David Lee: Through the Viewfinder
To walk is not to go on “a walk”. One can, for example, “walk” to the post office without going on “a walk”: the verb does not necessarily earn the right of the noun. To go on “a walk” is to enjoy walking for its own sake.
To photo-walk is not simply to take photographs, or even to simply take photographs on a walk. The walk does not motivate the photography, it is the camera sitting in the corner that asks for the exercise.
For a true photo-walk, as with any kind of walk, there must be purity of purpose.
This purity of purpose allows liberation. Walking with a camera strips out unnecessary motion: that message, meeting, email, or phone-call can wait. Exquisitely boring for anyone but the photographer, in the outside the camera provides enough companionship for necessary solitude.
A camera’s field of view literally, emotionally and psychologically removes the real world and draws you into the fantasy world of the subject. You need only have visited a cinema to understand the magical function of a camera lens as a portal into another captured world.
Walking through the viewfinder, your eyes enjoy a journey over unmarked shapes, tiny lines and great curves though once you have reached this fantasy crest of photographic purity you must be careful not to tumble too far down the other side.
The nature of a dedicated photo-walk is such that it draws you to the detail or the slice: the shot. Something easily forgotten amidst drones and wide-angles lenses in a genre historically served on postcards, magazine covers or computer desktops. To be drawn to “the detail” does not necessarily refer to the macro, it can apply as equally to a mountain pass as a blooming flower.
A beautiful view will always fail to translate into an “epic landscape”. A post on Instagram does not represent, or allow for, true appreciation of a beautiful view. Equally those scalpel-clean New York compositions hardly reflect the lawnmower of the city in which they were taken.
This is less a criticism than a caution. Though photography is often truthful as far as what the eye sees, it falls short of what the heart feels and the mind renders. Friedrich, Turner and Constable, for example, spent the Nineteenth Century proving that paint was more worthy than the lens in truly depicting the sense of a landscape, rather than simply what it looks like.
On a photo-walk the camera is a tool for the present rather than the past. It allows one to strip out the world, to focus on the surroundings, think, watch and observe. The pictures don’t matter. Lightroom doesn’t matter. Instagram doesn’t matter. Even if it looks great in VSCO, it does not match a tenth of the sunset you ignored for all but the time your autofocus took to find it.
Listen to your camera, take it outside and take a walk through the viewfinder. Forget what anyone might think of the results and take a photograph of today before its gone.