drifting in the city

Though I spend a lot of time exploring the urban skyline from car park roofs,  I also wander the city streets as a  photographic  flâneur in the tradition of the Situationists.

This tradition makes no appearance in the texts on Australian photography---eg., Anne Marsh's  Look: Contemporary Australian Photography since 1980 (2010)--despite the Situationists being   in the modernist  tradition of avant-garde agitation to which movements like Dada  and Surrealists belonged.

The Situationists have been written out of Australian photographic writings, even though the photographic practice of  many Australian photographers is one of  exploring the nooks and crannies of the city in unpredictable ways.They are modern day flâneurs.

The Situationist's  concept of the dérive---an unplanned walk or drift, was defined as the 'technique of locomotion without a goal'.  To dérive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which the urban  environment was designed.

Sadie Plant in her  The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age says that the Situationists held that:

If modern society is a spectacle, modern individuals are spectators: observers seduced by the glamorous representations of their own lives, bound up in the mediations of images, signs, and commodities, and intolerably constrained by the necessity of living solely in relation to spectacular categories and alienated relations.

The aim is to negate the seductive glamour of the spectacle through  gaining an immediate experience of the world, and transforming the everyday into a reality desired and created by those who live in it. 

If  the avant-garde had failed to deliver the transformation of everyday reality it promised, then so had the modernist city planners. Sherman Young in Morphings and Ur-Forms: From Flâneur to Driveur in Scan (2005)  argues  that the romantic figure of the flâneur in nineteenth century Paris is arguably impossible in Australia's  automobile city,  and  it has instead morphed into digital-camera toting tourist-flâneurs. Australia's cities--eg., Sydney--are metropolises of drivers, or  driveurs. 

Their city is a cacophony of road rage, billboards advertising escape, talkback radio and traffic reports;  a city represented by traffic jams, bus lanes and fellow drivers.  It is a world of tollways and tailbacks, traffic lights and street signs.