One of the icons that Melbourne is known for is “The Skipping Girl”, Australia’s first animated neon sign, which formerly advertised the Skipping Girl Vinegar brand.
From the Art Deco rooftop of a converted factory in Victoria street, Abbotsford, she jumps rope over 16,000 times per night, and one of the most romantic things to do in Melbourne at night is to take the route 12 or 109 trams to Victoria Gardens and watch this 84-year-old icon repeat her nightly performance.
An icon is an image, a symbol which substitutes for an absent other whose spirit is supposed to reside in the icon, animating it, and receiving the adoration which would otherwise go directly to the sacred personage, if they were present.
It’s interesting, therefore, to reflect that the Skipping Girl, who was once the icon associated with a brand of vinegar which is no longer manufactured, has become the genius loci of Melbourne. But when I took the ‘flânograph’ above with my vintage Pentax K1000, she did not represent for me so much a symbol of ‘old Melbourne’ which had disappeared, but someone who had disappeared, an absent other I will always associate with the Skipping Girl.
As I explain in the video below, the first time I encountered the Skipping Girl, I was stepping off the 109 tram with a Dutch girl I had picked up eight hours earlier. We were about to go upstairs to her apartment, across the road in Richmond, and make love.
When I saw that neon icon beating time against the night, it was like seeing an X on a treasure map: this icon of Melbourne would always be, for me, a perpetual monument to a personal conquest, marking the spot of my greatest victory in Daygame.
In his essay “The Poetic Experience of Townscape and Landscape” (1982), documentary filmmaker Patrick Keiller describes the flâneur as a literary motif signifying two types of experience. Following Schiller’s distinction between the naïve and sentimental poet, I think we can summarize Keiller’s two types of flâneur as likewise being ‘naïve’ and ‘sentimental’.
The ‘naïve flâneur’ is more like the classical, nineteenth-century dandy conceived by Baudelaire. As Keiller says, he ‘takes the city as his salon’. He’s a romantic adventurer—a Daygamer, in essence—whose ‘chance encounters are largely with people’ rather than with those architectural citizens of a city, buildings and monuments. Whatever dreamlike quality there is in the encounter between this flâneur and the city derives from ‘his surrender to the randomness of urban life.’
The ‘sentimental flâneur’, en revanche, is a solitary dériveur who drifts through the city as though it were a petrified dream, experiencing the ‘long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens’ which renders the banal street marvellous. As Keiller says, this flâneur ‘may meet others, he may fall passionately in love, but this is not his motive, it merely enhances his experience by enabling it to be shared.’
As a Melbourne flâneur, I have always felt like a synthesis of these two figures, but tending more towards the latter. I can ‘do’ Daygame, I can take adventitious advantage of the randomness of urban life to seize a romantic encounter; but, being a genuine introvert, I am more constitutionally inclined towards solitary drifting through the externalized ‘Forms’ of my thought which streets, parks, statues, monuments and buildings seem to symbolize for me.
Keiller cites Surrealist poet Louis Aragon, who, in Le paysan de Paris (1926), describes this paradoxical sensation of seeming to experience the platonic forms of things embodied in the constitutive elements of the city.
‘The way I saw it,’ Aragon writes, ‘an object became transfigured: it took on neither the allegorical aspect nor the character of the symbol, it did not so much manifest an idea as constitute that very idea. Thus it extended deeply into the world’s mass…’
For Aragon, this sensation was a presentiment of ‘a feeling for nature’, but it would be more specific to say that it was a feeling for the ambiguity of urban nature.
‘I acquired the habit of constantly referring the whole matter to the judgement of a kind of frisson which guaranteed the soundness of this tricky operation,’ Aragon writes.
This ‘frisson’, as Keiller observes, is not dissimilar from that feeling of ‘rightness’ a photographer intuitively senses immediately before he presses the shutter release button. This sensation is the moment when a swatch of street cuts itself out of the banal tableau of urban nature and quadrates itself in the abstract frame of a mental viewfinder as an ‘image’, as something marvellously photogenic.
The sentimental flâneur, Keiller contends, carries a camera to record these marvellous transfigurations. But, sentimental soul that I am, when I went back to photograph the Skipping Girl, nearly a year after my conquest of the Dutch girl, I was not photographing the Skipping Girl and her miraculous transformation of the night.
I was attempting to photograph the absence of the Dutch girl, for whom she was an icon.
In his book with Jean Mohr, Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of Photography (1982), John Berger writes that ‘[b]etween the moment recorded and the present moment of looking at the photograph, there is an abyss.’ It is an abyss of absence, of ambiguity, which carries with it ‘a shock of discontinuity’.
‘The ambiguity of a photograph does not reside within the instant of the event photographed,’ Berger writes. ‘The ambiguity arises out of that discontinuity which gives rise to … [t]he abyss between the moment recorded and the moment of looking.’
