People & Place part 5 – 1: Orienting myself in Space and Place

During the course of this Module I’ve become increasingly aware of my interest in how we as people interact with our environment –  how we shape the landscape and then how this landscape, in turn, affects our perceptions; thoughts; memories and feelings.

I’ve lived in several places but never so long as the house in Sheffield I lived in with my parents from the age of 5 to 22 (when I married) not far from my maternal grandmother’s house where I was born.  That neighbourhood still lives so strongly in my memories and dreams that I was surprised, when I last visited there, briefly, last year that I no longer felt any sense of belonging. The area had changed so much, becomes so run-down and barren of life, that it was as if someone else had once lived there.

Conversely, I don’t feel particularly attached to the town I live in now.  There are no deep memories such as my children being born here. This is part of modern living I guess – on the move. At least part of my modern living. Even so there are some places and spaces here that I do feel an attachment towards. The Common where I walk with the dogs just about every day; the small Church on the hill not so far away; the old Muslim Burial Ground and the Bronze Age Barrows across the road from there. Is it their history that gives me that sense of place I experience – that connects me to people in the past and their lives, beliefs, hopes and fears? It’s as if there are whole other parallel worlds that I connect with through those layers of history.

I’ve referred to Simon Scharma’s book Memory and Landscape before and my growing interest in cultural geography. I had thought that this might be a diversion because I was finding People & Place so challenging as a Module. I’m now thinking, though, that this particular Module began to encourage me to start digging into what connects me with my environment; forced me from my chair of “Isn’t that interesting; maybe one day I’ll ……”. I’ve certainly been technically challenged but the psychological challenge has pushed me into being my own archaeologist; searching for the roots of what binds me to this earth. Discovering how a space becomes a sense of place.

I’m pleased that my notional client for Assignment 5 has provided me with further opportunity to explore these aspects and tread new ground.

27th August 2013


12 thoughts on “People & Place part 5 – 1: Orienting myself in Space and Place

  1. Very interesting reflection Catherine, I feel that we share a common space in our respective research…. Having been forced to detach myself from what seemed once essential and indispensable, in order to avoid being cut from things radically again, I tend to detach myself in advance from places and even people sometimes. What connect me to one place is consequently often the presence/the present and then, when I leave a place or someone, I try to absorb it in who I am. it is not easy to explain, but to me somehow, if you free yourself from time and space, you are exactly where you belong. I your home is nowhere, your home is everywhere.
    How a space becomes a sense of place? how to answer it photographically? I am really interested in how you will explore this fascinating question…Moving to Berlin, I am wondering a lot about that. I realize that when I arrive in a new place, when I travel, I almost never take pictures, because I don’t want to define my perception of it, I want it to be open, to change. I want this experience to be an ongoing experience and not a classified one. Photography has this strange ability to say “it was like that”, but was it really? I am not sure…
    Coming back to a place we lived in reveal the changing nature of things… photography is to me a way to connect with the past and at the same time, photography might prevent us to feel how things from the past grew up with us… it is just random thoughts, but your work echoes with many of my own questions…
    I have seen a picture of yours on John’s Blog and I really loved it, it touched me… I am sure you are next assignment will be very strong..

  2. Thanks so much for your feedback Stephanie. I can certainly understand that experience of absorbing a sense of place into oneself. I think a lot of it might be to do with going into a meditative space, a kind of altered state of consciousness. There was some discussion about this on WeAreOCA a while ago. I have practised meditation in a simple form for many years but have more consciously tried to do this during People & Place. It’s an odd feeling to concentrate on something which requires one to ‘let go’ but it does seem to be working albeit slowly.

    I’ve often wondered what my children think/feel about ‘home’ and sense of belonging. Oddly enough I haven’t asked them so that I will do.
    I know this is something you have been exploring for yourself – how to capture memories of place and I’ve been thinking of how you will reflect on your move to Berlin.

    I do intend to write more on ‘going back’ during the course of my next Module so will certainly continue with that theme.

    I’m really looking forward to meeting up with you in Arles as well – so much to talk about.

  3. The term, and practice of, psychogeographies comes to mind very strongly here Catherine; Guy Debord, Flaneurism etc. etc. The notion though of the Flaneur, whereby the practitioner tries to blend into the landscape, may not quite be what I think you are suggesting, but certainly the reaction to the ‘scape, be it urban or land.
    It may mean more reading, you might want to try Will Self before Guy Debord though!
    I think you’ll enjoy Arles, maybe do a project on how you react to that location? (though I think you’ll have plenty of other things to think about – like choice of wine, where to eat, etc…..)

    • I can see how you’re linking here in terms of being away from home yet at home everywhere but wasn’t the flaneur more detached. I’m trying to describe a sensation which is like the one described by Robert Macfarlane in “The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot” – walking as a reconnoitre inwards and the ways we are shaped by the landscape within which we move.

  4. Perhaps I wasn’t clear (won’t be the first time, ha ha!). Absolutely! Macfarlane seems to be just the thing I was thinking of, though I do like reading Self as well….

  5. It sounds like you are truly enjoying this course. At the very beginning, I keep thinking that you don’t like this course.

    I think I miss quite a lot by not taking this module. I miss the depth and seriousness one can explore with photography, while it takes too long and technically difficult to do it right in drawings.

    • It’s not been so much like and dislike as really urging myself on to come to grips with the course, and beginning to feel some satisfaction in what I’m achieving. Still a long way to go though.

  6. When I think back to my childhood in South Yorkshire I often feel very nostalgic. It is not specific memories that I recall, just the sense of being young with my whole life ahead of me. I am also drawn to think about my mother and father, both have now passed away, and the way they both helped and encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. When I visit Doncaster the place doesn’t seem the same, but some specific places jog my memories…the town fields where I used to play sport, the old Grammar School, the back alleys, the Race Course…all of these places trigger memories of times past. Funnily enough when I look back at these times I don’t recall photographs of events – I thought I might but I don’t. Interesting line of thought Catherine and one which I am sure you will develop. By the way the three photographs you included in this post are excellent.

  7. I’m the same as you Catherine, I find I don’t quite fit in my West Yorkshire roots any more and I don’t quite feel as if the south is home either. Like you, my childhood neighbourhood has undergone massive changes and I find it best not to return, preferring to remember things as they were.

  8. I used to dream much more about my old neighbourhood – going in and out of people’s houses – until I went back there after my father died (my parents had moved long since). The dreams stopped and I missed them, but the memories remained until I went back again much more recently. As I wrote, the area seems so desolate now (it’s a regeneration project). I have a lot of photographs and intended to do a Project during P&P but didn’t have sufficient motivation. I now feel more energy for it so it will be a personal project during my next course.
    Thank you for commenting on the photographs as well.

  9. Pingback: Assignment 5 : People and Place on Assignment | People & Place

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