Geography and Photography: A Recent Example

Geographers can draw upon a range of tools and resources to illuminate spatial processes. These can include statistical datasets, policy documents, historical archives, and literature. In addition to word-based texts, the use of images is also a key way in which geographers make sense of the world. Images never only offer us a glimpse of ‘reality’, but are key ways in which power relations and social processes are expressed and constructed. As Gillian Rose (2007, 2) suggests in her book Visual Methodologies, “…images are never transparent windows onto the world. They interpret the world; they display it in very particular ways”.

Geographers could use images, such as those used in advertising, to explore, for example, how gender norms are constructed; in relation to body size, sexuality etc. Alternatively, geographers could look at political campaign posters to examine how particular policy issues and ideological positions are constructed as being important and given a certain slant. In addition, images can also be potent geographical tools for expressing spatial processes at work, and can be used in conjunction with geographical analysis to provide a deeper understanding of these practices.

Anthony Haughey’s series of photographs of ghost estates, Settlement, offers a good example. In providing a visual record of these places, Haughey’s photographs offer a geographical text. As I suggested in an introduction to the series published in photographic journal Source:

“These are decidedly modern landscape photographs that also allow themselves to be haunted by Ireland’s past. The images foreground the natural environment – the grass, soil, and rock – and visualise the developments as disordering the topography. The absence (or oblique traces) of human life in the photographs highlights the uncanny decoupling of these houses from their function as places of dwelling. They evoke not so much the intrusion of people into the unspoilt landscape, but the incursion of a more senseless and arbitrary capitalism, itself decoupled from the basic premise of supply and demand. As such, they offer a fitting visual metaphor for the property boom, a record of the tangible material affects of the international financial crisis and Ireland’s entangled property crash”

You can see the collection of photographs here.

Cian O’Callaghan

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