We leave our mark across the land, no more so in the urban environment, designed and created solely for our use be that to work, to play or to simply live. The nature and culture of the urban environment, the lines, the patterns and shapes are all purposeful and with meaning. In this selection of photographs the lack of casual organic evolution is replaced by a man-made development, sometimes an interrupted sprawl and other times a more fluid vista, but nothing left to chance.
Facades of the buildings ensure the presentation, but its frequently the backstreets that tell the true story. Not designed to be looked at and owned by the inhabitants, it can provide an average look of an area, somehow generic but descriptive in the same time. Tokyo is associated with a certain look and feel, especially in the night. Discovering a guiding line, an urban canal in the backstreet area, was a formula to capture the look of the city. The peculiar lighting, omnipresent plants and concrete architecture create the elements of the urban mosaic. The Japan as an island country was always dependent on water and in a waterway I found a key to capture the city’s essence.
Having worked across a few architecture and commercial real estate publications over the past few years, I seem to have developed a counter aesthetic to the way the built environment is portrayed in marketing materials and industry media. I like showing places for what they are, usually with very flat, two-dimensional head-on angles and more realistic degrees of saturation etc, as apposed to the glitzy way the developers would like you to see them. That’s not to say I think these places are always ugly – just that you can find the more interesting parts of a skyscraper or shopping centre if you go around the back to where they keep the bins or where the access ramp for the deliveries is.
After seeing the work of Chris Dorley-Brown and Michael Collins (and subsequently an entire clique of Flickr members) I had a kind of realisation that there was this particular style of documentary photography (usually from north-western Europe with a few exceptions) that was appealing to me and seemed natural. These neutral, matter-of-fact images really pushed me in the direction I’ve taken in photographing the spaces we occupy or the weird, dead-spaces in-between places. Something that is quite common in cities – a lot of it is planned but there are always awkward gaps and accidental vistas between these planned areas.
The social implications of the built environment are constantly wheeled-out and argued over and are more often than not used by developers themselves now as a form of coercion on local government and residents alike. I’ve never consciously thought about the larger issue when taking pictures but my own cynicism of the industry is clearly there in the background. It’d be wrong to say that’s the main driver behind these pictures though, I genuinely just find these sort of places interesting and strangely beautiful. Most the time.
In life, I like the variety around us that makes everything interesting, awakes our curiosity and brings us into an even richer world. With regards to photography, I try to capture the feelings and the images of life’s beauties and varieties that exist in many ways, from very small details to very wide views. I am looking for the contrasts in places, in colors, in different kind of buildings and I try to bring out the live parts of all this amazing mixture called ‘city’ by integrating people in the most natural way possible. There is also something mysterious and fascinating about how all these go along together… These pictures were taken in the “Museum Quarter” in Vienna, a place that really inspired me with its life and contrasts.
Portsmouth is the United Kingdom’s only island city. It is surrounded by water and packed with people. Despite miles of spacious pebbled coastline it is still the most densely populated city outside of London. With over 200,000 people crammed into 13 square miles of land
The top level of a car park offers an urban haven from the masses below. It offers a unique physical space that is incomparable to any other public space in the city. Car parks are designed and constructed to be filled with thousands of machines. There are times however when they are devoid of all human presence. In these moments they can provide peaceful solitude and an eerie yet soothing silence.
I suppose it is the scale of physical space, and the sense of urban isolation it provides that I am attempting to capture on camera. Once daylight disappears, the artificial light can imbue the vacant space & surrounding views with an ethereal quality. I find this otherworldly look both welcoming and visually pleasing.
I avoid shots that look down on the city below as I think they create a sense of voyeurism that I am not interested in for these images. I prefer the feel of shots that look straight ahead, whether into tall buildings or an empty sky. This perspective helps present a feeling of detached isolation whilst also conveying the insignificance of what is below.
It is that insignificance after all, which I am escaping from.
Paris’s eastern suburbs
The eastern suburbs of Paris remained a forgotten territory until 1998 and the FIFA World Cup. Since then, new buildings arise every day, from Company Headquarters to Ministerial offices.
But a trace from the past is still remain.
© Thierry Cariou (2009/2013)