cultural geography and the digital: what’s been written by cultural geographers?

I’m working on the written version of the Progress in Human Geography lecture I gave at the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers annual conference in London last month. The opening section marvels at cultural geographers’ lack of engagement with anything digital.

The only references it currently contains are:

Bingham, N., 1996. Object-ions: from technological determinism towards geographies of relations. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 14(6), 635 – 657.

Bingham, N., Valentine, G. & Holloway, S.L., 1999. Where do you want to go tomorrow? Connecting children and the Internet. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 17(6), 655 – 672.

Bingham, N., Valentine, G. & Holloway, S., 2001. Life around the screen: re-framing young people’s use of the internet. In N. Watson & S. Cunningham-Burley, eds. Reframing Bodies. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 228–243.

Crang, M., Crang, P. & May, J. eds., 1999. Virtual Geographies: Bodies, Spaces, Relations, London: Routledge.

Holloway, S.L., Valentine, G. & Bingham, N., 2000. Institutionalising technologies: masculinities, femininities, and the heterosexual economy of the IT classroom. Environment and Planning A, 32(4), 617 – 633.

Parr, H., 2003. Research bodies in virtual space. In A. Blunt et al., eds. Cultural Geography in Practice. London: Arnold, pp. 55–68.

Given the long shadow that cultural geography casts across the discipline, of course it’s rather tricky to demarcate who is and who is not a ‘cultural geographer’ – and my list obviously and deliberately excludes the very rich literature on critical GIS, neo-geographies, participatory mapping and so on, as well as Rob Kitchin’s groundbreaking work.

But if any of you are aware of any other publications in cultural geography on digital technologies that are not related to mapping, please send them my way!


spaces and mobilities in mediatized worlds: conference next year

geomedia

I just found out about the Geomedia 2015 conference, which is about spaces and mobilities in mediatized worlds and will happen in Karlstadt, Sweden, 5-8 May next year.  It has a great line-up of organisers, keynotes and directors.  Something to look forward to in 2015.


three ways cultural geographers can start to think about digital culture

I’ve been working on the lecture I’m giving at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of  British Geographers at the end of August, and I want to enthuse about three books which I thought were great first time round, and are all even better second time round as I re-read them to write the lecture.  They all look at the pervasiveness of mass online engagement, and they all argue strongly and convincingly that the last twenty years have seen profound changes in popular culture, and they all conclude from this that scholars interested in understanding that culture really need to engage with that pervasiveness, with the online and with the mass.  A point that most cultural geographers seem to have missed, and which is my lecture in a nutshell.  So a big thanks to:

John Hartley and his book Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies.  This book goes first because it’s one of the very few academic books that have made me laugh out loud (because it’s deliberately funny, that is).  I posted about it here after I read it the first time.  It’s a very persuasive argument for looking at populations of images rather than single images.

Helen Grace and her book Culture, Aesthetics and Affect: The Prosaic Image.  The first chapter is one of those where you start making notes and realise that you’re pretty much copying out the whole thing.  An amazing and passionate argument for those populations of banal images being vital new form of mass cultural expression, written quite specifically from Hong Kong.

Nana Verhoeff and her book Mobile Screens: The Visual Regime of Navigation, which you can download for free here.  Like Grace, Verhoeff explores the pervasiveness of digital screens, large and small, in the urban everyday, and argues for a new kind of spatiality that’s performed when we navigate through the spaces they offer us.

 


digital revolution at the Barbican London

I went to see the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London yesterday – it was great.  Bit of a hotch-potch of early computing history (though when I say early, it really started from the 1970s), digital art, computer games history and some current indie games, clothing+software, movie special effects… which reflects the pervasiveness of digital media now, I guess, and a lot of fun as a result.  The exhibition microsite here has several videos and images if you can’t get to London to see the show.

One thing that struck me about it was that, while the first section on media archeology paid a lot of attention to hardware – keyboards, consoles, processors – that attention almost entirely disappeared in the later sections on games, art and special effects.  A couple of the art pieces played on the materiality of computing, but most of the works on show were materialised mainly as screens and projections of various kinds.  So a lot of the final effects relied on a sort of magic: your ‘projection’ as a shadow with huge wings; your ‘reflection’ with steam coming out of your eyes (that was weird).  Not quite sure what to make of that: the conventions of the art exhibition kicking in? the complexity of the software and hardware (which was suggested by a film showing how the special effects of the film Gravity were made)? or maybe that for many, all that would be visible would be a big Apple Mac?

