A photographic dialogue: exploring urban metabolism and informality through the #HiddenFlows exhibition

A photographic dialogue: exploring urban metabolism and informality through the #HiddenFlows exhibition

Exploring urban metabolism and informality in African cities through photography and storytelling to shape inclusive urban policy and equitable access to urban resources

How are urban resources accessed, moved and used in your African city?

The Hidden Flows photography exhibition explored this question through crowdsourced and commissioned imagery as a way to visualise and understand the urban metabolism in African cities. Urban metabolism is the flow of resources such as food, water, energy, waste and people through the city. Informal and decentralised urban resource flows are widespread in African cities and, because of their informal nature, most of the way in which they move through cities and the infrastructures that move them to go unnoticed.

The Hidden Flows photography exhibition seeks to bring to light the people, resources and infrastructures which support our lives, yet go unseen – either because they are literally buried, covered or hidden, or because we take them for granted despite them being right in front of us. It highlights that if data is required to make decisions, but no data is available to describe how private individuals enrich our urban economies, then these people and these systems are effectively rendered invisible. Hidden Flows therefore aimed to uncover and make visible these informal and hidden processes, to support alternative knowledge production and to use this qualitative data as a basis for interrogation and discussion with city decision-makers.

This workshop invites artists, photographers, urban practitioners and city officials to make meaning of the photographic data presented by the Hidden Flows photography exhibition, to explore the themes that emerge from these images, and to determine what this means for future urban policy development.

Hidden Flows forms part of a broader research project on informality and urban metabolism undertaken by Stellenbosch University Sustainability Institute, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and ICLEI Africa, and is funded by the Leading Integrated Research in Africa (LIRA) 2030.



Comment les ressources urbaines sont-elles accessibles, déplacées et utilisées dans votre ville africaine?

L’exposition de photographies Hidden Flows a exploré cette question à travers des images de crowdsourcing et commandées comme moyen de visualiser et de comprendre le métabolisme urbain dans les villes africaines. Le métabolisme urbain est le flux de ressources telles que la nourriture, l’eau, l’énergie, les déchets et les personnes à travers la ville. Les flux de ressources urbaines informelles et décentralisées sont répandus dans les villes africaines et, en raison de leur nature informelle, la plupart de leurs déplacements dans les villes et les infrastructures qui les déplacent passent inaperçus.

L’exposition de photographies Hidden Flows cherche à mettre en lumière les personnes, les ressources et les infrastructures qui soutiennent nos vies, mais restent invisibles – soit parce qu’elles sont littéralement enterrées, couvertes ou cachées, soit parce que nous les tenons pour acquises alors qu’elles se trouvent juste devant nous. Il souligne que si des données sont nécessaires pour prendre des décisions, mais qu’aucune donnée n’est disponible pour décrire comment les particuliers enrichissent nos économies urbaines, alors ces personnes et ces systèmes sont effectivement rendus invisibles. Hidden Flows visait donc à découvrir et à rendre visibles ces processus informels et cachés, à soutenir la production alternative de connaissances et à utiliser ces données qualitatives comme base d’interrogation et de discussion avec les décideurs de la ville.

Cet atelier invite des artistes, des photographes, des praticiens urbains et des responsables de la ville à donner un sens aux données photographiques présentées par l’exposition photographique Hidden Flows, à explorer les thèmes qui émergent de ces images et à déterminer ce que cela signifie pour le futur développement de la politique urbaine.

Hidden Flows fait partie d’un projet de recherche plus large sur l’informalité et le métabolisme urbain entrepris par le Stellenbosch University Sustainability Institute, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology et ICLEI Africa, et est financé par Leading Integrated Research in Africa (LIRA) 2030.



Host: ICLEI Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Session Summary

Jehan Bikoo opened the session for the #Hiddenflows Dialogue. This session explored African cities using photography and storytelling through the #Hiddenflows exhibition. The #Hiddenflows exhibition and photographic dialogue is an exploration of metabolism and informality, run by Stellenbosch University, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and ICLEI Africa.

This session uses photography as an alternative medium to better understand our cities. The photography exhibition was used as a basis to spark dialogue between the speakers and the attendees. Paul Currie introduces the photographic exhibitions that will be used for further discussion. Sandra Boatemaa says that as city officials, they were able to use these exhibitions through critical conversation, raised awareness about resources in cities, and created critical reflections.

Tamsin Faragher, Gloria Gambrah, and Heba Khalil were asked to give their thoughts and themes regarding the #Hiddenflows exhibition. David Maddox gave some understanding from his perspective when he looks upon the exhibitions. He emphasised that we need to find ideas in unusual places. The session then split up into breakout rooms where further discussions took place. After this, the speakers and attendees continued the discussion further and discussed their findings and the themes of the exhibition.