John van Aitken

Compressions: A Study in Creative Destruction

In the UK, 50% of CO2 production and 63% of our waste comes from construction (HETA Architects, 2021). The built environment’s current linear model of obsolescence, demolition and rebuilding may play a major role in profit accumulation, but its consequences also contribute massively to our current climate crisis. Compressions utilises digital photography as an imag(in)ing technology to open up discussions about the creative destruction employed in neoliberal programs of urban redevelopment. The study engages an expanded approach to photographic production. Drawing inspiration from the processes of unmaking, rough stacking and loose reassembly encountered on various Salford demolition sites it puts images of their materiality through a series of post-production processes, creating hybrid compositions and forms. By assembling and compressing multiple photographs of materials and surfaces using image manipulation software the work comments on the cannibalistic ecology at the heart of redevelopment. Here the demolition of the old city forms the foundations of the new one under construction. Time, space, materiality, histories, memories, are at times congealed, compacted, or encrusted at the surface level of the image, according to the software’s algorithms. In the wake of problematized realist documentary strategies these hybrid photographic forms attempt to instigate new dialogues about the emerging social and political ecologies at the heart of redevelopment by putting its processes central to the act of making.


John van Aitken is a cultural worker exploring urban gentrification through the dynamics of creative destruction. His current practice-based PhD is centred on the transformation of Salford’s landscapes through housing-led redevelopment. It explores how expanded photographic practices can visualise new ways to open up debate about the consequences of such changes. Co-founder of the Institute of Urban Dreaming with Jane Brake (MMU), their recent publication explores the use of atmospheres and sensory spaces in the marketing of new vertical apartments. He currently works as a Principal Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire.