The French didn’t just give us some of photography’s earliest inventions; those photographers also introduced the concept of the flâneur — a person who strolls through the cityscape, drinking in impressions and stories. As Charles Baudelaire put it over 150 years ago: “The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement.”
100+ years later, Susan Sontag described the 20th-century street photographer as a modern-day equivalent: “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.’ ”
All of which is a really roundabout way of contextualizing the Street Memories project, a digital collage series by Nacho Ormaechea, a Spanish graphic designer and artist based in Paris. His intention with this photo series is to inspire us to begin imagining our own stories about the lives of the people we encounter.
Ormaechea is clearly descended of flâneurs, roving the streets of Europe with his camera, both empathetically connecting with its citizens, yet remaining apart. “The idea came naturally,” he told the Guardian, “as the logical consequence of my inclination to observe people as a sort of secret game.” His portraits are anonymized with overlaid images, the artist’s own projection of the subject’s mental state.
Each picture comes from a feeling, an idea that aims at provoking a reaction within the spectator’s mind. This reaction is likely to be different from my own, nourishing itself from different backgrounds and personal stories. My characters, anonymous people from the street, are mirrors reflecting my state of mind as well as yours.
Ormaechea reminds us that we all project assumptions of others’ internal states. Given that, how might your own version of these images be different?