"People can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is animated"
- Karl Marx
Psychogeography is about urban exploration and the way our surroundings make us feel. Everything we look at triggers an emotional response.
While studying at Edinburgh College of Art, I wrote an essay on psychogeography, and in order to prepare, I had to do a little experiment: walking.
I randomly walked from Bruntsfield towards the City Centre, noting how each significant change in my surroundings made me feel. The next step was to ask, why?
There are the obvious emotional changes, like walking down an alleyway at 2am. You feel on edge, your heart rate quickens and you up your pace. You are on high alert of danger. You can hear the creatures of the night howling behind those enclosed walls.
Walking through a park on a summers day will make you feel elated, as does looking at the sea, lying on a beautiful beach. But, you need to ask the question, what about the emotional changes you feel in the not-so-stereotypical areas you may venture into, and the effect this might have on your photographic style.
The above photo was captured on Edinburgh's North Bridge: one of the most iconic views of the city can be seen from here. See, the thing is, I hate the North Bridge. It's always jam packed, claustrophobic and loud. Although there is an aesthetic appeal in the traditional sense, it makes me feel nervous or angry. Could this be the sub-conscious reason I captured a crow flying from the bridge, rather than the castle or Arthur's Seat?
The location a photographer is in makes a profound impact on the emotion and feeling that is portrayed in the final product. My best work is found in places which I enjoy, and reflect the theme I am attempting to portray.
Yes, photographers can take photos, but the really special ones, no matter what style, are the ones that really speak to their audience. So how do you know which places reach you on a psychogeographical level?
Awareness. As a photographer, finding a style in which your final product shows visually is just the start, getting the emotion and wonder in there is much harder. Psychogeography can be utilised to select certain shots that portray a theme you are interested in. I am interested in urban decay, poverty, factories, and the dark side of the city. So I am unlikely to choose a scenic country house or lochside to capture what I'm looking for. However, if I am in a scenic place, I look a little closer to find something that fits my theme; something that is unique to me and is unlikely to have been photographed before. An example:
The above two shots were taken by me. The one on the left is of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. As we explore any city, I still take, what is referred to in the industry as 'postcard shots'. I never publish these photos are they don't convey what I am trying to say in photograpy. That photo, however, displays exactly how I felt there, on that day.
Being on the Tyne Bridge itself was very different though. Much like the North Bridge, it is surrounded by stunning views, yet it is crowded and noisy. This opened up a different emotion, and hence I managed another 'escape-like' photo - the one on the right. Due to me being driven by emotion in photography, I feel the one on the right has more feeling and originality.
Then of course there are foreign lands. There are places you can go to that are so different from Britain that your audience will be blown away by almost anything you take, due to the alien nature of the subject matter. But what about psychogeography? How do foreign places make YOU feel?
This year, we have been to New York, Berlin, Krakow, Rome and Barcelona. I was aware that postcard shots were to be had everywhere, but I still determined to utilise my new surroundings to put across my specific themes, and so went to areas where that was possible. As above, the photos on the left are areas where I didn't feel much (postcard shots) and the right are ones that helped me feel a specific emotion:
Although the ones on the left aren't technically bad, as photographers we need to think outside the box, and portray our emotions and originality. We can use psychogeography as a tool; one which allows us to use the urban landscape as a playground. It allows us to demonstrate feeling outside of what most people consider to be 'a good photo'. The photos displayed on the right may not appeal to some, but are a direct reflection of what I am trying to say, rather than appeal to the masses or gain likes in this scary new world, and psychogeography has helped me get there.
Art is expression, and for expression you need sources. Well, that's easy in photography, it's all around you, but which little bit will you choose?