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Denis Wood on maps, neighborhoods and pumpkins
2008-07-02 12:14:10 - by Nicolas Malevé

From the archive of This American Life’s radio, a wonderful broadcast described as:

Five ways of mapping the world. One story about people who make maps the traditional way—by drawing things we can see. And other stories about people who map the world using smell, sound, touch, and taste. The world redrawn by the five senses.

Especially moving is the interview of Denis Wood who creates maps of Boylan Heights, Raleigh, North Carolina, his neighborhood: a traditional street locator map; a map of all the sewer and power lines under the earth’s surface; a map of how light falls on the ground through the leaves of trees; a map of where all the Halloween pumpkins are each year; and a map of all the graffiti in the neighborhood

PNG - 17.8 kb
Pumpkins map, by Denis Wood

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I couldn’t resist to make a partial transcript of the interview. Here it goes:
Denis Wood: I have a map of the pumpkins that were on the porches at Halloween.
Ira Glass: What does it tell you?
DW: That’s actually a very interesting map. I like to relate it to the map that shows the number of times each residence was mentioned in the Boyler Heights newsletter in the past 25 years
IG: You made a map of that?
DW: Yes, you take all the newsletters and you just note every address that appears in it.
Wether it appears as the name of a specific individual in the neighborhood or as address and you just do frequenties attached to each one of the residences. And the thing that strucked me about that map when I first did it was that some locations, some dwellings ... are frequently mentioned no matter whoever lives in them and I imagined that who were going to be movers and shakers in the neighborhood pick homes that are in important locations in the neighborhood are architecturally significant or historically significant
IG: They have just got more money
DW: Believe me, money is what’s behind both the pumpkin map and that map.
IG: As you told me this, I was thinking where are the pumpkins? Where is the greatest proliferation of orange pumpkins.
DW: Oh that’s not what the map was. I photographed the pumpkins face and then I printed them black on black so you see the eyes and the mouths of the pumpkins on the black background
IG: So the map of the pumpkins is a map where there are just little eyes and pumpkins mouths floating by the houses which have them
DW: They are just floating on the black background just like the traffic lights were floating...And the map of the traffic signs is just traffic signs, there are no streets or anything. On the map of the streets there are just streets, on the map of the trees there are just trees. And what you do when you go through these maps is you begin to build up even though it is never said a kind of structural knowledge that you take away as a kind of resonance of that neighborhood. You know the idea that we have to have the pumpkins drawn against the streets only makes sense when you don’t have any other images. As soon as you have other images, you say oh my... look look look where these pumpkins are, they are just exactly where, and I here answer your question, exactly where people are mentioned all the time in the newsletter And if you go away to the edges of the neighborhood where people aren’t mentioned in the newsletter My good they don’t have pumpkins on their porches
IG: So the people mentioned in the newsletter they tend to be people in the bigger homes
DW: Yes, they do.

...
DW: [I made maps of] patterns of leaf light in the neighborhood light coming through the leaves of the trees in summer time
IG: What does that tell you?
DW: They are what it is to live in the neighborhood. the neighborhood is experienced as a clutch of patterns of light and sound and smell and tastes and communication with others

...
DW: But I guess, what I am pushing for here is selecting subject for cartographic display that are other than these that are typical
IG: it almost sounds like you are trying to create a ... novel
DW: I am
IG: but with pure symbols of map
DW: yeah. why not?

note: I found the link to the broadcast on the excellent Perrygeo weblog