JOHN FREDERICK ANDERSON
Grid Cities- Bastides is a series of photographs that make a visual study of the architectural designs of market towns of the Middle Ages, called Bastides, which were constructed in the south of France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
A benevolent Marquis of the time would bequeath a plot of land for peasants to sell surplus produce, and allowed the construction of the town with a market at its heart, and a church to one corner of the market square. In return, the townspeople could keep the profits, pledged support for the Marquis in times of threat and continued to work the land of the estate.
The Bastide towns were built on a grid pattern using local materials, and display the distinct architectural construction techniques that varied from region to region. The common base of the grid design for the streets facilitated the freedom of movement of goods and people, vital for a market economy. We can see the beginnings of modern capitalism in the original Charters and political structures of the surviving Bastides, many of which still function as market towns today.
Many Bastides are fortified with walls and gates as defense against the French and English armies that passed through the region during the frequent wars of the time. More than three hundred Bastides were constructed over a period of one hundred and fifty years, and two hundred and forty survive today. They range east to west from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coasts of southern France, and north from the Pyrenees to the regions of the Dordogne and Aveyron.
The photographs capture grids in layers that blend together to form organic inter- textures, revealing evidence of life that the citizens have etched onto the urban surfaces. The images concentrate on façades, the screen of urban life that shows its public surface to the outside, yet also conceals an inner world and contrasting visual vocabulary of private space. With the façade as the screen, the meeting point between private existence and public exhibition can be explored. Extrapolating the aerial framework of the grid, the visual narrative derives its structure, continuity and meaning from the interpretation of the grid on vertical surfaces. The magical light of southern France unifies the geographically vast project, which was photographed over a period of three and a half years.
Each of the final prints in the series have three individual images layered as multiple exposures, made on location at the time on one sheet of 5x4 inch film. Each final image overlays distinct grid structures and details centuries apart, collapsing time in a truly unique photographic vocabulary. The resulting combinations link different towns and diverse regional architectural styles united in an era of emerging capital enterprise and philosophy of community, that have survived wars and retained their particular charm after seven centuries.