#956. The way we shoot (part 1): the Wake Up Walk

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Jan 22

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.

 
Car Wash 1, London
 

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.

Why walk?

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.

Car Wash 2, London
 

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.

City Supermarket, Braithwaite Street, London
 

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 😉

Smek Guns tunnel, London
 

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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  • Sean says:

    Hi Pacal,
    I totally get that statement you’ve made, in that “… wandering aimelessly for long periods ends up being a sort of meditative experience in which a peculiar state of awareness spontaneously occurs …”. Those that don’t find the act of meditation as an active process, well they’ve not meditated. Mind you, your version, as a trigger, requires the act of “… wandering aimlessly…”, and this is also somewhat cathartic to do, too. By way of example, today I went for a 3 hour walk around in the immediate suburbs near where I live. I took a Zeiss T* Biogon 35mm F2 attached to an aged Leica M8. In my aimless 3 hour wander I too shots as a record of what I responded to, without intellectualizing what, when, where and why – I simply framed, pressed the shutter and moved on. For those interested in the images I crafted you are welcome to a view here:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/hewlbane/
    The images are in two lots:
    FYA (For Your Appreciation) Wed 22 Jan 2020 000001 – 000028; and
    GSP (Greyscale Street Photography) Wed 22 Jan 00001 – 000011
    Sean

    • pascaljappy says:

      Wow, powerful photos of the protest, Sean. Thanks for the interesting comment. If you’d like to expand, you’re more than welcome to add a post to this series 🙂

    • John W says:

      That is one VERY angry group of people. Can’t blame them.

      Great images Sean. Wish I’d been there.

      • Sean says:

        Thank you John. As a group, their anger was expressed through their concern regarding the issue of climate change and its fallout. The other issue on the day was that the current Prime Minister of Australia copped a fair shellacking due their actions and position on climate change. Lastly, there were many females at the protest rally, and when that happens the resident Government on the day had better sit up and take note.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      I tried to post this comment on your your 4th photo [FYA Mon 27 Jan 2020 000015], Sean – but I’m not a member of Flicker so they wouldn’t let me.

      “Typical australians – 3 women, 5 men (a reasonable ratio, considering they’re playing cricket!), practically everyone wearing flipflops AKA thongs, and the batsman is actually a muslim woman. It’s hard to believe in the concept of “upper class”, when you live in this country.”

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Once again – each to their own! And wouldn’t life be dull, if everyone did the same thing? #956 is a classic illustration of the differences between the various members of this group!

    BTW – thanks for contributing to my education, Pascal – although I also love playing the piano (NOT at the same level as this guy!), I had no idea till I checked his tag as a “musician” that Ansell Adams was also a concert pianist. The things ‘togs have to do, to earn a bit of money!

    It interests me. Not because of my love of the piano. Well not just that. But because I am a firm believer that “monoculture” is sterile. That any form of art which is isolated from other forms of art will lack cross-pollination and may even wither and die because of it. That “complete human beings” like Leonardo are far more diverse, creative, productive and interesting.

    To take that one step forward. That a sculptor may very well produce far better paintings than a person whose sole focus on art was – say – pastel drawings. That an artist is likely to produce better photographs than a person whose sole interest in image making has been photography. That a person who takes – or has taken – analogue photos and gone on to develop their films and print enlargements of their images will take better colour photos in this digi age than a person who start their photography on digi and has never ventured beyond that. And that a person who takes both black & white photos and colour will take better colour photos than someone who has never gone outside colour photography.

    Diversity seems to be fundamental to DS. Different people. Different cultures. Different languages. Not just different countries, but different continents. And even people from the same country produce completely different types and styles of images – example: Philippe and Pascal.

    And even though I’m highly unlikely to attempt to follow the same path (I’m not an anglophile, I don’t like the weather and although I’m told it’s improved since I was last there over 30 years ago, I don’t like the food), and take photos of soggy foggy back streets in London, I find myself drawn into these images.

    Glad the Hassy endured the weather better than your clothing, notebooks and laptop – but of course it was born and raised in an even soggier climate, so perhaps it was bred to fight the raindrops. I think the English must born to live in amongst the raindrops, too – miles and miles of urban streets, but scarcely anywhere do they provide verandah roofs over the sidewalks, to shelter pedestrians or to provide cover for photographers and protect the front of their lenses for at least a minute or two, while they take a photo.

    Zooms are an acquired taste, Pascal – and multiple lenses ditto. While I have quite a range to choose from, zooms tend to be used more for action shots with animals or wildlife. For travel, a standard lens is the go – I take a w/angle, to help in tight corners (Laowa’s new 15mm tilt shift might be interesting for shots like the facade of Strasbourg cathedral, for example!). On my last trip I kept wishing I had my 70-200 with me (so many post card shots – easy with the standard prime – but I kept wishing for something different, and seeing detail shots that I couldn’t capture without a decent telephoto!)

