The Architecture of Transit

Photographing Instances of Beauty and Sublimity in the Landscapes of Motorway Architecture between the Alps and Naples

Motorways are generally perceived as too mundane a subject for academic research.

Neither their architecture or aesthetic have received attention within architectural discourse and they have not been the subject of an academic photographic research project.

This project posits the motorway as an architectural megastructure within the landscape. As one continuous piece of architecture that crosses international boundaries on its route across Europe, it is an architecture so large that it cannot be perceived in its entirety.

The research and the photographs are based on a large Field Study from the Swiss Alps to Naples in Southern Italy, within which are found numerous complex topographical and spatial conditions, which when the motorway is forced to negotiate during its route, results in extraordinary architectural incidents. The research domain was chosen because it is significant within the history of art and literature. Traveling in these regions was and is strongly related to the development of the phenomenology of Beauty and Sublimity and their representation in Culture.

Because the semantics of the term Sublime have become diluted in contemporary usage, [often wrongly being used in description of something exquisite or delightful], this project revisits 18th century formulations of these aesthetic categorisations, in the identification of instances of Sublimity and Beauty within the motorway megastructure and its immediate context.

The research involved reference to 18th century travel literature and aesthetic treatises alongside contemporary architectural and photographic discourses.

Informed by this research, a series of topographical photographs – which through the total act of photography, create a new methodology for the identification, experience and representation of the Sublime incident within the motorway megastructure over an extensive field of study.

This long considered and evolving series of photographs reject the banal aesthetic in contemporary photography, employing instead a photographic aesthetic that embraces representation and post production enhancement rather than images that simply record, whose origins lie in Fine Art practice.

The photographs challenge the perception of motorways as mundane architecture within the landscape – not worthy of serious academic investigation and the current notions about the use of  ‘banal’ subject matter, that emphasise the authorial presence of the photographer in the photograph.

The work explores the interdependent relationship between Beauty and Sublimity both within the making of the photograph and within its subsequent representation for viewer of the photograph and how this is able to adequately communicate an aesthetic experience.

By employing precise understandings of aesthetic categorisation in reference to visual perception and photographic composition, the research has created an original and transferable methodology for digital photography with which to investigate landscape architectures.