Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

Issue 6 | Winter 2024


Text and Photos by Shant Armenian

I spent September of 2023 exploring various German cities through a CEGU study-abroad program. At times, we had the opportunity to explore cities independently, and I often preferred to set out and dérive—to let my impulses carry me through the city based on attraction to sight and sensation. And, as so many of us are now accustomed to doing, I documented these experiences along the way with my smartphone camera. The ease of photographing these experiences led to a growing interest in transcending mere documentation, and I started trying to capture these moments in a way that evoked the emotions I felt during each encounter. Naturally, I developed compositional strategies that helped achieve this. But, I also started to feel more comfortable approaching a given scene—digging deeper, moving closer, and asking questions—guided by my eyes, the camera lens, and often, the lens’ limitations.

As I started pairing photographs for this issue of Expositions, I started to recognize relationships forming between the two photos on each spread. I realized then, as the filmmaker Wim Wenders once stated, that “the assembling of scenes and their arrangement in an order was […] a first step towards narrative.” 4,500 miles away from their original locations, I was drawing relationships between these places and suggesting new ways of understanding what they meant for me in the moment, as well as for my understanding of the trip in retrospect (now a collection of life experiences and memories).

In an effort to draw out these relationships, selective pairings have been made throughout this photo essay. Some are merely based on composition, presenting an angle or formal perspective through which we can observe urban spaces (03.Kotti and 04.EnergiebunkerI). Some are thematic (such as that between the Third Reich-constructed 09.Olympiastadion, and 10.MemorialToTheMurderedJewsOfEurope), which evoke the political and emotional significance of built environments, and their consequential role in shaping and remembering history. And some are based on a more abstract feeling or theme that needs to be dwelled on, captured twice in the same place or in similar forms, to demand a closer examination of its implicit meanings (01.BauhausI and 02.BauhausII; or 07.EnergiebunkerII and 08.Calder).

As you look through this photo essay, I’m sure that you will encounter other less-obvious relationships between the paired photographs. But certainly some relationships will also appear across the pairings themselves. Relationships in visual media are by no means mutually exclusive or singular. And, if we are to view these photographs as metaphors for, or expressions of actual places, feelings, and experiences, then the same applies during our individual encounters with the real world. Urban spaces offer layers upon layers of sensation. Finding points of relation with and within these helps us develop a greater appreciation for vibrant ever-changing landscapes.

01 — Dessau — Bauhaus I
02 — Dessau — Bauhaus II
03 — Berlin — Kotti
04 — Hamburg — Energiebunker I
05 — Munich — Oktoberfest
06 — Hamburg — Arson
07 — Hamburg — Energiebunker II
08 — Berlin — Calder
09 — Berlin — Olympiastadion
10 — Berlin — Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
11 — Berlin — Neue
12 — Dessau — Popitz