Introduction and Preliminary Conclusions

As a photomedia visual artist I have been encouraged by the formation of a Geohumanities speciality within Human Geography in recent times. This interdisciplinary speciality sees the value of the visual arts and Human Geography discipline coming together. As Hawkins (2014) states “intersecting fields of geography and art might not merely offer one field as a model or form of critique for the other, but rather could instead demand that we move beyond existing horizons of both”[1]

In that spirit this interdisciplinary project has following purposes. The first is to further explore using imagery to document an urban environment. Although using imagery is nothing new in human geography. For example Rose (2007) explores visual materials and methodologies in her written book. [2]

The written word although marvellous has limitations in conveying the urban spatial environment. Thrift’s Nonrepresentational theory that places emphasis on everyday practices that cannot be adequately be spoken of, and words cannot capture. [3]  Thrift argues that written text can only inadequately communicate multi-sensual practices and experiences especially in connection with dance performance. I suggest that these imagery studies could form an initial assessment for deeper investigations. What this imagery studies together present is a holistic depiction of a spatial urban environment.

Another aim was to examine how this road served Canberra urban environment organises its dwellers. In my view Canberra’s urban environment was designed to be a city for private motor vehicles, and the roads constitute a skeleton structure on which this urban organism is organised. The emphasis in this project is on private motor vehicles that use the road network. However it is acknowledged Canberra also has an extensive public transport system which includes a bus and a limited light rail system. I also recognise Canberra also boasts extensive bike and walking tracks. These alternate movement systems are the subjects for future projects. The urban environments I have photographed are depicted in complimentary photographic books and video work shown below. They include;

         ·         Suburb Making 

         ·         The Space In-Between

         ·         Private Roadside Remembrance

         ·         Car Accommodation

         ·         Urban Commercial

         ·         Urban Formal,

         ·         Urban Central, and

         ·         The Manner of the Road video work

The final work "The Manner of the Road" video work acts as a unifying element for all the photobooks. Each work shows the functional environment through imagery and discusses some theoretical concepts unique to that environment. I would argue that these spaces can be understood from a phenomenological approach as spaces that are derived from personal activity and experience. [4]  

Significantly the primary artistic influence for this series of photographic works has been an American 1970s art movement known as the New Topographics. The photographic exhibition took place in 1975 and the full title was "New Topograhics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape." The exhibition featured the following artists Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohike, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel. As Salvesen (2012) states “these photographers wished to depict mid-1970s America without glorifying or condemning it, to make well-crafted prints without darkroom mystique, to assemble a survey without a unifying narrative”[5] In these series of photographic books and video work I have attempted to do the same although my point of view seeps in.

I would also note that as a photomedia visual artist I present a certain viewpoint through my images. Like Plato’s Cave allegory the images shown in these work present a reality, my reality in seeing these environments.[6] Crang (2010) states that visual geographic methodologies however seeming to be detached and objective are just ways of seeing. In this “seeing” acknowledging the viewpoint of the viewer is important.[7]  My viewpoint is from a local viewpoint who has lived in the Canberra region. 

The following preliminary conclusions were reached in this photobook and video series;

  •          This initial project shows an urban environment that is for Australians who have economic privilege. A certain amount of income is required to buy a home, a car and to live a suburban life and/or socialise in city centre. (See my work Suburb Making, The Space In-Between, Car Accommodation, Urban Commercial and Urban Central)
  •          This man-made environment allows Australians a choice of live apart from the community. Housing design in the newer suburbs tends to minimise community engagement. (see my work The Space In-Between) . This could be reasons including ethnic and social class. Driving a private motor vehicle further empowers inhabitants to choose the level of community interaction they are comfortable with. (See the work Car Accommodation, and The Manner of the Road)
  •          Roads are not neutral spaces with no meaning but forms the sketeon on which Canberra's Urban environment is constructed. As Witcher states the road has ideological aspects and ".. denies the past, whilst physically inscribing a new authority upon the landscape as part of a new present.” [8] (See my work Suburb Making, Private Roadside Remembrance, Car Accommodation, Urban Formal and The Manner of the Road.)
  •         On a grander scale what is implied from the images is that this urban environment has developed a culture where the deep   past has been forgotten. I assert that cultural interaction—where meaning is generated with Canberra’s urban environment—creates stored oral memory mnemonics that connect individuals to the area.[9] The longer these people inhabit Canberra’s urban environment, the deeper the stored memories and prior occupants forgotten.  (See my books Private Roadside Remembrance, Urban Formal and Urban Central)


[1] Harriet Hawkins, For Creative Geographies: Geography, visual arts and the making of worlds. Routledge, 2014.Kindle version page 241 of 310

[2] Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials, London, Sage Publications, second edition, 2007 

[3] Nigel Thrift, 2008 Non-representational theory: Space, politics, affect. London and New York Routledge, p. 1 to 26

[4] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space. (trans. O. Nicholson-Smith). Oxford andCambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1991.

[5] Britt Salvesen, New Topographics: Roberts Adams . Lewis Baltz . Bernd and Hilla Becher . Joe Deal . Frank Gohlke . Nicholas Nixon . John Schott . Stephen Shore . Henry Wessel, Jr. Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, George Eastman House International Museum and Field  Steidel, p.17

[6] Edvin Ostergaard,. Echoes and shadows: a phenomenological reconsideration of Plato's cave allegory. Phenomenology & Practice 13, no. 1 (2019): 20-33.

[7] Mike Crang, Visual methods and methodologies.The Sage handbook of qualitative geography (2010): 208-224.

[8] Robert Witcher. Roman roads: phenomenological perspectives on roads in the landscape. Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal 1997 (1998), p.64

[9] Paul Memmott and Stephen Long, Place Theory and Place Maintenance in Indigenous Australia, Urban Policy and Research 20, no. 1 (2002): 39–56.