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Walk in Silence

the benefits of drifting
``Human beings construct and impose meaning on the world. We create order, We don´t discover it.`` J. Ruby
``Each time the dialogue with the camera opens up, more questions lead me to consider alternative ways of inclusion.`` S. Meiselas

Silence, we should remember silence, leave the cult of big data swarming outside for a while and again walk into uncertainty, closer to those objects where silence is offered for exploration, where unacquaintance has value. We tend to ask questions assuming we might already have a route to their answers because questions do come from a somewhere of somehows. Asking is a means of grasping, is how we put the soft clay of our experience budget onto the unknown, and why all questions seem related to a primordial “do I know you?” But the lasts that shape how we ask, and how we frame, can become twisted, even crippling if we insist on them obstinately. Instead of producing more serial subjects of theory, and more dogmatic labels from the same frameworks, it might be of some worth to shut up and look at the fog with no intention to produce recognitions: let ourselves doubt and be doubted because we affect the effects.

At first contact, the only proposal coming from an image, its crude dialectical nexus with the onlooker, is its incitement to wander. This reaction to the object photo should not be treated as an alarm prompting frenetic epistemic speculation, but serve as an opportunity to motivate its observers into asking questions about the discourse that carries any particular image in its arguments, its object-reality, the presence or invisibility of the device at the time of capture, the operator, the correspondences it represents, the back-where and back-when it suggests, and the edited universe that it does not include but may hint to: The void of an image is not a deficiency, it is not a denial of assertiveness, because it does not offer any confirmations, it is an opportunity to meet the probability of its enquiries.

An image is empathically a resource that covets the wealth of the ordinary and may point to the periphery at the centre. Our compulsion to solve or at least expand on an image, compelling ones at least, is a useful resource in the ripening of any thesis. Exempted from an ideological agenda in its presentation, it argues to admit the probabilities in uncertainty.

To be concrete, there is a need for adequate, always evolving, focal interrogation methodologies about space and of those who labour it, without inappropriate reductionists desires, but from the imperative of identifying gaps in analysis (treating the observations themselves not as new certainties, but as starting points for new research). Even if the latter may sound like it should be a common practice, in political reality, especially in developing countries, is a bit of an anomaly, either because of financial restrictions, intellectual bias or plain negligence. In practical terms and applied to broader policies, the foregoing would suppose the annulment of the too-common practice of import-application of “successful” models from other spaces of experience under different economical logics. In this space, in Chepe*, things are not produced, distributed, circulated or consumed like anywhere else. It is administrative absurd to consider that forcing Swedish questionnaires (extreme case) is a congruent tactic; although it may be a worthwhile academic exercise, Swedish “sodas” (Costa Rican small restaurants) do not smell like gallo pinto, nor are they filled with conversations in Spanish in which subtle inflexions, for example, may denounce situations moving from informal work, labour exploitation to slavery.

In such an effort, images may serve as agents. The discomfort (be it pleasurable or not) an old or more recent image may cause, should prompt any researcher back into Chepe, to a conscious drifting exercise, of astonishment at the encounter with its thick periphery at its centre, with how life is resolved, but without gargling the iconic, the identity recipes, or insisting on verifying tropes and vague suspicions. Its complexity must be appreciated on foot, at the crossing of its threshold without a relapse into the political image of the Blue Book by Miralles (1), that is, in the description of its diversity and in the constant questioning of the intelligentsia that reasons and shapes it, of its position within the national experiment and our role as its raw cultural material, because although it looks like an amalgam of missed opportunities, Chepe is not a cold gathering of buildings, it’s not a simple traffic intersection, people do still exist.
Since 2013 this project has produced 3 published articles and more than 133,000 images from a sample area of 1.87 km2 in the heart of the city of San José, Costa Rica, where more than a million people make their living every day, and where astonishingly, qualitative independent groundwork on even applied social sciences has been hardly done since the 1980s. The crux of this effort: the questions that are not being asked and the inquiry of those entitled from absent positions. Chepe deserves better questions and taking into account current and available institutional resources, this body of work is meant to serve the purpose of developing a methodology to assist in the propaedeutics and reflexivity processes for better social data assessment in urban areas, namely for the writing of a closer theory of us here.


* Chepe: Nickname given to San José, Costa Rica´s capital, in particular, it’s downtown area.
(1) Costa Rica, América Central 1922, also called the Blue Book of Costa Rica, is a photographic album (200 images) edited by the Costa Rican photographer Manuel Gómez Miralles with the intent of selling it to the government for it to attract foreign investors. But in recent times this document, as important as it is historically, has been distorted to let viewers perceive that it portrays a supposed golden time of the city.