Tag Archives: Research Methods

Industrial Photography Performed: The Struggle for Energy from Modernism to the Cold War


Our joint presentation drew upon photographic materials produced in the context of the industrial development of energy production in the United States and the GDR. While the photographs discussed in our presentations were produced in distinct political systems, at different points in time—Modernism in the early 20th century and towards the end of the Cold War in the 1970s—from different perspectives and for different audiences, the common ground between both papers is the analysis of the uses of photography and how they performed in the struggle for energy. Therefore, both case studies present different views on how photography was used as a medium through which the exploitation of natural resources for energy production was visually represented and commercially and socially understood.

Using the Ralph Arnold photographic album collection at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, the first study outlined the use of photography as a key element in the formation of the emerging oil industry in the Western United States in the early twentieth century. Ralph Arnold (1875-1961) was an American geologist and petroleum engineer whose photographs taken during several geological surveys in California, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas were part of a collective scientific and financial effort to lobby for appropriate oil taxation and the recognition of the role of the petroleum engineer in oil exploration.

The second study discussed the visual dialogue between Nguyen The Thuc’s Kohle unter Magdeborn (Coal beneath Magdeborn) (1976), a photographic album documenting an open cast coal mining site and the devastation of its inhabitant community in the GDR, and Christiane Eisler’s series of commissioned photographs of the revisited mining site and contemporary Leipzig, produced in the period 2012 to 2014. The album and the new series of works were shown together in the 2014 exhibition Freundschaftsantiqua in Leipzig (Germany). The bodies of work reflect the changes in the industrialised environment through expanding and contracting resource extraction and the effects on its inhabitants. They are also documents of an international cultural production and GDR culture politics. The medium of photography was selected as exhibition focus due to its propensity to visually communicate across different cultures.

wood fossil_Magdeborn

Fossilised tree fragment, entrance area at Zweckverband Abfallwirtschaft Westsachsen waste deposit site, 2015, photograph: Bergit Arends

Freundschaftsantiqua_installation detail

Freundschaftsantiqua 2014, Galerie fuer Zeitgenoessische Kunst Leipzig (Germany), exhibition detail, photography: Sebastian Schroeder


Jointly we explored the performativity and fluidity of meaning of photographic images. How is meaning shaped by institutional discourses, disciplinary perspectives, and expertise. How were photographs taken by petroleum engineers used to shape the oil industry in terms of scientific exploration, commercial capabilities and policy reforms in the American West? How did the project from the GDR contribute to, or contravene, a political and environmental discourse in documenting how humans were affected by a visibly polluting energy production? Or did the images in both case studies contribute to a discourse of personal sacrifice towards a collective ‘greater good’ and moral duty for the nation?

Bergit Arends and Noeme Santana



+ contextual reading on the international circulation and audiences of photographs of American West taken by Timothy O’Sullivan during the Clarence King Surveys between 1867 and 1872:

Brunet, F., (2012) ‘Showing American Geography Abroad in the Victorian Era: The International Reception of the King Survey Work’, in: Timothy O’Sullivan: The King Survey Photographs, Davis, K. and Aspinwall,J. (ed.), New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 185-195

+ for some insights into GDR photography by a GDR/Germany-based curator. Exhibition catalogue of the first survey exhibition of GDR photography in the UK, curated by Matthew Shaul:

Immisch, T. O. (2007), ‘Appearance and Being: GDR Photography of the 1970s and 1980s’, in: Do Not Refreeze: Photography behind the Berlin Wall, exh. cat., Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications, pp. 24-27

+ one history on the subject of energy in the USA and Germany

Radkau, J., (1996), ‘Energy: Genie or Genius? – How steam, electricity and oil heralded global change’, History Today, vol 46; MNTH 11, pp. 14-19

+ photography theory from 1983 for social and economic discourses on images at the example of images (1948-1968) by a commercial photographer in the coal-mining region of Cape Breton:

Sekula, A. (2003) ‘Reading an Archive. Photography between Labour and Capital’, in: The Photography Reader, Wells, L. (ed.), London: Routledge, pp. 443-452

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Interactive Documentary as Method

In this Tuesday’s Landscape Surgery session (December 1st 2015) I presented my methodological work with interactive documentary (or “i-Docs”), alongside my collaborator Michael Skelly.

