Psychogeography: the word conjures for me. I came across it a scant few weeks ago, and immediately it brought some coherence to many thoughts that have clattered around my mind for a while. It was like finding the framing for a photograph that brings the picture elements into good relationship.


There is, in fact, a book called Psychogeography, written by Will Self, whom I watched (via YouTube) give a lecture at Google. I was struck not only by what concerns we shared, but by how very differently we have lived in the world. Self, before his now common walking projects, tended to experience his world (an international yet largely urban one) as a series of what he called microenvironments, cocoons like hotels or taxis in which he had no sense of relationship to the larger environment. Although this is understandable, and may be the common condition, it is radically unlike my own sense of place. I always know where North is (or think I do; I sometimes get this wrong, but eventually I nail it). A plane or taxi is no enclosure, but another meams of viewing regions and directions and relationships. Visiting another city, I always go running in the mornings to see as much of it as I can. At home, I know the mountains and rivers within a day’s drive, and if I haven’t been on every road in the county, I know where they are.

For a definition with a historical perspective, Wikipedia gives us the following:

Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as the “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

I’m not so sure about laws, but I like the idea of being conscious of one’s state of mind in relation to place. And I also like the body-based technique elaborated to expose that relation, namely the dérive. This drift or stroll comes in various flavors. One can wander aimlessly, driven by whim (or anti-whim), or follow an algorithmic path (e.g. first left, second right, second right; repeat), or let coin flips determine choice of direction.


So I want to investigate this notion, or my interpretation of it. I’d like to try being a psychogeographer in a new setting, and immersively over several days. I think the ideal location would have a mix of inhabited, domesticated (e.g. fields) and more wild areas. My plan would be to stop occasionally, making a photograph and writing about that particular spot and my thoughts of the moment as they relate to it.

I haven’t decided how my “drift” should be determined. It would be fun to experiment with different methods. One I’m curious to try is picture-driven; from each spot I simply go to the next place I feel like making a photograph. Perhaps I’ll gain some insight into how I choose the things to photograph that I do. But equally appealing is either a random or algorithmic method that forces me to make photographs in places I’m not “naturally” drawn to. I’d probably learn even more that way.

The combination of photography and writing is important. I’m sure many others have done similar projects, but I haven’t seen good examples where the photographs are much more than record snapshots, or the writing more than captions to the images. If anyone knows of some good work along these lines, please let me know.

If you were to do a spot of psychogeography, where would it take place? What strikes you as an interesting or productive approach? In the end, will you have learned more about your place or your self?