Friday, May 15, 2015

RE:DISCOVER THE CITY, the modern flaneur
Christina Kerr

The objective of the instillation was to find a new way of observing the city, aiming to discover new elements that one may not have seen or thought before. Originally the concept was to create a large scale instillation that involved a distorted space of the city itself, allowing the viewer to wander through the space using all their senses.The aim was to create an experience of the city one never imagined. Images would fill the space taken from the point of view of a wanderer, without restriction and of any element that the photographer desired. One hoped the images would add to the sense of unfamiliarity of a place one knows so well.

Many writers and artists where fascinated by the effects of the city on its inhabitants and how the
people use the spaces. Fletcher describes the phenomenon of the flâneur and Charles Baudelaire
also wrote about the city wanderer. But what about us as the viewers of the twenty-first century? Are we still into the city? These questions became key in how we thought about our project. As fletcher describes,

Flâneurs don’t have any practical goals in mind, aren’t walking to get something, or to go somewhere. What flâneurs are doing is looking. Opening their eyes and ears to the scene around them, wondering about the lives of those they pass, constructing narratives about the houses, eavesdropping on conversations, studying how people dress and street life in general. Flâneurs relish what they discern and discover.1

These words really describe the essence of our work. We took the images without force or goal, really looking at the details of what makes up the experience of the city space. Constructing narratives was a key aspect we wished to focus on. One wondered about the lives of the city and how we could create stories within the landscape using images. After many discussions it was decided that the project would involve a book with a series of photos from the point of view of a flaneur, allowing these untold stories about the life of the city to be created. 

Book Placed in Exhibition Space

I studied the work of Richard Misrach, in particular his series of photos called ‘On the beach’. In this series of images, taken in Hawaii, he removes all reference to the horizon and sky, recording
people immersed in the idyllic environment. He allows the viewer to create ideas about the environment and human interaction, the details are ambiguous. Its hard to distinguish if the figures are relaxed or drained of life. By studying this work it helped encourage the idea that stories can be created from a series of photos placed together. Photographs can create a better understanding of the environment and human existence.

The project focuses on Findlater Place, a cleft place in Dublin 1, dividing different functions from each other. It can be seen as a transition space with in the city. The space is used in different ways because of different functions: Bord Pleannala is next to the Best Western Academy Plaza Hotel and DIT, College of Catering faces the St. Thomas Church. All these diverse functions attract different people, who usually would not congregate in the same space. The variety of people and activities in this one location enabled a diverse collection of images for the project. 

Location of site and path of photographers

The method of taking the photos involved each of us going to the space on Findlater place, individually and at different times. Each individual has a different approach to the city; what interests them, how they study form, light and shade, and how they view architecture and their approach to the design process. Alan Fletcher said,

Goethe thought thinking more interesting than knowing, but not so interesting as looking. Certainly when confronted by a boring conversation my concentration is inclined to fold its arms and divert itself by observing the visual dialogues of my surroundings: the chit-chat between dappled sunlight and a chintz fabric, the point of contact between the edge of a near chair and the silhouette of a far lampshade, the dissolving outline of a face as it passes in front of a bright light. As Georgia O’Keeffe pointed out: ‘Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.’ 2

This idea is true of our photographs. By having four points of view we enhance the experience of the images due to a multitude of interests, and by spending more time observing the space one starts to see so much more. This form of taking the photos was key to our project and insured a diverse range of images. There was no restriction on the requirement of the photos, they could be taken by any camera and of anything. This all added to the experience of a Flaneur.

The writer was the one to choose, pair and order the images. In a sense they were the true flaneur. The images are laid out to tell a story that otherwise would be forgotten. In choosing a book one tries to immerse the viewer within the city landscape, allowing them to decide the stories inside. There are no words associated with the images either, again enabling the viewer to be the flaneur within this city space.

As a group we were inspired by the work of William Eggleston. His colour film photographs capture ‘democratically’ unspectacular events of our everyday life. In his book ‘Los Alamos’ Eggleston suggests through the arrangement of different images stories can be found behind the images. This is something we aimed to create with our project, taking everyday sightings and viewing them in a different way through the presentation of a book. The J. Paul Getty Museum explains that William Eggleston’s work “monumentalises everyday subjects, everything is equally important; every detail deserves attention.”

Beside each other these images try to evoke the idea of freedom and nature. On one side we have a seagull, he is free to fly over the city, and observe the landscape from above without having to interact with the spaces below. On the other side a man, he looks trapped in a space, perhaps showing how it sometimes feels to live in a dense city landscape.

In these series of images it shows a man that one can only imagine is taking a break from a busy work day, escaping the indoors for the sunshine filled lane. The sense of movement can be seen in the images bringing life to an otherwise static environment. 

These photos are paired to bring a sense of time to the flaneur. On the left a woman is holding a suit bag, on the right is this the same suit bag, hours or days later? One can create a story of what has happened over time.

This way of working could be applied to design studio. Taking photos in this way enables one to observe spaces one usually would not focus on. One returns many times and spends a lot longer wandering through the space gaining more of an understanding of the life and character of the city. One can find little moments of light and shade, and really begins to understand the form and essence of the city. A new way of perceiving the space and events within the city encourage one to rediscover the familiar surroundings. The city is more than just a transition space.

Peter Brook said, “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”4 The modern Flaneur is creating theatre within the everyday city. 


1. Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways (Phaidon Press: 2001)

2. Bryony Quinn, “The Art of Looking Sideways,” It’s nice that, August 25, 2011,

3. “William Eggleston.” The J. Paul Getty Museum. Last modified 2015. collection/artists/1505/william-eggleston-american-born-1939/

4. Peter Brook, The Empty Space (Penguin Modern Classics: 2008)

Bobby Seal, “Baudelaire, Benjamin and the Birth of the Flâneur,”
Psychogeographic Review, November 14, 2013, http://

Martina Lauster, “Walter Benjamin's Myth of the “Flâneur.” The Modern Language Review 102, no. 1 (2007), 139-156 Simon Ford, The situationist international a user’s guide (Black dog publishing: 2005) 

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