The urban landscape is vast and ever-changing. While I am physically in a city, I’m photographing the fact of a city and not the locale as its own identity. What this means is that although I am a resident (or a potential newcomer), the issues of space and time and a human presence remain the same in whichever place I find myself. I can photograph this particular city and focus on those things that make it unique, or I can focus instead on what urban spaces mean, modified by locale.
While artistic excitement varies according to the stimulation an environment can bring (say an old lived-in city with a wide variety of architectural styles and cultures vs new towns with a personality yet to develop) choosing to photograph in this way means that cities which have more or fewer visual treasures to them can only help deepen a process of artistic discovery. Indeed, I would argue that urban areas that are seemingly devoid of much interest (i.e., with corporate architecture of the blah school or relatively new developments where time has yet to varnish or indeed tarnish the veneer) can force a search beyond the obvious photographic language of texture and detail to one of mood, light and traces. The New Topographics photographers I think were not only interested in making social commentary but also in the formal qualities of urban spaces, their suburban outcrops and how people interacted with their environment, oftentimes by implication rather than directly.
In the city in which I live currently, sprawl is enormous and of high density, be it of homes or office buildings. Excavation and construction are furious, noisy and constant. I see these developments as objects and as process. There is a poetry there in the actions of those men and women who actually do the digging and building. The confrontation of machine and land in the hands of skilled trades brings back memories of childhood playgrounds and sandboxes. These actions and memories suggest something else. Bachelard, in the Poetics of Space, argues that home is where you dream. Home is a place of constancy and memory. It is probably fair to say that generally developers and city planners want homes and offices built quickly and are unafraid to use the most generic of designs. A financial elite builds cathedrals of commerce designed to showcase success and power and above all longevity by using costly design and building materials. The combination of these behaviors forms a background of change and adaptation and memory. Against this backdrop, the ubiquitous handheld communication device has become ‘home’, a kind of permanent ‘elsewhere’, an oasis or perhaps a destination.