Post-digital practice

One major consequence of thinking critically about both methodology and modes of presentation (and the relationship between these) has been to consider the relationship between analogue and digital forms in my practice. In making my composite images (see, for instance, the Neuropolis series) I have worked entirely with digital images. Alongside this I have been making large and medium format film images and experimenting with the use of these in producing large composite images, using the following process (which can also be integrated with collaborative workshop activities).

  • Initial research and exploration of the area using archival, resident and made digital images.
  • Identification of scenes to be rephotographed in large format film.
  • Scanning of negatives and the production of composites digitally.
  • Production of prints and use in projection and on screen in local pop-up exhibitions alongside other images and artefacts.

As well as the technical benefits of this process, in enabling very large prints to be produced, this approach has the potential to be collaborative (for instance, in the initial production of images and making decisions about rephotographing and combining images). It also mirrors the process of decision making in urban regeneration, which is increasingly data driven. The lived experience and characteristics of residents are quantified and decisions are made on the basis of the analysis of this data (see, for instance, how demographic data, and projections, are used in applications for compulsory purchase orders, which lay the basis for large scale redevelopment of housing estates). The consequences of these decisions are subsequently felt directly and viscerally by residents, translating this back again into ‘analogue’ form. The photographic process I am exploring here mirrors this process of ‘datafication’: analogue forms are quantified (scanned) and manipulated digitally, and then translated back into analogue (as physical artefact) form, and placed back into everyday activity and experience.

I am identifying this shuffling between analogue and digital as ‘post-digital’ practice in the sense that the term is used by Alessandro Ludovico (2012) in relation to print. Ludovico argues that, despite declarations of the immanent death of print in the face of digital forms of production and distribution, print has come to thrive in particular domains (there is, for instance, an interesting case to be made for paper based archives, especially among mobile migrant and displaced communities, in the light of the instability of digital systems and dominance by corporations and the state). In a post-digital practice, analogue and digital forms exist alongside each other in synergy and critical dialogue. This goes beyond a nostalgic yearning for lost or increasingly marginal forms of practice, to looking at the ways in which the dynamics of digital production and distribution create (deliberatively, incidentally or serendipitously) spaces for analogue practice (and vice versa). As Cubitt et al (2015) argue, the technologies and political, economic and socio-cultural practices that fed into and influenced the development of and transition to digital photography, from analogue forms, have shaped digital practice in such a way that qualities that are available in analogue photography are not available to those working digitally. In developing a form of post-digital photographic practice, I am working with the affordances of different forms of production and distribution in a way that acknowledges the wider political, economic, social and cultural contexts and connotations of these forms, and the transformations that take place, beyond the solely technical, as we move between the analogue and the digital. This requires a broader and more nuanced conception of both analogue and digital domains. For instance, Robinson (2006) has observed that analogue:

‘has come to mean smoothly varying, of a piece with the apparent seamless and inviolable veracity of space and time; like space and time admitting infinite subdivision, and by association with them connoting something authentic and natural, against the artificial, arbitrarily truncated precision of the digital’ (p.21).

In relating post-digital photographic practice to (data-driven) urban regeneration, I wish to highlight the losses and gains in moving between the qualitative/analogue and the quantitative/digital (and the connotations of these moves), and the heuristic potential of image making and engagement in illuminating, understanding and influencing the transformations that take place. This brief post is just intended to indicate a direction for further investigation, theoretically, methodologically and practically, in my FMP.

There is also some technical experimentation to be done, particularly in the production of composites from film negatives, and in chemical printing from digital negatives, to increase the number of points at which moves between analogue and digital can be made.


Cubitt, S., Palmer, D. and Walkling, L. (2015) ‘Enumerating photography from spot meter to CCD’, Theory, Culture & Society, 32(7–8): 245–265.

Ludovico, A. 2012. Post-Digital Print: The Mutation of Publishing since 1894. Eindhoven: Onomatopee.

Robinson, D. 2006. Analog. In Fuller, M. (ed.), Software Studies: A Lexicon. Cambridge, Mass: Leonardo Books. 21-30.

Deep Mapping

Bloom, B and Sacramento, N. 2017. Deep Mapping. Auburn, IN: Breakdown Break Down Press.

