Complete texts

Each City is Three Cities

Every city presents itself as three cities. This story is about images of a city, so we are - to greater and lesser degrees - concerned with the representation, the imagined city. A city in images, but also in our imaginations, both portrayed and fantasized: this is the city as literature relates it (for Bruges, this was primarily Georges Rodenbach, as well as Van de Woestijne and Rilke), as art historians research and stylize it (from James Wheale to Adolphe Duclos), as painters interpret it (Henri Le Sidaner, 1898-1899) or engravers tarnish it (De rolweg, 1907, Jules de Bruycker). Banal clichés, such as 'the Venice or the Nurenberg of the North', also make up part of this construction.

A second city can be read in municipal charts and maps. For Bruges, the first of these, by Marcus Gerards, dates from 1562. In the nineteenth century, the Bruges firm of Popp published the Belgian Land Registry, which included Bruges. This horizontal projection provided a structural reading of the city. It accentuated the city as a network, making it accessible to more global interventions. Without city charts, there is no urban investigation or expertise. A portrait of a city concerns the city as a wall of facades, as a vertical thing; the city in the portraits dramatizes the building facades, while the city in the charts de-dramatizes them. In the portrayed city, buildings take on emotional relationships with one another. Conversely, in the charted city, relationships are translated into directions and distances. The chart is not a depiction, but a translation of the city. The chart - the map - is essential for the visitor, but also for a researcher in the archives. The layout of its streets makes it possible for me to place the photographers and their situations. But between the city as an image and the city as a map stretches a substantial distance. The former makes the city an entity (even a person), while the latter turns it into structure: synthesis as opposed to analysis. The first follows the laws of association and analogy (Rodenbach's associations are exceptionally rich and complex), while the second follows the laws of measurement (ownership and power are here at work).

From here, we come to the third city: the inhabited city (la ville vécu). Here, image and chart, imagination and power, projection and ownership all grate and chafe against one another. What was happening in the city that people lived in and experienced cannot be seen or heard. The lived-in city bundled itself together in repressed symptoms, in which censored resistance and gnawing frustration indicated the taunting distance between imagination and power. Across from aesthetic pleasure as a sign of a utopian, good city with a human - humane - format stood the goading resistance of facts and structures. The imagination, as image and as fantasy, projects us into the city. The map - those projections of the city - project us back out. We can locate ourselves on the map although we are no longer in that city. The inhabited city is the friction between the two, the imagined and the charted city. Politics makes itself master of that experience and profits from it. Only a city that creates nothing but happiness would require no politics.

Sometimes the photography was in the service of the structure: see the inventories of our city heritage, as in the so-called Album Ronse, by Alfons Watteyne (1858-1929), or the work of Alexander Simays (1866-1944) in Maastricht. Very occasionally, photography took the inhabited city and its resistance as its subject, by showing, for example, images of distressed living conditions. Sometimes, cautious initiatives were undertaken to bring the city of the picture into relative perspective, with images of industry, where a living had to be earned (as in the Lebon firm's exceptional 1885 series on the Van Mullem distilleries). But the overwhelming majority of the images had to do with the imagination, in which the city was made into a living whole. These images were a partner in dialogue for its visitors, who could avoid the lived-in city, the city of experience, and who, via the city as a map, moved from monument to monument, through an imaginary urban reconstruction,.

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