More Space

This question of space gets more complicated; I think I’ve got it, then it slips away.  Last night’s lecture was a help in some ways, although leaving me with unanswered questions, and I did get a Good Idea.  Incidentally, the physical space of the lecture room didn’t help – the temperature shifted from “uncomfortably warm” to “unpleasantly warm” – even though I had taken precautions, dressing in multiple layers which could be removed without embarrassment, apparently there was some fault with the ventilation system. Any embarrassment was clearly not felt by the young man next to me, who stripped down to a skimpy vest, revealing an unnecessarily hairy chest.  I don’t know why I ever thought I might be gay.

Anyway.  The lecturer tried to liven things up by getting us to discuss questions among ourselves, and predictably ran over time, sparing us discussion of Claes Oldenburg, for which I was pretty grateful – on reflection, it was quite a good tactic; we might otherwise have dozed off in the heat.  She focused so much on actual physical, architectural space in relation to Henri Lefebvre’s theories, as opposed to the somewhat abstract notions of “social space” which I had been developing, that I began to wonder if I had got it all wrong.   I have sent off an email asking for clarification, and I will clearly have to read more of Lefebvre if I want to make use of his ideas in my assignments.

Which brings me to the Good Idea, which came to me on the way home – spatial theory could usefully be applied to analyse photographs taken from unusual angles, for example looking straight down from tall buildings (or straight up at them).  This was quite an avant-garde thing in the early 20th. century, and to my mind one of the best was the Russian Aleksandr Rodchenko, who developed it as a trademark style, until the Soviet authorities decried its “formalism”.  “The most interesting angles of our times are from upwards below and from downwards up”, he said.  The eloquence of this image is strengthened by the foreshortened perspective:

Aleksandr Rodchenko – Woman on Steps

I could include hundreds of his photographs, but a couple will have to do.  This one, taken as part of a documentary on the building (by slave labour) of the White Sea canal in the 1930’s, uses the extreme angle to make the point very clear – it’s amazing that he got it past the censors:

Aleksandr Rodchenko – White Sea Canal, 1933

There’s an interesting article about Rodchenko’s manipulation of perspective on the Foto8 website. The thing about both these images (and many others) in “spatial theory” terms is that the photographer is using a specific technique to depict a physical space in such a way that it also describes a social space, and the power relationships within that space.

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