I came across this short book by chance at a bookbinding workshop. Bloom and Sacramento describe Deep Mapping as ‘a process of reading and reshaping the landscape that embraces political, social, economic, infrastructural and environmental concerns, challenging accepted knowledge and imposed belief systems’ (p.8). It involves focusing on a specific small area or place, and conducting archival research, seeking local accounts, and, most importantly, engaging directly with the landscape through travelling in and across the area, and paying attention to what lies below and above, and what is hidden or silenced. Deep Maps, they claim, ‘propose a perspective from below, which puts puts the ‘needs and desires’ of, for example, the earth, poor people, devastated landscapes, in a relationship where they are given equal or greater consideration than the narratives of a dominant culture’ (p.6). Inspiration for the approach is taken from William Least Heat-Moon’s (1991) PrairyErth, a detailed narrative exploration of a small area of Kansas which attempts to make visible that which is not readily seen, and to present narratives and insights that run counter to dominant (western/colonial) accounts and ways of knowing. Bloom and Sacramento liken this to production of a form of ‘thick description’ proposed by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973) as a conduit for engaging with cultures and ways of living with which we are unaccustomed. In the development of their own approach to Deep Mapping, as an experiential artistic practice, Bloom and Sacramento also invoke the practice of Deep Listening advocated by the composer Pauline Oliveros (2005). Sacramento presents a method for Deep Mapping, comprising of nine components, from selection of a place through to compilation of outcomes (pp. 13-16). Bloom describes a number of ‘direct social and spatial encounters’ in which Deep Mapping has been applied as a methodology.

There are strong resonances between this approach and my own project (and my wider interests, for instance in minimalist music and sound art). My work engages with specific places and engages with entanglement of human activity and identity with the built and natural environment, and seeks to explore the impact of change in these settings from a range of perspectives (across generations, for instance), using a variety of media (text, narrative, maps, photographs, archives, artefacts etc) and at different levels (from the micro to the macro; see earlier activity using portable microscope and Google Earth images). Challenging the dominance of colonial ways of thinking about our relationship to the land and place problematises western notions of spacetime, and Bloom and Sacramento make an interesting reference to Shahjahan’s (2015) work on the decolonisation of time, the body and pedagogy, forming links with other aspects of my work (on access to higher education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities). Taking a post-humanist, and new materialist, position, acts to further de-centre the human subject. The approach I am taking, and my range of interests, would seem to be consistent with Bloom’s description of Deep Mapping.

‘A Deep Map of a place includes many things: direct perceptions of that place; its inhabitants’ memories; embodied understandings as place enters you in numerous ways that are emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, and transcendental; geological formations; more-than-human actors like animals, plants, microbes, and landscapes; historical developments from different eras; weather patterns; agricultural uses; modern infrastructure; bioregional processes; contradictory ideological ratiocinations; and more. A Deep Mapping of a place potentially has no limits to complexity as long as it is meaningful and you have-or a group has-the ability to hold an awareness of the varying ways of understanding. The layers can be added as long as this helps elucidate and makes present a complex way of relating’ (p.59).

There are other dimensions to my work (in working, for instance, with different forms of image making, creation of archives and the oscillation between analogue and digital media), but the idea of Deep Mapping is helpful in achieving coherence at a methodological level. Deep Mapping has been applied mainly in rural settings (Bloom notes the distinctly urban difficulties that have been encountered by group members in getting to workshops and engaging with the process in London, for instance); in working in urban communities with a concern for the manner in which the environment, community and sense of place is being transformed by regeneration, it is useful to think through how the Deep Mapping process can be adapted and applied, and how visual exploration can be given a prominent place in the process. On a practical level, also, Sacramento’s nine-step ‘Lumsden Method’, and example of a two-hour workshop starting from the analysis of maps of an area, are a useful resource for the design of my own workshops (and a timely reminder of Ward and Fyson’s,1973, writing on education beyond the classroom), as well as indicating some of the ways in which maps and mapping can be incorporated into my work.

Thames Ward Community Project, Community Mapping 2019


Bloom, B. 2017. ‘Deep Maps’. In Bloom, B and Sacramento, N. 2017. Deep Mapping. Auburn, IN: Breakdown Break Down Press. 56-76.

Bloom, B and Sacramento, N. 2017. Deep Mapping. Auburn, IN: Breakdown Break Down Press. Online at [accessed 05.08.19]

Geertz, C. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.

Heat-Moon, W.L. 1991. PrairyErth (A Deep Map). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Oliveros, P. 2005. Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Shahjahan, R. 2015. ‘Being “lazy” and slowing down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47: 488–501.

Sacramento, N. 2017. ‘Deep maps and geographies from below’. In Bloom, B and Sacramento, N. 2017. Deep Mapping. Auburn, IN: Breakdown Break Down Press. 14-49.

Ward, C. and Fyson, A. 1973. Streetwork: The exploding school. London: RKP.

