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Essay

David Straight: Documenting the built environment of Covid-19

Photo-book to be published in February 2022

Carparks populated by tents and figures in PPE coveralls, city-rim blockades and ad-hoc medical centres are recent additions to our built environment. In late 2021, architectural photographer David Straight fixed his lens on these spaces with intent to document how our physical landscape reflects the time we’re living through. 

Built (and makeshift) environments that house our Covid-19 response punctuate the landscape, perhaps most of all in Tāmaki Makaurau. David Straight has been photographing these bespoke architectures and interventions into urban planning towards the creation of a photo-book. Commissioned by Objectspace, this publication will be released in February 2022. Ahead of this, we are pleased to be sharing a selection of photographs taken by David online in real time — to be privy to his movement through Tāmaki as a flaneur of Covid mise en scène. Follow us on Instagram to see it unfold. 

This project is an extension of our current exhibition Toro Whakaara: Responses to our built environment, and is informed by the same provocation that underpins the 10 projects commissioned for this show: To contemplate the power and politics of place through the social interactions, occupation and movement it allows.

New makeshift architectures like drive-through testing stations and interventions to city street-fronts embody new strategies for controlling movement and social interaction.

For some people, these have become familiar sights to encounter and sites to move through. For others, they operate with complete abstraction from daily life, obscured by ordinary architectures like high-rise carparks and convention centres. Quite outside of our worlds, made smaller by lock-downs and travel restrictions, but absolutely indicative of the time we are living through.

We recognise that much of the physical presence of Covid in our communities — testing facilities, vaccination centers, travel borders — are or have been temporary. Straight’s photo-series will function as a document of these locations towards bifold ends: posterity, and a provocation to think about built environments as sites of socio-political action: how and why spaces arrive, what kind of access and use is prioritised in their design, and how architectures shape our lived experience.

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David Straight is a Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland-based photographer who specialises in architecture. His interest in the built environment started as a street photographer in London and New York, and has followed through to documenting the built environment for leading architecture firms and within his own practice.

David Straight, Victoria Street Carpark Walk-in Testing Centre, Kitchener Street, Auckland CBD, 2021