AR Gilt City blog by John Goto and Matthew Leach

Nefarious Personae

In Adam Curtis' new BBC documentary: "All watched over by machines of loving grace", he describes how the computer was expected to bring an end to the cycle of boom and bust: Instead faith in the computer has added to financial instability, with traders trusting them to make deals on their own (

In recent times computer networks have been seen as a tool against secrecy and oppression - through wikileaks and the arab spring - but there is still controversy over the tracking features enabled in mobile phones, and the control exercised by countries such as China and Turkey (

The computing pioneer Mark Weiser had a vision where computers would permeate through our lives with the same ubiquity as the written word. Part of this ubiquity has become its neutrality; with no intrinsic characteristics that will lead us to utopia or dystopia.

Our project offers a commentary on the nefarious personae that are part of modern life. We intend to monitor and record people's interactions. In our case it is to amalgamate the results - where the individual can be protected by being hidden in the mass. But with everything from Facebook to your institution's email service, it's a matter of trust.

on June 15, 2011 posted by: matthewleach in AR Gilt City

Digital Mousetrap Camera

In order to video the screen of the iPhone without reflections we devised a camera which aligns a second iPhone, on which the video is shot. A further refinement is a slot on the underside which allows touch control of the screen.
The first simple cameras Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) had made were dubbed by his family 'mousetraps'.

digital mousetrap camera

Our camera was expertly constructed by Bernard Hanaway.

Give Money or Zap

I shot these tests against the night sky.


The new development here is that the player is offered two choices - to either 'Give Money' or 'Zap' the character. Above charity was shown and the image is restored to full colour.

Augmented reality

Here the 'Zap' option was taken and Bucketman is turned into a fireball, which fades within seconds leaving a vacant space in the night sky.


Here a benevolent player restores the performer...

naked Beggar is incinerated whilst Naked and Bull Fighter are rejuvenated. We are able to statistically see how players have responded to the various characters.


Matthew and I had thought of using smoke instead of the explosion, but it did not function as well. I do, however, like this rather surreal composition. The circle is a symbol that Layar uses to mark a position whilst the image loads.

-- update 2011-06-14; matthew --

An overview of how Layar works is provided in the diagram below. The phone uses internal GPS and compass readings to work out which direction it's facing in. In terms of talking to the outside world, the phone first contacts Layar (1) asking for information on the chosen layer, and in response it receives something like a business card with author details and where to go for more information. The phone then tells a second server where it is (2), and in return is supplied with all of the hotspot locations, graphics etc.


Layar normally uses what is called a RESTful approach. The server doesn't normally need to save anything - the phone sends all of the information needed on every request. The server doesn't even care if it is receiving 10 requests from different people, or 10 from the same person.


For our project we wanted each person to have their own collection of points, and so the server has to save information. The basic process is shown in the diagram below. When a request is made, if the user has made a request before then their details are loaded from the server; if not then a record is created for them by copying the initial set of points.

on Jun 06, 2011 Posted by: johngoto in AR Gilt City

Mixed Messages: Disordering Documentary

By Mark Durden

Most current photographers merely reflect the 'objective' misery of the human condition-- a wretchedness which has apparently become a positive object of perverse desire for so many aesthetes and image racketeers. Just as there is no primitive tribe which does not have its anthropologist, soon there won't be a homeless person sleeping curled up amid his filth who doesn't find a photographer leaping out of the urban jungle to capture on film the eternal sleep of the pauper.
Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard's damning attack on the documentary photographer is perhaps a useful way to begin to think about the implications of John Goto's series, Gilt City: full figure 'portraits' of outsider urban types-- street entertainers, homeless people, drug dealers, hawkers. Many of these colourful characters are set against the blank 'grey' corporate architecture of late capitalism, the generic faceless façades of the banking worlds of the over developed West; façades which, in a comic version of modernity, sometimes reflect the rushing masses of suited business types.

What distances Goto from documentary's tradition of picturing misery and wretchedness is his recourse to a staged tableau photography and the use of digital compositing. Friends and associates of the artist-- including critics, curators, students, neighbours-- are dressed and posed by the artist in a studio setting. The portrait is then digitally mapped onto particular spaces in the City of London's financial district. As a result there is neither filth nor degradation in his pictures. Indeed, Gilt City might be seen to continue the ethical disavowal of documentary photography which characterises the work of Jeff Wall. Only Wall's pictures are bereft of the parody and playfulness of Goto's tableaux. And while Wall will meticulously mime a documentary look, Goto never disguises his pictures' artifice. Instead, artifice and theatre is flagged up in Gilt City.

Goto uses the codes of documentary to frame and identify his subjects. Playing out permutations of difference and otherness, his photographic theatre, however, deliberately upsets the familiar patterns of viewing such documentary-type subject matter. The pictures are discordant in this respect. For all the immediate signs and signals of alterity, the people who populate Gilt City fail to cohere as distant and distinct from its middle class audience. As a result, his pictures resist and oppose the simple liberal humanist reflex of pity. They are also bereft of the affective dimension which tends to be associated with documentary practice: the pathos accrued by the photo as index and that sense of the residue of the emotionally charged interaction-- however respectful, however abusive-- between subject and photographer.

Bacchant 2002/3

Details in Goto's staged and knowing tableaux function as signs whose connotations very often flout and undermine the codes and conventions, the rhetoric, ordinarily associated with documentary. There is an attention to signifying details: to do with the style of clothing, incongruously often fashionable and trendy-- evident through all the designer labels and logos-- and the accompanying objects, which are often just as anomalous, like the can of Beck's in his 'portrait' of the urinating man, for example: Beck's, renowned for its sponsorship of contemporary art, being more readily associated with the YBA crowds than the street drinker. The man also carries a copy of Bill Jordan's book A Theory of Poverty and Social Exclusion, implying an improbable self-reflective and theorised view of his own position. All this suggests a conscious playing with the codes and signs used to judge, identify and 'label' people.

Click here to read more

on May 27, 2011 Posted by: johngoto in AR Gilt City

Street People

One of the influences on Gilt City is Marcellus Laroon’s “Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life” (1687). In a extensive series of drawings made from observation, Laroon depicts the street people of London’s Covent Garden as single figures, each hustling their wares. The artist shows various levels of poverty through a meticulous attention to detail


street musician

rabbit seller

posture master



Jacques Callot’s (1592–1635) engravings of `Grotesque Dwarfs’ provided a model for Crown Derby’s pair of ceramic figures known as The Mansion House Dwarfs. The figures commemorate a father and son who earned a living by frequenting the area around Mansion House in the City of London, wearing advertisements pinned to their hats.


on May 25, 2011 Posted by: johngoto in AR Gilt City


camera box

Here is the apparatus I used to film the AR video. The iPhone slots into the front, and a small camera is pressed into an aperture at the back. Matthew had suggested a cereal box, but in the event I used a Cheese Twists carton. It could do with refining.

on May 24, 2011 Posted by: johngoto in AR Gilt City



New technologies always seem to stir up social anxieties. Since I was a child TV has been the subject of endless ‘expert’ speculation about its detrimental effect on the young. Now that we are loosing interest in the medium, similar discussions are applied to digital technologies.

Here is a picture of our new grand daughter, Summer, at five days old, courtesy of her Mum and Dad…and Skype!


on May 24, 2011 Posted by: johngoto in AR Gilt City

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