Complex book form (Arles reflection)

Les Rencontres D’Arles, 26th-28th July 2019

Les Rencontres D’Arles 2019 Book Award

Working through the display of shortlisted work for the Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award 2019 gave an opportunity to look at some complex forms of book, incorporating a range of different types of image and text presented on different types of paper and in different formats (for instance, books within books, inserted cards and images, foldout sections and gatefold images, single images in envelopes). The most complex was Katherine Longly’s handmade artists book To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit, which explores the relationship between food and the body in Japanese society.

Longly interviewed people over a period of time, and the book contains testimonies, photographs, illustrations and archive material. She also gave participants disposable cameras in order to explore and illustrate this complex relationship from their own point of view.

The book is of interest to me as an artefact in its own right, and it was interesting to see how inserts, tri-folds and gatefolds, tipped-in photographs and half-pages were used with montage, photographs, texts (including letters, notes, menus, recipes, tables and graphs), diagrams and drawing. Four types of paper are used in the construction of the book.

Page from Katherine Longly, 2018, To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit

The work itself, on the borders of art and anthropology, also resonates with my own, in that it is collaborative, involves participant image-making and a range of forms of images, texts and artefacts. The book represents one possible form of output from the project, and Longly’s book demonstrates how a number of visual strategies can be used in book form. She has organised the book as sections, with each section focusing on one of the participants. Whilst the images are made by the participants (it is not immediately clear whether all the images are theirs, or whether some are made by Longly), attribution for the overall project and the book itself clearly belongs to Longly (appropriate attribution of work in these kinds of projects clearly being an important issue, and one that I will have to resolve in the final presentation of my project). Whether I produce a book in this form is still an open question, and depends on whether I want to force an order in which the reader engages with images and texts, or whether I want a more open and exploratory form of presentation (such as an archive, or set of micro-archives, from which the reader can create their own order and juxtapositions). Colberg’s (2017) analysis of photobooks, and schema for relating project concept to materials, design and sequencing has been helpful in thinking this through.

The wider 2019 Book Award entries illustrated the diversity of forms of books being produced, and reinforced the importance of strong editing, book design, quality of material, and the need to ensure coherence and consistency in the relationship between concept, form and content.

Alberto Piovano, Dual Landscapes New York 1999: Fifteen Diptychs

In Dual Landscapes New York 1999: Fifteen Diptychs, Alberto Piovano has used the book form to good effect to present diptychs where the relationship between the two images varies subtly. He has printed images on single sided photo paper, folded and bound to enable facing pages to be viewed as diptychs (see earlier post about ways of dealing with printing on single sided photo paper in handmade books).

Alberto Piovano, Dual Landscapes New York 1999: Fifteen Diptychs

Other books of particular interest. Monica Alcazar-Duarte‘s (2018) The New Colonists uses gatefold pages at key points in the book to insert contrasting images relating to space travel into a mundane sub-urban narrative. An app can also be used to seek out images and information concealed within the images, including 3D animations of spy satellites and space colonies, thus heightening the juxtaposition of the mundane with visions of a new colonial future.

Rif Spahni, 2018, Son Boter

Rif Spahni’s (2018) Son Boter elegantly and simply combines a collection of prints on cards inserted into an envelope which is part of the cover with a small book. This allows both sequencing (within the book) with exploration of the juxtaposition of images by the reader (with the cards)


Alcazar-Duarte, M. 2018. The New Colonists. London: Bemojake. [accessed 30.07.19]

Colberg, J. 2017. Understanding Photobooks: The form and content of the photographic book. London: Routledge.

Longly, K. 2018. To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit. Handmade artist edition. [accessed 30.07.19]

Spahni, R. 2018. Son Boter. Joan Miró. Text by Gustavo Martín Garzo. Barcelona. Ediciones Anómalas. [accessed 30.07.19]

Installations, exhibitions, surfaces and contexts (Arles reflection)

Les Rencontres D’Arles, 26th-28th July 2019

Apart from the shear quality, quantity and diversity of the work exhibited, it was the manner in which exhibits and installations were designed with the specific setting for the piece in mind that impressed. At its simplest, this involved making some prints on fabric to be stretched across windows (see image below from Guillaume Simoneau’s series The Murder), and placing prints so that the natural light falls on them to the greatest effect.

Guillaume Simoneau, The Murder, Arles 2019

For Christan Lutz’s Eldorado series, shot in Macao, natural light was excluded from the vast shed like space to simulate the artificial light only character of the casino.

Christan Lutz, Eldorado, Arles 2019

Mohammad Bourouissa’s exhibition Free Trade, in a disused floor of a supermarket, took the form of supermarket sections and used, for instance, clothes racks as mounts for video screens, a form that resonated with the focus of the work on domination and economy.

