Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

The Urban Sprawl Project

In late 1999, I created the Urban Sprawl Project.

I can't remember, exactly, what caused me to create it, but I figure it came from nothing really exciting other than the desire to do something creative and for myself. I was working as a projectionist, had finished Honours, didn't have much money, was between girlfriends, and writing narrative fiction had gotten dry for me. I wasn't having a huge amount of success with it, but most of my problems came from the fact that I didn't know why I was bothering to write. I'd reached some sort of moment, and all these things came together while I was reading books about cities (was it Iain Sinclair's Lights Out For the Territory?) and the next thing I knew I had the idea for the Urban Sprawl Project.

The Hole it Came From.The Hole it Came From.

                clicking clacking clattering scratching scraping


The concept was simple: Create a cheap pamphlet slash zine that mixed photography and prose that took the underlying stories and myths in suburbs, and then, if possible, recreate and subvert them. In the end, the subverting was pushed to the side to let each individual pamphlet grow in its own, organic way, each of the five to ten pages per issue melding into what we hoped would be an overlying theme. The suburb Blacktown, for example, was cast as an old West like border town, the last place of Sydney civilization, but a civilization so caught up in violence and poverty--in the myths--that no one came out to it. The idea came from a conversation I'd once had, on the way to Uni with a guy from the North Shore, who, much to the sorrow of his parents, had scored low in his High School Certificate, which had resulted in his banishment to the Western Suburbs and then out into the lone tracks out into Richmond, where farms and Air Force Bases existed alongside utes and cows and well dressed uni students. To get to Richmond, you had to pass through Blacktown, and early on, when the train pulled into the white whale bone structure of the train station, he told me that he was too afraid to get off the train here, for fear that he'd be beaten.

Kinda stupid, really.

But that was the idea of the first issue of the Urban Sprawl Project came from. So, with a designer friend to make it look pretty (she worked as a special effects person on the Matrix films, so it did indeed look pretty), and another friend who took photos with me and contributed cash, we put the Blacktown issue together and then got loved greatly by Kinkos, where we printed out a bunch. The following couple of nights we then walked around the suburbs of Blacktown and gave them out for free through letter drops. My plan, if you are not yet already amazed at this blatant disregard of covering costs and reaching a target audience, was to move from suburb to suburb, giving each new pamphlet out to the people who lived there.

It was a great way for me to sink my small funds (along with a friend's cash) into an idea that would never turn a profit. Indeed, when I was offered ways to cut my costs through advertising or support of a local shop, I turned it down. I could say I was young and idealistic, but the truth was, having financial backing--limited though it was--left me with a feeling that I would be constrained in some was by what I was doing.

Besides which, it was meant to be totally anonymous. Indeed, outside a hotmail address, there was no claim for authorship anywhere on the final product.*

The CreatureThe Creature

                sweating burning groaning growling in low metallic sparking grated movements


Unsurprisingly, by the end of 2000, it was done.

It was time consuming and expensive, but that was not the reason it finished. Life came up and, basically, kicked. It happens, and when it does, the first things to go are the things that are done for the self. But the ideas were still there, and to be honest, while it was fun at the time, I think everyone involved knew that it would only be short term. It was new and different and everyone was proud of what they did, and there was some feedback, and a whole new floor of what I could be doing with my writing opened up. Once life stopped kicking, the ideas behind the Urban Sprawl Project became my foundation for my phd and my novel A Walking Tour of the Dreaming City.

At any rate, the reason I'm making this post, is because this livejournal is going to get some new content in the form of images. When we originally did the Urban Sprawl Project, we used cheap disposable cameras to take photos, then bled the colour of of them, leaving them black and white. It was a photocopied zine, basically, so colour was pointless, and with the proper tones in black and white, you can make the images quite reproducible. But, basically, the photos were taken with cheap disposable things and I never looked twice at them after they got used... but now, as I'm sure you've noticed, I got a digital camera and, in addition, I am planning to finish up A Walking Tour of the Dreaming City in the following six months or so.**

Which means, that in the aim of making my fiction about Sydney just a bit more realistic, I will be touring through the parts I'm using and taking photos and, because I think it'll be interesting, I'm planning to bring back a few bit and pieces here. They'll keep small and polite and easily ignorable for those of you not interested. For those of you who might be, the important thing to note is hey, I'm not a photographer, and I'm beginning my learning curve again... but in the hopes that I don't embarrass myself too much, I'm going to make them as interesting as I can and have a bit of fun. I apologise in advance to all those who suffer.

And no, I won't be putting a smiley face there. Imagine one yourself.

anyhow, I don't know why I felt the urge to make this huge post. I can't imagine many have lasted until the end, or that they found it fascinating, but if you did, you might want to note that the title of the livejournal has also changed.

A few other cosmetic differences could be happening.

* At the time, I was interested in exploring the idea of work without any name attached. Do you get different reactions? Does it change how people approach it?  I thought the Urban Sprawl Project was the perfect venue for it.

** This includes the academic side of the phd. Pity me.

  • Leviathan’s Blood Film

    Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there. The paperback release of Leviathan’s Blood is very soon and to…

  • A Bit of Bolano, Schafer, and Cooke.

    Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there. Here are a few more reviews of books I’ve read recently: 2666,…

  • Interview, A Few Books Read

    Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there. Just a small update today. If you’re interested, you can get a whole…

  • Post a new comment


    Comments allowed for friends only

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded