Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Camera in Hand... Walking

Larry Wolf,
Metra Union Pacific North (2018)

Most Weekdays 

I walk with my husband to the train he takes to work. We walk west, the morning sun behind us, for the eight or nine minutes to get to the station.

Larry Wolf, Three Routes Overlap in the City (2019)
I continue walking, typically one of three different routes: a one-block wide six-block east-west journey which may end at a coffee shop across the street from our home, a longer east-west journey with a one-block jog north at the west-most edge to a coffee shop, or a more square route north and east to a coffee shop and then south to home. The walking time varies between fifteen and forty minutes. A day begins.

Intentionally Aimless

The walks have no particular purpose other than to start the day together, to step outside, to wake up slowly, one step at a time, wishing Eric a good day, and by walking, in the neighborhood, whatever the weather is, as the seasons change, noticing the sky, the traffic, the buildings (and the activity of building), the people (and their dogs), the trees and other plants, sometimes in bloom or past bloom, a passing train, occasionally a rabbit, being with whatever is happening each day. Sometimes stopping at a coffee shop, as much about taking time to pause and consider the day ahead as to have another shot of caffeine. I've been doing this for the past six or seven years (yikes!).

I often stop and capture moments in pixels. They collect in the cloud. They rain down as texts or tweets or are posted to Instagram or to this blog.


Walking can be a formal or informal meditation practice. How much am I conscious of the whole experience and its details? The feel of my feet as they touch the ground, one foot, the other foot, weight shifting, toes in shoes, legs in pants, limbs and joints in motion. The world going by. Breathing. Breathing and walking. Sensing. Awake and asleep. Embodied. Part of and not separate from the environment. Sometimes. It comes and goes.

A Companion

A camera has been my companion for years and years. Not just on my morning walk, but out and about generally, at work, at meals, at museums, all the parts of my life. In my twenties, I pretty much lived with a camera, sometimes shooting from the hip, often with more formality. Almost never any staging, almost always full frame.

There was a dual aesthetic of authenticity, that the image should be of my life, as it happened, a close-in documentary, and that what was on the film emulsion needed to be shown in full, the whole story without further reframing. This was also a commitment to a specific discipline of being with the camera, developing the reflexes to focus, frame and release the shutter quickly, more and more on instinct feed by the cycle of shooting and printing.

Larry Wolf,
Companion (2019)
People were the primary subjects, friends, family and co-workers as we went about our day, making a connection with them through the lens, through the images. Other times, I was more in my own bubble, turning a purely inner experience inside out, making something to share.

Seeking to reconnect with that, I dusted off an ten-year old digital camera and resumed having a camera with me. I've stuck with that old friend for this past year. One camera, one lens, a fixed focal length. Creating a consistency of what I'm using. Allowing a friendship to emerge.

Allowing. A Friendship. To Emerge. 

Allowing, not forcing something conceptual, getting out of my own way. Letting it develop over time. Feeling my way into knowing who I am as I hold the camera. Who the camera is, the life it holds in its body, in its technology, in its settings. , but having it develop from the inside. Feeling my way through the options of subject, shutter speed (freeze the motion or show it? move the camera or hold steady? how slow is slow enough? how fast is fast enough? run experiments and see results).

The friendship is as much about my relationship with myself as with the camera. Having the camera in my hand, I feel the lightness of it. Solid and present, balanced. My thumb rests in a slight curve in the corner, my fingers wrap around the edge, a gentle grip, a relaxed hold. Ready. I notice something, see it on the view screen, adjust the exposure, the angle, touch gently to focus, hold and reposition, wait for a moment, press through to the snap of the shutter. Physical and digital, optics and electronics and human together.

I pick up the camera, curious to what emerges.

Life Is Fragile and Resilient 

There is a tentativeness, a fragility, that wasn't there before. I'm not twenty-something, out to seduce the world. I'm not the same person who first used this camera ten years ago, enthusiastic for a new piece of gear, on vacation, exploring a new place. Almost seventy, life is pain and joy. Grand visions have crashed and burned. Persons, places and things which were safe refuge turned out to be merely illusions. Deeply disappointing. Certainly impermanent. Subject to change. Old relationships are revisited, touched fresh, reawakened. Some are found dry, brittle, sun-bleached; they fade away, are walked away from, are cut off.

Alive. Being alive is all of that. Change. Disappointment. Joy. Illusion. Vision. Order forming and dissolving. Routines established and dropped. Weight gained and lost and gained again. Births. Deaths. Deaths. Births.

Day to day, one breath at a time, getting to know the moment, to know me in this moment, to feel the current streams flowing through me, to find fresh sustenance.

Though not fully intuitive, I am getting better at knowing what this camera sees, better at simple post-processing, better at images that resonate although not always in ways I expect or understand. I don't have the full immersion of years ago, I don't do it all the time, but it's growing.


Holding a camera in my hand transforms my seeing, shifts me into a visual mode. My thinking moves into my eyes, into the eye of the camera. The camera becomes a method for letting go of the usual mental chatter. A simple curiosity takes over. What is this? How does light bounce off its surface? What is in the shadows? What has caught my eye? How does it change as I keep looking? The questions are more attitude than words. Like the ringing of a gong or the lighting of incense, holding the camera invites the meditative mind into the foreground.

And then there is training: classes, critiques, readings; experimenting with points of view, use of reflection, of motion, of focus, of framing. Conscious choices, actions and what results; deepening my skill in the mechanics; opening me to see more, more layers, more whole. The craft and discipline further open the experience.


Yesterday Miriam Hall talked about images she made in Barcelona in the days immediately following 9/11. The images were unlike anything she had taken before -- fragmented, disjointed, chaotic -- revealing her state of mind. Looking at the developed film was a surprise. She did not know her mind, did not know what she was making. Then she saw her mind in the prints. Ah yes, this is why I photograph.

A few weeks ago a friend mentioned how he was taken by individual letters, drawing each one, richly formed, as individuals, worthy of attention. It reminded me of Arthur Rimbaud's poem Vowels.

A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue : vowels,
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins

Larry Wolf,
Canopy (2019)


I'm looking for that direct link from mind to image/image to mind, short circuiting the inner narrator who is writing the story and shaping perception before anything is seen, as the shutter is released and an image is captured. Looking for surprises when reviewing the result, for moments where my mind gets out of its own way and sees, with the camera, directly, sees what is as it is. And to let go of the whole thing. May it be of benefit.

Thank You

A short note of thanks to Becky for hosting and teaching contemplative art, for Levi for his photographic walks and upcoming workshop, for the many people who have nurtured and challenged me over the years and especially my husband Eric who has been the homo fabula in my life for twenty years.

[Originally posted September 3, 2019. Revised September 5, 2019]

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