I can't remember how long my walks were when I was living in Los Angeles. It's been thirteen years now, and in that time I've done a lot of walking, especially the last few years.
Back in the LA days, I didn't think much about the philosophy of walking. I was out walking to make photographs and experience the city. There was a certain purity to those first couple of years when I realized I could put film in my camera, walk out the door and make as many photographs as I wanted for as long as I could walk.
I am curious about how many miles and hours I accumulated during those years. Of course, it's a totally futile endeavor as I will never remember with any certain type of accuracy, and I have no data, so I am left wondering.
These days, it's much different. I track my long walks on Strava and the pedometer on my phone gives me my daily steps and miles. For example, here's some data for 2020:
I know there's an element of posturing in showing the data, and you might wonder, how on earth I find the time. Well, losing your job during a pandemic is one way to find more time. But I also basically build my schedule around walking, and every free day I can find is given to a long walk, weather and health permitting.
This year has been even odder, with a big move and the transition into freelance work.
I got thinking about all of this after I read this article in the Independent, which was spurred on by a lively Reddit thread.
First off, no I don't consider this a long walk but I am outside the median walker I would imagine. I am not necessarily too interested in the UK vs USA angle of this debate, but the question does relate to something I have been thinking about, and something I think I need to clarify.
When I talk about 'walking,' I am generally speaking about long walks that are between 7-20 miles. That's my zone. Anything under that, I generally consider a maintenance or productivity walk. Those are important too. They are great for staying physically and mentally healthy.
But for me, the real action happens on the long day walks. These are generally around 3-5 hours. As I spoke to last week, I find that these walks will expand your perception of time. So while the clock might say 5 hours, they often feel much longer. They are additive. You are gaining time.
Now, this is just me! For a walker like Craig Mod, the focus is on multi-day walks which are more intense than day walks. On those walks, you are stringing together multiple days of 10-20 miles. That takes a physical and mental toll from what I understand.
I have never made one of those walks yet, but I have strung together multiple days of long walks earlier this years when I was leaving NYC and had no job. It was a euphoric experience. You build up your stamina and the changes in how you perceive time are incredible.
But for me, that's not sustainable. I would love to try it though. There's something intensely interesting about going from point A to B over multiple days. Right now, my plan is to walk from Saint Cloud to Minneapolis which is about 75 miles, so it would take probably 4 or 5 days.
My hunch is that about %50 of you reading this will not care too much about the data part of walking. I totally understand! When I was walking in Los Angeles, it never crossed my mind, and if you would have asked me at that time whether any of this was important, I probably would have scoffed, and said that it's more about getting out, looking and enjoying yourself than keeping stats.
I totally respect that philosophy, and perhaps someday I will return to it, but for now, the data, and the maps, and the strategy around walking are what hold my fascination. Layering the ideas, and building a comprehensive philosophy is my goal with the work. It's going to take more time, but I feel I am getting close, and sharing in this newsletter has been a great help.
I guess this is sort of a warning. If that doesn't interest you, then, well, I hope you stay for the links at the end!
Of course, there's much more to it than numbers and strategy. It's about storytelling, and sharing ideas too. That's the core of it, but I find that creating structure, and tracking the data forces me to work, it forces me to dig deeper, and examine my ideas more intently. The data forces me to think differently, and think creatively. Whatever it takes is my motto these days. Embrace it.
Speaking of walking strategy, I absolutely love this thread on how footballer Lionel Messi uses walking to strategize during matches. It's brilliant and not something I ever considered.
This seems like a great example of visual-spatial intelligence in action, although I am no expert on the topic. This makes me think about how walkers and photographers analyze the landscape and geography while out in the field. It's a core part of the process. How do you find the perfect spot and moment for the photograph? It often takes time, and walking around a scene. The difference of course is that we have no human opponent. It's a different game.
Walkers and photographers are looking for the clues that will help us tell the stories we want to tell and communicate our ideas. But there might be something bigger going on as well. What can we learn from the environment? What can we learn when we slow down and take time to absorb the atmosphere of the geography and landscape? How does our understanding of the history change our perceptions? What about physics? Does the landscape and these places hold clues beyond our conscious perception?
I don't know! I suppose that's part of the investigation.
We're out gathering intelligence, and gathering time. The walks are the entrance into a different dimension.
I am looking at this through the lens of art, but perhaps there are other insights we can take away from it in terms of productivity and mindfulness.
On one of my walks this week, I started to think about the sensory volatility we experience on a walk. The outdoors, and the environment can overwhelm us with novelty, almost to the point of overdose. Maybe it's just my experience, but when you are hyper focused, and present while out walking and in nature, you can feel overwhelmed by the stimulus. I think this is mostly good, and once we train ourselves to absorb it, then it's truly a marvelous experience.
All of this rambling might simply boil down to this: we should probably spend more time outdoors, and practice mindfulness. From there, your imagination can take you anywhere.
Drop me a line and let me know what you consider a long walk! I am curious to hear what other people think about this topic: firstname.lastname@example.org
Going Back to Los Angeles
When I picked up photography in 2005 while living in Los Angeles, I started with digital. As I got involved with the street photography community on Flickr, I was persuaded to take up film. I liked the process, and the cameras. It felt more organic and made me feel like I was taking the process, and my art more seriously than just uploading photos to Flickr.
It was also more expensive, and scanning was a pain. Over the years, I have shown this work plenty. It has lived as a project on my site. I've published a zine with Hamburger Eyes, and a couple book dummies on my own. None if ever felt complete, but I'd moved on to other projects so I just left it.
But I've always had a nagging voice in my head about properly printing the photos. I just didn't know how to go about it. My scans are not best in class for printing, and something deep inside me said I should try to make proper darkroom prints. But that's beyond my skillset, and I don't have time to learn.
Another issue was finalizing an edit. For a long time, I included a lot of candid photographs of people. Up close and recognizable. Well, my perspective on that type of photography has changed greatly over the years. Thus, may edit of the work has changed. Now I am finally at a point where I think I can narrow it down to 24 or so photographs that I would like to print, archive and make available for purchase.
The good thing is that over the years I have met some awesome people that know how to make good darkroom prints. I think I might have persuaded my top choice to take on the project with me for early 2022. I'm excited, and dreaming up some maps to go along with the prints. More to come in a few months.
- Amazing interview with the legendary Garnette Cadogan in Walk it off: "I’m not a fan of the “eat your vegetables” approach to walking. There are many ways to be healthy. I’m not interested in walking to stay healthy. I’m interested in walking to encounter others. To learn about the world. To learn about myself in the world. To understand what it is to be in the world in all its richness and complexity and beauty and suffering. And to open my arms and embrace it."
- Insightful interview by Kaitlyn Greenidge with "Kimberly Henderson, curator and founder of the stunning Instagram account of Black archival images Emalineandthem
- Jorg Colberg writes about some of the innovative war photography books of the last decade
I’m a photographer and consultant from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. This is my newsletter on art, walking, and mindfulness. Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me.
My consulting services focus on helping photographers with project development, editorial strategy and building a walking practice. I offer FREE 30 minute introductory calls to chat about your projects, and learn if I can help.