Mohammad Bourouissa, Free Trade, Arles 2019

Many to the exhibition spaces had stone walls and high ceilings, with little or no internal structure.

Philippe Chancel, Datazone, Arles 2019

Hanging on wire was common (including from the ceiling in Philippe Chancel’s exhibition) and a variety of forms of wooden and other temporary structures were used to provide additional bespoke display space.

Philippe Chancel, Datazone, Arles 2019
Libuse Jarcovjakova, Evokativ, Arles 2019
Claudia Passeri, Aedicula, Arles 2019
Mario del Curto, Vegetal Humanity, as Gardens Unfurl, Arles 2019

Most extreme was The Anonymous Project House, which recreated a two-storey house with interlinking rooms, themed to reflect the function of the room.

The Anonymous Project, The House, Arles 2019

Whilst there are clearly lessons to be learned about designing installations in relation to the space in which they will be shown (both in terms of form and content), the major lesson for me here relates to the manner in which images are presented and juxtaposed; particularly important as I will be presenting my own images alongside collaborative work and participant images, as well as other documents, texts, artefacts, projections and, possibly, video and audio material. The ‘micro-projects’ will be presented in pop-up exhibitions, so this material has to be portable, and the exhibition quick to put up and take down in spaces that are not designed for exhibitions. The final exhibition has to bring these projects together as a coherent and meaningful whole, and has to work in the space chosen for the installation.

The use of slides with a loupe on a lightbox, and the suspension of prints from wires with bulldog clips, are two ways in which the mobility of an installation can be enhanced.

Here is New York, Arles 2019
The Anonymous Project, The House, Arles 2019

Projection onto a screen that can be viewed from both sides was also used in a number of exhibitions, which is easily portable and can be adapted to the exhibition space.

Helen Levitt, Observing New York’s Streets, Arles 2019

Investigative Techniques

Lewis Bush, Workshop – Investigative Techniques, 29th June 2019

Lewis Bush Workshop, 2019.

A key aspect of my project is collection of material relating to urban development projects in different parts of east London. This material (which includes maps, planning documents, studies of the areas, archival accounts and images, developer promotional material, consultation documents, press reports and so on) helps to understand the dynamics of change in these areas and provides material to be used in workshops with residents. Some of the material will also form a part of the final outcome of the project and may be incorporated into the images presented (for instance, in various forms of composite and/or juxtaposed with other images and artefacts). Collection, organisation and analysis of this material require the use of particular tools and techniques, and the development and implementation of an overarching strategy.

The workshop with Lewis Bush focused on the tools that he has used and the techniques he has developed in his own work. The workshop provided insight into Lewis’s practice and opportunity to consider how the tools and techniques might be applied and adapted to my own project. This post will explore some of these tools and techniques in relation to my own practice. I am posting this now because (i) the theme this week is on the development of workshops, and this provides an example of one approach; (ii) I am in the ‘research’ phase in working towards my FMP, and am collecting materials for my own workshops and for use in the development of the project.

Gathering information

Lewis stressed the importance of starting with a clear question to guide the collection of information (drawing on Hunter, Sengers and Thordsen, 2011, he called this a hypothesis, because of the association of this term with positivist science, I would prefer something like question or problem statement). For my project, this statement would be something like ‘There is a disjunction between the experiences and aspirations of residents and the stated rationale for, and effects of, housing development in east London.’ Stated as a question, this would be ‘To what extent is there a disjunction between the experiences and aspirations of residents and the stated rationale for, and effects of, housing development in east London?’ This acts to focus both the strategies used and path taken by the collection and analysis of data.

The focus of the session was on Open Source Research (OSR), in which the information collected is publicly available (but which might hint at things that are not known or immediately obvious). As well as published material, this includes information that can be obtained through means such as Freedom of Information requests and patent applications. A clear workflow is needed to handle the volume of data and maintain a clear direction.

Working with these sources enables a researcher to stay under the radar and to gain credibility through providing readily available evidence to support statements. Bellingcat, as well as publishing their own investigations, publish a toolkit for others to use. The disadvantages of this kind of information, apart from the danger of overload, is that it is open to manipulation and difficult to verify, and thus potentially unreliable and/or invalid. Consideration has to be given to who is impacted by the study and what risks need to be considered (for instance, of legal challenge). Precautions need to be taken to protect the researcher, their equipment and the information.

For this reason, it is helpful to explore anonymously using Tor or a VPN (such as Nord), and to set up ‘burner’ accounts for email (proton mail or guerrilla mail) and social media. Running an ad blocker (AdBlock), script blocker (NoScript), and encrypting (VeraCrypt, or PGP for email, though this will be visible) or air-gapping.

