the flaneur - Greg Townsend

Who is the Flaneur

The wanderer above the sea of fog, 1818 - Caspar David Friedrich

The wanderer above the sea of fog, 1818 - Caspar David Friedrich

“To walk the environment both rural and urban, with no plan or path in mind and to capture as images what presents itself along the way. This is to me the most liberating and fulfilling way to take photographs and make pictures.” - Me, 2017

Flaneur meaning: from the French noun flâneur, means "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer" Originally the Flaneur was a 19th century Parisian character. They were the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. They were defined by their seemingly aimless wandering, detached from the chaos of urban life as they observed and sometimes recorded the sights and sounds of the city. Probably independently wealthy with no observable source of income these Gentlefolk were a constant part of Parisian life, and were themselves much documented and written about.

Today the street photographer has become the modern embodiment of the Flaneur. With camera in hand they walk the urban landscapes observing and documenting what they see and what takes their interest.

However the modern Flaneur can be more than just a street photographer. She/he has been described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his essay "Why I walk" as anyone pursuing open, flexible plans, in opposition to the negative "touristification", which he defines as the pursuit of an overly orderly plan.

For other photographic disciplines this unstructured approach is perhaps less common. Those who photography landscape, portrait, wildlife, fine art, fashion and even in some respects photojournalists often set out with some basic goal, location or objective in mind. For example it is not uncommon for the dedicated landscape photographer to visit the same location many times before they decide the light is exactly how they want it and capture their perfect image. A worthy dedication to the craft which I admire. Importantly it is also a very acceptable way to work as a photographer.

For me though - I photograph everything in this spirit of the Flaneur. Wherever I wander in my rural and urban landscape photography I do not research locations. neither do I plan my visits or step out with any preconceived ideas about what I may see or photograph. I photograph what I find, what catches my attention and takes my interest. I stay for as long as I choose and then move on. I understand that while far from unique this approach is not one shared by all, and is not the way many choose to create their work.

I accept that most photographers at some point will just pick up a camera and go out to wander and see what they find. However for me this approach defines my photography and is how I create all my work. Ultimately though this is art and there are no right or wrong ways to be a artist. My methods are my own and they inspire me to continue to photograph and give me immense pleasure. I accept that by never planning my photography I may miss that golden sunset or dramatic city skyline. But conversely by having no defined goal I tend to look harder at what is around me. I hunt out my compositions and maybe now and then see what another person may miss.

While Susan Sontag was referring explicitly to the urban street photographer I do believe her words can apply to any genre of photography.

"Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world "picturesque." — Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 55

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