Urban Photography Paul Halliday

The article by Paul Halliday really stuck a cord with me. Great that he set up Urban Photographers, need to keep an eye on that one. 


The Appearance of Things - Paul Halliday 


Some time ago it occurred to me when I was out and about making street photographs around London, that ‘traditional street photography’ - as it is often styled by various ‘experts’ whose raucous and animated voices claim to speak for the genre – was in need of a serious conceptual rethinking. Although much of my street-based urban photography was concerned with people; objects and things were, for my part, regularly overlooked. Things are everywhere, and they speak to the material cultures of the everyday. Typically discarded and considered irrelevant and inconsequential, street things provide a web of connections to wider aspects of human and urban cultures.

So I decided to shift into another kind of operational mode and started working with my trusty old twin-lens Rolleiflex. This camera, unlike my Leica 35mm rangefinders, slowed me down and created another kind of relationship with the subject of my gaze. Working with a medium-format camera became more meditative, considered and immersive. That isn’t to say that 35mm work was lacking in immersiveness, but rather, the way one works with a Rollei, due in part to its considerably more cumbersome proportions, places the photographer into a different frame of being. For a start, when looking at objects, I became less concerned with what people were doing, their interactions, and more interested in spaces without people. They were there, but not in the sense of how we think people should be there. People were indeed present but through an apparent absence. Initially, I wasn’t sure why I had moved away from photographing the human subject; why I was gravitating towards the terrain of insignificant objects. And then quite unexpectedly, objects started to appear with an alarming regularity. Things that I had not noticed before, inexplicably came to the fore of my consciousness and perception. There was a visual shift. Things materialized before me and carried with them an insistency of being which demanded some sort of response on my part. 

They raised as many questions about what archaeologists refer to as ‘deposition’ and the surrounding nature of the contextual ‘matrix’ in which they were placed. If these things were there, who had put them there, and why? Of course, such things are considered ‘outside history’ in that, unlike the rare and highly valued objects that we find in museums and galleries, they have no provenance, and we are only able to speculate about the intentions of the previous owners or users that placed them there. I started to rethink what personal and collective significance might possibly be attached to these objects if one’s mind was given free range to imagine a life journey that had led up to their apparent abandonment. Apparent, because I have assumed that they were not placed within their spaces with the intention of being reclaimed in the future. I assumed that they were lost. Given up. And in contemplating this state of lostness, I found myself imaging a series of stories relating to how the objects had materialized. 

Of course, unlike a systematic and scientific archaeology, such objects cannot be subject to the regimes of knowing that excavators working on, for instance, a Roman or Anglo-Saxon dig might expect ‘finds’ to be located within. Quite the opposite. These things, being contemporary and insignificant, stand outside of such empirical concerns. But for me, this is precisely where their significance lay, their refusal to tell me anything about a why-ness of being. Within such an absence of any recognizable historical frame of reference, I became increasingly more fascinated about what was happening to me when I encountered such objects. It was almost as if they had about them a certain existential poetic. You might ask ‘what on earth does this mean? What is ‘an existential poetic?’ I would respond by suggesting that as photographers, artists, and image-makers drawn to making photographs within street spaces, we have been convinced by traditionalists to think in terms of restrictive definitions and what sociologists term ‘regimes of seeing’. That is to say, we are not encouraged to look beyond the obvious. When we think ‘street photography’, we are encouraged to place ourselves within an increasingly restrictive frame of reference, sometimes ideological, sometimes historical, cultural and yes, political even.

 As someone who teaches photography and film to urban sociologists, I found the project liberating in that the practice of looking at abandoned objects brought me back to my roots within anthropology and archaeology. There is so much ‘stuff’ out there, and photography as a constellation of practices has the power to open our eyes to the world in which we live, work and move through. Materiality is central to such a world and human perception is an essential constitutive part of how we navigate through the terrains that comprise our urban landscapes. When we move through urban space, we tend to move at speed. When we move through street spaces, we tend to have a sense of purpose and direction. We use streets to get to places, and we are encouraged in part by the nature of contemporary urban surveillance technologies, to consider loitering as undesirable; subversive even. Shifting our gaze towards street objects challenges such orthodoxies and encourages us to engage with the ethnographic potential of the material world. In doing so, we enter into a realm of a magical archeology that stands outside of rationality and evidence; that invites us into an alternative, parallel realm of speculative narrative-making. We allow ourselves to make up stories about what the objects ‘mean’, and knowing that we can never test such stories against fact, we continue our journeys through the streets with the knowledge that we have created something strange and unfamiliar through the making of a photograph that enters into a personal archive. And in making photographs of objects that will shortly be removed or cease to exist, we are reminded that within small things, the broader urban macrocosm can occasionally find new meanings. About the photographer Paul Halliday is a photographer and urbanist based at Goldsmiths, University London, where he teaches urban photography and sociology. He originally trained as a photojournalist and film-maker, and then developed an interest in anthropology, history and archaeology. He is a founding member of the Urban Photographers’ Association (www.urbanphotographers.org)

The Appearance of Things - Paul Halliday 


Some time ago it occurred to me when I was out and about making street photographs around London, that ‘traditional street photography’ - as it is often styled by various ‘experts’ whose raucous and animated voices claim to speak for the genre – was in need of a serious conceptual rethinking. Although much of my street-based urban photography was concerned with people; objects and things were, for my part, regularly overlooked. Things are everywhere, and they speak to the material cultures of the everyday. Typically discarded and considered irrelevant and inconsequential, street things provide a web of connections to wider aspects of human and urban cultures.

