Photomaps: A Visual Taxonomy

Rob Tovey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Downloads (Pure)


Multiple viewpoint photo composites, or photomaps, are commonplace, but critically and popularly overlooked. They bring together principles from information graphics
and geographic visualisation and combine them with the image-making technologies
of photography. Well known examples include the ubiquitous panorama and aerial composites such as Google Map’s satellite view. Forerunners are as old as photography itself including examples from Henry Fox-Talbot and Eadweard Muybridge. 
In this visual essay the formal possibilities of photomaps are explored through practical enquiry. Alternate visual schemas are used to arrange photographic information with the purpose of setting out some of the parameters and possibilities of this mode of representation. What follows is a visual taxonomy of photomaps covering cartographic, scanned, diagrammatic, peripheral and topological approaches. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but does set out the territory for what has been an under-theorised visual approach. 
Texts on the subject are limited, with the majority focusing on technological innovations in optics and compositing, geographic information systems (GIS) and, less often, Google Earth. The only major texts to explicitly address photo-composite representations include Nicholas Felton’s recent PhotoViz: Visualizing information through photography (2016) and Dawn Ades’ Photomontage (1976), both of which have a very different emphasis to this study.  
Rather than frame the photomap as an isolated visual mode, it is conceptualised here as being part of an expanded field of visual media, which merges into photography, film, digital imagery and information graphics. George Baker in ‘Photography’s Expanded Field’ argues that the blurring of boundaries between diverse visual forms has meant ‘photography has been thoroughly transformed today’ but that ‘something like a photographic effect still remains’ (2005: 123). This is echoed in statements from Costello (2007), Fried (2008) and Green and Lowry (2005). This ‘photographic effect’ is present, and indeed fundamental, to photomaps. Baker sets out an expansive structure, arguing: ‘Perhaps, indeed, photography’s expanded field... might even have to be imagined as a group of expanded fields, multiple sets of oppositions and conjugations, rather than any singular operation’ (ibid: 124, his emphasis). It is within this framework that the study is situated, with the “photomap” at that liminal point between photography, information graphics and mapping, and it is the parameters of this expanded field that are explored here.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-220
Number of pages12
JournalVisual Communication
Issue number2
Early online date23 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • digital composite
  • information design
  • mapping
  • photography
  • photomap
  • representation

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Photomaps: A Visual Taxonomy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this