The threats to the photographer may be legal, and it is important to assess the rights, powers and interests of the individuals or groups who are the subjects of the work, and to take appropriate precautions (for instance, if the subject is a private individual, their powers are limited, mostly to legal redress, and the precautions include fact checking, legal compliance and keeping a low profile).

Notable examples of investigative work, apart from Lewis’s and Ed Clarke’s, are projects by Forensic Architecture and Anne-Marie Casteret’s (1992) L’affaire du Sang.

For searches, using filetype (filetype:), site (site:) and operators (and/or etc) help to narrow search. Looking for Excel (.xls) and google earth (.knz) files can be useful. Useful resources: search engines such as, webscapers (zapper, if this then that) and plugins like foxy spider and download them all (can be used together to harvest images), and other tools such as way back machine, recipe generator, dataminer, jeffrey’s image metadata viewer, yandex (reverse image search), user agent switcher (see site formatted for different devices). For social media searching: politwoops, way back machine, twitonomy. Can use social media to do ‘patterns of life analysis’.

For analysis of images can put on an overlay and go square by square. For google map images can take screenshots at highest resolution and stitch together. Using mymaps can upload gps data. For signs of cloning look for repeating patterns. Can use reddit picrequests and whereisthis to get help in identifying places and things.

Public records can be useful (Land Registry, Companies House, Charity Commission – see CIJ Investigative Journalists Guide to Company Records). FOI requests can be made for specific information (though can be refused for specific reasons) and ‘grey’ or leaked information used with caution. Care must be taken with private information that is inadvertently made public.

On the legal side, need to be careful about contempt of court, respect for right of privacy (privacy law), defamation of character (libel law) and protection of sources (on the record, background, deep background and off the record).

This kind of investigation is just a small part of the background to my own work. Much of the information I need is readily available (about planning applications and developments), but this needs to be carefully organised. Working with images available is important, and clarity of what can be used and how is essential.

As well as the content of the workshop, reflecting on the format has also been helpful for the Week 8 activities on designing and running workshops. It has also led me to think about the design of my own workshop space and how this is best configured for the kind of work that I do.


Bellingcat, Digital Toolkit. Online at [accessed 23.07.19]

Casteret, A-M. 1992. L’affaire du Sang. Paris: Découverte.

Hunter, M.L., Sengers L. and Thordsen, P. 2011. ‘Using hypotheses: the core of investigative method’. In Hunter, M.L. (Ed.), Story-based Inquiry: A manual for investigative journalists. Paris: UNESCO.

Architectural futures

Blueprint for the Future, architectural trail, Clerkenwell, 9-11th July 2019.

This exhibition of work from postgraduate architecture courses is spread across a number of commercial practices in the Clerkenwell area. For this module, and my own work, it was interesting for three reasons.

Greenwich @ Knauf, 2019

Firstly the exhibitions were in non-gallery spaces, and therefore placed speculative work alongside current commercial activity. They demonstrate the potential of non-conventional exhibition space, and the way in which this can bring different audiences and forms of activity together.

Bartlett @ USM, 2019

Secondly, the use of models, and movement between 2D and 3D forms, is well-established in architecture. Increasingly people are using 3D printing to produce new and novel forms, and to explore the potential of new materials and practices in construction. In a multi-modal, photography based work there would be potential in using similar techniques (for instance, Giovanna Petrocchi has made imaginary archeological artefacts using 3D printing in her Private Collection series).

Giovanna Petrocchi, Athlete (from Private Collection series), 2017.

Thirdly, there was a strong resonance between the imagining, and shaping, of the future city in some of the work, and core concerns in my own work. This was particularly marked in the University of Greenwich@Knauf exhibition. Most of the work was 2D, and projected a particular view of the future. The resonance may be due to the landscape dimension of the Greenwich programme, and the concern for global environmental and ethical issues. This work, in particular, made me think about other techniques I could use to explore relations between the human and natural environment and the past, the present and projected/anticipated futures.

Greenwich @ Knauf, 2019

Queen’s Land: Blak Portraiture, Late 19th Century to the Present.

Cairns Art Gallery, 16th June 2019

This exhibition forms part of the Cairns Indigenous Art Festival (10th-14th July 2019), and opens officially that week. The exhibition ‘explores the relationships between personal, cultural and national identity in relation to historical and contemporary portrait images by indigenous and non-indigenous artists’. The exhibits are predominantly photographic. In a number of ways, the exhibition takes me back to my first steps in the MA programme, with the engagement with the work of Aboriginal artist Christian Thompson in June 2018.

