Esther Johnson

Alone Together - The Social Life of Benches


Output: Digital or Visual Media

The ethnographic documentary film, ‘Alone Together, the Social Life of Benches’ investigates the experiential capacity of film to highlight feelings of inclusion and exclusion in the urban public realm. Making use of the emotional and empathetic capacity of audio-visual media, the film looks at the psychological effect of public spaces and the effect the public realm can have on individual and group wellbeing, the flow of visitors to a place, and the importance of design for everyday street furniture. The research revolves around the micro-space of the bench to illuminate the thoughts and memories of frequent users of two distinctive public spaces in London.

Research for the film was undertaken via multiple field trips to both film locations, where Johnson made written/photographic observations of public users and recorded a series of oral testimonies. Meetings were arranged with local charitable organisations to identify localised issues related to these spaces. Film participants were engaged via Johnson’s field trips and invited to mid-edit sessions where they could suggest edits accordingly.

The research was part of the collaborative, ‘The Bench Project’ supported by Arts and Humanities Research Council. The research premiered in community venues in the filming locations. Project participants, local councillors and charities were invited and given copies of the research DVD/Booklet publication, and the Benches for Everyone: Solitude in Public, Sociability for Free research findings that utilises textual/visual material from the film. Additional dissemination includes 1 solo gallery exhibition; 4 group exhibitions; screenings at 4 cinemas/community venues; 31 forums/conferences; and 2 online exhibitions for ‘Nowness’ and ‘ARGOS’.

The research has been reviewed in print and online. Publications by Johnson include ‘Alone Together: Documentary Filmmaking and Stories of Wellbeing in Outdoor Spaces’, in Pathways to Wellbeing in Design (Routledge); and ‘Alone Together: The Social Life of Benches’, in, ‘Well-being 2016’, (Birmingham City University).

Research Output

Alone Together - 4 minute film edit

Due to restrictions, this project does not have a full submission available to view. However, please feel free to check out other projects from this author.

Research Method

Using the medium of documentary Johnson focused on how film can help us tell detailed and nuanced stories about both encounters and exclusion in two London public spaces.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

Due to copyright, privacy, or agreements, the full output for this project submission is not available. Please contact us to request a copy to be sent to you.

Other Projects By

Esther Johnson