à Paris, voyages au bout de la nuit

/844309

  • The Great Empty

    During the 1950s, New York’s Museum of Modern Art organized a famous photo exhibition called “The Family of Man.” In the wake of a world war, the show, chockablock with pictures of people, celebrated humanity’s cacophony, resilience and common bond.

    Today a different global calamity has made scarcity the necessary condition of humanity’s survival. Cafes along the Navigli in Milan hunker behind shutters along with the Milanese who used to sip aperos beside the canal. Times Square is a ghost town, as are the City of London and the Place de la Concorde in Paris during what used to be the morning rush.

    The photographs here all tell a similar story: a temple in Indonesia; Haneda Airport in Tokyo; the Americana Diner in New Jersey. Emptiness proliferates like the virus.

    The Times recently sent dozens of photographers out to capture images of once-bustling public plazas, beaches, fairgrounds, restaurants, movie theaters, tourist meccas and train stations. Public spaces, as we think of them today, trace their origins back at least to the agoras of ancient Greece. Hard to translate, the word “agora” in Homer suggested “gathering.” Eventually it came to imply the square or open space at the center of a town or city, the place without which Greeks did not really regard a town or city as a town or city at all, but only as an assortment of houses and shrines.

    Thousands of years later, public squares and other spaces remain bellwethers and magnets, places to which we gravitate for pleasure and solace, to take our collective temperature, celebrate, protest. Following the uprisings in Tiananmen Square, Tahrir Square, Taksim Square and elsewhere, Yellow Vest protesters in France demonstrated their discontent last year not by starting a GoFundMe page but by occupying public sites like the Place de la République and the Place de l’Opéra in Paris.

    Both of those squares were built during the 19th century as part of a master plan by a French official, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who remade vast swaths of Paris after the city passed new health regulations in 1850 to combat disease. Beset by viruses and other natural disasters, cities around the world have time and again devised new infrastructure and rewritten zoning regulations to ensure more light and air, and produced public spaces, buildings and other sites, including some of the ones in these photographs, that promised to improve civic welfare and that represented new frontiers of civic aspiration.

    Their present emptiness, a public health necessity, can conjure up dystopia, not progress, but, promisingly, it also suggests that, by heeding the experts and staying apart, we have not yet lost the capacity to come together for the common good. Covid-19 doesn’t vote along party lines, after all. These images are haunted and haunting, like stills from movies about plagues and the apocalypse, but in some ways they are hopeful.

    They also remind us that beauty requires human interaction.

    I don’t mean that buildings and fairgrounds and railway stations and temples can’t look eerily beautiful empty. Some of these sites, like many of these photographs, are works of art. I mean that empty buildings, squares and beaches are what art history textbooks, boutique hotel advertisements and glossy shelter and travel magazines tend to traffic in. Their emptiness trumpets an existence mostly divorced from human habitation and the messy thrum of daily life. They imagine an experience more akin to the wonder of bygone explorers coming upon the remains of a lost civilization.

    They evoke the romance of ruins.

    Beauty entails something else. It is something we bestow.

    It will be the moment we return.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/23/world/coronavirus-great-empty.html
    #photographie #vide #géographie_du_vide #coronavirus #villes-phantomes #ghost-town #urban_matter #villes #géographie_urbaine
    via @albertocampiphoto
    ping @reka @philippe_de_jonckheere

    • Deserted cities of the heart

      The past few weeks have seen images spreading around the internet of empty streets and deserted cities. But what do these images tell us about the present moment, and what does their cultural value suggest about our relationship to the current crisis?

      In Liu Cixin’s sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, an astrophysicist, radicalized by reading Silent Spring, and having been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, decides the human race is irredeemable and sells it out to an alien invader. I started the book a few weeks ago; now it has become grimly timely. Demagogues would now have us believe that the novel coronavirus is an alien invasion force while also trying to sell millions of us out to it as quickly as possible. Some have made a comparison to the risk-reward calculus of driving, arguing that governments don’t force people to drive slow in order to save lives. So why should they prevent us from endangering ourselves and others? Lives must be sacrificed to road wrecks to maintain a certain rate of return. As the skies clear dramatically over cities that are accustomed to thick smog, one can imagine the demagogues making a similar argument about the air pollution that already ruins lungs and truncates lives: All coronavirus does is accelerate the process — fast capitalism in its apotheosis.

      But the eschatological fantasies of Liu’s anti-humanity cadres are also echoed, however faintly, in the celebration of abandoned urban spaces and brightened city skies as some sort of coronavirus consolation. These are not like the images of empty grocery shelves, caused by those merely participating in the panic. They evoke something more sedate, serene. Earlier in the crisis, when Italy was the focal point, the sudden clarity of Venice’s canals were widely discussed with wonder. Without boat traffic, the sediment in them settled, making it possible to see the marine life they host. CNN quoted a random person saying, “What a marvel this Venice was; this virus brought something ... beautiful." That sentiment was echoed on Twitter feeds that shared video of the canals, the fish newly visible. Implied in this sharing was a message about the resilience of nature and humanity’s fundamental tendency to interfere rather than participate in it: See how nice and pure the world is without tourists, without other people living their lives by their own priorities and privileges? This is the way I like to see the world, with no one else around to see it. The way things “really should be” is the way they are when human activity is subtracted. The canals are supposed to be clear and stagnant. To borrow a phrase from writer Mark O’Connell, describing the butterflies in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, “It is all quite lovely, in its uncanny way: The world, everywhere, protesting its innocence.”