As the notes to the exhibition state:

‘The concept of portraiture is one that is challenged through works in the exhibition, as it is evident that, for Indigenous peoples, portraiture and identity extend beyond the generally accepted western notion of a vertical representation of a face to depict the image of a person. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, identity and portraiture can be represented and interpreted through a cultural totem, a marking, a foot or hand print, a name or a ritual. It is only in very recent times that photographic portraiture has been available to Indigenous artists, and through this medium they have sought to challenge common perceptions of their identity in order to present images of themselves and others as they want to be seen’.

This resonates very much with the approach I am taking to the use of artefacts, both alongside photographs and in photographs, and the use of the photograph as an artefact. It is important to note, also, that the orientation to photographic images, particularly of people who are dead, varies greatly across different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) groups. Thompson (whose work, two images from his 2010 King Billy series, is included in this exhibition) adopts a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’, engaging with and producing work as a response to archival images of ATSI people, to avoid the reproduction of these images.

Christian Thompson, from the King Billy series, 2010.

As Lydon (2010) points out, however, some ATSI communities (particularly in South Australia) view these images as a form of Indigenous memory, creating valuable links to a lost past. This contrasts with other groups, notably from remote communities in northern Australia, for whom such images (some of which are featured in this exhibition) would be taboo. Lydon argues that archivists and curators often act, inappropriately, as gate keepers, homogenising Aboriginal culture (in much the same way that colonisers made assumptions about the homogeneity of Aboriginal languages). The point is reinforced by Michael Aird in an essay written to accompany the exhibition.

‘Regardless of how and why photographs were taken, Indigenous people are often able to look past the exploitative nature of some of these images and just accept them as treasured images of family members. To reflect on the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have been represented in photographs, it is often simplified to a story of exploitation – yet, the story is much more complex, with stories of Indigenous people taking control of exactly how they wanted to be represented at different points in time’. [source unknown, quote taken from exhibition notes]

Tracey Moffatt, I Made a Camera, 2003.

As the exhibition demonstrates, photography can provide a powerful means for the exploration of identity by Aboriginal communities, and, as in a number of exhibits, portraiture, juxtaposed with other images and text, can act as a medium for political comment and activism (for instance, Richard Bell’s 1992 Ministry Kids, Tony Albert’s 2013 series Brothers and Michael Cook’s 2011 series The Mission).

Richard Bell, Images from Ministry Kids, 1992.
Tony Albert, from the series Brothers, 2013.
Michael Cook, from the series The Mission, 2011.


Lydon, J. (2010) ‘Return: The photographic archive and technologies of Indigenous memory’, Photographies, 3(2), pp. 173–187.


From the beginning of the MA programme, I have been making binaural field recordings with the intention of incorporating a sonic dimension to my visual work. Installations commonly include ambient soundscapes, or videos with soundtracks. Lewis Bush incorporated sound into his book Shadows of the State (2018) by including barcodes linked to soundfiles. In my Roding Valley Park work, I put soundfiles alongside photographs to give a sense of the thundering and constant sound of traffic on the roads that ran overhead. I have struggled, though, in my most recent work, to see how a sonic dimension could meaningfully be incorporated.

Brain@WattSpace opening, 6th June 2019

A chance meeting with composer and sound artist Jon Drummond at the opening of the excellent Brain@wattspace exhibition (a collaboration between cognitive scientists and artists) has led me to think differently about this. Jon works in the area of ‘sonification’, which involves representing data in sound. Heyler and Drummond have recently written about two of their sonification projects:

”Heavy Metal” [which] is focussed upon the real-time analysis and sonification of the chemical elements in a painting via a camera vision system, [and] “Oratorio for a Million Souls” [which] concerns the behaviour and acoustic properties of live bee colonies manifest in the creation of real-time multi-channel sound compositions and associated sound architectures (Heyler and Drummond,2019:1).

For my own project, rather than present the soundscapes or samples from the settings I am exploring, I could (possibly incorporating environmental sounds) translate data relating to the settings into sonic form. This picks up the strand of the work which address the use of data in decision making about planning, the rendering of residents and their lifeworlds as data, and the corresponding movement in my own images between analogue and digital forms. It also fits with my intension to use maps and other form of data visualisation in presenting my work (a post about this will follow shortly). One question would be whether or not to have a real-time component in the data sonification. The sonic dimension of the work could provide a direct link to environmental changes taking place, and/or the projected population/demographic changes projected in the development of the area.