Given that few people have heard of interactive documentary I started by introducing what an i-Doc is, and why I think Geographers should care.

As I explained, interactive documentary is an emerging form of documentary film typified by ‘nonlinear’ spatiotemporal organisation. Rather than present footage in a predetermined order, users can navigate through i-Docs in multiple ways and often add their own content. I-Docs focus on a range of politically pertinent issues and often use their nonlinearity and interactive capacities to destabilize dominant representations of those issues or produce new ways of engaging with debates. (Links to some prominent i-Docs are included at the bottom of this post).

In order to give people a sense of what i-Docs are like and how I think Geographers could approach them I circulated a paper I’m currently preparing on interactive documentary which analyses one particular i-Doc; Gaza Sderot. 

 In this paper I argue that Geographers should care about i-Docs for two interrelated reasons. Firstly, Geographers have always been interested in the ways that space-time is expressed and reformulated through film, media and technologies of exhibition and i-Docs clearly sit within this lineage, providing an insight into contemporary regimes of vision.  And, secondly, given that nonlinear ontologies and their politics are central to contemporary Geographical thinking (perhaps most significantly through the influential philosophy of Deleuze), Geographers should have a particular interest in the politicized nonlinear imaginaries that i-Docs develop. In the paper I use Gaza Sderot, an i-Doc about the Gaza conflict, to demonstrate how we might analyse i-Docs in order to understand their construction of nonlinear imaginaries and to explore the political ramifications of those imaginaries.

On Tuesday, however, I focused on how i-Docs could be used methodologically within Geography. I presented my own work with interactive documentary and asked the group to think about how i-Docs could be valuable as a method within Geography more broadly.

My work with i-Docs is part of my PhD research into pop-up culture in London. I am employing interactive documentary as a method through which to explore pop-up culture’s own nonlinear spatiotemporal logics.

The Temporary City Home Page

i-Doc Home Page

I am filming and editing clips of pop-up places as well as designing the i-Doc interface with the help of Michael Skelly who has been undertaking the coding. Working closely together we have been thinking about how the i-Doc can evoke pop-up’s spatiotemporal logics in a user friendly way and experimenting with different ways of organising the interface. So far, the key feature of the interface is its irreversibility. During your visit to the i-Doc’s version of the ‘pop-up city’ a flipping calendar at the bottom of the screen marks the passage of time. Clips come and go, popping up and down as time passes so that the user will inevitably miss some events.

As well as briefly demonstrating where we’re up to with the i-Doc we talked about our experience of collaborating and the way that working together on this kind of project exposes artificial boundaries between what is the ‘platform’ for academic or creative work and what is ‘the work’ itself.


Screen shot from ‘inside’ the i-Doc

This was the first time we have shown the i-Doc and it was great to get feedback from the group. In particular questions were raised about the relationships between i-Docs and forms of interactive mapping and around the politics of choice and agency. It was also incredibly helpful to get suggestions on the ways that the i-Doc interface could add to my critique of pop-up culture. The group suggested ways that the interface could work to expose the artifice of pop-up’s imaginary, revealing that its logics of openness, spontaneity and flexibility mask normative functions and in particular distract from the calculated contribution of pop-up to processes of gentrification and displacement.

It was also really exciting to hear lots of Landscape Surgery members thinking through ways that interactive documentary could be valuable in their own work.

Ella Harris

Links to some interesting i-Docs…







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Unreal City: Discovering London through the Archive (by Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a complex, vibrant, and diverse city to study (Source: The Guardian)

London is a fascinating city, a buzzing metropolis with an incredibly rich history. It has been the subject of an untold number of academic studies, as well as an almost infinite assortment of films, books, poems, pictures and other cultural products.


