Details, Layering and Memory


At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than
the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is
experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the
sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences.”[1]
– Kevin Lynch

Within the space, we begin to notice details which help to paint a picture of the space. These details create a rich dialogue about the space if they are noticed, but naturally, there is a tendency to stop noticing the details of our space through the habits of our everyday life. Alain de Botton[2] reflects on this; "Home, on the other hand, finds us more settled in our expectations. We feel assured that we have discovered everything interesting about a neighbourhood, primarily by having lived there a long time."[3] By taking the view of the traveler and seeing everything anew we can begin to notice overlooked details, de Botton continues; "We approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is interesting." We are receptive to noticing the details, and this is part of the experience of urban space.”[4]


One characteristic of the experience of the urban space is the unexpected. This is something that also was revealed during the workshop when many of the participants remarked that being wholly free and directed to look closely allowed them to discover many unexpected things that they would not typically have experienced. Many of these unexpected things are a juxtaposition of images that only occur because of the situation of being in the space, a certain surprise realized by looking closely. Figure 19 shows the beauty of a simple empty postcard holder against a tiled wall, many of these unexpected elements appear by observing the mundane details.


Another characteristic of the space, which exists alongside the unexpected is that of the unplanned. The unplanned elements are parts of the urban space that exist but were not designed to be in that particular way, no urban planner would think to create the space in that manner. Some examples of this would be the juxtaposition of unusual architectural styles one beside the other or clashing paint colors on neighboring buildings, (fig.20,) or the growth of wild plant material taking over a light pole and curb, (fig 21 & 22). These unplanned elements create a visual sense of uniqueness and reveal the chaotic built-over-time nature of urban space.

Human Presence and Personalization

These unplanned and un-expected elements often reveal another category of the detailed and layered urban space, that of human pre-sence. My photos generally showed limited human presence as I did not pur-posefully seek to photograph inhabitants of the space. Despite this, I saw traces of human presence in many of my images and believe that this is something that is understood and sensed by those who dwell in the urban space. Within this category of human presence as well, we can speak of personalization. Images of human presence for me were when the everyday life spilled out into the public space or when the urban dwellers left their marks on the space. For example, figure 23 shows a religious symbol installed within the public area, illustrating human presence. Figure 24 shows a collection of unusual items collected in front of someone's garage.


Looking through my images though there was one constant, on every walk and every day, no matter what path I took I was confronted with my reflection and the reflection of the buildings and sky around me. The urban space was reflected and amplified in the cars parked on the street, in the bus stops
and commercial store windows. (fig.25) These reflections expanded and multiplied the space, providing glimpses of what is behind or above, while eyes remain fixed forward. Often the reflection distorts the space and so created other realities of the experience of urban space. In a very interesting way seeing my reflections while immersed in the space placed my perceived image into the perceived image of the space.


Finally, layering over all of these perceived images in the space are memories and images in the mind. These memories are not visible in my photography and perhaps not often in the narratives either, but I was often aware of them. Finding a building on the street that I had glimpsed from the tram a day or two before layered a memory over the new experience. Coming across a hop-scotch game drawn in the sidewalk, I remembered my small-town chalk games and layered those mental images into my experience of Klybeck. Often, I would recall the image of the street seen earlier on google maps as I walked down a street anticipating my next turn. These mental images and memories are ever-present in our experience of urban space.

[1] Lynch, 2005 p.1
[2]Alain de Botton is a Swiss-born British philosopher whose books emphasis philosophy’s place in everyday life.
[3] de Botton, 2002 p.246
[4]De Botton, 2002 p.246