Reflecting on the urban environment

Posted on by Ben Hodson

London Luton, Digital photo-montage Ben Hodson 2009

As part of my on going investigation in space, place and location; I spent some time looking at the urban environment around me. This is what I wrote down:

The urban landscape, its what you make of it.

As I stop and take time to look around at my urban environment, I find myself learning more about how I respond and process the stimuli, then actually noting the facts and details themselves.  I am a skateboarder and a photographer, both of which have forced me to constantly survey my surroundings.  My skateboarding has developed my eye for potential obstacles and the concrete terrain to perform tricks on.  My photography has further pushed my observational skills and I find myself carefully composing every line and shape into pictorially balanced mental-images.  

As I look, I first see a fantastic curved wall, which will certainly become a wonderful concrete wave for me to carve on my board.  Further observation reveals the mixture of very dirty, yet earthy colours, combined with the extensive array of greys.  Occasionally the drab colour scheme is contrasted against a bright, luminous shop sign.  The numerous shop and retail brands litter the main streets forcing commercialism on the weak willed.  The hundreds of signs all offering the “one thing that will make your life better” force us to evaluate our apparently lacking lives.  The well trodden chewing gum brings a relief to the otherwise endless sea of concrete slabs.  The occasional crack draws your eye and the quality of the workmanship is further questioned when you realise how wonky some of the slabs lay.  The platoons of camouflaged pigeons maintain the street order, ensuring all waste food is swapped for a white deposit.

It does not take long  before I notice the nameless masses going about their every day business.  As I observe the people with either bag or child, sometimes both; I realise that no-one has a smile on their face.  The concrete jungle has ensured that all happiness and laughter has been reduced to sadness and depression.  The mundane sky and drooping flower displays, further add to this decaying scene.  The graffiti appears to be the only open form of expression that has been able to make its way to the city centre.  

The travel agencies love to tease the crowds with images of places that seem very far removed.  The idyllic scenes from paradise only remind us of the sharp contrast to our own surroundings.  The numerous clothes shops show us how to dress, while the food shops tell us what to eat.  I suddenly notice a good set of stairs which I should be able to manage jumping down on my skateboard.  A number of trick possibilities fill my head, but they are soon forgotten as a rancid drain smell fills my nostrils.   I quickly move on while bumping into another influx of mindless shoppers.  I find myself more aware of the smells that surround me.  It’s  mostly a mixture of the nearest fast food outlet alongside the usual damp aroma the follows an autumn shower. 

All this seems bearable, that is, until the wave of charity volunteers and telecommunication sales reps shove questionnaires  and their package deals under my nose.  

The urban landscape of the city is what you make of it, I find numerous skateboard-trick opportunities and even a lot of potential for photographic images, but that’s me.

I am interested in the urban landscape, however, I am still not convinced it is going to capture all my attention.