Photographer John Perivolaris began work on the Cities of Ghosts project on Monday March 2nd, scouting Aberdeen in pursuit of locations and views taken by George Washington Wilson’s team of photographers.
The looks of surprise from passers-by on Shiprow were a reminder of how much the photographic act, and our relationship to it, has changed since GWW’s time. To be working in the street with a 4 x 5 camera is to be present and visible as a photographer in public space at a time when the practice usually involves speed, miniaturised technology, and often a certain degree of furtiveness.
A number of vantage points used by GWW’s team are within the precincts of the Aberdeen Harbour Board. Mindful of how security legislation introduced since the turn of the century has cast suspicion on the presence of photographers in strategic locations such as ports, we were careful to acquire the appropriate permits; but as one of the (very amenable) AHB staff members quite jovially observed, the sheer time, space and presence needed to take photos with a 4 x 5 camera meant that it would be difficult to assume John was up to no good.
Aberdeen Harbour was a favourite location for GWW’s photographers, both because of the industry it represented, and for the views it offered back towards the city centre; but on our tour of the spaces accessible to the public today, it quickly became clear that many of those prospects had disappeared or were difficult to find, having become obscured by the fences, barriers and security devices which regulate space and movement in the contemporary city. As such, it seems, one of the first questions raised by the project concerns the current meaning, status and location of ‘public’ or ‘civic’ space, a concept that GWW’s images of nineteenth-century urban life do much to articulate, express and celebrate.