    But we all know how impractical it is to lug all our gear all over the world. Maybe we all need to win Lotto, and employ porters to lug it all for us, while we attend to the creatve stuff?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Pete. And it’s not just in arts. Cross pollination is essential in all areas of life. People who are so focused on their subject that they lose sight of the rest of the world must struggle for inspiration.

      Diversity is essential to me. If we all behave the same, we are no longer humans. And governments, brands and other forces try so hard to herd us in the direction that most benefits them that diversity in personal expression (which art is all about) seems vital, in the strictest sense, to our humanity.

      Interesting point that people educated in colour might find an escape in b&w. I’d never through of it that way 🙂 Cheers

      • Sean says:

        Bill Brant may have got it, when he stated “… Photography is not a sport. It has no rules. Everything must be dared and tried…” which, in essence just may include the process of “… cross pollination…” in the art of photography.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        “people educated in colour might find an escape in b&w”

        They can – and they do. Or at least some of them.

        One, who lives in the country and has no idea where to shop for gear, so she doesn’t have a chance of getting GAS, begged my to find some B&W film for her. She got 3 rolls of 36 for Christmas.

        Another chucked digi colour and bought an earlier version of Leica’s Monochrom. Then instead of spending on gear, he went off on a world trip, and came back with an absolutely sensational collection of B&W images.

        But what really gets me is the lack of understanding of tonal range that “colour only” ‘togs sometimes exhibit. Nicely composed, nicely framed – but everything is the same tonal value, so there’s no contrast – except stuff live orange vs violet, off the colour wheel.

        Unlike – example – your City Supermarket shot! Or your first two car wash shots.

        • pascaljappy says:

          When I’m dictator of the world, Ansel Adam’s trilogy will be obligatory reading for all children aged 5 and over. Easy read, profound life changes.

          I really pitty photohraphers educated in the age of social media. It’s so much harder for them to turn to paper. Particularly old paper. There’s that idea that new is innovative and better. It’s not, if it has forgotten the bases.

          • PaulB says:

            Forced to read Ansel’s trilogy!?!

            Sounds like punishment to me, and I wanted to read the books. 😉

            How about a summer photo day camp for those 8 yrs and up, where they get to use an old camera, B&W film, and develop their own film and prints. There is magic in that. 🙂

            PaulB

  • John W says:

    Long ago in a previous life, I worked for the Canadian Govt. solving problems in law, policy, interpretation and other mind warping stuff. I was never bored, but occasionally stumped by how to tackle a problem. I’d go for a walk. It never failed … movement is the catalyst for creativity and walking alone is a moving meditation. And it works both ways … focus inward to problem solve, focus outward to photograph. I completely understand what you’re doing and saying; it’s what I learned to do … the hard way.

    Fabulous post and images Mr.J. Well done.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah, being paid to think. Nothing better in life. The 9 to 5 wouldn’t exist if all of us were paid to think, rather than to execute someone else’s thiking. Unrealistic, I know (and some people probably like it better like this) but I can relate to what you are saying, having once been a research worker, also in a distant previous life 😉 Happy days.

      Thanks for the kind words, John. Much appreciated, they are.

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    Hello Pascal,

    I love, really love your first photograph. At first glance, I thought I was looking at a painter’s studio, with the canvasses hanging on the wall. And that image stayed with me, even after I read your post. That’s one of the things that attracts me to photography, the element of surprise, the sense of wonderment.

    The following sentences from your post, in particular, resonate with me: “…A receptivity to things that would go unnoticed in a more productivity-oriented tourist visit….A freeing of creative boredom…” Like you, I like to walk aimlessly, hours at a time. For me, traveling is a multi-sensorial experience, I respond to what I see, to light, noise, smell; I don’t plan much. My camera is a companion. Sometimes I take photographs, sometimes not, there is no pressure, no expectations.

    Travel photography to me reads as “travel and photography”. While travel is usually short-lived, photography takes on a life of its own, a permanent journey of sorts, taking place in the lab and in front of the computer – creating images that appeal to me. I like to make books with my photographs, from simple travelogues to bodies of work spanning over many years. The design and layout of a book is a captivating, and sobering, experience.