In making a case for this form of environmental data sonification, and articulating it with other forms of ‘eco-aesthetics’ (such as land art, earthworks and nature-based installation work), Heyler and Drummond (2019: 4) cite Cubitt’s (2005: 9) assertion that eco-politics is ‘the single largest unifying political discourse of the early 21st century’ and that art is uniquely placed to explore the complexity and contradictions of this period, including the role played by technology, which can act both as an instrument of domination over nature and of illumination, empowerment and critique.


Bush, L. 2018. Shadows of the State. London: Brave Books.

Cubitt, S. 2005. EcoMedia. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Helyer, N. and Drummond, J. 2019. ‘Heavy Metal and the Oratorio for a Million Souls’, EasyChair. Preprint No. 971. Available online at:

Janet Laurence: After Nature

Janet Laurence: After Nature, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 1 March – 10 June 2019

Janet Laurence, Heartshock (After Nature), 2008/2019. Photograph: Jacquie Manning/MCA

As usual, I took in a few exhibitions on recent trip to Sydney. It was really fortunate that the visit coincided with this retrospective, plus a major new work, at the MCA. I wasn’t familiar with Laurence‘s work (though I now do remember her installation at Changi Airport in Singapore), but it is clear that there is a substantial overlap with a number of emerging themes in the development of my own work, albeit in a very different context, and with a very different emphasis. Engaging with, and reflecting on, Laurence’s work has enabled me to make a number of bridges and connections between aspects of both my visual and conceptual work. I’ll summarise these here, in relation to the exhibition, and will return to the themes in the development of my work over the coming weeks. In particular, the exhibition, and subsequent reading about Laurence’s work, has enabled me to think more clearly about the form that the outcomes of my final major project might take, and how this relates to my methodology and broader conceptual framework.

Janet Laurence, After Eden, 2012. Installation view, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney. Video, mesh, acrylic, steel, scientific glass, taxidermy specimens. Photograph: Jamie North

This exhibition includes key works by Laurence, from early pieces using metal plates, minerals, organic substances and photographs mounted on lightboxes (exploring, for instance, the periodic table), through installations from the 2000s featuring plant and animal specimens and ‘wunderkammer’ (box of curiosities) environments, to a contemporary commissioned piece, featuring floor to ceiling ‘veils’ printed with tree images, arranged in three concentric rings through which visitors can walk, and quasi-scientific collections of plant samples and apparatus (a herbarium, an elixir bar and a botanical library). As the curator’s notes state, Laurence explores ‘the interconnection of all living things – animal, plant, mineral – through a multi-disciplinary approach’ using ‘sculpture, installation, photography and video’ (Kent, 2019, online) . As Gibson (2015a) notes, Laurence has a ‘biocentric’ view of the world, and that, through incorporation of live biotic material in her work, she goes beyond just the entanglement of the human and the (other non-human) natural to focus on questions of care and the possibility of repair and reparation.

Janet Laurence, Cellular Gardens (Where Breathing Begins) (detail), 2005. Stainless steel, mild steel, acrylic, blown glass, rainforest plants. Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2005. Back: Janet Laurence, Selva Veil, 2005. Archive film with ultrachrome pigment inks, aluminium brackets. Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Janet Laurence, 2013.

Gibson and Laurence (2015) explore the relationship between this work and contemporary post-humanist theory (and this is further explored by Gibson, 2015a and 2015b). Focusing on the piece Fugitive (2013) they argue that Laurence entangles the (human) viewer in the natural, making us all complicit in ecological/environmental decline, but, in the light of Barad’s non-dualist ontology, whilst shifting the human from the centre, resists re-assertion of a culture/nature divide. The collection of organic and animal material, and the multi-modal form, subverts scientific objectivity whilst questioning human subjectivity.

Citing Barad (2012) and Harraway (2004), they state that

‘The reason Karen Barad is so helpful in a discussion of Laurence’s artwork, that deals with human ruination of nature and re-performances that might create a new emergent force, is that she warns against simply inverting humanism, in order to avoid anthropocentrism. She warns against blurring boundaries between human and non- human in an effort to equalize ontology. These cautions are also iterated by Donna Haraway’s discussions of leaky distinctions between human, animal and machine. Haraway says, ‘Movements for animal rights are not irrational denials of human uniqueness; they are clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture…the boundary between physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us. (Haraway, 2004: 10-11)’’ (Palmer & Laurence, 2015: 46-7).

