Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bring out your flaneurs

Yes it's true, the Flaneur is back! 

Well, theoretically at least they've never been away. That aside let's go back a couple of hundred years and explore the notion of flanerie. According to Wikipedia the original translation from the French is stroller or lounger. But drawing on the work of  the great critic Walter Benjamin it becomes much much more. The urban explorer, adventurer and documenter of the city.

Hiding in plain sight
So What?
In the past few weeks of part time working I've discovered many friends who are in one way or another flaneurs. What I've learned is that they, far from lounging and sauntering have a huge amount to offer the city. Because they document and photograph things that the average person just doesn't see. They are also passionate about living histories of streets and locations and people. This is amusingly echoed by the creation of an Exeter monopoly game. I can reassure my flanerie that their discoveries in this city will almost certainly not appear on the famous game board. They are far too interesting and unusual.

Why not you say?
The reason for this is it requires time and local inquisitive enquiry to discover the hidden stories of a city. No amount of scant location picking for a game can possibly uncover the treasures they reveal. As ever the sadness is the people rushing by in their relentless hamster wheel existence do not value the city. They certainly  would not appreciate the importance of flaneurs.
Ah the things you see!

What can we do about this?
I believe the key thing is to provide outlets to enable the products of flanerie to come to the attention of people who want to see and know. Yes that's right the inquisitive ones. The Phoenix in Exeter is sadly lacking as an arts centre (insufficient art taking place in my opinion). But does occasionally have local photographic exhibitions. Trouble is they tend to be by people who are 'just' photographers. Not that I'm dismissing the wonderful photographers of the South West, far from it. But they are not flaneurs, they do not all document the minutiae and miscellany that make a place special and significant.

Who are they?
If you want an example, local author, song writer and flaneur extraordinaire,  Steve Harris's Facebook images and blog articles are a great place to look.

Make me happy!
I't would delight me if you can identify others and share them with me here.
A recent financial times article cites Exeter as a draw for entrepreneurs looking for work-life balance. It is a brilliant city, but to my mind they don't know the half of it! Do you?
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