So I decided to shift into another kind of operational mode and started working with my trusty old twin-lens Rolleiflex. This camera, unlike my Leica 35mm rangefinders, slowed me down and created another kind of relationship with the subject of my gaze. Working with a medium-format camera became more meditative, considered and immersive. That isn’t to say that 35mm work was lacking in immersiveness, but rather, the way one works with a Rollei, due in part to its considerably more cumbersome proportions, places the photographer into a different frame of being. For a start, when looking at objects, I became less concerned with what people were doing, their interactions, and more interested in spaces without people. They were there, but not in the sense of how we think people should be there. People were indeed present but through an apparent absence. Initially, I wasn’t sure why I had moved away from photographing the human subject; why I was gravitating towards the terrain of insignificant objects. And then quite unexpectedly, objects started to appear with an alarming regularity. Things that I had not noticed before, inexplicably came to the fore of my consciousness and perception. There was a visual shift. Things materialized before me and carried with them an insistency of being which demanded some sort of response on my part. 

They raised as many questions about what archaeologists refer to as ‘deposition’ and the surrounding nature of the contextual ‘matrix’ in which they were placed. If these things were there, who had put them there, and why? Of course, such things are considered ‘outside history’ in that, unlike the rare and highly valued objects that we find in museums and galleries, they have no provenance, and we are only able to speculate about the intentions of the previous owners or users that placed them there. I started to rethink what personal and collective significance might possibly be attached to these objects if one’s mind was given free range to imagine a life journey that had led up to their apparent abandonment. Apparent, because I have assumed that they were not placed within their spaces with the intention of being reclaimed in the future. I assumed that they were lost. Given up. And in contemplating this state of lostness, I found myself imaging a series of stories relating to how the objects had materialized. 

Of course, unlike a systematic and scientific archaeology, such objects cannot be subject to the regimes of knowing that excavators working on, for instance, a Roman or Anglo-Saxon dig might expect ‘finds’ to be located within. Quite the opposite. These things, being contemporary and insignificant, stand outside of such empirical concerns. But for me, this is precisely where their significance lay, their refusal to tell me anything about a why-ness of being. Within such an absence of any recognizable historical frame of reference, I became increasingly more fascinated about what was happening to me when I encountered such objects. It was almost as if they had about them a certain existential poetic. You might ask ‘what on earth does this mean? What is ‘an existential poetic?’ I would respond by suggesting that as photographers, artists, and image-makers drawn to making photographs within street spaces, we have been convinced by traditionalists to think in terms of restrictive definitions and what sociologists term ‘regimes of seeing’. That is to say, we are not encouraged to look beyond the obvious. When we think ‘street photography’, we are encouraged to place ourselves within an increasingly restrictive frame of reference, sometimes ideological, sometimes historical, cultural and yes, political even.

 As someone who teaches photography and film to urban sociologists, I found the project liberating in that the practice of looking at abandoned objects brought me back to my roots within anthropology and archaeology. There is so much ‘stuff’ out there, and photography as a constellation of practices has the power to open our eyes to the world in which we live, work and move through. Materiality is central to such a world and human perception is an essential constitutive part of how we navigate through the terrains that comprise our urban landscapes. When we move through urban space, we tend to move at speed. When we move through street spaces, we tend to have a sense of purpose and direction. We use streets to get to places, and we are encouraged in part by the nature of contemporary urban surveillance technologies, to consider loitering as undesirable; subversive even. Shifting our gaze towards street objects challenges such orthodoxies and encourages us to engage with the ethnographic potential of the material world. In doing so, we enter into a realm of a magical archeology that stands outside of rationality and evidence; that invites us into an alternative, parallel realm of speculative narrative-making. We allow ourselves to make up stories about what the objects ‘mean’, and knowing that we can never test such stories against fact, we continue our journeys through the streets with the knowledge that we have created something strange and unfamiliar through the making of a photograph that enters into a personal archive. And in making photographs of objects that will shortly be removed or cease to exist, we are reminded that within small things, the broader urban macrocosm can occasionally find new meanings. About the photographer Paul Halliday is a photographer and urbanist based at Goldsmiths, University London, where he teaches urban photography and sociology. He originally trained as a photojournalist and film-maker, and then developed an interest in anthropology, history and archaeology. He is a founding member of the Urban Photographers’ Association (www.urbanphotographers.org)

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