Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Flâneur at the Wednesday Farmers' Market

A French word that goes way back but which picked up the modern sense in which it is used in critical theory from Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin and others. Has led to considerable dense prose on modernity and related matters.
The concept of the flâneur is important in academic discussions of the phenomenon of modernity. While Baudelaire's aesthetic and critical visions helped open up the modern city as a space for investigation, theorists, such as Georg Simmel, began to codify the urban experience in more sociological and psychological terms. In his essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life", Simmel theorizes that the complexities of the modern city create new social bonds and new attitudes towards others. The modern city was transforming humans, giving them a new relationship to time and space, inculcating in them a "blasé attitude", and altering fundamental notions of freedom and being.
Susan Sontag jumped right in and applied it to street photography.
The most notable application of flâneur to street photography probably comes from Susan Sontag in her 1977 essay, On Photography. She describes how, since the development of hand-held cameras in the early 20th century, the camera has become the tool of the flâneur: "The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque.' "
Perhaps "flâneur " is not totally apt as a title for the photo (who's the flâneur -- the photographer or the man with the bags?), but it seemed so much cooler than "Man in a Sport Jacket Carrying Shopping Bags and Flowers at the Wednesday Farmers' Market."

No comments: