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The Streets Of…

Stuart Marshall

UK, 1979
22 minutes, Colour, stereo
Available formats: DVD / Digibeta tape / SD Digital file

Produced in San Francisco and Brighton. A tape about the representations of an American city produced by a television series, tourist photographs, guide books, travelogues and news reports. A comparison is made between the viewers consumption of the television image and the tourists visual consumption of the city as spectacle. The real San Francisco is only to be found in the conventions of Realism.

Video Artists on Tour catalogue , 1980, Arts Council.

The Streets Of… is a skilfully crafted portrait of San Francisco, compiled from monochrome portapak footage, which is then incorporated into colour post-production, executed in a sophisticated studio set-up. Chromakey techniques are used to impose layers of images on the resultant tape, which distances the viewer from the initial, deceptively informal location material through several generations of interpretation. The images of the city, shot from cruising cars, and at various tourist attractions, are very different from our received notions of San Francisco: the steep hills, rattling trolley cars and topless bars remain unseen. Apart from the unmistakeable grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge, it could be any anonymous Western city.

The sense of place is provided by anecdotes recounted by the artists friends and guides, from radio news broadcasts and extracts from literary essays. Municipal brochures provide the colour imagery: garish, over-tinted photographs enlarged to wall-size, in front of which an anonymous normal couple stroll or take photographs, echoing location shots in which Japanese tourists enact torturous rituals of mutual portraiture, fixing and validating their presence. The tape is punctuated by captions: The Tourist … The Viewer … Documentary … News and so on, which reveal the work to be, on one level, an inventory of the ways in which places, events and people become visible to us only through the intercession of biased modes of depiction and address. So embroiled is the city with the mechanics of representation that it eventually becomes one vast studio set.

Mick Hartney , Performance and VideoArt Monthly, March 1982