Tag Archives: Sense the City

Sense the City: Meet the Photographer Q&A – Danielle Houghton

This Q&A is part of the Sense the City Flickr Project. For background on this project see Sense the City – Flickr Project.

Tube story by Danielle Houghton
Tube story by Danielle Houghton, 2011


Tell us about the inspiration behind your photo
My inspiration behind the photograph was simply to capture the feeling and look of London.  As a visitor to London I always enjoy the vibrant diversity of people and the buzz about the place, I never tire of observing people.  I was quite taken with the ladies clearly at the beginning of their night out as they were having an animated conversation with lots of oohs and aahs.  In contrast beside them caught up in the technology we all enjoy was somebody whose look I thought was very ‘London’ I loved his ring shades and vest and I could not resist documenting that moment.

How long have you been involved with photography?
It first excited me as a teenager over 20 years ago and has remained a passion ever since.  In the years where I did not have access to a camera I immersed myself in photography books so I always stayed connected.

What equipment do you use?
At the time I took the photograph I used a Nikon D70 DSLR which alas is now in need of repair.  Currently I either use a Nikon Coolpix 5400 or a Canon EOS 1100D.

What inspires you?
In terms of who inspires me there are many photographers I follow and enjoy, to name a few – Martin Parr, William Eggleston, Stephen Gill, Rinko Kawauchi, the Street Photographers in In-Public and many contacts I have made through using flickr.

In terms of what inspires me, it is mainly the excitement I get from human observation and the thrill of trying to capture interesting people and unique, funny, or surreal moments.

What is your preferred subject matter?
Besides photographing my children my closest affiliation is to Street Photography, i.e. capturing strangers in a candid way in public places, though occasionally I am happy to shoot anything that catches my eye be it an animal or architecture etc. People in essence are unique and  provide endless opportunities to photograph. I find myself drawn to oddities and humor, connections and clichés.  I hope to reveal the fun and fascination and even sometimes sadness of life.  I try to present moments and coincidences in a visually pleasing manner.

Plans for the future?
To keep on taking photographs no matter what.  I would like to develop a few different series – for example I can’t wait to return and take more shots on the tube.  I also like the idea of taking random bus journeys and seeing what unfolds, maybe even leaning towards a social documentary series.   Ultimately I would like to build up a strong portfolio of Street Photographs and publish a book one day.

Describe your photography in one word.

Further information


Debate: Shock the System – Between Public and Private

On Wednesday evening the Museum held a stimulating public debate on the issues surrounding our increasing adoption of technology for enhanced mobility, safety and communication, and the equally increasing sacrifices we make for such conveniences, namely our right to privacy.

Sam Mullins, the Museum’s Director, opened the debate with an introduction to our current temporary exhibition Sense and the City: smart, connected and on the move, which explores how technology is changing the way we interact with the city.[i] Broadcaster and author, Robert Elms[ii] chaired the panel which included the London Mayor’s Director of Environment and Digital London Kulveer Ranger,[iii] the Evening Standard’s Comment Editor Andrew Neather, [iv] the  and award-winning documentary filmmaker David Bond.[v]

Robert opened the debate with a summary of the ways in which we are surveyed in the UK today, noting that we are monitored by over 1.8m CCTV cameras, evaluated through our use of store loyalty cards, identified through face recognition and followed by satellites. On average we make 68 CCTV appearances a day, making us quite literally one of the most watched societies in the world.

Such surveillance has today thrown us headlong into what Kulveer Ranger termed a ‘Wild West’ of data, where the sheer volume creates a chaotic digital cacophony that is almost impossible to make any sense of. Despite this the desire by companies, organisations and government bodies to obtain this data is increasing exponentially. This is unsurprising as the collective accumulation of such data is slowly painting a picture of our digital psychology. Its value therefore can be equated with the California Gold Rush, with our information bargained for, sold-off and eventually melted down. In this metaphorical world, it will be the Social Media ‘merchants’ and not the Organisational ‘miners’ who will reap the greatest rewards.

