Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label street photography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label street photography. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

TWO OTHER COUNTRIES

I was hunkered down for part of the holiday with the works of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, including  “Record No.36” - in Japanese “Kiroku” - the latest in his series of diaristic monographs that date back as far as 1972.  This is from that volume:


Moriyama has been around, in many senses.  Currently aged 79 he’s taken vast numbers of photographs, published a great many books (if not as many as his pal Araki), and also done a great amount of walking.  He may not, strictly speaking, be a street photographer (a term that seems ever more meaningless) but he’s definitely a flaneur.  His photographs are a record of his wanderings and also the reason for his wandering.


And of course sometimes he photographs other walkers.  And of course some of these walkers are women.


I started digging out some writings and interviews with the great man.  There’s this from the afterword to “Record No. 34,” “I am crisscrossing the central Tokyo area taking snapshots in the streets more or less on a daily basis. Within this routine, every once in a while it happens that I am suddenly overcome by a sense of bewilderment, just like a student in his first year at a photography school. What exactly am I trying to see through the finder of my camera? What is that photo that I just shot? It's questions as utterly naïve and elementary as these that occupy my mind in such situations.”


And there’s this from a documentary the Tate Gallery made about him a few years back, “I basically walk quite fast. I like taking snapshots in the movement of both myself and the outside world. When I walk around I probably look like a street dog because after walking around the main roads, I keep wandering around the back streets.”
This is probably his best known picture: of a street dog:


He continues, “My friends or critics are often surprised and ask me why I never got bored walking around for over 50 years. But I never get bored. I often hear it is said that people, even photographers, do their best work when they are in their 20’s and 30’s. I’m 73 now. But I could never see the city with an old man’s eyes, or as if I understood everything.
“Everyone has desires. The quality and the volume of those desires change with age. But that desire is always serious and real. Photography is an expression of those desires
“I have always felt that the world is an erotic place. As I walk through it my senses are reaching out. And I am drawn to all sorts of things. For me cities are enormous bodies of people’s desires. And as I search for my own desires within them, I slice into time, seeing the moment.”


Well, the erotics of walking and the erotics of photography are not exactly the same, but there’s surely plenty of overlap.  Taking pictures of women in the street is currently regarded as a very dodgy activity.  I think it’s still OK to look at people you fancy, so long as you don’t touch or say anything appropriate.  And taking photographs creates its own set of problem.  It’s probably OK if you’re making art, not OK if you go home and lech over the images.  But who can read the intentions of the male gaze?


          I saw recently that the Christie’s website describes photographer Miroslav Tichy as a flaneur, thus: “From the 1950s to 1986, Tichý took thousands of surreptitious photographs in and around Kyjov, in the Czech Republic. With his wild hair and ragged clothes, locals viewed him as a harmless eccentric — but in many ways his art can be seen as a subversive act in response to a totalitarian regime. 


         “In the 1950s, he began to focus on photography, using an array of crude homemade cameras … He built his contraptions from scrap — cardboard tubes, tin cans and the like — sealed with tar, and operated by bobbins and dressmaker’s elastic. He cut lenses from plexiglass — even devising his own telephoto lens.  


“’These chance encounters, fleeting moments captured on film, have a distinctive Baudelairean flair,’ says Christie’s specialist Amanda Lo Iacono. ‘Indeed what we find so captivating about Tichý’s work today is how the artist acted as the quintessential flaneur, whose practice became inseparable from his way of life.’”


Well, you’ve said a mouthful there, Amanda.  Tichy’s “practice” involved wandering the streets, and sometimes hiding in the bushes, taking pictures of women, some of them walking, some of them in various states of undress.  


Geoff Dyer in the Guardian says, “Put as simply as possible, he spent his time perving around Kyjov, photographing women. Ideally he'd catch them topless or in bikinis at the local swimming pool; failing that, he'd settle for a glimpse of knee or - the limitations of the camera meant the framing was often askew - ankle.”


Yes, I suppose flaneurism is what flaneurism does. Likewise perving. But that was in another country, and besides the guy is dead. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

LOST(ISH) IN NEW YORK





I’ve been in New York, the city and the state, doing some walking among other things.  On the first day there I went to my publisher’s office, a place I’d been before and it’s right there in the middle of town, on 18th Street, and so I had no worries about finding it and getting there on time.  And so, I set off for a meeting, and in due course I got completely and utterly (and inevitably) lost.  I suddenly couldn’t tell whether I should be on east 18th or west 18th, and in any case I had some kind of brain fade and couldn’t tell east from west anyway, and so I got there late and sweaty and panicky, and feeling like a complete rube, who couldn’t find his way around the big city.  This was not precisely the impression I was trying to convey to my publisher.


Of course, when I’m in my walker/urban explorer mode, I think that being lost in the city is a very good thing, but it’s not nearly so cool when you have to be at a certain place at a certain time.  The ­real problem, I told myself later, is that you never get quite as lost as when you’re certain you know exactly where you’re going.  If I’d had any doubts about where I was going, where the publisher’s office was, I’d have double checked the address, consulted a map, taken the map with me, but I had no such doubts, and in the event my unmerited confidence undid me.

I was staying in the apartment where photographer Dudley Reed and his wife Betty live, and the place was full of photographic books, including Susan Sontag’s On Photography, a book I’d read a very long time ago, and I thought I remembered it pretty well, but it seems not.  Or perhaps it’s that I now have a different set of priorities and obsessions, than I did back then when I first read it, and there seemed something very fresh about a couple of paragraphs from the book.


Sontag writes, “…the earliest surrealist photographs come from the 1850s when photographers went out prowling the streets of London, Paris, New York, looking for their unposed slice of life.”
         Then later, “In fact, photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the middle class flaneur, whose sensibility was so accurately charted by
 Baudelaire.  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.”
Interesting and significant, I think, that she doesn’t categorize either the flaneur or the photographer as male, though historically (and with notable exceptions) the majority of both flaneurs and street photographers have been men.

As you wander the streets of New York these days it seems that everybody is taking pictures, women just as much as men.  One or two seem to be “real” photographers, brandishing bulky SLRs, but the majority are using their cell phones.  I don’t know how many of them are looking for the Surrealists’ “chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella,” but I’m sure they’d take a picture of it if they saw one.


And of course a lot of people are looking at their cell phones, texting rather than taking pictures with them, and of course they walk into others, and others no doubt walk into them, which seems a kind of rough justice. They can’t say they haven’t been warned.  The streets of Manhattan now display posters like the one below, which is actually on the side of a public phone booth.  Does anybody use public phone booths anymore?

As it happened, there were was a Banksy street art exhibition going on all over New York while I was there.  One of the pranks involved some guy on the street selling “real” Banksies for the price of fakes - $60 as opposed to the $15,000 or so they’d cost in a gallery.  Of course $60 does seem a bit steep for fake Banksy. 


But knowing that the man himself was in town and in action meant that as I walked the streets of New York I kept seeing Banksy-esque stenciled graffiti, and asking myself is that a real or a fake.  Only a fool would have claimed to know with any certainty.  But I did spot this on 24th Street at 6th Avenue.


Of course I couldn’t have sworn it was the real thing, but I thought it might be, and I definitely thought it was worth a picture; and having got home and done some research it seems that yes, as far as I can tell, I was looking at a REAL Banksy. I walked past it again a couple of days later, and it seemed it was being surrounded by other, much less artful-looking tags and graffiti, which you might think spoiled the effect, though for all I know Banksy might have been doing those too.