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The Ragpicker’s Topology

The development of urban sites is usually preceded by a thorough photographic surveying exercise. These topographic records of the city are traditionally taken from an elevated perspective and focus on the material forms of built environments, as well the activities that take place within them. New photographic technologies cast a view from even further aloft. LandSat images, aerial drone photographs and 3D scans are now being used more frequently to map urban areas before development. While very effective at capturing sweeping physical detail, these perspectives have been described as totalitarian because of their privileged capacity to scrutinise and arbitrate space. This has also been spoken about in colonial terms, as an Archimedian point of view where the empire’s achievements can be observed.

In response, this PhD aims to develop new reflexive models of knowledge on the practice of surveying, planning and mapping urban space using investigative street photography. The research process will explore how ambivalent photographic fragments gathered from street level investigations, as opposed to holistic and expansive aerial appraisals, can be used as an egalitarian tool in the (re)development of such sites. The design aspect of this research project will explore how a new photographic surveying method can ensure that the planning of townscapes is led by a visual interconnection with the local community.  

Within this civic context the photographer, planner and citizen can collaboratively record the stories that connect us emotionally with urban space. This new surveying method could offer creative agency to stakeholders but also ensure that the autonomy of the designer is maintained as (re)developments take place. A communally inquisitive research process of this kind has potential to galvanise the creation of more democratic, socially connected cityscapes. 

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More about Dan

I am an architectural photographer and filmmaker interested in the divisions, isolation and transience inherent in present day urban and suburban environments. I have exhibited and screened my work widely, taking part in recent shows at the Forum des Images, the ICA and the Tate Modern. I am a Teaching Fellow in the School of Design at the University of Leeds.