Re:Mapping the Flâneur

May 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Image © Srinigas Kuruganti

It’s now 6 weeks since FORMAT11 ended. It took a while for everyone at ASA Collective and Wideyed to get over Mapping the Flâneur (it was a lot of hard work!), and then start digesting the experience…

Over the month that Mapping the Flâneur took place, 97 photographers from 20 collectives around the world contributed just over 700 of their images to the installation project. 700 images in a month might not seem like a lot in a world where thousands of pictures are uploaded to online image sharing sites every minute. But when you’re processing 700 images, publishing them with credits and captions to a tumblr site and sending them to print in a gallery, all one by one, believe us, it’s a lot. And at the end of the exhibition, we discovered we’d used 5 rolls of 40m long paper, totalling 200m, for the installation. Those are big prints.

As part of the application process for ACE G4TA grants, there’s a section dedicated to evaluation – ACE ask how you plan to monitor the progress of your work from start to finish, and consider its potential impact beyond. When you first start considering this, the most obvious measurements of achievement are quantifiable things like the numbers of visitors to the exhibition, press clippings and web hits; for example, based on the figures supplied to us by FORMAT, we estimate that 2,500-2,700 people saw Mapping the Flâneur in Derby. After that, there are things like written comments and word-of-mouth feedback, evaluation forms and SWOT analyses…

But it also occurred to us that, at the close of the exhibition, a large number and variety of images would have been received, and the potential to successfully re-curate these into another object – another exhibition, say – would be the most interesting measure of the quality of the project.

And that’s exactly what we’re about to attempt.

This is the gallery in Newcastle where we’ll be re-exhibiting Mapping the Flâneur – or Re:Mapping the Flâneur. The gallery is part of Newcastle Arts Centre, which 100 years ago was a department store, and the arched ceiling is a restored original feature. Given that the piece of work we’ll be exhibiting there was directly inspired by Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Arcades Project’, the fact that we’ll be using a space that not only looks like an arcade but was also used as a commercial space like one, is fantastic.

And this is roughly how we plan to use that space. Although the gallery is large, it’s nowhere near big enough to display five 40m long prints, so we’ll exhibit the best parts of three, and with these try to give an impression of the lengths of the prints and the scale of the original project they were produced in. The index card filing cabinet we used in the Collectives Encounter exhibition will make a reappearance, and we’ll also produce a 13m long print, especially for this show, as a means of introducing some context (information about the Derby installation, the photographers that took part and their collectives, and so on).

In addition, our collaboration with ASA Collective continues, as we’re working to transform all the images we received into something that can be screened or projected. Our hope is that any of the other collectives involved in this project can then take ownership of this piece, by showing it themselves if they wish. That they might take it for a walk…

The exhibition will run from 14th – 26th June 2011 at Newcastle Arts Centre, 67 Westgate Road, NE1 1SG

6pm onwards on Friday 24th June, the projection piece being created for this exhibition will be screened at a special event, timed to coincide with Sunderland University’s ‘The Versatile Image: Photography in the Era of Web 2.0‘.

We hope to see you there!


Planning to flân

February 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Less than a fortnight to go now…

So, quick update. And we’ve literally drawn up a plan.

On the left of this sketch is a big old wooden plan chest, which will be propped on spare index cards or books, and sitting on top of it will be the main printer, hidden under we’re not sure what yet. Out of this printer, rolls of paper (each 40m long) will scroll across our portion of the Collectives Encounter exhibition gallery space (approx 10m) and gradually archive themselves into the open drawer of the wooden filing cabinet stage right, on top of which will be the lovely index card filing cabinet in the image below.

The index card filing cabinet should be something for people visiting the exhibition to play with. The details of all the photography collectives taking part in Mapping the Flâneur will be in there, with selected quotes from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project etc, and there’ll also be blank cards for feedback about the exhibition – or even (who knows) Benjamin/Baudelaire style observations from contemporary flâneurs? A second printer, spitting out pictures and quotes on index cards, should also be part of the installation, but it’s not in the sketch because we’re still working out where and how to place it.

We’ve settled on three very broad themes drawn from our reading of Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and these are consuming, transporting and urbanising. In the gallery, the images submitted for the three themes will be printed in separate rows on the roll paper, following a timeline – basically, the images will be printed in the order they arrive in by email, regardless of theme. Lots of general invitations have been sent out, responses are rolling inif you’re reading this and belong to a collective that hasn’t received an invite yet, it might just be because we’ve somehow missed you off our list, so if you’re interested in being involved please email  us  at mapping.flaneur[at] and let us know.

And when we say ‘us’ here, we mean both ASA Collective and Wideyed of course. Amongst other things, ASA have been setting up the online part of this project, and we’re all currently testing that as well.

