RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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302 Visual approaches to the city: mediating everyday landscapes (1) - producing the urban
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Katherine Stansfeld (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Laura Cuch (University College London, UK)
Chair(s) Katherine Stansfeld (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Friday 31 August 2018, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Glamorgan Building - Council Chamber
Session abstract This session explores the potential of visual approaches to research the ways in which people and communities navigate and make sense of urban localities and their changing environments; as well as how they build a sense of belonging in the city. Due to heightening urban change, transformation and migration across the world, urban life is becoming increasingly varied, complex and intertwined (Smith, 2001, Soja, 2000, Keith, 2014). As such, increasingly geographers are recognising the potential of creative methodologies (Hawkins, 2013) to gain a nuanced understanding of complex social and cultural landscapes in the city. In particular, there is a growing interest in geography in visual urbanism and audio-visual approaches to the study of the everyday city (Oldrup and Carstensen, 2012, Hunt, 2014) to uncover issues around identity and the way difference is negotiated and lived. We are particularly interested in bringing together academics, photographers, filmmakers, artists and creative practitioners to explore the insights different audio and visual approaches can give us on contemporary global and ordinary cities and the narratives people and communities shape around place.

The session will examine the interplay and relationship between people’s narratives and experiences and how they are produced, presented and meditated through visual and creative practices. Participatory and visual approaches can often shed light on personal or cultural experiences, or understandings of community and landscapes of belonging in unique and engaging ways. As participants are often familiar with genres of visual practice, these creative approaches have the potential to explore issues and mediate research in ways that are different from other social sciences methods, allowing for distinct narratives to unfold and develop. This session will encourage reflection and dialogue on how visual approaches can respond to and engage with an ever-shifting and multiple urban milieu.
Linked Sessions Visual approaches to the city: mediating everyday landscapes (2) - exploring identities, belonging and everyday practices
Visual approaches to the city: mediating everyday landscapes (3) - cartographic landscapes
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
We need to get out more: Visual methods and desktop urban theory
Geoff DeVerteuil (Cardiff University, UK)
This exploratory paper attempts an initial fusion of on-the-ground understandings of cities on the one hand, and an increasingly over-theorized and ‘desktop’ urban studies on the other, using a range of visual methods based on 25 years of photographing cities across the world. The focus is on the increasingly unequal and polarized landscapes that mark 21st-century urbanism, in the form of serially-recurring, inter-referenced ‘power landscapes’, the parochial, backwater and holdout landscapes, and how the two relate in the transitional, in-between spaces of the city. These three particular sites map on to different visual techniques – cross-cutting repetition, in-depth photo essays, and juxtaposition and time-series respectively. Inspired by slow research and relational perspectives, extensive photographic evidence will be used to illustrate these sites and techniques, as well as to say something more general about theories of the urban, theories of materiality, theories of power relations and spaces of encounter, and theories of the visual, of the visual as a tool for understanding cities.
Seeing the better street: photography and urbanism in Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Jesse Harber (Gauteng City-Region Observatory, South Africa)
In Seeing the Better City, Wolfe argues that “authentic human reflection should not be shortchanged by pundits' voices and augmented realities (such as maps, depictions, and overlays) that come from observers unfamiliar with the nuances of a community." (2016: 16). He calls for the direct, unmediated, experience of the urban environment, and argues for photography as a tool for structuring one’s experience of the city, and for conveying that experience to others. This is not far from Pieterse’s critique of statistics and abstracted urban data: “These informational coordinates are, of course, important and relevant, but they typically reveal a lot less than they conceal.” (2008: 111-112)
This photo-essay with accompanying analysis explores the streets and public space of Braamfontein in Johannesburg. This area is both higher-density than most of the city-region, and has received more pedestrian-focused interventions than many. This paper shows that the degree to which diverse street users are able to turn the street to their purposes is somewhat independent of formal interventions by the City of Johannesburg; indeed, the close management of the area, and constantly iterative ‘renewal’, has the effect of preventing the ‘quiet encroachments’ of street users from having a lasting effect on the physical streetscape.
This research was highly observational, and photography was central to its method. The essay concludes with a reflection on the capabilities and limitations of photography in urban research.
Medusa in the Metro: Urban Photography and the Female Gaze
Mireille Roddier (University of Michigan, USA)
“To avoid being noticed as a man, you must first renounce being noticed as a woman.” -Georges Sand, Histoire de ma Vie (1855)