      The clear canals may be taken as emblematic of a broader silencing to come. In an essay for the Point, philosopher Justin E.H. Smith wrote, “We have little idea what the world is going to look like when we get through to the other side of this, but it is already perfectly clear that the ‘discourses’ of our society, such as they had developed up to about March 8 or 9, 2020, in all their frivolity and distractiousness, have been decisively curtailed, like the CO2 emissions from the closed factories and the vacated highways.” He concludes that if an invading alien force came to Earth, there is no reason to believe that it would even have any interest in humanity (even to exterminate it), given that it’s only our own hubris that leads us to believe that we are “this planet’s true and legitimate representatives.”

      The broad fascination with the images of empty cities — as in this New York Times photo essay, for instance — is in part a fascination with that hubris, but more as a means of fetishizing it rather than overcoming it or rejecting it. Cities appear in these images not as practical commercial spaces but as monuments to humanity’s transformational power in the abstract, something that doesn’t require collaboration, competition, or conflict but just seems just to exist as a natural force. They are seen as especially beautiful when rendered useless, but that’s not because they remind us of our own uselessness or insignificance. Instead, the sense of personal impotence may be dispersed in majestic images of the vacated cathedrals of civilization.

      At the same time, cities are given the deserted quality that has often been reserved for conventional natural landscapes, where an absence of people serves as a signifier of “naturalness.” Landscape paintings typically tend to mask whatever alterations humans have made to the land so a particular perspective can appear as given, as inherent or inevitable. How the land is framed is both foregrounded and effaced: A vantage point is isolated and idealized as characteristic, as typical, as frameless.

      The photos of people-less cities extend that mood of givenness to urban landscapes, suggesting how they endure without us or despite us. We can regard cities not as purpose-built environments, but as natural ones to which humans have adapted, much like the species at the bottom of the ocean have adapted to life without light. From that point of view, humans are othered to themselves, becoming a species for remote observation. By looking at the images, we can see ourselves as exempt, as belonging to an evolution beyond that, the contours of which are emerging in the strange dislocations we are now experiencing in everyday life.

      Our ability to appreciate these images doesn’t underscore our ultimate harmony or interconnection with the natural world and the life that purportedly re-emerges when the highways are finally vacated. Rather it lets us use mediation (our ability to consume representations) to rearticulate our exceptionality. We can assume the subject position of the camera and pretend that makes us immune to being objects in the world.

      The deserted cities allow us to imagine that we’re in a comfortable position from which to enjoy them — that the erasure of humanity doesn’t actually include us. As this piece by Cherine Fahd and Sara Oscar notes, “The viewer is looking at a representation of the scene, not the scene itself, from a position of far-off comfort.” This becomes obvious when you actually walk around a deserted city, which is certainly uncanny but inspires more grief than delight. The images let us consume a distance from the emptiness as much as the emptiness itself. Wherever we are can then feel more full.

      In an essay that accompanied the New York Times’s collection of images, Michael Kimmelman suggests that the photos are hopeful because in their eerie, ruin-porn-like emptiness they “remind us that beauty requires human interaction.” But that reading strikes me as somewhat idealistic; he dismisses what seems to me their more fundamental allure, that they offer a vicarious experience of “the wonder of bygone explorers coming upon the remains of a lost civilization.” That is, they give viewers a kind of imperial transcendence, a sense of sublime survival as a kind of conquering. “Beauty” might be, as Kimmelman claims, a thing we “bestow” with social interaction, but the images remind us also that the consumption of beauty can be had unilaterally, placing us at a perspective that provides pleasure precisely by protecting us from complicity or vulnerability.

      What these images of empty cities remind me of are photos of dead malls that have served over the past decade or so as symbols of the oft-predicted “retail apocalypse.” I spent lots of time working and hanging out in a mall as a teenager, so these sorts of images have always had a bracing form of anti-nostalgia for me, like seeing your childhood home being bulldozed. But I also tend to read the dead-mall images as metonyms for the dead end of consumerism. They depict not the absence of commerce but its negation.

      Many have predicted that one of the lasting effects of the pandemic will be the end of conventional retail, because everyone will have gotten fully acclimated to home delivery and its conveniences. But this prediction seems premature; it’s impossible to tell just how drastically our everyday life and our perception of what is convenient will be reworked by the experience of extended isolation.

      It’s tempting to treat the images of deserted cities as symbols, as evocations, as metaphors, as prophecies, but the most compelling and troubling thing about them is that they can be taken as just direct representations of the world outside as it is. Our old lives are over; where we lived are ghost towns. The photos seem to document something historic and exceptional that we lived through, only we’re still living it. There is an apparent finality to total emptiness that might help us pretend that the crisis is already over, and the world is there, where we left it, and not in the social relations and the sorts of choices we’re now facing to try to remake it.

      https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4620-deserted-cities-of-the-heart

    • La Plaine (place Jean-Jaurès). « Ce qui fait la beauté de cette ville, ce sont les gens qui l’habitent. Ces calicots pendus aux fenêtres en sont la trace. Ici, à la Plaine, c’est la colère qui domine. Plus bas, dans le centre, les banderoles sont plus "douces". »
      Photo #Yohanne_Lamoulère. Tendance Floue pour Libération


      https://seenthis.net/messages/841970

      La Plaine. « J’ai une forme de fascination pour les graffitis, comme celui-ci, très hauts : "Le virus c’est l’Etat". Je suis retournée à la Plaine pour le photographier, dans ce quartier, qui organise des prêts de livres, mais aussi des tournées de nourriture pour les soignants. Symbole de cette énergie militante, très forte à Marseille, qui comble finalement énormément de vide. »
      Photo Yohanne Lamoulère. Tendance Floue pour #Libération


      #Marseille