    Thank you for a very interesting read.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Jean-Claude. The glass panes are what drew me to the scene as well. It was a very busy street with lots of roadworks, rain and noise. I almost didn’t stop, being so tired and drenched. But the patterns and colours in those windows …

      “No pressure” that’s exactly it. Being in tune is so different from being in a hunting state of mind. I’m convinced the pressure of recreating the hyper-spectacular shots seen on social media is destroying the creative juices for soooo many photographers these days. It’s so sad.

      Ah, photo books … My long time dream has been to fill one of those gorgeous hard back drawing paper pads (A3 or larger) with prints. The paper, the cover in those is just so inviting. I have been investigating all possible solutions to print on those papers, to no avail, and so envy people who can draw and fill those books rather than rely on albums or industrially printed books (which is my second best solution). During the winter break, I’m hoping to start bookbinding with my daughter and create a very better second best. Hopes are high 🙂

      (unrelated: haven’t forgotten you, just been swamped with work those past few days)

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    The way of preparation for a photosession depends on the subject; City – Nature – Portrait – Detail – Macro…all requires a different priming-approach in mental/emotional/hardware etc.
    Common though for all is to prepare as best possible; Idea/inspiration, weather forecast, location, time of day, and the many disciplines involved that allows me to take on the Coat of Photography Suit!
    One or more lenses depending on objective, no coffee beforehand if handholding since it causes shakes, propper clothing not to spoil the flow…and much more!

    Then, one of the most important points…to be as willing/open/flexible as possible to allow a more
    semiconscious state of observing anew – thus allowing the scenery to impress itself and try
    to give it new/fresh expression – perhaps “seeing/feeeling” from another place in oneself and thereby
    get surprised by the “translation of subject” when looking at the images captured.

    Walking certainly helps, as the very act allows oneself to walk into a new setup, and although
    most things can seem familiar, they can’t really be as today is a new day and life has moved on.
    Also, not prejudging the outcome and allowing for some trial/error is important since the aim
    is not perfection but perhaps allowing the elements of the scenery to orchestrate a different result
    with its own logic/wholesomeness/clarity/timing. Getting a little lost also helps…!

    This just a slice of awareness that works for me, and PS – really like the last Tunnelshot with
    prismatic flare… 😉

    Michael

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Meditation is an essential process that helps to keep the contents of your brain in some tolerable state or condition. It’s apparently also recommended as a means of staving off one or other of dementia or alzheimers. I personally use it as a means of filling the holes in the air – while I’m walking the dog, for instance, conversation is extremely limited – boredom is something I don’t get (in either sense of that expression) – so whenever I’m not doing something else, my mind switches automatically onto meditation.

    Reflecting – considering – looking – seeing – rearranging – rethinking – remembering – planning – problem solving. All these things and more start to float around in my head.

    And because I generally have a camera with me – even if it’s only a pocket one – my thoughts tend to gravitate towards possibly subjects, possible shots.

    While all of that is going on, some of my “projects” will float. There’s usually space for a few other ideas to float around with all the others. I have to be unconscious to be able to “stop thinking”. I’mnot at all sure that thinking stops, even while I am asleep.

    The presence of a camera of any sort doesn’t necessarily mean I will start taking photos on one of these walks. On the other hand – since I’m ambidextrous – it might very well be hauled out and put to work, to help me explore opportunities and plan how best to exploit them.

    • Sean says:

      Love this, Pete “… I personally use it as a means of filling the holes in the air …” or by contrast when I’m asked about what am I doing I’ll often reply “Thinking about the price of fish.”

      • pascaljappy says:

        When I was in school, we used to reply “Je pense au camembert” (I’m thinking about camembert cheese). Go figure. There’s wisdom in flippant children 😉

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Ah – but as the tourists will tell you, Pascal, you are a . Camembert is a nice choice – don’t ever think to buy Australian camembert though it’s like plaster of paris – which does NOT give it a French taste.

  • Steve says:

    Pascal, I saw the carwash and remember thinking, “there’s a picture there” but hurried past heading for shelter! You on the other hand…..Splendid image.

    Yes, aimlessly walking around allows the mind to quiet and be more present and to see what is there rather than what I “know” is there. And I especially love it when in the company of a couple of other like-minded pals knowing they are doing the same thing; it feels somehow supportive of the process.

  • PaulB says:

    Pascal

    I really like the juxtaposition in the third image. The large puddle of muddy water whispers “It won’t last.”

    For images that are visually deep, you really need to be walking. It is the best way to let your subconscious really see what is there.

    PaulB

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Loved your first photo… exactly one of my quests… ages ago, I discovered Edward Hopper paintings… has been an inspiration since. Seems so simple, but – to me, for sure – so hard to achieve.
    You nailed it, gorgeous!
    One of those « wish I took it » images 🙂
    And – boringly « as usual » 😀 – 100% with you about the walk…

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