Word Screen Park
Kevin McMahon
Google Earth vedute & operatic ensembles of the Bowed Head Generation

I presented this paper as part of the Changing Face of Urban Cartography panel at the Society of Architectural Historians conference in Austin, April 2014. The four speakers were all over the map, so to speak. Angeliki Sioli and I talked about artworks (fiction, movies & TV footage) deployed cartographically, Jonathan Massey and Gretta Tritch Roman showed how cartographic data can reveal hidden histories. Thanks to Linda Hart the session was an actual conversation.

"Google Earth vedute" begins ...


In 1725, the celebrated film critic, Giambattista Vico described our original mode of communication as “a mute language of signs and physical objects.” This “hieroglyphic” language was not only universal—“common to all nations,”-but archival—“a great witness to the customs of the early days of the world.” This “poetic geography” depicted distant places by “the semblances of things known or near at hand.”

Almost 300 years later another provocative writer from Naples, Giuliana Bruno argued that “film is modern cartography.” Hence the relevance of understanding our hieroglyphic languages—film and TV—through the evolution of places we’ve viewed them: from nickelodeons to TV sets, to today’s personal devices, where, combined with maps and social media a new geografia poetica emerges.

I call this emerging genre loative footage applications, where film and TV footage is directed to the devices of users standing where it was filmed. Footage becomes locative by having GPS coordinates added to its metadata. The users are the people who walk along glued to their devices—whom current Mandarin slang designates “the bowed head generation.”

Trivial? Hopefully I can persuade you that it’s not. For me the question is, “What is the place of history?”

I will locate locative footage in two steps: first by plotting it within our present-day media eco-system. Our approach will be via 17th and 18th century Europe, to stress forces rather than gadgets. The second step will be outlining the aesthetic and historiographic characteristics. ...

[Image: still from ITV Player. Now playing everywhere, 2013]