THE ART OF WALKING
Walking is a natural part of picture taking, at least when you’re a landscape artist, and especially when you don’t own a car. I never thought much about it at first, walking was just something that had to be done to collect the images I wanted. My first decent camera was purchased shortly before leaving graduate school. I used this camera as much as my meager budget for film would allow but only in gathering information to help create my etchings and paintings. Working with a camera suited me well. Along the way I heard a lot of talk as to why an artist should not work from photographs but I dismissed all of it. There are too many out there who are fixated on following rules rather than creating substance. The camera is nothing more than one of the many tools I use to create art. I had painted plein air for years but always felt a bit uncomfortable when doing so. It wasn’t that I disliked working outdoors; though picking flying insects out of wet paint was not my favorite part, I just became anxious when settled in one spot for too long. Once I found a view worthy of being placed on canvas I would stop and look then wonder what was around the corner or over the next hill. This inborn restlessness made the camera a perfect tool for me as I could quickly capture a scene and then move on in search of the next.
As time went on these walks grew longer and I began seeking out subject matter further a field. Within a few years I began to perceive my walks in a new light, they had become more like rituals than a mere method of travel. The whole event grew into an elaborate hunt, stalking imagery then carefully aiming and shooting. These are not casual walks as they take on aspects of a pilgrim’s journey, for discomfort and pain though never welcome are often endured in stride for my determination in reaching a goal is unyielding. While success in my mind was initially calculated by the number of trophies I returned with, I began to realize that this entire process held meaning for me far above practicality.
To consider art as a verb rather than a noun elevates the relationship between an artist and his audience to a new level. If art is the transformative experience triggered by viewing a work rather than the work itself, can a solitary act of walking alone be considered art? It can if perceived of as a play that is read instead of its performance attended. But for this to happen evidence must be gathered whether it be physical objects brought back from the journey, a line drawn on a map, or a photograph taken. This is not new territory for the arts as others have already taken this course. Most however have done this in a strictly conceptual sense avoiding any connection with the beauty of place that may distract from their conceit. But I don’t walk as a concept; for me it’s about connecting to place and seeing into its soul. For those of narrow focus my refusal to be penned in as either a Romantic, Realist or Conceptualist has led to much confusion over my work. But I have no need to follow in the paths of others as long as I find that at least some can be awakened by my offerings. For many it will always be difficult to perceive of a walk as a work of art, for me it has become obvious.
There is also an entire other dimension to walking that cannot be overlooked. If art is a form of magic then the art of walking can become a sacred act in itself that requires no audience. I wish to use the word sacred here carefully so not to separate it from our day to day lives. The sacred is not something greater, something beyond or apart from us; it can be found in the day to day, in the simple act of walking when we learn to see. Walking has been integral to a number of different spiritual traditions from Western Romanticism to the more meditative form of Shugendo once practiced in the East. It is not about adding on additional layers of thought to a walk but letting the walk cut through the illusionary layers already heaped upon us. Walking as art and art as magic is not about some otherworldly experience, it is about seeing the real and being transformed by it. I share my trails these days with dog walkers and those who race past, trying to loose those extra pounds or feel the burn. Keeping fit is an admirable pursuit but it is not why I walk or why I’m a good walker.
Some of the individual photographs found on these pages are really good, many others are quite ordinary. Some might even question why I bothered taking them at all. I realize that these images may not provide all the drama that many viewers have come to expect but that is not what this is about. While a few of these pieces can be considered cliché, most require that preconceived notions of what makes a good or even a bad photograph be put away in order to appreciate them. They should be viewed collectively and in the context of a journey presented as a scroll. For years I had kept a log of these walks in order to help provide narratives to my former conceptual work, a habit I never broke with. Now this log forms the foundation to these online scrolls. The web has created a context where my walking, photography, and an audience can all come together as a new work in its own right.
My walks have been broken down into six sections, each of a defined place that I have traveled in over time. These do not represent the totality of my journeys but just selected areas that have proven to be a good source of imagery and have grown to hold special meaning for me. The opening page starts at the latest entry and runs backwards in time. New entries will be posted to the highest numbered page of the appropriate section as walks are taken. Click the pictures below to open new pages.
THE ART OF TRESPASS
The notion that the deeding of land entitles one to exclusive rights to it has never been a universally held belief. Even today there are those among us who think it abhorrent for land to be considered property. In the Americas where native societies lived a mobile existence with the land there were continual conflicts with early European settlers and their notions of proprietorship. But these early settlers had many caveats themselves concerning trespass even after their large tracks of common land were divided up. Fencing Laws were widely deployed but basically in order to protect cultivated fields from roving animals. At the same time there was also a wider acceptance of open land. While one was expected to politely stay a respectable distance from the more immediate areas surrounding a home, there was a long standing tradition of walking where you may, provided of course that you did not trample over someone else's crops or let animals escape from their pastures. Many States to this day require burdensome methods of posting land against trespass to discourage landowners from doing so. It has only been in more recent times as we recede into a climate of fear that we are consumed with walling ourselves off from others. Boundaries I have crossed with a wink and a nod are now guarded or sealed. Many of the books by great naturalists such as John Muir and John Boroughs could not be written today for their incessant wanderings would surely land them in jail. Those who walk have always been looked upon suspiciously but in certain places walking is now reaching the status of a true subversive activity.
While I am not advocating the breaking of laws there is a long history of challenges to it in regard to land rights that must be both acknowledged and respected. Trespassing has largely been a struggle between the landed elite and the landless working classes. In different regions this struggle has taken on different forms. In Europe where the Alpine peaks were controlled by the aristocracy many rambling societies and pathfinder movements had grown strong enough by the late 19th century to demand access and get it. Walkers in Britain, where most land is privately owned began enforcing rights-of-ways by overwhelming their opposition in numbers. While many immigrants to the United States brought the fight for land access with them this was not a new struggle on these shores. In New England where beach front property was allowed to extended out into the water to encourage the construction of wharves for the improvement of commerce, rights-of-way were provided to give fishermen access to the sea.
In the United States where there is more land to be had, the trend of most walking advocates has been to secure it for public use in the form of parks, and they have been quite successful at it. But on the more local level where once open lands are being quickly filled in with developments and historical rights-of-way are illegally blocked, this battle has proved more difficult. In some cities and towns it has actually become official urban policy to discourage walking by making it as difficult if not impossible to do. Sidewalks have even been privatized in an attempt to eliminate all public space and the rights of citizens that go with it. Besides the need to have a fit body and the time, walking above all else requires a place to walk.
Copyright 2009 Alan Petrulis All Rights Reserved