In Plain Sight: How to See Alienation in a Modern City

It is not far from common knowledge the allure of major world cities. Bustling, communal, full of life and connectedness, bountiful with opportunities. Although even with all the perceptions that accompany thoughts of a city, it is hard to truly realize the circumstances of life in a city. Most, if not all, coverage of a city in the mainstream media and in the online persona’s the younger generations continue to portray is overwhelmingly positive and showcases the benefits and lifestyle to strive for when in these cities.


time we lost.

A post shared by @ lucancoutts on Mar 30, 2018 at 5:30pm PDT


The purpose of In Plain Sight is to showcase the concept of alienation and the modern city. It has been an idea discussed since the establishment of major living centres and has expanded as much as those urban centres.


The purpose of this doc is to show that the concept of which is largely ignored by those in the cities, because of what society has deemed a city comes to represent, (a community, bringing people together, inclusion) and the instead realities. It goes to show when someone actively takes the steps to alienate themselves and attempts to see a city from a different perspective and a slower perspective than others, it is easy and abundant to notice and experience the alienation an individual is prone to experience upon being in a modern city (Josephson, 290).


Creative Process


Originally when I had crafted the idea, I had planned on creating a short film to represent alienation and the phantasmagoric perceptions of city life, but it didn’t seem genuine enough to me. Shifting my focus to a documentary, I felt more able to give a raw experience and view into the subject of alienation in a modern city. That was when I first encountered a book by Eric and Mary Josephson, titled Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society.

The book discusses the developments and progress society has made as technology and the density of cities continues to grow, and the effect it has on the people living in it. It mentions humans are “Confused as to his place in the scheme of a world growing each day closer yet more impersonal, more densely populated yet in face-to-face relations more dehumanized” (Josephson, 10).


I was aware of a photographer named Lucan Coutts who specializes in creating large cityscape images containing a lone individual in comparison to the city itself. Seeing his art and its representations, I decided to create a short documentary on Coutts’ self-isolation from the city in order to see the rest of the city in the same light, and how it is largely ignored by others who choose not to look. By following him, I was able to encounter isolated moments for ourselves and other people we saw, and how it relates to the theories and concepts I had been looking at.


i wish your memory would leave me alone.

A post shared by @ lucancoutts on Apr 2, 2018 at 5:44pm PDT

Creating the Doc


Isolation in a city such as Toronto with such an influx in population and vibrancy in the city itself and city life was something that had to be delicately represented. Because a city is characterised by “the full tide and race of human life” (Pile, 165) and can create a phantasmagoric effect (Hackett, 36), the best way to showcase my point was to specifically show it visually. By controlling the narrative and images that appear, I can be in control of the effect of the doc and how it is perceived to an extent. Also, by choosing an Instagram photographer, the concepts and process he undergoes and is briefly touched upon is easily relatable to a younger audience and they would feel a greater connect because of the automatic isolation social media creates (Farman, 20).

But instead of focusing on the social media aspect or to tackle isolation itself, I determined it best to show how easy it can be to see the alienation around, and although not frequently discussed or brought to light, it exists, hidden in plain sight.



While very little research exists regarding this exact topic, key concepts from different sources could be brought together to support and build upon my idea. While originally the idea was solely showing the alienation and isolation living in a modern city creates, although overlooked has repercussions as a result and it creates more of an isolated feel than an inclusive one (Pile, 100). In turn, my idea formed into including that original idea, yet with the twist of a potential reason for this being the familiarity creating a phantasmagoric state that disrupts the ability to realize the isolation has been taking place (Hackett, 15).


With the ever-increasing population in modern cities, with a study conducted in 2014 finding 80% of Canadians live in urban areas (StatsCan), and with skyrocketing mental disorders attributed to loneliness in Canadians, the isolation of the city was worth exploring.


a nullity, fuelled by caffeine

A post shared by @ lucancoutts on Dec 24, 2017 at 6:06pm PST



In Plain Sight is not a direct look into the isolation of an individual in a modern city and is not pretending to be. It is instead aiming to show the journey of one person, and how their experiences with being both isolated and alienated by choice and by default shapes their perceptions on their work and themselves. Following a photographer created the opportunity for a unique aspect of a modern city to be taken, as instead of someone living in the city and going through the daily motions, but someone who is influenced to take a slower, more in-depth perspective of the city and city life.


Its aim is not to broadcast the alienation anyone living in a modern city can face, but to embrace the phantasmagoric effect that can be felt, and to be reminded no one is alone, no matter quite how alone someone feels.


Works Cited

Hackett, Lauren (2009, May) The Fragmented City: The Intersection of Surrealism and Urban Reality. Retrieved from

Josephson, Eric, and Mary Josephson. Man Alone: Alienation in Society. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1962, Print.

Pile, Steve, Real Cities: Modernity, Space and the Phanatsmagorias of City Life. London: SAGE Publications, 2005. Print.

Farman, Jason, The Mobile Story : Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies, New York:  Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,




Fair Dealing:

Images in this online publication are either in the public domain or are being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education