London is obviously a fantastic city to study. It is the economic, social, political and cultural centre of Britain, and during the heights of the British Empire it served this role for huge swathes of the world. It has a population of over eight million people, who speak over 300 languages. This quantity and diversity of people, organisations and events provides fertile ground for huge numbers of research projects. As well as this, it is almost unrivalled in terms of the archives available for use, and being the focus and inspiration of so much academic and cultural output means that there is a wealth of sources available to study.


We are both studying London for our PhD research; Hannah looks at the historical geographies of protest in the city between 1780 and 2010, and Bethan is working on so-called ‘austerity’ fashion in London after the Second World War, in collaboration with the Museum of London. We are also both utilising archival research in our projects. London is a unique area of study for both of us in its own way. In terms of protest,  London’s role as the symbolic and literal centre of British politics makes it a key location of dissent. With regards to fashion, London is known as a world fashion capital, and although the history and origins of this status are contentious, London has long been a centre for fashionable production and consumption.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war regent street.

An archival glimpse of shopping on post-war Regent Street.


One of the first steps when conducting research to to ensure you have a clear definition of the terms involved in your project. However when it comes to London, that is not an easy thing to do. London means so many things, to so many people, that it is hard to pin down a coherent and concise definition. Is London a city of 8.17 million people, or an area of 611 square miles? Knightsbridge or the East End? London is all of these things, but each research project must decide how it wishes to locate itself amid these different definitions, by means of summary or selection.


The richness and diversity of London also pose other challenges to the researcher, particularly when it comes to archival research. Archival sources go through several selection processes; firstly, when the archival institution, curator or individual collector decide which items to keep and preserve, and then secondly when the researcher chooses which materials to use in their research.  As an archivist or collector, how do you choose sources to accurately represent such a varied city as London? As a researcher, which sources best represent that variety within the scope of your research? Is it even possible or indeed desirable to draw meaningful conclusions about ‘London’ as a coherent entity?


The possible existence of a London bias should also be considered. Is London researched too much, at the expense of other British cities? If this is the case, do we as researchers have a responsibility to correct this imbalance? Researchers and academics have a great deal of power in terms of representing the people and places that they study, should we therefore try to ensure that each place is represented ‘fairly’?

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).

A poster for the London Calling demonstration about student tuition fees in 2010 (Source: Coalition of Resistance).


As you may have guessed from this post, we have a lot of unanswered questions in relation to this topic. For this reason, we choose not to draw conclusions, but instead leave the topic open for further discussion. Do you consider yourself to be a researcher of London? Was it a deliberate decision or simply a matter of convenience? How do you tackle the challenge of researching something of the sheer immensity of London?


Answers on the back of a postcard please (although any thoughts or opinions in the comments would also be very welcome!)


Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide

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Souvenir Geographies — My first year PhD presentation in Landscape Surgery

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

The first-year PhD presentation day is a tradition of Landscape Surgery. I attended it last year as an audience member when I was a MA student, and was honoured to be a speaker in it this year. For the LS presentation, I created a slideshow to help demonstrate my PhD (available here), which can also give you a taste of my PhD.

This project looks at a widely-loved object: the souvenir. Many people keep souvenirs as reminders of a person, place, or event. A souvenir is inherently geographical based on its nature. A souvenir’s mobility is its most outstanding geographical characteristic: souvenirs move from the place of tourism to the place of home; from ‘extraordinary’ place to the world of the ‘ordinary’. Although souvenirs take on many forms, functions and representations, they are often formally associated with a specific geographical place.

Studies related to souvenirs in SCG are rare. Morgan & Pritchard (2005) studied souvenir and self-identity; Hashimoto & Telfer (2007) talked about authentic geographical souvenirs in Canada; Ramsay (2009) had an impressive field work of souvenir production sites in Swaziland; while Peters (2011) studied banal souvenirs’ home placement. Souvenirs studies have potential for exploration.

