Recently I came across the work of Dennis Adams and Laurent Malone, two artists that investigated walking from a truly unique perspective.
Starting at 8:00 am on August 5, 1997, they walked non-stop from downtown Manhattan, across the Williamsburg Bridge, to JFK Airport. For 11 hours and 30 minutes, they followed the straightest path possible toward their destination, crossing neighbourhoods, backyards, expressways and cemeteries. As they walked, they studied their surroundings, capturing changes in the landscape as they passed through it. They shot photographs along their route using a 35 mm camera that was shared between them. Prior to the start of the walk they had came to the understanding that either of them could take a photograph of their own choosing, at any time during the walk. When this occurred, the person who shot the photograph handed the camera to the other person, who then shot a second photograph in the exact opposite direction. For the second photograph, no attention was given to the subject, composition or technical adjustments. From the beginning to the end of their walk, they produced 486 photographs.
The work culminated in a book called JFK (now unfortunately out of print) that contains 243 sets of paired photographs in chronological order. The left-hand pages represent the selected shots that were composed and the right-hand pages represent the corresponding shots created by chance.
What is interesting about the walk is that they cleverly chose a simple route, a direct path through the city. This de-complicated the navigational aspects of the walk so they could concentrate more on the task at hand. The work is given a narrative structure, as the walk has both a beginning and an end; once the destination of JFK was reached, the work came to an end. The structured walk created limitations within which they could work, in order to create a more specific photographic response to the locations they walked through.
JFK is ultimately a photographic record of their walk, but for me what makes it highly original is the way that each location was captured as a pair of photographs, made in almost the same time. This enables us to see each location from two different perspectives. The curious thing is that we never know which of the two artists shot each of the photographs.
Iain Sinclair is perhaps the most significant literary figure responsible for the modern reincarnation of psychogeography. He has been working since the mid-1970s on a continuous exploratory project of London that incorporates poetry, novels, documentary film and photography. Sinclair uses walking as a way of re-engaging with the city in a world that he feels we have become disconnected from due to the modern-day media. For Sinclair, the docks, motorways, suburbs and industrial sectors that lie on the extremities of London are of equal interest as the popular touristic monuments that London is renown for.
Sinclair is perhaps most widely known for his book London Orbital (2002), where he circumnavigates London’s M25 on foot. However, it is his collaborations with Marc Atkins that cleverly introduces the photographic image into his work. The book Liquid City (1999), his second collaboration with Atkins, brings together the various walking journeys of the duo, which were undertaken for what Sinclair calls “urban research”. The walks featured in the book take part around the Thames which seems to be used as a visual metaphor to illustrate the city’s transience and the continual flow of people through the urban landscape. The pair takes the reader on a bleak adventure through modern industrial London, on a quest to interrogate and record the changing landscape. We are shown dilapidated graveyards and decapitated statues as a way of demonstrating how history often becomes faded and forgotten if not continually revisited. The darkness of Atkins’s black and white photographs bring out the city’s dramatic shadows and the hauntedness of the urban space conjured up with Sinclair’s words. The photographs show the way London’s inhabitants are dwarfed by the towering architecture and how the modern construction of the city can create feelings of isolation and alienation.
Once again, Liquid City reveals how the freedom of everyday walking can be applied as a form of artistic exploration. The book shows us the city from the perspective of two pedestrians who through walking, watching and recording manage to tap into the historical heritage of zones that are usually left ignored. The mixture of writing and photographs offer the reader different devices for viewing the city, this gives the book a unique perspective from those that exploit only one or the other. It demonstrates that by using text and photography together, we can find new ways of understanding the inner-city landscapes that shape our everyday existence.
Recently I came across the excellent work of photographer Tim Mitchell. His new self-published book, Up & Down the Pyrenees traces his 150 mile walking journey, where he joined David Lintern for part of his 600 mile sea to sea charity walk.
You can see more of his work or purchase his book here. David Lintern also has an interesting walking blog that you can access here.
Keith Arnatt was both a conceptual artist and a photographer. During the early period of his photographic career, he made three series that expressed his fascination with portraiture and the way people behave when confronted by the camera. He began with The Visitors in 1974, then Walking the Dog in 1976 and finally Gardeners in 1978. All three of these earlier series were beautifully shot in black and white before his eventual jump into colour photography. The images featured here are from Walking the Dog.
