Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Original Mashup Artist

Way back in 1998—before Google Maps, before mashups like Gridskipper and Rotten Neighbor, before GPS in our cars and our telephones—Denis Wood was making maps. And they were beautiful.

This American Life never fails to disappoint, but their recent rebroadcast of this 1998 show on mapping was just incredibly moving. I love how the site describes Denis Wood's project to map his neighborhood in its every aspect:
Denis Wood talks with host Ira Glass about the maps he's made of his own neighborhood, Boylan Heights in Raleigh, North Carolina. They include a traditional street locator map; a map of all the sewer and power lines under the earth's surface; a map of how light falls on the ground through the leaves of trees; a map of where all the Halloween pumpkins are each year; and a map of all the graffiti in the neighborhood and of who was mentioned most often in the neighborhood newspaper. In short, he's creating maps that are more like novels, trying to describe everyday life.
It's amazing to listen to Denis Wood talk about how all information can be made more useful by locating it spatially. I love how he looks for the poetry in patterns, linking together people and places and symbols by distilling them into unexpected images. I'd say he's the Original Mashup Artist, but he's so much more than that. Just look at those pumpkins, and tell me they're not a secret story, waiting to be told.

For more mapping joy, check out the entire Denis Wood map set. While you're at it, I also recommend taking a look at this amazing book—Transit Maps of the World. Book via boingboing.

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