My PhD project ‘Souvenir Geographies: Authenticity and Place Making’ focus on souvenirs on two way: one is to explore how souvenirs’ authenticity and meaning change along with places; secondly it looks at how souvenirs shape places in the terms of place making. This process is revealed by following souvenirs in a linear route: from the making sites, tourist sites, transport sites (AKA non-places: airports, train stations; Augé, 1994) and then to the tourists’ homes. In this quadruple layer process, souvenir’s spatiotemporal peculiarity makes it a great object to follow, and to analysis from a geographical perspective. Putting my Cultural Geographer’s hat on, I analysis souvenirs based on their spatial movements.

In the terms of methodology, ‘following the thing’ and visual ethnography are the most basic and key methods used through out the whole project. Apart from these, semi_structured interviews, using postcards as a method, participant observation, keeping fieldwork diary: text, image and video, and blogging as a method (project blog) are also used in this project. When it comes to field work, two fields are considered for this project. The first one is UK, and the other is China. In each case, equal factories, tourist sites, transporting sites and homes will be visited and same number of postcards will be handed out.

Souvenirs studying is an innovative and novel topic area in Cultural Geography, which promises to contribute to discussions in a range of geographical topics: material culture, place and, in particular, tourism studies.

Zhuyun (Amy) Zang, PhD Candidate

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Landscape Surgery PhD Presentations Day


May 7th saw Landscape Surgeons meeting earlier than normal at Bedford Square for a fantastic day of first year PhD presentations. Covering topics from food, dining and family making, to creative writing, art, airports and neuro-aesthetics, and research methods from  ethnography, diary keeping, writing, curation and painting it was an informative day.


The day kicked off with two presentations on the geographies of food. The first by Farah explaining her research on “Dinescapes” in Malaysia. As well as discussing her research Farah entertained us with a discussion of the different types of themed restaurants that she had encountered, including “toilet” themed ones! Canny was next up talking about food and family making, her research prompted a lively discussion of public and private dimensions of kitchens in China, including “open-kitchens” where private kitchens become public spaces. Finally, before lunch Katie discussed her work on and with dyslexic creative writers,including auto ethnographic discussions of the spaces of writing practices including desks, publishers and festivals. Discussion ensued around the spaces and spatialities of these writing practices and also their ‘creative’ elements. After lunch we turned to an afternoon of geography, writing and art. First up, Miranda talked about her explorations of place and writing, prompting discussions on mapping, style and data imaginaries. This was followed by two presentations focusing on art and airports, albeit in very different ways. Clare discussed her practice based work, including what it meant to create paintings whose form was guided by the rules of the airport, whilst Mike discussed the challenges of curation art at the airport and the methodological issues related to collaborative research. In both cases the aesthetics of airport spaces were a point of query and discussion. The afternoon’s presentations ended with Jareh Das, talking about curation and neuro-aesthetics, and the challenges and possibilities of using contemporary neurological technology designed for the gaming industry to explore the experiences of live art. Discussion tracked widely including queries around live art, neuro-aesthetics and the challenges of ‘measuring’ experience.

Thanks to the presenters for talking about their work, to the audience for questions and comments and to Innes for the photographs.



Farah Che Ishak: “Dinescapes: Ethnic restaurants and consumer culture in Malaysia”

Chen Liu (Canny): “Food, Home, and Family-making in Contemporary Guangzhou”

Katie Boxall: “Cultural Geographies of Dyslexic Creative Writing Practice”

Miranda Ward: “Writing (Augmented) Place”

Clare Booker: “Art and Airports; Departures and Arrivals live feed.”

Mike Thomason: ‪”Curating Site and Situating Curating: Art in the Airport”‬

Jareh Das: “Neuroaesthetics and the Exploration of Live Art”



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