Central to this work is Barad’s idea of ‘intra-action’. As Palmer and Laurence (2015) state

‘The matter is there in the forceful enactment. The reason Barad’s concept of intra-action is so exciting is because her quantum physics expertise develops into an exploratory elaboration of this idea into the realm of phenomenology. In other words, she sees phenomena as quantumly entangled, but this is not individual entities becoming entangled but where intra-acting components are inseparable or indivisible. Perhaps, the entities don’t come together and become entangled, they already were entangled primordially’. (47)

Laurence produces places where crossing-over can take place, where difference can be questioned and entanglement experienced. There is also a sense of slowing down and focusing of attention when presented by the sheer volume, and forms, or artefact, both veiled and brightly illuminated. As Miall (2019) notes, this effect is particularly marked in Laurence’s site specific works,

‘The spatiality of installations, their insistence on embodied contemplation and the way in which they engender a haptic, bodily awareness through overlaying the processes of memory and perception with the work’s materiality, are central to the transformative experience of Laurence’s public projects’. (86)

Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef (detail) by Janet Laurence, 2015–16. Photograph: MCA

Engaging with Laurence’s work has influenced my own thinking in a number of ways. It has helped me to think more clearly about the link between post-humanist theory and art, as it relates to the kinds of contexts I am exploring. She highlights the co-dependence of the human and the natural and the reciprocity of care (which in turn, and in intention, undermines the human/natural dualism). Post-humanism is not anti-humanism, and, for me, the challenge, artistically, is to explore the de-centring of the human whilst maintaining an active commitment to equity and social justice. There is no necessary tension between non-anthropocentric view and a ‘good life’, in fact, for the latter to be sustainable the former is a necessity. The experience of Laurence’s work has given me some insight into how I might provide a sense of entwinement of individuals and communities in place, and the alienating nature of contemporary developments. This enriches the insight provided by more sociological analyses of urban development (like Klinenberg’s, 2018, studies of social infrastructure) , and provides a bridge to the neuroscience influenced work of Fitzgerald et al (2018 & 2016), which brings us back, by a different route, to the entanglement of the human and the natural in the ‘neuropolis’.

Janet Laurence, The Green That Was (detail) from the Crimes Against the Landscape series, 2008. Duraclear, polished aluminium, pigment on acrylic, mirror, burnt wood


Barad, K. 2012. ‘Nature’s Queer Performativity.’ Kvinder, Køn og forskning/ Women, Gender and Research. No. 1-2: 25-53.

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2018. ‘Living Well in the Neuropolis’, The Sociological Review, 64: 221–237.

Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2016. ‘Revitalizing sociology: Urban life and mental illness between history and the present’, British Journal of Sociology, 67(1): 138–160.

Gibson, P. and Laurence, J. 2015 ‘Janet Laurence: Aesthetics of Care’, Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, (31): 39–52.

Gibson, P. 2015a. ‘Plant thinking as geo-philosophy’, Transformations: Journal of Media & Culture, (26): 1–9. Available at:

Gibson, P. 2015b. Janet Laurence: The Pharmacy of Plants. Sydney: NewSouth Books.

Haraway, D. 2004. The Haraway Reader. New York, Routledge.

Kent, R. 2019. After Nature: Janet Laurence. Online at [accessed 02.01.19].

Klinenberg, E. 2018. Palaces for the People: How to Build a More Equal and United Society. London: Bodley Head.

Miall, N. 2019 ‘The Constant Gardener: On Janet Laurence’s Site-Specific Works’, in Kent, R. (ed.) Janet Laurence: After Nature. Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia: 83–95.

Watt Space Exhibitions

Ella Dreyfus, Under Twenty-Seven, Watt Space Gallery, Newcastle, 01.05.19-26.05.19.

Beyond the Binary, Head On Photo Festival, Watt Space Gallery, Newcastle, 01.05.19-26.05.19.

Dreyfus is an established and widely exhibited photographer. This work charts the physical changes over time of a group of boys (members of her son’s primary school football team) photographed at the ages of 11, 18 and 25 (reminiscent of the TV documentary 7Up, which reaches 63Up this year). The impact of the exhibition rests on the formal nature of the portraits, of identical form and format at all three points in time, and the formality of the arrangement in the gallery, in which each of the three portraits in a sequence are placed side by side. This effectively accentuates the changes that have taken place over time, as the boys mature into young men.

Ella Dreyfus, Under Twenty-Seven, 2019

Beyond the Binary is a group show exploring subjectivity, sexual difference and gender division. There are two points of particular interest. One is the use of construction, montage and mixed-media.

Beyond the Binary, 2019

The other is the variety of hanging and display methods used, and specifically the use of frameless forms of display (for instance, the use of bulldog clips on the print, hung on nails, and of pins stuck through the print into the wall). Given the low contrast of some of my images, it is necessary to explore glass-less forms of reflective display (as well as projective forms of display, but this removes the materiality of the photographic print).

Beyond the Binary, 2019