London’s overthrow, or dissolution


Some chance conjunction of latitude and climate: in this city artificial light cuts darkness like nowhere else. There are no trees like these, streetlit up, fractal cutouts. When you were a kid you ran through this bluster and raindrops so tiny they were like dust falling in all directions, not just down, and missed it even while you were in it. There’s been a revolution in remembrance. Digital photography’s democratised the night-shoot. One touch at the end of a sleepy phone call on your way home, you can freeze the halo from streetlamps, the occluded moon, night buses, cocoons shaking through brick cuts, past all-night shops. Right there in your pocket, a lit-up memory of now. (China Mieville)

I came across this website recently, called London’s Overthrow.  It’s created by novelist China Mieville, here writing and photographing something which I suppose is a sort of photo-essay, though it relies a good deal on the luminescence of a computer screen for its full effect I think – a web-photo-essay, then.

The writing is a Sinclair-inspired mix of novelistic description and journalism.  Photographs are scattered throughout.  They are striking, a cameraphone used, as he says, to “freeze the halo from streetlamps, the occluded moon, night buses”.  London’s ordinary spaces and streets seem to be dissolving in the glare of lights, rain and digital blur.

Each page of the web-photo-essay has some images and text, the text playing with the light that makes the images, framing it differently.  So sometimes the lights are power and privilege in glowing display; sometimes surveillance; sometimes they’re about visibility, the city as preening spectacle and the diversity of spectators; sometimes it’s about blur, deadness, filtered unclarity; others are coloured grotesques.  All are “a lit-up memory of now” and like, all memories, an uncertain mix of filtered perceptions.

This web-photo-essay thing, then, plays with the relation between text and photograph quite precisely, putting the digitality of the webpage to work as both page and light.  The text and image play off one another, the former emphasising the exact quality of the latter that matters: the light.  Not the description of an urban landscape but the light the camera requires to show it.  Light becomes the problematic rather than the solution.  Clever.

2 thoughts on “London’s overthrow, or dissolution

  1. Great website, indeed! Incidentally, I found one day how undertheorized light itself appears to be in current visual studies. It seems that after (quantum) physics took all responsibility to study its ‘nature’, social sciences and humanities did not find room to operate within the subject. Hence, it is wonderful to read histories of different theories of light before the birth of modern natural sciences. A very illuminating 🙂 book: Lindberg, “Theories of vision from Al-kindi to Kepler.

    • Hi Janne and thanks for the reference. The quality of the light is a really big issue for visualisers who create digital images of as-yet-unbuilt urban redevelopment projects, so it’s definitely something I want to think more about in relation to my current research project.

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