To get back to printing though, we’ve also been testing that. Although we ought to know it already, it’s still interesting to see just how different the images we’ve uploaded and viewed online all look once they’re printed. There are pictures we might not look twice at on a screen, that as prints are transformed into something more worthy of our attention. Colin Pantall’s blog post ‘Seeing this work on a computer is not seeing it at all‘ comes to mind.

Anyway, as things are going we might not have time to blog again till Derby (although we’ll try). If not, see you there!


Mapping more progress

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

With only a month to go till the opening of Collectives Encounter, it’s probably time to start talking about our part of it in more detail.

First, an interesting quote from Walter Benjamin:

From a European perspective, things looked this way: In all areas of production, from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the development of technology proceeded at a much slower rate than the development of art. Art could take its time in variously assimilating the technological modes of operation. But the transformation of things that set in around 1800 dictated the tempo to art, and the more breathtaking this tempo, the more readily the dominion of fashion overspread all fields. Finally, we arrive at the present state of things: the possibility now arises that art will no longer find the time to adapt somehow to technological processes. [G1,1]

Loosely inspired by recent developments in cloud printing, Mapping the Flâneur has been conceived by Wideyed and ASA Collective as an image-based response to the fragmentary, indexical construct and content of Benjamin’s Arcades Project. Incorporating printers producing, in real time, images for exhibition as they are emailed in, the installation is partly intended to present a tangible model of online image sharing: the experimental nature of the project is also a response to ongoing critical debate about the future of print in the internet age, and will embody one possible crossover between the online and real worlds. Secondly, by inviting photography collectives around the world to join in a dialogue with each others’ work, based around key themes drawn from Benjamin’s writings, the project will present an overview of the growing photography collective movement, of contemporary photographic practices worldwide, and provide a multiplicity of responses to diverse global urban realities.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Tonight we found out where the exhibition space will be, and apparently it’s smack in the centre of Derby, and huge. When setting up at the end of this month, some thinking on our feet will be necessary. Meanwhile, we’ll continue working towards turning our plans into reality (but with increasing urgency). We’ll soon be contacting the collectives we hope will play with us, and drafting our manual… and we’ll spare you the list.

But to finish we’ll just go back to the Benjamin quote at the beginning quickly and ask, can the arts keep pace with technological advances, or have they long since lost the race? Well, we might not have the material and financial resources that industry has, but hey, flexibility and a little ingenuity can go a long, long way.

Installation shot of ‘Just in Time, or a short History of Production’, 2010, Xavier Antin [via Mrs Deane]

Although our installation won’t be quite so post-steampunk as this, we love it! so we’re adding it to our research.

[This post has also been blogged at the Collectives Encounter website.]

Preparing to flân

January 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

We’ve been thinking about street photography this week.

In the concise Oxford Hachette French-English dictionary, the translation of the verb ‘flâner’ is simply to stroll, dawdle, or idle.

Inject some Benjamin or Baudelaire into this dry definition, and you get the more poetic Flâneur, who “has been portrayed in the past as a well-dressed man, strolling leisurely through the Parisian arcades of the nineteenth century – a shopper with no intention to buy […]. Traditionally the traits that mark the flâneur are wealth, education, and idleness. He strolls to pass the time that his wealth affords him, treating the people who pass and the objects he sees as texts for his own pleasure. An anonymous face in the multitude, the flâneur is free to probe his surroundings for clues and hints that may go unnoticed by the others. […] As a member of the crowd that populates the streets, the flâneur participates physically in the text that he observes while performing a transient and aloof autonomy with a “cool but curious eye” that studies the constantly changing spectacle that parades before him. As an observer, the flâneur exists as both ‘active and intellectual’. The flâneur has no specific relationship with any individual, yet he establishes a temporary yet deeply empathetic and intimate relationship with all that he sees – an intimacy bordering on the conjugal – writing a bit of himself into the margins of the text in which he is immersed, a text devised by selective disjunction.”

The curatorial premise of Collectives Encounter 2011 is ‘The Flâneur’, and this will sit within an edition of Format Photography Festival that is dedicated to street photography so, if you gloss over the wealth and idleness (and, if you happen to be a member of the fairer sex, the well-dressed man bit), you have above what could be a near perfect description of the street photographer on the prowl?

None of us at Wideyed have ever really considered ourselves as street photographers. Louise Taylor’s practice revolves around rural issues, and Richard Glynn and myself tend to work on projects where, even if the images are made on the street, the setting is incidental, is a backdrop rather than a subject. As (with ASA Collective) we work towards the production of Mapping the Flâneur (or Map the Flân, as we’ve begun calling it), the question of how we ourselves, as photographers, are going to work on this project arises – especially as none of us is sure we understand what street photography actually is.

