Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century

Medieval Paris

Merian Map of Paris (scale: ca.1 to 7,000), 1615

The Spatial layout of Medieval Paris was very different to the city we know today.
•No sidewalk since Roman times
•No drainage (small gutter insufficient)
•Narrow streets
•The street was a sea of mud when it rained
•Pedestrians battled carriages and carts
•No designated green areas / no public spaces

“Nothing could give a foreigner more pleasure than the sight of a Parisian with his elaborate wig, white stockings, and lace trimmed suit, as he wades through or jumps over a muddy stream, runs through the filthy streets on tiptoe, and defends himself from the dripping roof gutters with his taffeta umbrella. How he jumps into the air when he leaves the Faubourg St.Honore to eat and must dance around the dripping eaves! Piles of dirt, slippery pavement, greasy cart axles so many dangers to avoid! And yet he reaches his destination. On each corner he summons a shoe-cleaner and arrives safely with the “exception of a few spots on his stockings…”

Louis-Sebastian Mercie

 Paris am Vorabend Revolution


The Completist Strategy

W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project

This week’s afternoon lecture featured Eugene Smith’s legendary Pittsburgh project as an example of a more extreme ‘completist’ strategy to uncovering the urban. Smith famously undertook the freelance job in 1955 after quitting Life magazine and joining Magnum. Tired of the constraints imposed by Life’s editorial board, Smith saw that Pittsburgh offered him the chance to create a new type of work that spoke of the complexity of the world itself. He wanted to take the photo-essay to new ends, to create a photo story that would depict the city as if it were ‘a single collective person’. For Smith, a photojournalist had to get ‘to the heart of something.’ Simply showing the surface was not enough. As he noted he was not content with simply being a ‘seeing’ photographer.

“The greatest responsibility of the photo historian or journalist is the search through the maze of conflictions to the island of intimate understanding, of the mind, of the soul, amid circumstances that both create and are created by – and then to render with intelligence, with artistic eloquence, a correct and breathing account of what is found, and popular fancy, myth can be damned. Meaning: to get to the guts of the matter and show the bastards as they are.

Despite the limitations of the photo-essay Smith believed that it still offered him a means of ‘coherent interpretation’ as it links the artist-journalist to the world and to their audience. In his attempt weave together the complex themes that made up Pittsburgh he drew on sources such as Joyce’s Ulysses, on Faulkner’s writing and Jazz.

Engaging The Sensorium

This weeks lecture discusses the idea of “the project’ as a means to engage with the urban environment. It asks students to consider how the use of different media and technology could be utilised to uncover the complex layering of the processes and sociality that orchestrate and produce urban space. It asks photographers to consider how audio could open up the hidden layers through oral histories and the use of soundscapes. It poses the question what other elements of the sensorium could be engaged as a different type of lens to engage the urban.

Key Project: The Hackney Podcasts

Lecture 2 – The Art of the Project

Johnnie Gratton and Michael Sheringhan in the first chapter of their book The Art of the Project comment how many contemporary cultural practices often involve the setting up of ‘experiments’ or ‘projects’. They comment how these so-called projects are defined by having a clearly designated spatial location in which they take place and a course of action that determines what is to be done and how frequently it is to occur. They are also governed by a strict set of self-imposed ground rules that guide the execution of the project itself.

Gratton and Sheringham note how such programmes of action are often indicative of the ‘ethnographic turn’ in art production, drawing influence from sociological, anthropological or documentary concerns. Equally such projects owe a debt to conceptual art with their playful, ironic or absurdist elements. The emphasis of such projects is not on the end result but on the process of undertaking the project itself according to the predetermined set of rules. The final results take a variety of differing forms that somehow produce an account of what took place.

Key Project: Tokyo Blues

Lecture 1 – ‘First Steps’ – Global Contexts


This first lecture outlines a number of global contexts within which later issues and debates will be sited. It discusses how our world is moving from being a global village to being an urban globe. It highlights how for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities. This new urbanization raises issues around resources, poverty, governance and social justice. It asks us to question the future of the city and whose interests it will represent.