One of my high school English teachers spent half of the first day of class talking about the importance of looking out the window to watch the light change over the course of the year. A group of 15 year old kids surely exchanged bewildered looks that day. Only after considerable years of spiritual exploration and photographic practice did I begin to understand this lesson. I am still thankful.
Another notable lesson has recently come to a point that needs to be marked. My longtime partner Jen just finished a two year project where she walked every street and pathway in Berkeley. I was along for about 1/3 of the walks.
Instead of getting from point A to B, the purpose of the walk was purely to observe your surroundings. At first the experience of walking for miles without a destination was strange, but after a few walks it started to become meditative. And while parts of the walk involved busy urban areas, the most enjoyable part for me was the quiet suburban streets.
Studying the psychogeography of the suburbs is best done on foot. We really don’t have time to notice much when speeding by in a car. When we do walk, there is usually a destination in mind. Or an exciting area we want to see. Or maybe a walk in the woods. When you take all of those ideas away, and just walk, you open up observational possibilities of a more subtle nature.
And yes, an exercise that hones observational skills can certainly be beneficial to improving your photography. While I did make some good images throughout the course of the walk, the photographs were almost a fringe benefit. The best part of the project was finding a deeper understanding of how people live. The everyday world around us can be pretty interesting, but sometimes we need a shakeup of our routine in order to see it. I want to thank Jen for leading the way.
- Walking Berkeley Blog, Walking Philosophy
- Walking Every Street in Berkeley, Berkeley Daily Planet, 1/15/2008
- Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, by John Stilgoe