‘Right of Way’ by Marco Bohr

Marco Bohr, Commonwealth Ave and Parkes Way, 2011

My new photographic project Right of Way addresses the failures of a modern project and the clash between urbanity and nature. Photographed in Canberra – an early example of a completely planned city – the series focuses on pedestrians attempting to cross, or in the process of crossing the street of the Australian capitol. In the photographs, people are purposely represented as if they are lost, disorientated or otherwise not entirely in control of their condition.

Marco Bohr, London Circuit II, 2011

Marco Bohr, Marcus Clarke Street, 2011

Map of Canberra, circa 1940

Designed in the early 1900s by the American architect couple Marion Mahoney Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra represented a totally new ideal in modern architecture and urban planning. Taking natural elements of the valley into account, the main structure of the city is defined by major roads and highways which are interlinked by geometric shapes such as circles, hexagons and triangles. The city’s embrace of modernity is partially signified by the wholesale assumption that the automobile will be the future form of transportation. Yet more recently, as J.G. Ballard’s poignant question ‘Autopia or Autogeddon?’ indicates, the dominance of a single mode of transport suffocates man’s relationship with the urban environment. In a city that presumes the car is the only mode of transport, people struggle to navigate the complex matrix of streets and roads by foot. They become unwilling bystanders to a modern project that does not support, but actually hinders people to move from one place to another.

Marco Bohr, London Circuit I, 2011

Marco Bohr, Kings Ave, 2011

Marco Bohr, Parkes Way II, 2011

Makeshift and often hidden footpaths on the side of the major roads give an indication how the idealistic even utopian design of the city stands in contrast to the functionality of the city as a living space. The photographs in this series attempt to emphasize the cracks emerging in the structure of the city, as it is always pedestrians giving way, waiting and adjusting to the constant flow of traffic. Particularly in the context of the Australian capital, with capital hill at its very centre, the roads and highways become metaphors for the laws established and reinforced by the state. One photograph, titled ‘Capital Circle’, shows a man about to cross the circular highway around Capital Hill. His movements stand in contrast not only to the cars heading into his direction, but also, in contrast to the master narrative of the state and its laws.

Marco Bohr, Capital Circle, 2011

Marco Bohr, Parkes Way I, 2011

The title of the series, Right of Way is a reference to an ancient English law that legally grants temporary access to footpaths on privately owned land. In this project, the ‘right to access’ functions as a reference to Australia’s troubled history as an outpost of the British Empire and its relation to the country’s indigenous population. Seeking to address the question of landownership, Australia’s public and private institutions habitually acknowledge indigenous regional groups as ancestors of the land they occupy. Australian TV channels for instance frequently display a message at the end of a show that pays respect and acknowledges the Aboriginal land they are located on. Yet in this culturally complex environment, Aboriginal people are nevertheless invisible in daily life and politics. The awkwardness of this arrangement is particularly apparent in Canberra: amongst the Embassies and High Commissions of an increasingly connected world stands the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – a semi-permanent structure which functions as a monument to the indigenous people’s ongoing fight for land rights.

Right of Way is the latest project in an ongoing body of work that explores the clash between nature and culture, peripheral spaces and culturally specific phenomena. III Please contact me at marcus.bohr(at)network.rca.ac.uk for image rights or if you have any inquiries about this project.

I wish all my readers Happy Holidays and New Year.

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6 thoughts on “‘Right of Way’ by Marco Bohr

  1. awesome bro! glad you still busy shooting…great insight and execution! I feel a lot richer for having seen this series! much success with it! keep on keepin on!

  2. Whilst a very pretty city from the air and from inside a car… for pedestrians trying to walk around Canberra, our city is a disaster. Endless kilometres of high speed urban highways, foot paths in residential areas not maintained, or simply non existant… ease of pedestrian movement here is given last priority. To get from one end of Canberra to the other, or even to the local shops, in reasonable time and in reasonable safety, a person MUST have a car.

    The layout of our city suggests that Canberra’s planners all but completely dismissed the manner in which we transported ourselves for hundreds of thousands of years prior to the motor car. Unfortunately, pedestrian rights also take a back seat in Australia’s laws and road rules.