In this paper, I examine the performativity of diverse perspectives in writing the city— “writing” as a sequenced and cyclical act of occupation (modes of belonging), observation (specificity of the gaze), representation (textual and visual), and production (urban design). The proposal questions the persistence of a male-dominated mode of production that began with those who critically chronicled the modernization of the metropolis in the 19th century. It begins with analyzing the standpoint of those who previously wrote and photographed the city, making tangible the specific imprint onto the urban landscape of a visual literature that has conditioned our perception and sense of orientation.
To write, photograph, film, or imagine the streets is to inscribe one’s existence into the public realm as subject rather than as object of representation. The “renunciation of being noticed” experienced by the flâneuses—women street photographers and urban chroniclers—only perpetuates the existing conditions of observation, without altering them. "Medusa in the Metro" challenges the invisibility, if not active erasure, of the flâneuse as cultural and political producer, and asserts an ever-increasing need for her subjective gaze, and her objective visibility, as an actor of change. Understanding the city as the locus of the theatrum mundi, it analyses the photographic representation of the urban through the combined lenses of feminist film studies, performance theory, and urban studies.

While its focus targets the representation of urban space by women, its methodology extends to diverse marginalized perspectives: the points of view of those that have traditionally suffered oppression, exclusion, disenfranchisement, invisibility, or persecution.
Urban communities as supportive resource and the dark sides of communities
Lars Meier (Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany)
Against the backdrop of the socio-economic crisis in Germany this presentation discuss the relevance of community for practices of resilience in urban settings. The analysis of qualitative data (photos and narratives) demonstrates that communities can be sources of resilience in three aspects. First, as a supportive social network for common use or change of goods, work or social and psychological support; Second, as an identity building system of relations that provides a sense of belonging; Third, as a political and social organisation that allows social support through established structures. This presentation is based on biographic interviews and photoelicitation interviews gained in the EU founded RESCuE project. The interviewees’ considerations of communities range from a nostalgic perspective (as something that was better and more supportive in former times and that is therefore remembered in an idealised way) to considering communities in a more positive way (as supportive social networks, which are helpful as source of resilience and for better coping with the crisis). This is demonstrated by interviewee’s images like of apartment houses, staircases and or flowers in a vase.
Where do you draw the line?: Graffiti and urban renewal in Maboneng, Johannesburg
Alexandra Parker (Gauteng City-Region Observatory, South Africa)
Samkelisiwe Khanyile (Gauteng City-Region Observatory, South Africa)
The Maboneng precinct began in 2009 with the completion of Arts on Main in a renovated industrial building. This initial building project aligned Maboneng with urban renewal for the creative city and creative tourism. The building contained artists’ studios and exhibition spaces and since then, the area of Maboneng has created a strong presence, physically and
digitally, through public and street art and ‘instagrammable’ interventions. The area now boasts several large-scale murals produced through street art festivals or commissioned pieces but there is also a significant level of graffiti that contributes to the aesthetic identity and tourist activity of Maboneng.
Graffiti is a controversial subject and even defining it can be difficult. The global success of artists such as Banksy, or Melbourne’s booming graffiti tourism have blurred the lines between vandalism and art. In 2016 Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, decried that he would eradicate graffiti through stricter bylaws to create an ‘investor-friendly environment’ in the city (Sosibo 2016). However, this is at odds with the achievements of Maboneng, which show that graffiti contributes to the tourism and public and private investment in the inner-city of Johannesburg. This paper uses photographs of graffiti to trace Maboneng’s development and locate graffiti within the precinct. The research shows the extent to which the Maboneng precinct is branded through urban aesthetics that also occupy online spaces. Through visual and spatial analyses, we show the ambiguities of defining both graffiti and space, what is desirable and undesirable.