That’s why we went to last week’s North East Photography Network reading group. The main subject for it was street photography, and we thought we might be able to sit at the back and take notes. Suggested reading beforehand was this 18 April 2010 Guardian article by Sean O’Hagan: Why Street Photography is Facing a Moment of Truth. Take this quoted definition of street photography from the article as a starting point: “It’s essentially a way of working wherein you have to be utterly open to what happens on the street. So, no props, no models, no setting up of shots, and you always use available light. Then, it’s down to a mixture of happenstance, luck and skill.” OK, fair enough, but it’s a bit of a conversation stopper, isn’t it? Remove the words ‘the street’ from the above and it could be a description of many kinds of straight documentary. And then, apply the “always use natural light” injunction to Bruce Gilden, and a star of Format Festival should automatically be barred entry to the party. Anyway, the reading group discussion about street photography quickly (and not unsurprisingly?) meandered away in other directions, and we came home not much wiser.

We then looked on the London Street Photography Festival site, where street photography is defined as, “Candid, un-staged photography which captures, explores or questions contemporary society and the relationships between individuals and their surroundings. Situated in public environments – which are often but not exclusively, urban – street photography is perhaps more easily defined as a method than a genre. The results can fit into documentary, portraiture and other genres, but the key elements of spontaneity, careful observation and an open mind ready to capture whatever appears in the viewfinder are essential.”

Which (with the other research we’ve done) has left us wondering; has ‘street photography’, as a name either for a genre or a method of photographic practice, become something of a misnomer?

We’re hoping that Map the Flân will help us explore the boundaries of this question.

[This post has also been blogged at the Collectives Encounter website.]

Mapping progress

January 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

As part of our engagement with Collectives Encounter 2011, we’ve agreed to blog about process. Over the holiday period, Wideyed and ASA were too busy with a funding application to ACE to even think about blogging, but the application was submitted this week so, now that we’ve (more or less…) recovered from that, we’re getting back to what we were doing before, which was research. And while we can’t talk about our exhibition project in too much detail yet, we can at least start blogging by sharing some of our research progress.

Photographers contributing images to our exhibition, Mapping the Flâneur, will be asked to respond to each others’ work and to predetermined themes drawn from the writings of Walter Benjamin. So we’re currently reading Benjamin’s The Arcades Project in search of potential themes, key words, and inspiring quotes (or ‘convolutes’) we can use for the exhibition. The book is a real door-stopper, so we haven’t finished going through it yet, but just before Xmas we found several pieces we’ll transcribe a few of here as examples of the kind of guidance we’re finding in Benjamin’s text.

Streets are the dwelling place of the collective. The collective is an eternally unquiet, eternally agitated being that – in the space between the building fronts – experiences, learns, understands, and invents as much as individuals do within the privacy of their own four walls. For this collective, glossy enameled shop signs are a wall decoration as good as, if not better than, an oil painting in the drawing room of a bourgeois; walls with their “Post No Bills” are its writing desk, newspaper stands its libraries, mailboxes its bronze busts, benches its bedroom furniture, and the café terrace is the balcony from which it looks down on its household. [M3a,4]

The flâneur is the observer of the marketplace. His knowledge is akin to the occult science of industrial fluctuations. He is a spy for the capitalists in the realm of consumers. [M5,6]

The city is the realisation of that ancient dream of humanity, the labyrinth. It is this reality to which the flâneur, without knowing it, devotes himself. [M6a,4]

To leave without being forced in any way, and to follow your inspiration as if the mere fact of turning right or turning left already constituted an essentially poetic act.

Edmond Jaloux, “Le Dernier Flâneur,” Le Temps (May 22, 1936). [M9a,4]

As well as panning for gold in The Arcades Project, at some point we will also need to write some form of brief, manual, or guidebook for participating photographers to follow. As part of our research for this we’ve been looking at manifestos, to see if this is a structure we could adapt for our own use. From we found links online to a few interesting ones, like F.T. Marinetti’s famous 1909 Futurist Manifesto, Oswaldo de Andrade’s satirical 1928 Cannibal Manifesto, and the Fractalist Movement’s not-so-snappily-titled Manifesto of the Art and Complexity Group from the mid-1990s (scroll to the bottom of the page for the French version).

Something else we’d have like to see but haven’t been able to track down online, is Lettrist Isidore Isou‘s text on photography: Amos, ou Introduction à la métagraphologie (Amos, or Introduction to Metagraphology). While searching around for it, we found instead a clip from Venom and Eternity, the avant garde Lettrist film that, for fun, we’re going to close this post with. The main character does talk about photography towards the end, but it’s more for the footage of an actual Parisian flâneur in action that we’re including it here.

[This post has also been blogged at the Collectives Encounter website.]

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