Space and Place

A space and a place differ due to our emotional and intellectual connection to it.

A space is somewhere we have never been and have no relationship with. A place is somewhere we have memories and a connection with.

For a space to become a place we need to engage with it and create a relationship with the area. A home starts off as a space, but as we live there making it our own and creating memories inside it evolves into a place. “When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place.” (Yi-Fu Tuan cited in Dean 2005 p12)

Our knowledge and belief in a space can also make it become a place. An empty building means nothing to us. Its just bricks and space. However, if we are then told the story of who lived there, and tales of this person, we connect with them and the space. This connection makes the space become a place.

This theory is put into practice when looking at the work of Walker Evans. In 1936 he travelled with the writer James Agee to

Walker Evans - Cabin - 1936

Walker Evans – Cabin – 1936

illustrate an article on tenant farm families for Fortune magazine; the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men came out of this collaboration. The book became a landmark of social journalism.

If we look at his image ‘Cabin’ – 1936, we see part of a cabin. We can tell a little about who lives there and what there life is like from the items in the image. It is pretty bare, leading us to the financially hard times. There are no personal items, like photos, so it is hard to relate and connect to the person(s) who live there. The image shows a space, we, as viewers have no connection to the space.

Walker Evans - The Burroughs Family - 1936

Walker Evans – The Burroughs Family – 1936

When you look at the other images from the collection you see images of the family. These images make the space of the cabin become a place. We connect with the family as we can see them, we make assumptions about their lives and we put them into the cabin image. As we can now see them in the cabin, it comes their home and therefore a place. We now have a connection with the space.

From a photographers viewpoint we need spaces in our images to become places, so the viewer will connect with the image and see a deeper meaning than that with which they are presented.

An image or object is encoded with meaning in its creation or production; it is further encoded when it is placed in a given setting or context. It is then decoded by viewers when it is consumed by them. (Sturken and Cartwright)

It is the connection and emotion behind the space in an image that draws the viewer in and makes the image successful. It is this feeling of ‘place’ that is vital to an image. The place is what we identify with. When we can see a space in an image and automatically change it into a place, due to common themes and features in the image that link with our personal experiences.

“One might say that ‘place’ is to landscape as ‘identity’ is to portraiture.” (Dean 2005 p12)

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