Limited Editon, computer generated zinc plate print.

In Britain in the Victorian era, people first experienced what we today recognise as the urban experience. Cities composed of faceless masses sluiced through its rigid arteries. In 1840, London was the largest city in the world and its uncontrolled expansion caused the poltical authorities to worry about loosing the overview. Their response was to focus on categorising the intricate details of everybody’s daily lives and thus created the field of urban ethnography. This project uses a short story by Edgar Alan Poe, ‘The Man of the Crowd’ written in 1840 as a historical palimpsest and the basis for a visualisation. The story describes the narrator sitting in a coffee shop, watching and ‘reading’ the London crowd before following a man who he thinks may have committed a crime. The visualisation uses a custom built software to semantically filter and analyse the source text. The software removes common words such as ‘it, and, the’ and then displays the 100 most frequently used words as a Tag Coud. The size of the words represents the frequency of use in the text. The words divide into two themes, the crowd and the city.
Yet the distinction between them merges as elements like the face and cloths become a conduit between our internal life and the city. Today, like the Victorians, we have reached another informational milestone where we appear to be swamped by too many people and too much data and the authorities crave order and the overview. Information technologies such as face and gait recognition software track our movements in the city while statistics and data visualisations rule our cultural and political discourse. Have we reached the point where technocratic technologies allow us to ‘read’ people or will data visualisations become the decorative propaganda art form of the 21st century?