Drifting with a camera phone: Place or Time

In recent posts, I have been describing my process and experience of walking with a camera phone. I have just read over these posts and your wonderful comments. I am a self-confessed flaneur and people watcher. I find myself embodying the photographer described by Susan Sontag:

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.” (On Photography, Susan Sontag, 1977,  pg. 55)

The camera phone, for me, is a wonderful way of capturing what I see and what I don’t see. Armed with my camera, I do cruise city landscapes and experience a wide range of feelings including joy, disgust and empathy. In an earlier post I spoke about a series of images I had put together from my drifting around the Old Quarter in Hanoi. In it I spoke about the ability of a video camera to capture what is not directly in the field of vision. However, even though I may not be looking at what the camera is seeing, I am still there at the time of capture. The flaneur and place and time are inextricably linked. Urbanscapes have points of similarity to rivers in that you will never experience it in the same way twice nor will you video or photograph them in exactly the same way twice. There are numerous projects where people capture the same landscape from the same geo-coordinates each day to testify to this. I share their fascination for the mundane and slight shifts in nuances, be it light, people or other patinas of place that transpire over time.

In another post I spoke about my creative  practice. This drew some fascinating musings from unremarkable_m (M_blanc). These passages struck me as I was rereading the post and comments:

“The speed at which this perceptive and physical transition is occurring, leaves much open by way of assessing the nature of ‘artistic process’. This is because of the fundamental shift in how a tool is no longer just a tool, but an experiential catalyser of time and relevance.” and “Photography used to be a process that was as much about time as about the experience of the image and the resonance it brought to the viewer of the personality of the artistic eye behind the lens. Time as process is no longer relevant, rather the immediacy and ease of access that offers the aspirational potential of the art form to millions of users, who, in turn, can access a world wide audience within seconds, cultivates within and of itself in intrinsic an implicit negative attribution of irrelevance.”

I felt the post was a commentary on the smart phone with its internet capabilities and participation in a context defined by postmodernity that had a tangential relation to creative practice. Postmodernity privileges the spatial ever the temporal according to Jameson. The response was about the temporal and seemed to be telling me something about my practice of drifting with a camera phone.

To unpack this further, I thought about the ways in which Modernistdream and I had conceptualised our practice, for our work is conceptual as well as thematic. In a post called the Slow Aesthetic he unpacks some of the techniques we have used for after all, the camera is a tool for us. What struck upon reflection is that our process is very much time based.  Photography remains as a process that is about time. This has not changed thus time is just as relevant now.  Our work is as much about moving through places as it is about the places themselves. Motion and movement  presuppose time. Video is a time based media.

And the smart phone is perhaps, “an experiential catalyser of time and relevance” as well as a tool because affords the possibility of disseminating  _content_ to potentially huge audiences should a particular work strike a chord of relevance. Although her response seems to be not so much about the camera’s ubiquity or aesthetics for creative practice as  the politics of immediacy and consumerism, it is relevant because camera phones add extra dimensions to drifting including publishing material on the fly which in turn is dependent on time.

I have noticed this phenomenon on Twitter that uses photographs and drifting: the practice of taking followers on guided tours through urban landscapes. I do not feel that immediacy necessarily detracts from aesthetics.  For example, Remittancegirl, on her recent visit to London did just that. She would use geo-location and post photos with descriptive captions to show us her experience of London – sort of like instant mass postcards on the move.

So to return to Sontag’s quote, I feel that the camera phone definitely adds to the joys of drifting through the urban landscapes, well for me anyway.

Drifting Persona

I have just uploaded a series of images I extracted from video which I have called Patinas of Place. I was ‘drifting’ around Hanoi walking with my video camera. This is one of my personas. I like to drift with a camera in my hand and shoot whatever. You well may ask what drifting is. Its pedigree starts really in the 1960s with the Situationists and psycho-geography. It also has connections to Baudelaire’s flaneur. For me, it is about being as invisible as I can be drifting around streets simply looking and experiencing. If something or someone catches my eye I follow. (This is not to be confused with stalking.) It is one of my favourite things to do and getting utterly lost in urban mazes can be transcendental, truly.  Experience of place is a luxury given all the pressure to be constantly connected, to have somewhere to go and someone to meet.

I shot the video  extracted the images almost a year ago while on sabbatical leave. I worked with them for a while using various printmaking techniques and my trusty scanner. A couple of them were actually realised in the material world. Then I was back in the swim of work. I looked at them today, anew. I thought about what I was trying to express through this exercise. I had called the series Patinas of Place. I was totally seduced by the word ‘patina’ – both pronunciations roll so smoothly off the tongue, almost like toffee, rich and gleaming.I used to refer to the idea that places are overlaid with histories and memories. I was trying to express this idea through my images – kind of a tension between now and then and the transience of everything.

I remembered how delicious it was to have threes days in a row where I did not have to consider another soul. I was blissfully alone with my feelings, my thoughts and my camera and the abundant streets of Hanoi. This is a persona I had put aside for a while. Yet this persona feeds me.