Climbing a rock several hundred meters high with a heavy pack on his back, a middle aged musician sets up his view camera, waits for the right light and creates one of the most iconic photographs of his era. Not all of us have such a flamboyant image making process as Ansel Adams’, but each of us has his/her own favourite routine for creating photographs. And I thought it might be interesting for us to share ours in turn.
This (above) is one of my favourite photographs from a recent trip to London with DS co-conspirers Paul and Steve. It was raining hard on me. Had been all afternoon: in the evening, I found that my MacBook Pro was drenched in water inside its carrying case inside my suitcase, that’s British weather for you. And my legs were sore from walking.
To me, this photograph represents everything I love in travel photography. The subject is somewhat significant, it is visually pleasing, it is personal but not so much that it hides the location entirely, and I would never have found it on one of the tourist trails of this ultra-high-potential city.
It’s fair to say that, at some points in the afternoon, drenched, cold and tired with not a pretty thing in sight, I allowed warm thoughts of tourist attractions, cosy lounges and afternoon teas to enter my mind and share certer stage with interrogations about my mental sanity.
Viewing the photographs dissipated those entirely. They provide me with everything I seek in photography: a sense of discovery, great shapes and colours, great light, great mood, a little intrigue and a very clear sense of “being there”, a connection that is distinctly lacking in most things Instaglam.
This is only a guess. Walking is a bilateral activity which, like EMDR treatment, helps both sides of the brain mesh up and work in better synch. In fact, wandering aimelessly for long periods ends up being a sort of meditative experience in which a peculiar state of awareness spontaneously occurs. A receptivity to things that would go unnoticed in a more productivity-oriented tourist visit. A detox for the tyranny of bucket lists and social pzazz. An escape from work and concentration. A freeing of creative boredom. Beyond the philosophy, it means I’m at my best instantly once in the flow.
Walking also allows me to encounter many more potential subjects than circling a famous location. A numbers game that helps remove the veil that cloacks my eye-brain in drab inefficiency when starting a shoot.
To put it another way, after a period of photographic rest, I’m either blind, or dumb or both. Cover my ears and bring me a pin ball. Whatever the cause for this inability to create anything worthwhile, it is remarkably consistent and it’s routine for me to create at least 20 lousy photographs or more before something reassuringly more decent finally graces the rear screen of my camera.
Walking a lot ensures plenty of warming up has occured before precious photons eventually present themselves to me.
Finally, viewing plenty of locations in a short period gives me context and opportunity to compare, put together … In that same afternoon, this other car wash turned up just as unexpectedly as the one above. Just as tucked away in an area tourists don’t even know by name, it is every bit as interesting and iconic to me. This is London as I love it. Vibrant, colourful, alive, quirky, warm, diverse … Forget Big Ben, this is the real deal.
This high-mobility cherry-picking attitude towards photography has consequences on my gear choices as well. The City Supermarket below sits opposite the car wash above. The photograph only works because the gear used to make it is deeply neutral.
To me, the human-hub nature that this sort of small shop can represent in a local community only shines through because the quality of light and colour is perfectly preserved. The gear adds nothing, takes nothing away. Make this shot with a Noctilux and the story becomes very different. Probably more charming, but not as direct and poignant, to me.
This is what I bought my kit for. No added flavouring. The image is the same from corner to corner, with no fancy swirl or vignetting charm or bokeh frills. The absolute un-lens-baby. (Here a 24mm equivalent lens).
My walking-photography gear therefore has to be light(ish) weatherproof and neutral. During a day, I very rarely change lenses, if at all. When my eye is finally tuned in, there’s no way I can afford to let the perspective of a second lens alter my receptivity again. How I envy those who are able to use zooms on the go with no ill effects on their quality of production!
The Hassy X1D with one lens and a strap weighs nothing and fits in a tiny Crumpler sling bag on my hip. It handled 6 hours of rain much better than my clothing, notebooks and laptop, with not a hint of discomfort or functional hissy fits. Its grip always felt reassuring and stable. The EVF just worked. Rain? Wot rain? Wipers on the lenses might have helped with some highlights, though 😉
So that’s it. For me, walking is the key to opening receptivity and encountering a multiplicity of interesting subjects that go way beyond the clichés of any given location. It allows me to view the mundane in a creative way, which is what I value most in any art form. On vacation, I’ll often walk 10 – 15 miles in a day, with the added feel-good factor that allows me to splurge on cakes and other naughties with total abandon. What’s not to like? 😉
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