Tracework – a forthcoming collaboration with Katja Hock


I’m very pleased to announce that photographer Katja Hock and I are planning to collaborate on some ‘tracework’ projects. Each of us are interested in tracing ‘absent presences’ in our own disciplines and practices and we thought it would be interesting to have a go at hunting these ‘ghosts of place’ in parallel.

Our first collaboration is likely to centre around the (almost) invisible former quarries and brickpits of northern Sheffield. The surrounding city was built from these small, local sources of brick and stone. But these workings are now all but erased – partly because extraction creates emptiness, and partly through subsequent uses of these resultant voids, for many of these holes were subsequently infilled by the city’s waste and rubble. In the municipal valleyside recreation grounds, retail parks and not-quite natural looking cliff faces we will hunt our quarry.

For me the project will be an interesting adjunct to my currently ongoing study of how abandoned quarries are perceived by their owners and recreational users. It will also give me an opportunity to revive and reflect upon some professional skills that I once used daily as a jobbing environmental lawyer in order to ‘know’ such places as these. For the physical past of deceptively now-flat sites matters greatly in a development context. To the ‘manager’ maps, geological reports and trade directories shed valuable light on the hidden features – the sometimes problematic legacy left by former use. Meanwhile legal documents create an invisible layer of obligation, restriction and risk allocation for these places. I will also hunt others’ traces and readings of these places – the workers, the techniques, the dependencies and the material significance of these ‘local’ sites.

We will seek to depict such traces, each in our own way. To notice the unnoticed. To counterpoint artistic and managerial representations. We will each explore the liminality of these places – neither natural nor entirely man-made; neither indoor nor truly outdoor; neither populated nor entirely unpopulated; neither present nor entirely absent.

Katja is a senior lecturer in photography at Nottingham Trent University and characterises her approach thus:

“As a practising artist I am interested in the relationship between what is shown and what might only be suggested in the photograph. I explore how photography, in its representation of architectural space and landscape, frames and refers both to human presence and to transience. Focusing on institutional sites and woodlands, my photographs do not show any people, leaving only the memory of activity. Through this apparent emptiness I intend to prompt the viewer to reflect on their experiences with such sites, allowing space for the viewer’s imagination to enter the photographic field.”

The pictures below are from Katja’s doctoral project, Hospital and are reproduced by permission:


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

4 Responses to Tracework – a forthcoming collaboration with Katja Hock

  1. dianajhale says:

    This should be amazing – Katja’s hospital photos are like abstract paintings. I look forward to following your progress. There were a few papers at One Day In The City on traces of places but of the more traditional historical variety. I am particularly interested in negative space and whether this can hold memory. Having just noticed your quote from the Dubliners at the end of your ‘about’ paragraph I realize I must read more Joyce. I somehow missed out there until recently!

    • Thanks Diana – I read Dubliners at A Level, loved it but never got around to reading anything else by Joyce (always too much non-fiction around calling my attention). But at the weekend listening to the R4 sequence I (sort of) resolved to myself that Ulysses needs to go on my ‘things to do before I die’ list. Apologies if that sounds morbid – I just mean that it seems a book that one needs to go away somewhere with and completely immerse in. It strikes me as a very ‘internal’ work, a book for withdrawal. An intimate read on many levels. Dead existential. Cheers, Luke

  2. This sounds a very interesting project – look forward to the outcome. Katja’s photographs have a very unique aura.

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