During the debate it seemed evident that we must, willingly or reluctantly, handover such data and thereby sacrifice parts of our privacy in return for society’s benefits. But what do we sacrifice and what do we retain as sacred? This was the question which encompassed two main areas of discussion – ‘Dataveillance’, focussing particularly on CCTV, and Social Media.

Dataveillance can be broadly defined as ‘the systematic monitoring of people’s actions or communications through the application of information technology.’ (Clark, 1988) Such surveillance is typified by the use of CCTV. One American member of the audience at the debate noted our obsession in the UK with the CCTV camera, viewing its presence as the prognosticator of an Orwellian state ominously over-obsessed with security. Indeed, it was discovered in 2009, through a Freedom of Information request made by the BBC to local authorities in the UK, that both the Shetland Islands Council (Scotland) and Corby Borough Council (England) had more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department, despite being among the smallest local authorities in the UK.  In London the borough which boasted the highest number of CCTV cameras was Wandsworth, with just under four cameras per 1,000 people – a number which exceed those of the police departments of Boston Massachusetts, Johannesburg and Dublin City Council combined. While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that London has just under 8,000 CCTV cameras, which seems to put Paris’ count of just over 300 to shame.

But why this obsession? Is it because the British population, for the most part, still trust their governing body? David Bond noted in the debate that in Germany, due to its relatively recent experience with a dictatorial and ruthless state, the people are much more sceptical about relinquishing their privacy in return for assumed security. We do not have such a history and therefore view ‘dataveillance’ as intrinsic to our very security. Our level of trust is both variable and debatable however the truth may be that we are no more accepting of Big Brother than any other society or culture, but rather have allowed ourselves, as Kulveer noted, to simply ‘sleep-walk’ into the current system which has become invisible through ubiquity.

Social Media
Social media and privacy seem somewhat mutually exclusive terms, and yet in no other area has the defence of privacy (at least in recent times) been so highly fought over. One need only recall the various scandals to have plagued Facebook when it decided to change its privacy settings on the site, thereby affecting the visibility of users’ ‘personal’ information.

While many Facebook users – around 845 million of them – have several hundred ‘friends’ to whom they freely reveal their private lives, others see Facebook as a potential window to the world of employment. David Bond noted that Harvard graduates he spoke to did not tell the truth about their lives on Facebook for fear such information could be used against them, the ‘truth’ being of course that we are all flawed and make mistakes. Of course, the Harvard graduates here are not exceptional. We all ‘brand’ ourselves in some way within our own social media spheres, projecting a more refined, cultured or intelligent self. We want to believe – as much as we want to convince others – that we are indeed better than we are. However those who do choose (through naivety or for catharsis) to reveal such truths may grow to wish they hadn’t. Bond commented that he was able to outgrow his own youthful political beliefs and strange haircuts in a way his children will most likely be unable to.

With regards to how social media defines our information stream, Andrew Neather commented that the current Levenson inquiry would likely result in regulatory conditions which would curtail the freedom of the press, thereby making Twitter – unfettered by such ethical restrictions – a dominant force in news coverage. Attaining ‘the highest ethical and professional standards’ (as stated on the Levenson inquiry website) will likely not provide us with the meaty information we so desire and lead to the atrophication of traditional press coverage as we know it. As Lewis Carroll said ‘The things most people want to know about are usually none of their business.’

Has the very notion of privacy now become synonymous with the more ominous notion of secrecy and, if so, will those wishing to maintain their privacy be increasingly viewed with suspicion…after all, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear, right?

[i] This debate was part of a series of events to support the Sense and the City: smart, connected and on the move exhibition which looks at our past conceptions about what the future would look like, and asks questions about how technology might change our lives in years to come. The exhibition closes on 18 March 2012.

[ii] Robert Elms presents a long running radio show on BBC London 94.9.  The show features reports, discussions, and call-ins about Greater London, the history, architecture, geography, city planning, and language of London. He is also the author of several books including, The Way We Wore, which charts the changing fashions of his own youth during the 1960s to 1980s, linking them with the social history of the times.

[iii] Kulveer Ranger oversees a portfolio of responsibilities encompassing quality of life (including greening London, air quality and energy efficiency) and supporting the development of the hi-tech business sector across the capital on behalf of the Mayor of London. He is also responsible for cycling, including the cycle hire scheme. Kulveer was previously the Mayor’s Transport Advisor between 2008 and 2011, sitting on the board of Transport for London and chairing the Mayor’s River Concordat. Before joining the Mayor’s Office, Kulveer spent ten years in management consultancy. He is also a former Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party and was an advisor to two Shadow Cabinet members in Opposition.

[iv] Andrew Neather has been the Comment Editor, chief leader writer and wine critic of the Evening Standard since 2004. He writes especially on London, transport and environmental issues. He was formerly civil service speechwriter to prime minister Tony Blair and to home secretaries David Blunkett and Jack Straw. Prior to that he worked as a writer and editor for Friends of the Earth, the Labour Party and the US United Auto Workers. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge and Duke University, North Carolina, from where he obtained a PhD in US history. He lives in south London and tweets as @hernehillandy

[v] David Bond is an award-winning director, producer and writer of documentary, commercial and short film projects. He graduated from the Met Film School in 2004 and since then has completed various film projects exploring social and political themes.  Erasing David is David’s first feature documentary, and explores how much information is available about David and his family in the public domain.David put himself under surveillance and attempted to disappear, going on the run and hiring two private detectives to track him down. The results forced him to contemplate the meaning of privacy – and the loss of it. David co-runs production company Green Lions with his creative partner Ashley Jones.

Sense the City: Meet the Photographer Q&A – Geoff Holland

This Q&A is part of the Sense the City Flickr Project. For background on this project see Sense the City – Flickr Project.

See Red by Geoff Holland, 2011

Tell us about the inspiration behind your photo
I had been at an Anti War rally which walked from Trafalgar Square to Downing St. I was on my way home.  I’d taken a lot of photos of the rally in the square and of the protest outside Downing St. Taking some photos of telephone boxes and tourists was a light relief. I took six shots in quick succession centred on the two telephone boxes. I love telephone boxes and struck lucky with the convergence of symmetry and colour.

How long have you been involved with photography?
I took my first photos with my Mum’s Ilford Box camera in the 1950’s. I learnt how to process black and white at Blandford Secondary Modern School and my summer job before starting an engineering apprenticeship in 1962, was camp photographer at Rockley Sands Caravan Holiday Camp near Pool in Dorset. Photography continued to be one of my pastimes for the next few decades and I have a lot of photos in the attic, but I only rediscovered the enthusiasm of those early years again, when I took up digital and four photogenic grandchildren came along. Shortly after I was introduced to Flickr which is a great outlet for my ego!

What equipment do you use?
I have a Nikon D40 (usually regarded as an entry level SLR). On the day I took ‘See Red’ I had bought a new lens, a Sigma 17-70mm at Spectrum on Tottenham Court Rd, one of the few real camera shops still existing. I also have a Sigma 70-300mm which I also bought at Spectrum, as I did my D40 and my first digital camera which was a Konica Minolta Z5 Dimage. I’m always thinking about ‘up-grading’ but find the D40 reliable and light and the Sigma’s extend it considerably too.

What inspires you?
I like to record things, capture moments, document what I see. To get a satisfying image, with symmetry and good proportions. Colour and light is key too and I am drawn to it. Walking home from work tonight the early evening below zero clear sky was brilliant and luminous and I thought, now if I had a tripod with me…… mind I also thought there are limits to the sacrifices I’ll make in the pursuit of my pastime, it was very cold! Flickr has also enabled me to share my photos with other enthusiasts and I like that too.

What is your preferred subject matter?
I love buildings, birds and butterflies and everything which lights up my life. To some extent it goes with the season, recently, I’ve been photographing a lot of ducks.  It also hinges on what I’m doing and where I am. I’m always on the look out for a photogenic subject. I mainly use natural light. I’ve no experience of specialist lighting and only recently learnt a bit about taking photos in low artificial light without flash.

