The role of the image in the financialization of space

  • 5th October 2018
  • Blog

Spaces are full of memories. The things we do in space we tend to associate with those spaces. Spaces have the power to bring back memories, sometimes even unwanted ones and it is for that reason we sometimes see spaces preserved or destroyed in order to either retain or obliterate memories. Space can induce memories to sneak upon you, as I recently discovered. I was rambling around the Docklands in Dublin and I suddenly found myself remembering my past as the space I was in confronted me with a long forgotten memory. That memory was a personal one, but equally memories derived from space can be collective. Also, images of space can bring memories to the fore or influence our perception of space. I want to discuss how images are being used to change our conception of what space is and how the meaning of space is constructed. I focus on urban space and the use of the photographic image in representations of and within urban space. It is useful not to think of the photographic image as just a straight photograph of a place or space but something that also stretches to the use of the photograph in computer generated imagery, commonly know as CGI or, in architectural and urban planning terms, digital visualisations.

Why bother discuss such a subject, these types of images are just showing depictions of space after it is complete and ‘cleaned up’. Surely that is better than what was there before. By discussing the role of images in the process of building new urban space I want to uncover how everyday symbols are used to bring space into the sphere of financialization. Financialization is the growing area of finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) that invades and occupies our everyday lives. To break it down, it is when all spheres of life become tied to profit and profit becomes the driving force for everything we do.

I want to show how financialization is portrayed through the image regarding urban space. Naturally, I could demonstrate this in areas other than space, but the spaces we occupy are so important; it is where we live, work and spend our spare time. Financialization changes the nature of space and seeks to gain control over our bodies as I will discuss below. The topic I am discussing has many different facets but in this post I want to keep it short and to the point.

When I examine an image I tend to break it down into the symbols that are present within it. A common issue when examining photographs in that fashion is a tendency to focus only on the image and ignore the wider context in which the image appears. Therefore, I also examine the wider context in which images of urban space appear. The wider context is important as it brings the meaning of the image into the everyday. The everyday is the landscape closest to us and the day-to-day routines we perform in it.

Photograph of a digital visualisation installed at 1 Windmill Lane, Dublin, Ireland. © David Flood

Above is a photograph of a digital visualisation that was taken at 1 Windmill Lane while the site was under construction. The image presents the finished building together with a depiction of the immediate space around it. The image shows us what is considered to be a scene of everyday life. The image is computer generated but has a photographic quality, for example, some of the people within it have been motion blurred to simulate movement juxtaposed to shutter speed. The textures of the buildings rely on physical based rendering (PBR), a process that involves taking a photograph of a texture and applying it to a surface in computer generated 3D space. I do not want to go further than necessary into the technical aspects of the image other than to make its photographic quality obvious.

In order to understand how the image functions to bring meaning to the space in question we need to examine both the image and the wider context in which the image appears. The setting is in Dublin’s Docklands, a highly prized space close to Dublin’s city centre. The factors that play into the space being highly prized are many and include the space’s proximity to the city centre, the fact that the space is associated with the Irish band U2 and the ideology of current and past Irish governments that put the monetary value of space above that of its social value. The latter point is embedded in the above image and the financialization of space is at its core.

Images such as the above are normally occupied by various types of people and it is them that hold the key to understanding how meaning is attached to space. If we look around the image, firstly at the buildings, the building on the right resembles an office, although it is difficult to tell the purpose of the building as the majority of new urban buildings tend to look quite similar. Studying the people around the building enables us to get a better grasp of the building’s function. Standing outside the building is a man in a suit holding a folder, with another man to his right entering the building while speaking on a mobile phone. Closer in the foreground on the right there is a woman, slightly motion blurred, dressed in formal attire. The building is defined by these people interacting with it, therefore we can deduce that it is some sort of office. How do we know that? We know it as we are in a position to read the cultural symbols made available to us. These symbols involve suits that are considered formal attire and closely linked to the corporation, leading us to understand the building as housing some form of corporate entity. It is the wider context that makes one believe that this is a normal everyday scene. The normalisation of the prevalent capitalist system leads us to read the scene as everyday. However, that is just a construction and is used by the image producer to perpetuate how capitalist ideology views space; as an asset to be bought and sold in financial markets, thus, the financialization of urban space.

The finanacialization of space leads me to my final point regarding the image and how it is presented. Financializing urban space, turning it into a commodity and then selling it off to private interests, leads to space being controlled in a different manner to public space. For instance, you may notice in the image that the people depicted are mainly moving through the space, apart from those outside a cafe (a capitalist version of a social space, underlined by the need to be a customer). The relationship we have with space is often termed as ‘spatial relations’, therefore financialization aims to control the spatial relations of these kinds of urban spaces. The image reinforces this by showing us what is acceptable and it is embodied in another image-producer, the security camera, which aims to control our bodies in urban space through the visual means of being ‘watched’.