In the photograph, the energy of the city is called into question by the expressions of unwary individuals in candid moments. There is that utopian dimension to modernity, encapsulated in the proud sign “Energetic City”.
The city promises positive transformation even as the high rise buildings tower over and dominate its inhabitants. The deadpan expression of the father walking past the sign imparts the scene its irony, and the slightly suppressed hopeful countenance of the boy tells us he has yet to be properly socialised into a modern figure.
There is then a street wisdom that can be distilled. Because it purports to be easily grasped and navigated, the city projects itself as a child’s playground labyrinth, not unlike the one behind the sign. The father is too wise and world-weary to believe in the sign; in his rejection of this modern platitude, he has become an automaton. The automaton, we should say, is the proper response to the organised happy-clappy progressive modernity in which everything is supposedly understood and transparent.