For a Postgrad project at school we were to walk a familiar route and in some way record our experience. I decided to record my walk in photographs and then turned those photographs into a video. I found it interesting that my observations and learning took place mostly post-walk…while sorting out how to make this little video. I am pleased with the final conclusions I rested upon. I warn you that after the video there is ample text, not required reading…just supplemental...
Reflecting: What I Learned
Destination Matters: Where We Are Walking to Makes a Difference
Where we are walking to makes a difference in how we feel during our walk. The walk to the front gates of Disneyland would surely carry a different tone and weight to it than the walk to the cemetery to bury our loved one. I became particularly keen on the idea of the walk home. There's a warmth which accompanies the walk home...and when it follows on the heels a long day at work or school, there seems to be an added anticipation to that warmth. I believe this is because of what home, or the symbol of home, means to most people: warmth, food, love, shelter...the basic needs of life that makes us feel stable in the world. Even when you are out for an evening wander to nowhere in particular, you know at the end of that journey home is the ultimate destination. In contrast, there may be unpleasantries at home and your walk is to escape or avoid them, then the walk may carry a bit of heaviness to it, knowing that your destination is a difficult situation.
So unless you are Bilbo Baggins going on an unexpected journey, without knowing when or where you will end up (which would have an energy of it's own), most of us know where we are going, and that can influence how we feel.
Materials Beneath Our Feet Matters: Changing Materials Can Change Attitude
As I walked home, the materials beneath my feet changed at least 289 times. And a change in material also means a change in texture, pattern, color, and size. We feel all of those changes with our feet and subconsciously, with our brains. How it exactly changes or stimulates our brains, I don't know, but I assume it does. From personal experience, and even during this particular walk, changing of materials made my walk more interesting visually and physically – it also affected my mood.
There is this certain part of the journey, just after Buckingham Palace, where I walk down the Mall. This tree-lined thoroughfare has more than one type of surface to tread on and I am always drawn towards the softer, loose material as it reminds me of walking down a country road, yet I am in the middle of London. That juxtaposition makes me smile and I feel rather imaginative during that portion of the journey.
Community Matters: Walking Connects Us to Others Present & Past
I have an image in my mind's eye about walking and the art thereof – and it's two-fold...present and past. First, the present. When I think of global community my mind goes to those events that captures the attention and hearts of millions of people around the world at the exact same moment...there is a certain energy associated with this. To me, the moving personal stories and professional records which are broken at the Olympic Games have this power. Also, my mind is taken to the miraculous events when 33 mine workers in Chile surfaced after being trapped beneath the earth for more than two months. The world watched live as each one emerged from the unfathomable darkness – it was riveting. And we all felt it together.
This sense of community is felt and cultivated on all levels, from global to familial. With walking, especially in a city like London where walking is commonplace, there is a sense of community with those who also walk. And though walking is not as dramatic an event as those mentioned above, there is something unifying as you look around and see who you share the ground plane with...invisible ties between all of our feet.
Second, the the past. Each time we take a step, we are physically connecting to the environment we are surrounded by. Sometimes it's the only physical contact we have, our feet to the ground. But in those very moments of walking and moving forward with our lives, may we aren't just connecting to the pavement beneath our feet, and to those immediately around us. We are also reaching back in time and connecting to the worlds and lives that have stood where we now stand, and have walked where we now walk.
The Story Behind the Making of the Video
When I was deciding what to do for my “Art of Walking” experience, I wanted to come up with a clever walk – a “cool” walk. But all the vague ideas moving around in my head were becoming too contrived, when what I was really wanted was a sincere experience, a walk that would mean something to me once completed.
The route I take most often in London is from home to school and from school to home. I live on Shaftesbury Avenue and there's a stop right outside the door of my building where bus 38 stops. Within 15 minutes I am at Victoria Station and 5 minutes after that - studio. I had actually never walked between these two destination points, home and school, even though it's a simple 30 minute journey (something foreign to many Americans...to walk for 30 minutes to get somewhere). So, being encouraged by the assignment, one day after school I decided to skip the bus and see what the fantastic streets of London had in store. And that's when the excitement and the planning began.
I was to photograph my walk, a visual documentary – but somehow wanted an approach with purpose. I planned for my view to be from a snake's perspective and would take a photograph each time my course changed direction and then contrast it with eye level photographs. I thought maybe I could present these images in a video format with a song in the background or something...I still wasn't quite sure about all of the details but I figured they would sort themselves out as all design does in the process of it.
Originally I wanted to do the walk on a school day (back to the authenticity of it all) – but it ended up being on a Saturday. At first this put me in a poor mood and I felt that the whole experience was going to be tainted. I took the bus to Victoria Station and there curbed my frustration with a warm sandwich.
Once I reached the front stoop of the Inchbald I was feeling more optimistic and was actually glad no one was around as I started on my walk. There on the stoop I decided I would also include a photo looking straight up at the sky plane, as well as looking straight down at the ground plane and include my boots to give the photograph scale and a human element. After a few shots I decided to eliminate the sky plane due to my camera not taking the shot every time I pointed it upwards...and about 20 minutes into the walk I also abandoned shooting from a snake's perspective due to a lack in photography skills and time.
By process of elimination I was left with taking a photograph of my boots on the ground plane every time I stepped onto a different material. I wasn't sure what I was after exactly, but as a landscape and garden designer I figured that focusing on different materials we walk and stand on could be of use for future designs.
My walk home normally takes about 30 minutes and after an hour I was only halfway home. Dusk was settling in so much so that my camera couldn't capture crisp images anymore. I was tired and cold and a bit frustrated at this point as I felt increasingly disconnected from the environment around me. Here are the notes I took during that journey:
Nov 2, 2013: Walking Home From School................................Start Time: 3:55pm …...............
Photographing the Journey: Feet on Pavement, Snake View, Looking up; Picture taken at every turn
Walking Home: sense of satisfaction: going to where you are loved
At 4:47pm I am running out of daylight for photos, I reached Buckingham Palace
I got lost. It was getting boring. I felt disengaged. I felt less human. I felt numb or without feeling.
Not too many written notes, granted, but a lot of photographs taken! At this point I was in debate of whether I should call the assignment done – I had walked and documented enough and was feeling rather despondent. Upon arriving home I promptly transferred the images to my laptop. And as I watched my captured route pass so rapidly in front of my eyes, it moved me, and I knew I had to finish documenting the journey. Though I still wasn't sure what it would lead to.
That (not just two, but four-part) documentation turned into a short film and a rather significant learning experience for me as I was taught more about my walk afterwards, than during.