In this article, I will argue that the territorial stigma of social housing estates has resulted in a condition of hyper(in)visibility, whereby estate residents are visibly caricatured and yet are rendered invisible from representations of urban change. I will specifically explore the site-specific photographic portrait project I am Here, of a British estate undergoing redevelopment, which aims to critique and reverse this hyper(in)visibility and reconfigure the place identity of the estate and its residents in the midst of spatial transformation. Although the genre of social documentary has been heavily criticised for sentimentalising subjects of poverty and turning them into spectacles for entertainment, I use Ariella Azoulay’s notion of photography as a ‘civil encounter’ to argue that as a site of multiple gazes, photography potentially empowers estate residents to affirm a sense of belonging and attachment to urban space. Furthermore, by foregrounding questions of visibility and invisibility, photography visually helps to construct an alternative understanding of citizenship not predicated on neoliberal ideologies of consumerism so inherent to urban development.
Keywords: public housing; photography; displacement; urban regeneration; gentrification