Newcastle)
  • Manchester Shipping Canal corridor (The Wirral- Greater Manchester)

I will build up studies of the areas over the period of the research through a number of extended field trips, placing them within the wider framework of local communities, economies (utilising pre-existing community groups and archives). I will use landscape and documentary photography, as well as field sound recordings, moving image and aural histories to explore the sites and the people who use them. During this time I will reside in close proximity to the sites in order to facilitate participant observation

I will work using a mixture of the 5×4 and 6×7 formats, linking my work to the traditions of landscape photography.  My proposed practical outcomes will be a series of individual but interconnected books that will be able to be read on a local, regional and national scale or cross-compared.

Taken from draft two of my Proposal, Archipelagos of Interstitial Ground:  Investigating edgelands in the UK through photographic practice

I have tried to cover as wider area of Britain as possible too create a map of contemporary regional geopolitics, however I have had to miss out some areas that I would still love to research if time allows. Both the region of Greater Birmingham, especially around the Aston Expressway, and the M/A27 corridor from Southampton to Brighton.

The one obvious region missing from Nairn’s map is Scotland, and I am still very torn whether to stay true to the original map or explore the region between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Nairn believed that area above this line was:

The only big area of Great Britain that is still wild. It is also the only big area in Great Britain with underdeveloped agricultural and industrial resources. It is a part of Scotland that Lowland Scots feel they have amoral duty to develop and improve after the early nineteenth century clearances and 150 years of neglect.

However the new towns around Glasgow, designed to deal with the overflow from the inner city slum clearances, have in the proceeding years developed a reputation for dilapidation and deprivation. In 2002 Cumbernauld was voted the worst town in Scotland and famously topped the poll for Channel Four’s Demolition (2005).

The areas chosen are a mixture of locations I know well, especially the Thames Gateway as I grew up in the South east of England and studied at Rochester. To areas I have some knowledge of, Sheffield and the M4 corridor around Barry, Port Talbot, and Neath. To areas I have never visited, the northwest, and Liverpool to Manchester.

At the moment I am trying to explore these areas through literary and photographic references as well as through OS maps and Google Street View, to try and get a sense of place. However the work will only develop once I start spending prolonged periods in each location.

Urban Artist Boris Seiverts, director of the brilliantly named Office for city breaks, Expeditions in Terra Incognita, has developed a guide to visiting cities.

Screen shot 2009-11-26 at 10.20.34

The information taken from the Office of City Breaks website, describes their work as:

The Office of City trips organises excursions into the unexplored inner and outer fringes of our cities and metropolitan areas.

The single and multi-day trips link brownfields and housing estates, car parks, shopping centers and forests, meadows and highways, schools, factories and homes for asylum seekers, underground car parks and hotels, maneuvering spaces and landfills, airports. The city’s image is put into perspective beyond recognition. The orientation of buildings and roads dissolves and landscape contexts resolve as extremely disparate environments are visible.

From his findings, the Office for city breaks develop – in addition to the tourist ‘site seeing’ trips – Visions and further interpretations of the studied environments and feeds them into spatial planning and the cultural industry.


One thought on “After a Period of Contemplation, Identifying Sites”

  1. Hi Simon

    I have had a brief look at your blog. It seems really interesting and I am looking forward to spending some time looking and reading more carefully. I think it may have significance regarding my work too. I have signed-up to follow.

    Recent good reads that I have had that may relate (you may be aware of already) Robert Macfarlane The Old Ways (Chapters on East Anglian areas)
    Nan Shepherd The living Mountain Not local, but quite insightful. (It’s about the Cairngorms) She mentions the idea of walking into the mountains rather than walking up mountains – a change of state of mind from conquering the land to one of being part of the land. I found much to think about within this book.



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