Saturday, 6 August 2011

Booth's poverty map as art

The Bruise – Booth’s poverty mapping as art

Example of Booth's poverty palette (1898)
Charles Booth’s poverty map of London in 1898 depended on a strict colour legend to depict deprivation in the capital. Taken as a whole, the map reveals concentrated areas of poverty, the most extreme in black, to create a picture that can be observed as a movement from yellow and affluent through to blue and black, like a bruise. This is of course unintentional, such descriptive and artistic processes of social theory were not present in the late 19th century, they were almost quantitative in their outlook and even though the sample depended on one person’s opinion the end result was a scientific study in mapping. The healing bruise, the hit, is an apt descriptive tool to define Booth’s maps as a project possibly more subjective than intended. Of course some of these areas, and I have been concentrating on the Deptford/Greenwich part of the map, have now changed with an increasing amount of riverside development attracting the wealthy. This could lead to a comparative study whereby the Booth legend depicticting a black and blue Deptford Creek may now be painted yellow. Where trades has departed Thameside so residential dwelling and the need for a waterfront view becomes aspirational so there is plenty of opportunity for an artistic reappraisal of the whole of the south side of the river and of the northside from Tower Bridge eastward.

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