 

 


dust and smears: materialising digital images part 2

I just came across another take on the task of rendering digital imagery more material, more messy and more fallible.  This is a photography project by Meggan Gould, reported by Wired magazine here.  It’s volume 5 of a series of works called Surface Tension, and it’s simply called iPad.

one of the iPad images from the Surface Tension series by Meggan Gould

one of the iPad images from the Surface Tension series by Meggan Gould

What Meggan has done is wait for the screens of her family’s iPads to get all smeared and sticky with fingerprints, then scanned the screen and manipulated the image to remove the screen’s content.  The result are images of what is usually completely invisible, and designed to be so, as Timo Arnell points out here: the touchscreen.  The screen is made visible by the way that the images show only the traces of the taps and swipes of the fingers that have touched the screen: there’s no sign of the fingers themselves, or of the what the fingers were were getting the screen to show.  No bodies and no content, these images are pure interface.

Except, of course, that they are themselves digital images, and there’s no sign on Meggan’s beautifully designed website that their viewers are in turn being invited to smear her images (and our screens).  There’s an interesting double-play, then, in these images, in the way that they simultaneously challenge and reaffirm the immateriality of the touchscreen.  Intriguing.


dust settles on visualisations of failed urban futures

I doubt anyone really believes in the visions of future urban spaces that are offered to us in the digital visualisations of new urban developments.  Nonetheless, there’s something strangely haunting about those visualisations when they start to look tattered and battered, dusty and faded, when they’re obscured by scaffolding and have other posters and signs stuck onto them.  The glossy futures they picture look best on screens; once inserted into the urban spaces they are meant to show (the future of), their seductive gloss immediately starts to tarnish.

I’ve already blogged about one artist who’s worked on the failure of these images to deliver their promise in the very spaces of their imagination: Randa Mirza and her project Beirutopia. Randa takes photographs of digital visualisations in actual urban spaces, and carefully includes signs of those spaces in her photograph – tatty roads and bashed-up cars, real bits of trees and cars and scooters – as well as photographing billboards with their images torn and sagging.

Now, thanks to Olga Smith, I’ve discovered another photographic project also working to disrupt the perfect finishes of those computer generated images.  This one is by photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg, and was on show in London earlier this year.  You can see some photographs of the installation here.  They look in particular at CGIs of a project in London for a 300m high office block, now on hold, paused at seven storeys.

RL_04.tif

Olga has interviewed Rut about the project for Photomonitor.  As Rut notes, “dust unmasks the fantasy of the CGI once it is placed in the public territories of the city. The CGI becomes hostage to the materiality of the city, which very quickly covers the images with dust, dirt, pollution. So the CGI’s smooth surface becomes stained”, and her images play with that staining, its materiality and also its temporality. And in the way many of them stare close up at the surface of the CGIs and play with how various kinds light fall on the CGIs in situ, they also strike me as emphasising the way the CGIs carry a certain theatricality: they provide a backdrop to the staging of urban life.

Rut’s work thus serves explores the specific materiality of these sorts of images when they appear in urban spaces – their placement, their lighting, their relation to the urban atmosphere – and suggests that in all these aspects, the visualisations, for all their embedding deep in the property markets of contemporary capitalism, are also oddly vulnerable.


cultural geography’s provocations of the present: webcast now available

The OpenSpace research centre at The Open University hosted an event on 6 June which reflected on the status of cultural geography now, and, in particular, how the subdiscipline should respond to the demands of the present moment.  Members of two panels were given eight minutes each to explore ways in which the current context is, or should be, shaping cultural geography as a sub-discipline.  It was a great day, very interesting and, well, provocative.  The whole event was webcast live, and you can now watch those recordings here.  Enjoy.

 


2014 ESRC research methods festival highlights visual research methods again

Interesting to note that the sixth ESRC Research Methods Festival, which runs between 8-10 July 2014 in Oxford, is once again featuring visual research methods in one of its plenary lectures.  Douglas Harper is Professor of Sociology at Duquesne University and is the current chair of the International Visual Sociology Association – and, of course, the author of several key texts on visual research methods.


international urban photography summer school

The Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths College, London, has just announced details of its annual international urban photography summer school: you can find them here.

photo school


provocations of the present: what culture for what geography?

The OpenSpace research centre at The Open University is hosting an event this coming Friday, 6 June, reflecting on the status of cultural geography now, and, in particular, how the subdiscipline should respond to the demands of the present moment.  Full details are here.  The event itself is sold out; you can listen to its live stream online but you still have to register.  From the looks of what my fellow contributors have posted on the Geography Matters Facebook page, it looks like it will be a lively discussion.


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