Saturday dawned grey and overcast; certainly not a day for rushing out with a camera to capture the light. It was bright yet in the same glance also dull and somewhat … well grey. I made coffee, found a magazine and settled in my favourite chair for a leisurely morning.
An hour later I looked again through the window upon the familiar grey, urban landscape. This time though I reached for shoes, a roll of AgfaPhoto APX 400 (the first film that came to hand) and my Nikon SLR with its ever-present YG filter. What compelled me to sally forth in the exact same conditions I’d forsworn earlier I do not know. Perhaps the coffee had done it’s restorative work.
As is my norm I left with no clear purpose and this morning I turned right as I left my back garden and found myself wandering south through the back streets; familiar but much less trodden of late. Reaching South Lane instead of turning left to start the loop to meander back towards home as I would normally do, I crossed and carried on south up an unadopted lane, lined with trees and bushes on one side and the untidy rear ends of long gardens on the other. Again, not unfamiliar, but I doubt I’ve walked along this particular lane since this time last year.
At the end of this lane I generally veer left but today my feet drifted right, along a faint yet still discernible track that eventually deposited me at the far end of the industrial estate that forms the southern boundary of our small town. I’d never been this far into the estate before so this was, to me, virgin, unexplored land.
A steady stride was now called for though as I did need to get back home to complete some domestic chores and so I picked up the pace but I was nevertheless still alert for I’d realised that despite the random wandering I was actually looking for something. I paused briefly and looked around me, a full 360° turn. I had had no inkling until then but walking on down the street, noting the contrasts between the industrial buildings and the trees, I suddenly realised that I had all the time been subconsciously looking for images for my infrared project. A camera that I’d deliberately left at home as I’d removed it from my shoulder bag to pop the Nikon in an hour earlier.
All week, as part of my ongoing “365 Project”, I have been making infrared images with a converted digital camera. I had been thinking yesterday about looking for a tree vs industrial building image to add variety to the more pictorial images I’d made so far this week but had no clear thought as to where to find it.
A thought occurred to me this morning as I reread my recent Starting Point post. If I make a deliberate decision on the camera and/or film prior to going for a wander does that in some way invalidate the psychogeographical credentials of that walk? Even if the ultimate route is still down to chance and the whims of my peripatetic mind does a conscious decision regarding the photography dilute the essential randomness? It is perhaps important to remember that the photography is probably incidental to the dêrive; psychogeography (as I understand matters) is not a photographic discipline or genre but a way of exploring and experiencing the landscape.
If I choose for example to pick up the digital infrared camera (as I did today) will that in some way, consciously or otherwise, influence my wandering? To my mind, this camera works best in the urban environment when you can contrast the bricks, concrete and glass with trees, foliage and grass. As I walk a lot around my home town I do know where I am at all times as I mentioned in my last post. Reaching a junction and knowing where each option leads will my subconscious choose the route that will be better for the chosen camera or film? Or will it over-compensate and subconsciously choose the “worst” option?
Does it even matter though? Given that photography is presumably incidental to the the manner of the wandering is the act and mode of recording the dêrive irrelevant?
My gut instinct is that it is irrelevant how, or indeed if, a wanderer chooses to record their wandering. It is the manner of the walk that is important not whether or not one chose to record the event nor indeed the way in which one chose to record it.
It is a question I will revisit later in the year for certain!
I’ve just signed up for an OCA course following a recommendation from Ian Hill (@PrintedLand), that starts in October, entitled Investigating Place with Psychogeography, a subject I’ve briefly touched upon in the past. There’s no pre-course reading recommended and indeed the acknowledgment email I received earlier in the week will I believe be the only contact between now and the course starting.
Having some pre-knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I already know I’m going to enjoy the subject so I am looking forward to it with keen anticipation. A curse is perhaps over-egging things, poetic license if you will, but I don’t want any pre-conceived ideas to get in the way during the ten-week course.
I guess that the biggest of these pre-conceived notions is that I already consider myself a psychogeographer. A flâneur if you will. We touched upon psychogeography in my OCA Diploma in Photography a few years back. This was my first introduction to the subject and really caught my imagination as it seemed to describe the way in which my own approach to photography was evolving. Fast forward to the pandemic which hit us in early 2020 and apart from periods shielding at home my photography moved even closer to the concept of the flâneur, or at least as I currently understand the term.
It will be very interesting to see if the course helps me confirm or dismiss this belief.
Take this morning. The day after the hottest day on record in the UK and I venture out to post a parcel. I could jump in the car, drive down and be back indoors within ten minutes. Instead I load a roll of film into the nearest camera, the Horizon S3 Pro today, and plonking a wide-brimmed hat on my bald head, I set out to complete my errand. This is a walk I complete regularly but I doubt if I ever use exactly the same route twice. There are a myriad of back streets and alleyways through which I can meander or drift towards my destination. There’s also the main road too but this rarely gets used as I like to wind my way through the snickets and cobbles. I’ve been known to wander in a large arc, finally approaching the Post Office from the opposite direction on many occasions. I’m not going to get lost but I never have a preconceived plan either for the route or what I might photograph.
From my back door the choices start immediately. Left or right? To the end of the road or through one of the snickets and into the back road behind the housing association flats? I turn right but almost immediately nip down the narrow snicket between two terraces of Victorian houses built for mill workers. Emerging into the road behind these houses I turn right and immediately my eye is drawn to the dustbins surrounded by rubbish dotted along the road. The bin-men won’t be this way for a week and they last visited a week ago so these are an anomaly and without consciously being aware of it I’m taking a light reading. f16 at 1/60th second should do it. I probably won’t take another reading unless the light is dramatically different, relying on my experience to adjust exposure from this base setting.
A busy junction is reached. Normally crammed with cars dumped higgledy piggledy the entire junction is devoid of cars. A clear view in either direction and the architecture fully visible for a change. I can’t remember seeing it this way before. The camera raises itself to my eye it seems and two exposures are made before I cross, choosing the right hand fork as I slowly make my way onwards.
I continue in this fashion drifting first left then right but always being drawn inexorably towards the focus of my errand, the Post Office. Pleasantries dispensed and parcel despatched I cross the road and enter my favourite cafe for breakfast and a cup of strong Yorkshire tea – black, no sugar please. The cafe is dim inside, especially compared to the bright street, and the light through the windows draws my eye. f8 at 1/30th my brain decides and without me really being aware I find the camera in my hand and another snapshot of my morning’s meanderings has found it’s way onto the cellulose.
I should add at this point that I’m not a film-snob; it just happens to be my preferred photographic medium. I’ve completed many walks such as this with a digital camera too. Which brings me to something that I’ve been thinking about over the last few days. Nine in forty five, or 9:45 as a shorthand. Rather than describe this concept here I will LINK to something I’ve already written on the subject. Are my occasional 9:45 walks an example of one approach to psychogeography perhaps?
Draining the last drop from my mug I prepare to wander in the general direction of my house. There’s a direct route that will have me home in under ten minutes but I very much doubt I will take it today. I’ve decided over breakfast that I will finish this roll on the way back and get it developed on my return home. I shall turn right, I usually do, but after that who knows. I may end up by the river or canal, a very large detour, or perhaps the semi-enclosed cobbles of Gog Hill, the oldest extant street in Elland and a very steep climb. Paying for breakfast on my way out I still don’t know what route I will take – but that’s what I enjoy about this approach. It’s an adventure every time and although the streets are familiar it’s always exciting and unpredictable.