The co-presence experience
The interest in and awareness of the presence of the other at the heart of the co-presence experience is as varied as we are different from, or similar to each other, and as varied as are the situations that produce that conscious awareness of the other, whether mutual or not.
Recording of the “other” and of our co-presence in public space is not an easy thing, requiring a certain social savvy if not a subpreptitious approach, as the following attempts at recording such experiences may show and/or reveal about these experiences!
The choice of monochrome photographs, black and white and sepia toned, is consciously made to produce a more focused appreciation of the subject: check the white shirted man in the featured image taken in a Barcelona Rambla.
Students’ bull-session under a balcony, its railing being repaired
The benign co-presence of these two events struck me by the fact of their vertical superposition. We may go further and include in this experience the vertical hose drying tower of the nearby vintage fire station still in use.
Standing at the central crossroad of what used to be the Village of Côte-des-Neiges, now a district of the city harbouring its main university and a couple of its top hospitals, I stand at the crossing of cultural eras as well.
I mention this because that co-presence experience is not only situated in the present moment, but also in historical and personal contexts that make it richer and deeper in meaning … you see, I used to reside around the corner from the fire station!
Having a smoke and a private talk
A stone throw from one of the busiest intersections of the city these two men are having a smoke and a private conversation while another person is ambling along in their direction, on the generous sidewalk with its trees, benches etc.
The context is a coffee shop and gallery that attracts artists and other members of the college and creative crowd, and that keeps its outdoor terrace open all year round for its smoking clientele.
I had noticed the contrast in appearance between the two men when they sat nearby inside the coffee shop … now, as I sat inside, they appeared as a unit enclosed in their own conversational bubble while traffic rumbled near the deserted terrace they gave presence to.
Curiously, the walking woman appears to be, in the photograph at least, part of their duo … extending the co-presence experience to all of four of us …that is including the photographer.
In deference to children
We are inside an upscale shopping mall with seating islands strategically located along its circulation spine.
I was attracted to the cozy and self possessed attitudes of the two young girls and the almost deferring attitude of the adult accompanying them creating, if you wish, a perfect bubble of empty space around them…their “personal bubble” as the expression is now currently accepted.
The photograph seems to capture that island of silence, or suspended time, at the heart of this experience of co-presence, energized by the attitudes and actions of the participants.
At a bus shelter an elderly man waits for the bus to arrive, choosing to remain outside the shelter, leaning on a walker and on the side panel of the shelter while looking at the traffic.
I was inside the shelter using it to frame the first hand view of the street and its reflection on the glazed side panel, back of the standing man. I waited to trip the shutter until the young woman passing by aligned with his sight line.
That is a set up but a sympathetic one, sympathetic that is to what can happen in the heads of two co-present elderly persons waiting for the 129 line bus to arrive.
That fellow was the janitor of the building next door.
The space between our buildings is a marvellous sun trap, a photographer’s paradise for zooming on the visual patterns of discarded things, people entering and leaving through that side door, and the janitor contemplating next maintenance task while having a smoke!
What allows this neighbouring co-presence is the fact that my apartment has a window looking over that space, just one floor up, making it a perfect viewpoint to record details of materials and attitudes of things and people.
The active neighbouring factor is the sunlight unavoidably pulling me into that physical and mental space as a co-participant in that situation … the sunlight acting as the broker, or mediator, of this co-presence experience.
Let us note right away that co-presence is not independent of meaningful context, nor is it isolated from forms of gathering and moving in the city.
The experience of co-presence, as an awareness of mutual presence is, however, the focus of the above situations.
The core of a co-presence experience being something of near, imagined, virtual, or potential relations between myself and others.
More on this to come, in further posts on Echoes of the City, as I consider the experiences of moving, gathering and otherwise occupying/using the city that give it meaning and human scale.
Photo credit Maurice Amiel