Home » Blog » Psychogeography

Tag: Psychogeography

Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank (2005)

This claims to be the only interview/documentary that Robert Frank has ever given – a retrospective on his 83rd birthday by the BBC’s South Bank Show.

It gives a fascinating insight into the man, his life and work, including very personal stories of his relationship with his son, who had mental health problems. It is privilege to hear someone like Frank describing his experiences himself, rather than listening to the interpretation of a narrator or biographer.

I like the way Frank talks about his relationship with people and places and how they are of central importance to his work. He’d probably hate the term psychogeographer (see separate blog post) and being labelled that way, but the word would fit. He talks about his home in New York City and how the place used to be full of life – not necessarily easy, but a bitter-sweet life, and about how he now finds the place different, lacking community (‘yuppies are new neighbours’). Also, poignantly that his friends have ‘moved away’ and he is now old.  I wonder if this disaffection echoes his period away from photography (when he work in film), because he felt photography had become too commercial.

I could find nothing to dislike about this video. It could have been interesting to hear some of his contemporaries views, or other photographers’ views on his work, but that is already well documented and when you have the great man himself in front of the camera, that would have been a distraction.

A lesson is the importance of meaning in a photograph – what story does it tell – a good photography has to to have a purpose to hold the viewer’s interest.

Iain Sinclair reading from ‘White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings’

Youtube video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0vR1Dpz-MM – accessed 1.3.15

Sinclair is cited as a current practitioner of psychogeography by Coverley (Blog entry on his book). The youtube video shows Sinclair reading from his own book – a story with a clear connection between the environment and its impact on people’s emotional state. This thinking is important to how one thinks about the photographs taken in city-scapes and the reasons for taking them.


Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley

Psychogeography. Coverley M. Pocket Essentials. Amazon Kindle. Accessed 1.3.15

I read this book over the past work on recommendation from my tutor as an introduction to Psychogeography. I must confess I’d never even heard the term before this!

The most useful explanation of the term for me is was provided by Guy Debord, who also added a note about the ‘pleasing vagueness’ of the term that allows it to be so widely applied. Coverley says that for Debord it is the ‘point where psychology and geography collide’. And in Debord’s own words:

‘Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals.  The adjective psychogeographical, retaining a rather pleasing vagueness, can thus be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and even more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery’

I found it interesting to discover there was a specific term to cover this way of thinking about the relationship with one’s environment and labels are always useful for communicating shared thinking.  However, it seems from Coverley’s book that the term struggles with gaining any real traction in common use and it is used often used by proponents to label other’s work, rather than those being labelled; many of whom were long since deceased before the term was coined (Daniel Defoe and Robert Louis Stevenson). I found the style of the book rather rambling (perhaps because of its chapters structured around characters, rather than themes) but given ‘wandering’ in cities is cited as part of psychogeography, perhaps rambling is appropriate.

Some further areas of research for me –

  • The work of Iain Sinclair, JD Ballard and Patrick Keiller
  • Photographers who are identifying themselves specifically with psychogeography.