The flâneur

Wednesday 03 November 2021 – Auckland City.

I want to get this off my chest now, before I get too far into writing and give you, dear reader a false impression that I’ve always had this impeccable taste in music. I’m going to start with a confession.

Prior to his untimely death in February 2020 I hadn’t really paid a huge amount of attention to the music of Andrew Weatherall and his various guises. Dance music wasn’t my thing and I never got excited by the legendary Weatherall produced Screamadelica album by Primal Scream. The indie nerd in me was more of a fan of the Screams’ earlier un-dancey guitar based pop. I was, of course, very aware of him as a popular and well regarded DJ and producer and he had performed in Walthamstow on more than one occasion to rousing and popular acclaim. I just didn’t do dance music.

Weatherall’s passing generated a tsunami of broken-hearted and loving messages in my Twitter feed supported by numerous eulogies and heartfelt stories in the mainstream press. The outpouring of love for this man compelled me to read those articles and I discovered there was a lot to like and I was quickly sucked into his world, becoming, like so many before, an avid fan. I now own some of his records and in this period since his death have become far more interested in electronic music and dub. My music world view has positively expanded in the past 18 months and this journey was very much down to his influence.

I read this piece in the Social online in the weeks after Weatherall’s death that spoke about him as a flâneur; a stroller or saunterer. Apparently he was known for his flânering around various parts of London, dropping into a record shop here, a bookshop there or stopping for a chat in a favoured café, an act we both love, and have in common. I was reminded of this at the weekend when I came across a Guardian piece from April of this year that I’d read and saved titled ‘Why cities emptied by Covid-19 are perfect for the modern flâneur’. With little else to do at the moment, and a determination to fall in love with Auckland city centre, flânering looked like a good use of time.

On Saturday night Eleanor and I watched a new documentary from Todd Haynes on the highly influential New York rock band The Velvet Underground. VU were a band I listened to a lot and if you look through my record collection you will find Velvet Underground influences in well over half of the artists represented there. Musically and attitudinally the Velvet Underground and Andrew Weatherall are almost polar opposite to each other, but in their chosen fields they are/were key innovators, both taking modern music in new and exciting directions.

Velvet Underground were heavily associated with the artist Andy Warhol and he was a key influence on their style and the imagery surrounding them. I was very inspired by the footage and photographs in the documentary, which were mainly taken in the late 1960s and early 70s. Those grainy and soft black and white images made me want to go out and take photos of the urban environment around me; not that I am in anyway trying to compare 2021 Auckland to 1970 New York.

Today was a particularly overcast day with a forecast of rain and it felt like exactly the right kind of day to take a camera and go flâneur. I set the camera to be as close to a 60s film camera as it could get; black and white, a fixed 50mm lens and to get the grainiest possible images, an ISO of 6400, the highest it goes. To inspire a creative side to the walk I made a new Andrew Weatherall playlist and donning headphones I left the flat. No fixed plan, just see where the roads, and more importantly the construction-closed footpaths lead me.

The camera was out almost immediately.

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I walked for two and half hours, mainly around the centre of town, primarily sticking to the side roads and the small number of alleyways and open malls linking roads together, keeping away from as much construction as possible. I was looking for images that spoke ‘urban’ to me, that touched on an older Auckland; the one from my youth. Though there is little left of either that city or my youth.

I had a good time, I’ve walked all these streets before so there were no great reveals, but in the past I rarely looked at things in detail or even spend any time just looking.

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Lorne Street.

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The University Precinct.

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Downtown.

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I had planned on taking some time to sit and write over a coffee around the High Street / Vulcan Lane intersection, the ‘coolest’ part of Auckland City, or at least the area with highest concentration of decent coffee. Earlier rain had left all the public seating wet so I huddled in damp jeans with a too hot espresso next to a couple of recently stubbed out cigarette butts on a stair under the covered entrance to a closed office; looking more a dishevelled street drinker than the modern and sophisticated flâneur I was posing as.

I was hoping to take in the air and make pithy observations in this most sophisticated corner of the city, and though most of the shops were open for click and collect, other than strategically and poorly parked cars there was not a lot to observe, pithily or otherwise. There was a group of six or so men in High Street, just around the corner from my humble perch, guffawing and talking overly loudly in that ‘look at us’ kind of manner the over-confident have. Though I couldn’t hear what they were saying the noise was distracting enough for me to not stay for longer than it took to finish the over hot-coffee. I had experienced this group once before; they look like they work in a small IT business, when I was waiting to pick up a book from the shop over the road. That time they were collectively leering at a young woman who was unfortunate to be walking down the street. The most obvious of the group is in his early forties and wearing the overly tight shorts and t-shirt combination of a philanderer who has found himself recently and unexpectedly divorced. A part of me is a little jealous, if I was wearing those clothes they would bulge in all the wrong places and there’d be an inch long strip of hairy and pallid belly emerging between t-short and shorts, and no-one wants to see that. I guess I managed to make some pithy observations after all.

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It started raining again, heavier this time, so I set off in the direction of home, taking one last photo on the way.

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Once home I uploaded all the images to my computer, I’d taken about 50 which is a lot for me. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit images for here and social media, though I rarely do much to the images other than a few basic tweaks to give the RAW files my camera creates a bit of life. Shooting in RAW means that though the camera thought I was shooting black and white today, the stored images were actually still in colour. This meant a Lightroom conversion back to black and white.

This isn’t the first time I have converted a colour image to monochrome, though with more time available to me and with some base images I actually liked, I took time to teach myself some new editing tricks and techniques. Spending some extra time converting and working on the photos gave me a lot of enjoyment; this is not always the case, and it very much added to the pleasure I got from flânering with camera.

I will do this again.

It was the 30th anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica a couple of weeks ago and it’s being re-released as a double LP along with a box set of ten 12 inch singles from the band from that period. I won’t buy either of the tjem.

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