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During my time as a student of architecture, both in practice and in study, I have always been asked - ‘how can you visualise this?’ For me, architectural practice should have the ability to visualise political and societal issues in an engaging, understandable and accessible way. Traditionally, this is in the form of a drawing or diagram, however in my personal work this has taken the form more of photography and film.

When it comes to visual research methods there are 6 guidance categories that ethical challenges can be categorised into, three that will be more familiar to researchers; ‘confidentiality, minimising harm, consent’ and three more relevant to visual research methods; ‘fuzzy boundaries, authorship and ownership, representation and audience.'[1] I initially attempted to address my unease with filming raves by conducting my research solely through audio. However, it soon became apparent that visual forms of representation were also necessary to provide more immersive and evocative performances. One of the most useful tools for me has been the short films I make to present rave culture to architecture professionals and others.

Now, in September of 2020, the culture I am researching no longer exists within the legal framework; raves are literally illegal. However, as lockdown has eased and the desire for social interaction has grown, numerous illegal parties have been held across the UK, ranging from small socially distanced gatherings, to 3000 person raves. With the added uncertainty of potential societal judgement on ‘plague ravers’ visual documentation must be even more considered, as the implications are more severe. This implication was evidenced when I requested permission to use footage of someone in a film. They were concerned about the impact this footage could have on their future career. It is important to consider how exposing, for example, the DJ of an illegal rave, might have consequences down the line. In response to the concern I ultimately deemed it unnecessary to use the requested footage.

Still taken from my latest short film 'Policy, Pacman and Plague Raves'

When obtaining, using and manipulating visual and audio footage I have always ensured, where possible, that every piece of footage shown has permission from the subjects. It is imperative to convey the intention of the project and how the imagery would be used as accurately as possible when requesting permission to give the subjects as full an understanding of the implications as possible. Where permission has been declined or it has not been possible to contact the subject, the footage used intentionally conceals identities by obscuring faces and voices. A way to use the ethical challenges to my advantage has been to edit my film in such a way that evokes the disorienting experience of a rave, which in turn adds to the concealment of identity. Of course, this solution works well in the specific context of my work, however I recognise that this is not always a suitable solution.

Many architects may not understand the complexities of stakes and situations of individuals affected by the project, particularly when they are deeply involved in a project and believe their contribution is beneficial. It is crucial to often take a step back from the project to assess and reflect on any ethical implications of your work. This should be done throughout the project, recognising that ‘it may be appropriate to consider the process of obtaining consent not as a ‘one-off’, but as a series of decisions that take place at pre-identified points as a project unfolds.’[2] If anything this experience made me reconsider any ideas I start in haste, and instead to take regular steps away from the project, to make the effort to communicate as best as I can my intentions at various intervals to those involved and to listen to subjects opinions and see them as valuable contributions to my work, which, more often than not, encourages the project to evolve into a stronger and more considered piece of work.


[1] Cox, S., Drew, S., Guillemin, M., Howell, C., Warr, D. and Waycott, J., 2014. Guidelines For Ethical Visual Research Methods. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne. p.8

[2] Cox, S., Drew, S., Guillemin, M., Howell, C., Warr, D. and Waycott, J., 2014. Guidelines For Ethical Visual Research Methods. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne. p.12

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