FINDING YOUR FOOTING
Take a moment to think about the powerful role maps have in our lives. Apart from helping us shape our spatial understanding of the world around us, maps were there for many of our meaningful moments. We used them to navigate a new continent on our first solo trip, to arrive on the doorstep of our dream job or to bring us to the heartfelt joys of our best friend’s wedding. Considering how integrated maps are in our daily lives, it might be fair to say that they’re often taken for granted.
We spoke to Studio Milligram’s enthusiastic cartographer Damien Saunder on the wildly interdisciplinary, almost fantastical world of cartography. He took us through the beginnings of his cartographic journey, what it was like to work on the world’s largest atlas, and the best thing about being a cartographer.
To get started, I’d really like to know the beginnings of your cartography career! Can you describe to me the first map you’ve ever created?
At around the age of 13 I created my first map, it was of my local tennis club—The Wangaratta Lawn Tennis Club. It was a hand drawn map showing each of the 20+ courts, the nearby creek, entrances etc. I also drew up a radical new clubhouse which I was dreaming to have built one day. No one else has probably ever mapped the club since or would ever want to, but that was my first foray into the world of mapping! Later in life, I would return to my love of tennis by using maps to help professional players on the ATP and WTA tours develop strategies to beat their opponents—who would have thought!
How did you get interested in cartography?
I grew up in Wangaratta and studied Graphic Communication at the Wangaratta High School. During one of our class projects I took a trip to the nearby School of Military Survey, which was located in Bonegilla, about 45 mins drive from Wangaratta. It was during that visit that my interest in Cartography began.
It was intriguing to learn how highly intersectional the discipline of cartography is. It’s such a crazy balance of art, science, spatial awareness and representing complex information. With all these moving parts to consider, what, in your opinion, makes a good map?
Defining a good map has been debated for decades in Cartography, particularly in academia and on social media. Everyone has their opinion on what a good map is. What we do know is that maps are incredibly personal and everyone connects with maps in different ways. Some are fixated with the statistical nature of maps, some admire the art of maps, some geek out to the technology of maps and some are intrigued with the science of maps. Depending on the connection you have will determine whether you think the map is a good one or not. Broadly speaking, a good map is one that captures your attention, connects with you emotionally, then delivers you the necessary details to enable you to achieve your mapping goals, whatever they may be.
Do you have a favourite map?
Oh wow, that’s an incredibly tough question. Let me start with maps that I own—that will point you to some of my favourite maps. Proudly hanging in my lounge is Imfled’s 1896 Map of Mont Blanc which is arguably one of the finest 19th century maps of the Mont Blanc Range. It’s a spectacular piece of work that transports you to the top of one of the most majestic mountain ranges in the world.
Herbert Bayer’s modernist Geo-Graphical atlas (1953), Erwin Raisz unique Atlas of Global Geography (1931), the monumental Californian Water Atlas (1979) and it’s cousin, the beautiful Californian Atlas, from the same year. Each of these atlases present some of the finest pieces of cartographic work ever produced. You also can’t go past the important work of National Geographic and Collins Bartholomew. These two institutions have represented the epitome of cartographic excellence for well over 100 years. More locally, who could forget the legendary Australian road atlas—the Melways. It still today remains one of the most detailed road atlases anywhere in the world.
Imfled Map of Mont Blanc, 1896
“It’s a profession that has the ability to virtually take you to a new place and a new culture every single day. You NEVER stop learning about the world around you—I love that about it.”
How did it feel to be part of creating the world’s largest atlas?
Being a part of such a project was a dream come true, particularly for someone who loved atlases so much as a kid. For years these incredible publications represented the pinnacle of our profession. They were the ultimate fusion of art, science and technology. They were in my opinion the ultimate cartographic tome. Earth Platinum was special because no publisher had created an atlas of this size for over 350 years (Earth Platinum became the largest atlas in the world overtaking the Klencke Atlas, first published in 1660). With such a dependency on HD maps today, Earth Platinum may hold the title of the largest atlas ever produced for another 350 years, and it may well be the last atlas ever to make it into the Guinness World Record book!
Earth Platinum – the world’s largest atlas
And lastly, to finish off, what’s the best thing about being a cartographer?
There are so many things. It’s a profession that has the ability to virtually take you to a new place and a new culture every single day. You NEVER stop learning about the world around you—I love that about it. It’s also a real privilege to be able to present the world to others in a form that they may not have seen before—to teach them, to inspire them, to help them get from A to B, whatever it might be. That never grows old. Maps are also incredibly powerful and I never once take for granted the responsibilities that come with that. In recent years the abundance of spatial-temporal data across health, environment, education and technology (to name a few) has put cartographers back on the map (pardon the pun). This digital explosion has catapulted the profession into the 21st Century. There has arguably never been so much responsibility on the profession in so many areas of society than ever before. It truly is a wonderful profession to be involved in.Take a closer look at Damien’s work with Studio Milligram’s Canvas Maps like the Studio Milligram World Map (pictured above)