It is said that Arnatt was originally inspired by August Sanders’s photograph of a man with an Alsatian. The dog in Sanders’s iconic photograph was caught looking away from the camera, but Arnatt wanted to make an entire series where both the dog walkers and their dogs returned the photographer’s gaze. It’s interesting to look at the similarities between the dogs and their owners and the interplay between animal and master. They mimic one another in many physical ways but it’s the facial expressions that are for me the most interesting and humorous. It’s also curious that Arnatt is able to get the dogs to pose for the camera, for those who have tried animal portraiture it’s much more difficult than it may appear.
What is different about this series from the others I have featured here, is that these photographs are not just about the photographer being out on a walk, but the fact that his subjects are in fact the walkers.
Summer Nights, Walking is one of my favourite photography books. The photographs within were made along the Colorado front range between 1976 – 1982. The relaxed atmosphere of the pictures gives the impression of a dreamy night time perambulation, where Adams captures his unpopulated surroundings using moonlight and street lamps. When looking at the photographs, I like to imagine the inhabitants of these places to be inside, hiding away from darkness amidst the warm glow of their houses. I also get the impression that Adams enjoyed the solitude of his walks and was inspired by the aloneness of his circumstances.
Adams observes his surroundings with an impressive attention to detail. Through the use of darkness, he transforms everyday objects into something curious, and the ordinary towns he walks through become dreamlike landscapes. The first image in the book depicts a fairground ride shrouded in darkness. It sets a quiet and melancholic tone to the book whilst drawing attention to the way Adams seemingly distances himself away from the action.
The expanded edition from 2009 is superbly printed on crisp matte heavy weight paper with an egg shell tone. The book contains a minimal amount of text opening with only three small paragraphs from Adams, alongside a number of poems from the likes of William Blake. We don’t have much in terms of written content to work with but we don’t need it. Like all great photography, the images are revelatory enough without additional text. This is exceptional photography contained within an unfussy, beautiful book and the overall simplicity of the book design enables the complexity of the photographs to truly shine.
“Most of what little I have learned about British history i’ve learned through the soles of my feet. Local footpaths are our heritage, every bit as much as our historic monuments”
(Fay Godwin – Forbidden Land)
Fay Godwin remains one of photography’s great campaigners for the land, as well as one of Englands great walking photographers. She was president of the ramblers association from 1987 to 1990 which she originally joined in the 1950’s. Throughout her life she was continually concerned for the well being of the land. She felt that her home country of England was under constant threat from government policies, industry, the MOD and other powerful interests. The collected photographs shown in her series Our Forbidden Land assert her disdain for the privatisation of land. They depict decaying paths, prohibitive signage against tresspassing, barbed wire fences and various other molestations of the landscape.
Ultimately through her collection of photographs Godwin addresses the modernisation and development of land and the local authorities lack of funding to help preserve its walkways and paths. She also reminds us that the land is rightfully ours to walk on and enjoy, however our public right of way continues to be violated. We as walkers find ourselves in a perpetual battle for the land which will continue to be privatised, fenced off or stolen if we do not take action.
John Maclean has been busy over the past few years working on a number of excellent self published books, A to B is the 7th. On the last page of the book he succinctly explains the contents of the book “Forty-two photographs taken during 37 walks between the sites of Newgate prison and the Tyburn Tree, between 23 August 2009 and 3 Februrary 2011”. The tone of this brief text goes hand in hand with the works meticulous pin point execution.
From a map of London on his studio wall, Maclean chose two points (A and B), one east and one west, then he walked repeatedly from one to the other whilst photographing what he saw. The resulting images show us views abstracted from the world that explore darkness and light. The information in each image is reduced to the point where the original subject is almost indiscernible. The photographs do not show us a recognisable view of the city but rather a highly personal and expressive insight into the way Maclean sees the world.
A to B demonstrates the possibilities that can be drawn from organised walking exploration. By simply choosing two points on a map and walking between them repeatedly, Maclean managed to conjure up a fascinating, thought provoking and complex series of photographs.