Sam Appleby

Taken for Granted - The Representation of Space and Place

My work both as an artist and educator is primarily though not exclusively concerned with questions surrounding the photographic representation of space and place - critical landscape photography. This interest has grown from a discontentment with the conventional uses of landscape photography (stereotyping, condemnation, beautification, exoticism, promotion of false identity...) and from a desire to draw landscape into debates surrounding representation and, more generally, to draw space into cultural debates. Much recent critical photographic practice deals with the ways in which groups and individuals are represented and differentiated in terms of, for example, race, class and sexuality. The overlying aim of my work is to reassert space and its representation as an arena for the construction of difference and to stress the importance of one’s location in space, the type of place in which one lives and with which one identifies, in the potential construction of discriminatory attitudes and stereotypes.

I have a continuing interest in the popular image of the British New Town. My experience of growing up in one along with an academic and practical desire to examine the potential links between photography and geography led me to embark upon Crawley, an audio-visual image-text work which looks at both the difficulties arising in the representation of a specific type of space and at the discourses surrounding spatial planning, particularly within the New Town movement. A print version was commissioned for exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 1990 and both the audio-visual and print versions have subsequently been shown at a variety of venues throughout England. Crawley was accompanied by an article on post-modernity and geography in the context of the New Town which was published as Crawley: A Space Mythology by the cultural studies periodical New Formations, in an issue edited by Dick Hebdige dealing with geography and culture entitled Subjects in Space. Crawley was followed by Visit Westminster!, commissioned by City of Westminster Arts Council, which focused on a very much more established urban space and both visually and literally critiqued traditional and modernist urban values. forest/borough also examinines visual representations of urban space, and consists of three possible ways of seeing and showing the New Town of Bracknell. forest/borough was commissioned in spring 1996 by Southern Arts and Bracknell Borough Council for exhibition in the summer of that year at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell.

Later work deals both with more specific and more personal types of space (see m-e-n-t-a-l and forget).

I have most recently completed a project which uses digitally manipulated photographs of construction sites to foreground problems surrounding popular images of ancient and modern Greece (see Greece).

The theoretical basis of my work comes out of the renaissance experienced by geography in the late 1980s. Geography’s Post-Modern Revolution came at a time when I was struggling to unite my own academic interest in the spatial with my burgeoning practice as a photographer. The rediscovery of Roland Barthes’ and Michel de Certeau’s urban semiotics and the reinvention of Michel Foucault as geographer under the aegis of Fredric Jameson, Henri LeFebvre and Edward Soja, provided me with, if nothing else, the confidence to continue exploring this path. Since that time a vast amount has been written on the “reassertion of space in critical social theory”, yet precious little practical visual work has been produced addressing the problems surrounding the representation of space and place. For this reason, as well as producing my own work, I have worked closely with the Centre for Urban and Community Research at University of London Goldsmiths’ College, where I helped to develop lens media and urbanism projects for the new Millennium and a new MA course.

Most of my work has followed a highly self-conscious post-modernist track but recently I have been investigating more 'traditional' documentary realist approaches to the subject which nonetheless explore the tensions between the real and the imaged.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this area of work you can contact me using the form on the contacts and links page.

Contacts and Links

The Work