Plans for the future?
Maybe, projects with a more focussed approach. I’m inspired by a series titled ‘faces and non faces’ by a photographer on Flickr who goes by the name of ThePhotoSchool (Natalie Clark).  In many of the shots taken in Camden Lock the main subjects are looking away from the photographer, but the excellent composition and colour and body language still makes for powerful images.  Maybe do a course or two when I have more time. Maybe a portfolio of prints……

Describe your photography in one word.

Further information


Sense the City: Meet the Photographer Q&A – Stephen Banks

This Q&A is part of the Sense the City Flickr Project. For background on this project see Sense the City – Flickr Project.

Better to just ignore him..., by Stephen Banks, 2011

Tell us about the inspiration behind your photo
I visited London back in December, partly to do a tour of the galleries and museums, but also partly to expose myself to better street photography opportunities. My home town in a place called Bridport, in West Dorset. Although it is a lovely place to live, it doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of buzz and spontaneity of a city like London.

How long have you been involved with photography?
Pretty much all my life (all 22 years of it so far). I had always been fascinated with whatever camera my mum or nan had, but never really got taking photographs until I was in my teens. My passion for photography came about during one general studies lesson in the first year of Sixth Form at The Blue Coat School in Liverpool. We were told to go out and take macro photographs and whoever came back with the best one won a prize. I hadn’t chosen art for either GCSE or A Level, so my result wasn’t very good. Needless to say, I didn’t win. But I was inspired. I could do something so fun and it was considered as work!

What equipment do you use?
The majority of my professional work at Watershed PR is done on a Nikon D7000 dSLR with a variety of prime lenses. I also do a fair amount of video work with this. Street photography is handled with my little Panasonic Lumix GF2 and 14mm pancake lens, although I have until recently ventured out with cameras such as a Lomo LC-A and my beloved Leica M3. The film cameras don’t see the light of day much any more, but I still keep a fair collection of them.

What inspires you?
Young people getting out there and giving it a fair crack. There’s plenty of creative kids around here in Bridport, but they either don’t have the drive to push themselves, or they succeed and leave the area because of the lack of jobs. I’m sure it’s different in the city, but with the job market as it is at the moment, I know I’m extremely lucky to be in a job I enjoy so much.

I also subscribe to around 50 creative website RSS feeds, so that keeps my creative brain ticking over in my spare time. Beats sitting in front of the television all night!

What is your preferred subject matter?
Candid street photography. I love seeing how people act on the street and I react accordingly with my street photography. Oddities in behaviour, juxtapositions, visual puns, all that jazz

Plans for the future?
Get a car and a house. Oh, in terms of my photography? Well I’ve just completed a time lapse starscape project in the local area called Bridport by Night: youtu.be/cbjeXWMNZ5s – as much as a video can do around here, it’s gone viral. So, once the buzz dies down about that (I set a target of matching the number of views with Wikipedia’s population count of 12,977 for Bridport), I will be working on a series of short films and trying to improve the first version of Bridport by Night with some new shots.

Describe your photography in one word.


Further Information

Stephen Banks Website: http://scousebysouthwest.com
Stephen Banks Flickr Photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23048898@N06/
Stephen Banks on Twitter: @DorsetScouser

Sense the City – Flickr Project

The Museum recently collaborated with Londonist on our first Flickr photography project.

Taking inspiration from our current exhibition: Sense and the City, we challenged you to stop a while and sense the city. We wanted snapshots of ‘smart, connected and on the move’ London: a city buzzing with activity 24 hours a day.

We had an amazing response to the project, over 600 photographs were submitted: http://www.flickr.com/groups/sense_the_city/

Fifty short listed photographs were selected and are now on display on our Flickr wall in the Museumgallery. Judges Clive Birch (Visiting Tutor on the Royal College of Art’s vehicle Design Programme) and Johanna Empson (Talks and Events Programmer at the Photographers gallery) selected three of the photographs for special commendation. They were:

  • Tube Story by Danielle Houghton
  • Better to just ignore him… by Stephen Banks
  • See Red by Geoff Holland

We thought it might be nice to learn a little bit about the photographers behind the chosen entries, so we will feature the three photographers in a ‘Meet the photographer Q & A’ session.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank again to all those photographers who took part in the project, the judges and of course Londonist. Interviews with Danielle and Geoff to follow soon!