Brief: to read Georges Perec’s book ‘An Attempt at exhausting a place in Paris’ (Perec and Lowenthal, 2010). To repeat his exercise and think about the results.
I chose to sit on my balcony and look out over the street. It is a quiet backstreet in a residential area, so I was not expecting much activity. I was surprised.
An attempt at exhausting the view from my balcony.
DATE: 21 July 2020
TIME: 11:50 am.
LOCATION: CAMERON STREET
WEATHER: COOL, VARIABLY SUNNY
The environment is cool with a slight breeze, noisy with seagulls and the chattering of sparrows. A seagull flew past me
Someone just walked up the street carrying a backpack and entered number 20 (the house with a bright Irish green door). Another man with a blue shirt walked down the street from right to left.
In front of me there is the balcony with broken tarmac, the balcony railing, ornate white and heavily rusted, the top of tree in the front garden, an Acer just starting to turn colour, the road with parked cars, front gardens of the terrace opposite, the terraces houses and the sky, bright blue with clouds.
12:00: Heard voices and conversation from next door. A female walked along the street, probably connected.
21 cars are visible; 2 white 4 red, 2 light blue, 3 grey and the rest black. A white Belfield van drove past the end of the street.
It’s getting warmer I might have to take my jumper off
The hydrangeas next door are out, a deep pink, the orange hanging basket opposite is beautiful, there are pink flowers in pots on the fence shielding the dustbins at number 16 with the grey door.
A white van (unmarked) drove up the street.
Next door has a football in the garden and a mat, a bracelet, a penny and a BIC pen on the adjoining balcony.
I cannot see any TV discs and only two aerials, so I suppose most people have gone digital.
12:10: A boy with a blue hoodie and a black dog on a lead walked down the street from right to left, probably heading for the park
The seagulls have settled down. The sound always reminds me of childhood.
Sparrows are chirping. A pigeon (or dove as I cannot see it) is cooing. Blackbirds are singing rustily. Somebody started up either a hedge trimmer or a mower, very noisy but not disturbing the birds.
A pigeon just flew over. Now a blackbird. Now a sparrow.
A woman in a white top spotted with blue walked left to right carrying a bag of what seemed to be rolls.
All the chimney pots vary. You could do a study of that alone.
Hearing a car, but distant, the hedge trimmer has stopped.
There is a seagull perched on one of the chimneys opposite but it’s quiet.
I need to learn more about birdcalls, there are two I can hear but not see. I can hear geese flying over but not see them.
12:20: Next door’s two children came home. Waved at me. Carrying bags but no idea what was in them.
A black car, a saloon, drove up the street.
The sun temporarily obscured by the clouds has come out again.
A dark red hatchback drove down the street. Now a UPS van has arrived with the parcel for number 7, the van is diesel and very noisy. The spaniel started barking. It’s a 13 number plate so shouldn’t be so noisy.
Three people walking down the street on the opposite side of the road, 2 males one female, in probably their 70s, they have been walking, wearing backpacks, and carrying walking poles. They said they had come from the Dean plantation and are on the way home.
12:30: The sun is gone in again.
A dark grey estate car drove right to left. More pigeons are flying over. The keys on my door are swaying with the breeze.
There would be different ways of explaining this visually: the layers you see in space or the layers you see in time.
A young man with a ponytail and black tee shirt ran right to left at the street.
The sounds are important and the breeze, now slightly chilly on your face.
A dark blue De Rose van drove down the street followed by a small white nondescript van then a small silver hatchback. The street is busy all of a sudden.
12:40: Quiet again except for the birds.
Two men in about the late 60s or early 70s separately walking dogs went down the street. One with a white Westie, one with some form of a spaniel. Neither appeared to be looking at anything except the ground.
The sun is out again.
The geese have flown over again, but it is against the sun so I cannot identify the type, probably Canada Geese.
The seagull has flown away from the chimney pot, I did not see him leave.
Reflections on the exercise:
- I read the Perec book almost in one sitting. It is short. The translation is fluent. It becomes a meditative exercise. There is a combination of direct observations and the thoughts that the observations have produced. A prose poem.
- I was surprised at how much I saw in one hour. I was also surprised how enjoyable it was.
- This exercise could easily be transformed into a photography project. In fact, the possibilities ran though my head while sitting there and I have done so (see below).
- The problem with changing it into photography is you then miss many of the stimuli. The sounds of the birds and the cars, the people talking, the wind.
- From where I was, above the street there was no problem with discretion, my camera phone would not have taken the images I wanted, so I used a zoom, wide-angle to telephoto lens to get all the subjects I wanted. I considered going downstairs and into the street to get the details, but it would not have reflected my experience of the hour spent. I could take a lot more images from the same place – but thought these gave the flavour of what I had seen
- I considered changing the images to monochrome, which would echo much of the street photography done in the era the book was produced but felt much of the experience was enhanced by the colour. That was the way I saw things. I noted colour at several points, the cars, the clothing, the flowers. Black and white would give a totally different feel – not a bad feeling, but different.
- The writing is important to the project. To me, the images and words go together. They play of each other. If I was making it into a book, I would intersperse the images between sections – but you could separate them. I would need to try both options and see what made most sense.
Perec, G. and Lowenthal, M. (2010) An attempt at exhausting a place in Paris. Cambridge, MA: New York: Wakefield Press.