    A city designed for the people is usually vibrant and full of life, as it’s easy for people to get out and enjoy themselves. A city that’s built for cars is usually quite easy to drive to, but not worth staying long in. This will be particualrly apparent over the next week when most Canberrans leave the city over Christmas.

    Canberra’s problem is not a unique one, with many newer cities around the world that are built to make things easier for those driving cars experiencing similar issues.

    I congratulate you on drawing attention to this issue by taking these powerful pictures; from what is unfortunately a very quaint perspective.

  3. Your images are interesting and are indeed good commentary on the car-centric nature of Canberra-the city where I live. However your images are misrepresentative. The people photographed are in locations immediately adjacent to pedestrian pathways and appropriate grade separated crossings (overpasses and underpasses) of the major roads. You have captured people utilising desire lines, some of which are planned for immediate formalisation and upgrade, but others which reflect laziness or simply people who must enjoy crossing 3 lane roads, where perfectly good footbridges exists.

    If you have placed the models in this series, you have done Canberra and it’s a citizens a disservice through misrepresentation. I do not know if you explored the setting of your photos further and noted that appropriate crossings were provided. Or if you used the public there were obviously not aware of the more appropriate and safe routes available. I do believe you should temper your comments with a disclaimer.

    Still as an artistic piece I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the isolated figures against the barren roadways. I will also acknowledge the car focussed nature of transport in Canberra, which is partly a reflection on the time in which it has developed (100 years as of 2013 in which the car has been a popular king) and partly due to the incredibly sparse nature of the population, it is probably the least densely populated city in Australia (which is the least densely populated Country in the world).

    Please accept this as constructive criticism.

  4. while I agree with the sentiment, the highway-tisation of the city is very much a product of the 60s, which largely ignored the griffin’s plans. Blame the bureaucrats who bastardised their design, not them! In fact, the griffin’s struggle against bureaucracy (which ultimately led to walter resigning in 1918) seems to perfectly illustrate the same thing you are! 😉

  5. Adam is correct in noting the existence of footbridges, pedestrian crossings and the like, yet seems to be missing the point – which is that engineering of vehicular transport has being given priority over pedestrian movement. Why should the pedestrian always be expected to go out of their way and take extra time to ascend and descend a footbridge? What if they can not manage stairs? Equally, why are the pedestrian crossings located where they are – why are they not located at points convenient to “lazy” pedestrian traffic?

    Does it matter whether it was the designers, the bureaucrats, or the outcome of unforeseen circumstances that has created this situation? Even in the early days of the city pedestrian traffic was normal – children travelling to school, trips to the local shops – but this traffic was not integrated. Since then, whilst recreational facilities have been maintained and extended, direct transport for non-vehicular traffic has not – witness the crazy footpaths in some parts of Canberra, the complete lack of them in other parts of the city, the lack of safe direct routes, the poor night-lighting on available bike paths and pedestrian routes. Combining bicycle and pedestrian traffic is not the answer – particularly when much of the network of combined routes is recreational in focus, and in any case when these combined routes intersect vehicular routes they hit exactly the same problems as are documented in this photo series.

    Today, with a city 10 times that originally envisaged, and with nearly a century of engineering research available, what is required is a more sophisticated approach based on different values.

  6. I live in Brasilia, capital of Brazil, a typical garden city but structured along a highway. In the past it was a paradise for cars and a nightmare for pedestrians. Now, it’s a nightmare for both. The city has the highest rate of cars per inhabitants of the country. You can easily find lower middle class families with 3 cars.
    Now, however, the city is losing its characteristic of Garden City and becoming a city of suburbs with large gated communities. And the cars are even more necessary now than never.
    Because of this, I am developing a project on the proliferation of gated communities and the environment they are creating. I opened a tumblr to serve as a notebook to aggregate the result of my photographic tours around gated communities, and citations of books, videos etc.. If you want to check, the address is http://fobopolis.tumblr.com/. Although the publications are in English, you can get an idea of the project.

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