In my ‘flânograph’ of the Skipping Girl, that abyss was doubled:—for there would be an abyss between the moment of looking at the developed photograph and the moment I was now recording, just as there was, for me, an abyss between the moment I was recording and the moment the photograph was intended to record, some ten months earlier.
As a writer, I have long played with the idle idea (impossible to realize) of writing a book completely without words. The flânograph of the Skipping Girl was one of a series of photographs I took with my battered Pentax for a ‘picture book’ I intended to compose for my little niece, a wordless collection of black and white images of things and places I had encountered in my flâneries, and which, in their silent ambiguity, might give a child an ineffable, inenarrable sense of the life of an uncle she had never met.
Was there an enduring, impalpable resonance of the unseen, unknown and unknowable event sensible, apprehensible by the viewer of the photograph of the Skipping Girl, démeublé of its ostensible subject, the Dutch girl? Could the feeling—menacing; enigmatic; melancholy—of this particular square of urban nature—what we might call ‘the Spleen of Melbourne’—‘speak for itself’, eloquently and without words?
These were the questions I wanted answers to. And like Eugène Atget, of whom Walter Benjamin said that he photographed the empty streets of Paris as though they were ‘scenes of crime’, I went back and photographed the scenes of my Melburnian conquests—the Skipping Girl, a sodden Windsor place, a certain tree in the Carlton Gardens—now eerily empty of myself and the lovers of a moment who had left mortal wounds in my heart.
This feeling for the menacing, enigmatic, melancholy ambiguity of urban nature which precedes the click of the shutter; this ineffable, inenarrable frisson is what I call ‘flânography’, and it’s something other than photography—something more than merely ‘writing with light’.
It’s a sensitivity to the absent, the invisible, the unspeakable. It’s the poetic cry of the silent image which establishes historical evidence of the ‘baffling crime’ which is the personal ‘situation of our time’, and which the asphalt jungle gives colour and cover to.
If there is a ‘noirishness’ in the flânograph of the Skipping Girl, it is because, when I look back on my brief encounter with the Dutch girl over that abyss of ambiguity which it records, I feel (as I do after all my amours) like the victim of a ‘baffling crime’ at the hands of a femme fatale.
Like a consummate con artist who gets his pocket picked, I gamed her and ended up getting gamed by her.
When writing with light starts to become ‘poetic’ instead of merely prosaic; when the weak intentionality that a photographer possesses to express himself through a box is leveraged to the maximum, such that the urban landscape is transfigured and transformed into an image that is personally expressionistic, then photography starts to become ‘flânography’.
If you are a photographer and would like to explore how I can provide you with bespoke assistance in sensitively curating your work into an artisanal-quality book through provision of my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I invite you to download this brochure, or to contact me directly.
One punishing summer day in January, I ‘flânographed’ this Atlas in my anklings about town as a Melbourne flâneur. One of a pair of Telamons who formerly held up the portal of the Colonial Bank of Australia, he now graces the doorway of an underground bicycle garage at the University of Melbourne.
An appropriate place for him to struggle with his eternal burden, perhaps.
As I said in this post, I most often describe the art of writing as being ‘sculptural’ or ‘architectural’, and often a writer feels like this fellow, trying to balance an elaborate structure of thought on the top of his head.
For an academic writer such as the Masters student or PhD candidate, the sense of ‘oppression’, of being weighed down by the burden of this elaborate architecture of thought you are trying to build in words can give you the haunted, worried expression this Atlas wears.
Many students arrive at the Masters—or even the PhD—level lacking confidence in their ability to write essays, reports and theses to an academic standard. And the sense of anxiety is doubled if your first language isn’t English.
In 2005, Wendy Larcombe, Anthony McCosker, and Kieran O’Loughlin conducted a study at the University of Melbourne. They wanted to know whether providing a ‘thesis-writing circle’ to doctoral students from both native English-speaking and non-native English-speaking backgrounds had any effect on the students’ confidence and abilities as academic writers.
Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin published the results of their study in the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice in 2007, and if you’re a postgrad struggling with the burden of preparing a research thesis, their article makes for encouraging reading.
Two problems typically confront postgrads: the development of their skills as academic writers, and the development of their confidence.
As Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin found, both doctoral candidates and their supervisors generally perceive the academic skills support services provided by universities to be ‘too generic’.
As a student at the postgraduate level, you require editorial support that is specific to your discipline. The writing advice and strategies offered by your editor must be bespoke to your needs, framed within the intellectual context and discourse of your discipline, and relevant to the concept you are trying to express in your thesis.
But students arrive at the postgraduate level with different editing skills and editing needs.
Editing the writing of students is something that supervisors don’t always feel is their ‘rôle’. When they do correct spelling mistakes or faulty syntax in draft chapters without providing explanation or instruction, students can feel ‘demoralized’ by the implicit negative judgment of their work, according to Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin.
A crucial part of developing your skills as an academic writer involves developing your confidence. Having a ‘writing facilitator’ who is independent of your supervisor, one who provides editorial advice tailored to your discipline and to your specific sticking points as a writer, improves both your ability and your confidence.
Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin found that being able to discuss what you are working on with another writer who offers supportive, positive feedback grows your confidence as an academic writer. Being tutored in the craft of writing by a professional who is able to intelligently discuss your thesis with you helps you to develop the practical skills of writing in a way which is relevant and specific to your discipline.
With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I offer postgraduate students in Melbourne a bespoke and personal approach to copyediting and proofreading their theses.
As a professional writer, my specialty is the logical architecture of written language, the organization of ideas at their deepest level so as to ensure maximal comprehension by your readers.
As an Associate Member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), I’m bound by a Code of Ethics, so I can’t help you to cheat, but as a writing facilitator, I can provide independent editorial support which is specific to your discipline and which complements the structural advice you’re receiving from your doctoral supervisor.
If you’re interested in working with a professional writer who can help you to find your own unique style on the page, tutoring you in the development of your voice, I invite you to contact me, or to download a free brochure describing how I can help you with your Bespoke Document Tailoring needs.
As an emerging writer, you gain valuable experience by networking with other writers. Their fresh ways of seeing the world open exciting new directions for your own writing.
As he demonstrates in this prose poem based on the ‘flânograph’ above, Dean Kyte doesn’t just see the world differently, he hears it differently too. And the poetic way in which he describes his personal experiences is idiosyncratic to say the least.
For the Melbourne Flâneur, even moments of banality, loitering in Melbourne at night, waiting for the perfect shot, are freighted with epiphanic mystery…
If you want to take your writing to a new level of mastery, it pays to network with an editor rich in literary experience, one who shares your passion for le seul mot juste because he happens to be a fellow Melbourne author.
And if you’re a writer in French seeking to make yourself perfectly compris dans la langue de Shakespeare, Dean Kyte can provide editorial assistance bespoke to your needs with his Bespoke Document Tailoring service.
Enjoy the augmented experience of this ‘amplified flânograph’. To connect with Dean and experience his bespoke approach to your editing needs, drop him a line via the Contact form.
‘Melbourne style’ is the dogleg laneway off the main thoroughfare of high-street fashion. It doesn’t think outside the box: it takes the boxes out of the National Gallery of Victoria just up St Kilda road, glues them to a mechanic’s wall, and reimagines them as many pixels adding up to a graffito’d digital daguerreotype.
You don’t have to wander far off the beaten track of the tramline to find Melbourne style. If you’re heading to South Melbourne Beach, you can roll off the No. 1, turn down a cobbled laneway off Sturt street, and à deux pas, find yourself in this plein air gallery of salon-hung street art.
I stumbled on this cobbled coin one dreary winter afternoon. It had just rained and the sky was the same colour as the asphalt. A stiff wind blew me capriciously along a route I hadn’t taken before in my flâneries.
I had four shots left on the roll and didn’t expect to have my æsthetic antennæ tweaked anymore that day when I twigged to this vintage gent redux.
I love it when you turn a corner and Melbourne surprises you with an unexpected spectacle which colourfully interrupts the grey livery.
Melbourne style takes couture out of Chapel street and plunks it in the laneway.
You may be a designer in fashionable Port Phillip looking to publish an elegant portfolio showcasing your couture. If you’re in fashion, you already know that ‘the Book’ is key to getting through the door.
You require a presentation on paper as bespoke as your own image. And if you’re used to getting your hands dirty, you know why the artisanal approach matters. There’s an indefinable yet palpable quality you can’t get but by the skilful application of hand and eye working in unison.
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Melbourne transforms itself into a foreign wonderland at night. Armed with my Pentax K1000, I venture forth after-hours to capture ‘a Brassaï moment’—the moment when Highlander lane, between Flinders street and Flinders lane, reminds me of the square Caulaincourt in Paris—the setting of my first book, Orpheid: L’Arrivée (2012).
As a writer, I move from obscurity to clarity. For me, writing is a flânerie through the chiaroscuro of consciousness and unconsciousness. I enjoy the frisson of venturing into dark places which are foreign to me—like alighting from a taxi in a cosmopolitan European locale late at night, not sure where you are, barely speaking the language, some menacing silhouettes in the milieu to greet you.
Before I was ever a Melbourne Flâneur, I was a flâneur in Paris, the Mecca of flânerie. In L’Arrivée I wrote about my experience of feeling both fearful and fearless, arriving alone, late at night, in a small Parisian square in Montmartre. Despite barely speaking the language, I had a strange sprezzatura, a strange confidence in myself—in my mission and message as an artist—going forward.
Do you speak the language of the land? If you are a writer in French, Italian or Spanish, can you make the obscurity of your message clear to readers in English, combining the formal and the vernacular with the bravura of the native-speaker?
With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I can help you translate the complexity of your experience into words which allow you to feel heard and understood by your readers.
To explore how I can help you communicate your message with a bespoke approach which complements your literary voice in your native tongue perfectly, go to my Contact form to arrange a discreet and private measure with me.