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Peripheral vision

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Andrew Cross, Dan Holdsworth At the John Hansard Gallery, Highfield, Southampton, until 1 September

The John Hansard Gallery in Southampton has brought together two photographers whose working methods are very different but who share a fascination with the 'backstage' areas of the architectural landscape.

Both photograph the places that interest them unpeopled, encouraging speculation as to just what happens in them and what their wider significance might be.

The one large image in the room of Andrew Cross' work shows hundreds of sea containers piled high in a ramshackle freight depot. Telegraph wires droop from poles that lean precariously between the corrugated-iron administration buildings, while overhead, more serious communications cables cut aggressively across the top of the photograph.

Behind the depot a freight train waits beside a sea of parked cars. Freeway signs and airline billboards feature prominently on the edge-of-town skyline. This is Oak Island, New Jersey, a sister container-port to Southampton and one of many large knots in the tangle of communication, transportation and trade routes that encircle the world.

Cross' smaller pictures are taken in equally unostentatious surroundings but closer to home - 13 images from each of two towns in which he completed a 'Year of the Artist' residency: Enfield and Swindon.

A Swindon taxi driver once told me that the town has more roundabouts per capita than anywhere else in Europe. I was unsure if this was a complaint or a matter of civic pride, but the taxi ride seemed to bear out his claim. Once a single-industry railway town, Swindon has grown into a major centre for manufacturing - and for the distribution and service industries in particular. Hence the roundabouts - to guide the motorist through the rapidly spreading web of industrial estates, new housing projects, corporate headquarters, distribution centres and M4 feeder roads.

This is the Swindon that Andrew Cross photographs. Though such areas are commonly referred to as 'out of town', increasingly it is precisely here, on the urban periphery, that the core of our society's infrastructure is visible.

Dan Holdsworth's images are less everyday and more deliberately seductive in their production. He, too, is drawn to the edge of our colonisation of the 'natural' environment. Shown here is a series of images of the Arianne rocket base in French Guiana, South America, from where billions of pounds' worth of communications hardware have been launched into space.

Shot at night, when the buildings are empty and at their most eerie and otherworldly, his interior pictures might have been taken in a power station, chemical plant or even an expensively equipped art gallery. However, the scale of the rooms, the panels of instruments and the all-pervasive antiseptic cleanliness suggest an activity of much greater significance.

Holdsworth's series is entitled 'The Edge of Space'. Cross' Enfield pictures simply show the edge of London. But at the end of the 19th century, Enfield was still a rural market town supplying produce to the capital. One of Cross' photographs shows a plot of ragged vegetable growers' allotments behind a Victorian terrace, overlooked by 1960s tower blocks and with fields and trees beyond. If this is a picture of man's colonisation of the land, then it is strictly local, small-scale and for the most long-established of purposes.

One of Holdsworth's most unnerving images shows a dusty, tyre-marked corner of the Arianne base looking out towards the surrounding trees at night. It is apparently as ordinary-looking a place as the Enfield allotment, but for the curious vents that emerge from the earth beneath the photographer's feet and point towards the blackness above. They suggest some kind of mysterious underground installation. The long exposure catches the streaks of 'falling' stars and emphasises the vastness of the night sky. It is far more that just the ground beneath your feet that is being 'colonised' at the Arianne base.

As the periphery and the systems it supports expands, so our relationship with it becomes more significant. This relationship is not always clearly visible. Cross' and Holdsworth's photographs shed a little light in the right direction.

James Peto is curator at the Design Museum

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