: A practice based investigation on memory, conflict and the aerial image.

  • Valentina Bonizzi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The power of the relationship between the photographic apparatus and migration is situated at a metaphorical crosslink between the two-dimensional outcome of marking borders on a map, or printing an image on a flat surface, and the time that affects the events that shape the very heart of that crosslink. The rigidity of borders, and sometimes their false ideas of flexibility can be seen on how recently Europe has proved (again) that ‘open boundaries’ is a non specific inclusive idea. The experience of migrants going through conflict situations is representative of the relationship between the ‘having to deal with’ the happenings, in most cases forced, and at the same time changing, transforming the landscape, leaving or bringing old and new values. Therefore the democratic power in this work is intended as the collective recognition of the importance of simple acts of looking, bringing values to the transformative nature of human beings. Because of its mechanical nature and the stillness of the images it produces, photography has the capacity to show transformation, with the quality of its materiality, which continuously challenges the users of photography in accessing different formats, since its invention.

In the context of this work (Cartographers), photography becomes an inspiration for the concept, planning and making of the film process. Film can embrace elements that photography doesn’t have, like sound and duration, added to landscape and to portraits. These elements may help the viewer to understand a narrative that grows from a single trunk, the film, whose roots are holding onto the lightness of the sky instead of the thickness of the ground by representing, filmically, the expressions of the people who speak about their experiences.

The ‘democratization of cartography’ – is in this written text considered as a shift of attention from the act of cartography to who makes it, the cartographers. Therefore map-making does not function as a merely two-dimensional outcome but as a nuance of an experience that is individual and collective. Cartographers reveals a map visible through the memory of a community of people who originate from the same place and have lived the same conflict (WWII) while being scattered across several different countries (Italy, France, Scotland).

The work Cartographers, a film and series of archival aerial image, makes available the maps of these happenings, which memories are pulled together and suggest a reflection towards a democratic act of cartography making. The aim of this research is opposite to the creation of a cartography newly created by joining points from different journeys, experiences or concepts: in this work as the director of the film I have attempted to make emerge that the cartographers are aware of each other, their map is drawn collectively and everyday, and it does not join different points, but it starts from a single one and it explodes in different directions. The exploration of this work and research was made by attempting to represent what can be felt with the connection they have with the starting point. This is not only a process that looks at a certain community but is a dialogue with the memory of that community of cartographers which aids the understanding of the landscape that we traverse in our daily lives.

With their memories, the subjects of the interviews - which I refer to as the Cartographers - leave a transparent but permanent trace that remains fixed in the landscape and makes it what it is today. The role of the artist in this case, is not the one of the ‘creator’ of a certain map, but the one that wipes the dust about to reveal the map of the treasure, and finds a way to show to the public, that the suspended moment of revelation, is the treasure itself.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsArts & Humanities Research Council, Arts & Business, Cultural Documents & IFS World Wide
SupervisorTracy Mackenna (Supervisor) & Stephen Partridge (Supervisor)


  • Aerial image
  • Cartography
  • Conflict
  • Migration
  • Archive
  • Film making
  • Time
  • Borders
  • Art
  • Methodology

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