A while ago I posted some first thoughts on personal psychogeography, including the germ of a project involving photography and writing. I’m grateful to comments (from Martha and Lucy) for pointing me to significant related work by Richard Long, Hamish Fulton (beware annoying Flash), and Francesco Careri. These have been helpful to me in formulating my own project, which is, in fact, very different. I am approaching the idea — call it a psychogeographic study — primarily as a photographer, i.e. one interested in making photographs. In contrast, Long and Fulton (and the architect Careri, from the little I know) consider their photographs quite secondary: the walk itself is the artwork.
The photos in Long’s A Walk Across England serve to document sights along his way. They are often of the road or path itself, or of a bird dropping, rain puddle, or dead animal on it. There are also views of scenery alongside: an expanse of fields or stretch of river, or a more intimate close-up of a flower, a sign, a building detail, or his tent. Though none in isolation seems much more than a snapshot, the photographer’s eye is consistent, and together the pictures tell a story of a fine ramble told with a sense of humor. Context or coloring is added with uppercase captions such as LISTENING TO THE SCREECH OF YOUNG BUZZARDS IN THE MORNING, CROSSING A STATION BRIDGE, or JUICY APPLES. Long’s practice also involves making simple sculptures of materials at hand along the way, such as lines of stones, which I tend to like (though I wish they didn’t have to “inhabit the rich territory between two ideological positions”).
Fulton, to judge from his Walking Journey, uses photography quite differently. He normally chooses one image to stand for an entire walk, printed with superimposed uppercase text (again). Typical is “A 21 DAY WANDERING WALK 20 NIGHTS CAMPING IN THE BEARTOOTH MOUNTAINS OF MONTANA ENDING WITH THE SEPTEMBER FULL MOON 1997,” which runs across the top of a view down a stony valley of lakes and streams, mountains rising behind, and a large foreground rock with the word “BOULDER” in a very large font. Personally, I find Fulton’s photographs much more evocative than Long’s, but with only one per walk the net effect is not greater. Fulton also does gallery wall installations, often with text, to represent his activities.
Though I’ve not seen Careri’s book, Walkscapes: Walking as an aesthetic practice, he is clearly more rigorously postmodern about it all. Translating from elsewhere, he writes
Modifying the sense of the space traversed, walking becomes the first aesthetic act of man, who, penetrating into chaos, constructs his own order, situates objects.
I have to say that I find the concept of a walk as a work of art very appealing. But what that conjures up for me appears to have little relation to what Long, Fulton, and Careri do. As far as I can tell (or guess) from their actual productions (photos, installations, a few words), it all seems quite ordinary. Perhaps the point is that an “ordinary” walk is a work of art, but if so the term seems to have lost much of its meaning. I am quite willing to grant that a walk can be an extraordinary, creative experience. But I do think it depends on the state of mind of the walker, and the artist has to convince me the term is deserved. I believe that’s possible, but it doesn’t happen for me in the work I’ve seen so far. (Incidentally, I’m not the only one unimpressed: a New York Times review called a 2000 Fulton show “too formulaic to stir the imagination.”)
Am I being too hard on these guys? Am I just not getting it? Or do I just need to see some actual installations in order to better appreciate the work? Help me out here!