Follow the desire lines, hopefully not to a recession

Editing Tips, Ira Glass on Narrative, Mapping Old NYC Photos, and Family Pictures USA

There were stronger signs this week that a recession in the United States is on the way. I think it’s here already and that the talking points about the the job market are largely missing a bigger story. The knowledge economy is very fragile. We’ve already seen media companies scaling back this year and cutting staff. Just in the last few weeks both Topic and Pacific Standard closed up. There maybe plenty of digital marketing jobs out there but if a recession hits, I’m guessing marketing budgets will be further slashed. They’re already tight and many marketers already take on enormous workloads, often doing the job of multiple people (which is the case across my industries.)

I moved to New York in 2009 during the Great Recession without a job. I figured I’d give it a try for a few months and if it didn’t work out I’d move back to Minnesota. It was tough but also exciting because I was finally in New York (working on some essays about why exactly I live here and what I like about it.) I was able to pick up some freelancing gigs to stay afloat and eventually landed a job and an apartment.

I’ve been lucky in my 10 years in NYC. I know plenty of creative people that have struggled and continue to struggle with the hustle. It’s tough not to be somewhat concerned about what will happen to the creative industry during another recession. Of course, nobody can predict what will happen but my hunch is that it’s probably going to be a bumpy start to a new decade.

Here’s what caught my attention this week. Please feel free to drop me a line if you have a tip or comment! info@bryanformhals.com


“Go walk a few hundred miles for no obvious reason”

Imagine you are plopped down into a dense foreign city, with no GPS, and instructed to reach a destination that you have never seen. You wander, relying on nothing but serendipity to reach your goal. You crave a map or model, no matter how imperfect, that gives some clarity about where you are, where the destination is and how to get there.

So it is in our modern lives. They are dense with stimuli of intense urgency but dubious importance. We often can’t see our way forward or understand the past. Our days are spent bombarded with experiences and relationships of uncertain value. We crave anything that clarifies the chaos; a model from which we can stand back to understand life as something like a purposeful journey.

This is a nice essay from Arthur Brooks about walking “the ancient Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, across northern Spain.” I have not done a pilgrimage walk yet and I’m not sure I ever will. I’ve contemplated walking across the United States which is relatively common. Musician Mike Posner is doing it right now.

Follow the Desire Lines

From NYC Trails

Desire lines, also known as cow paths, pirate paths, social trails, kemonomichi (beast trails), chemins de l’âne (donkey paths), and Olifantenpad (elephant trails), can be found all over the city and all over the world, scarring pristine lawns and worming through forest undergrowth. They appear anywhere people want to walk, where no formal paths have been provided. (Sometimes they even appear despite the existence of formal paths, out of what seems to be sheer mulishness—or, perhaps, cowishness.) Some view them as evidence of pedestrians’ inability or unwillingness to do what they’re told; in the words of one academic journal, they “record collective disobedience.” - Tracing (and Erasing) New York’s Lines of Desire

Desire lines are fascinating. This article in the New Yorker takes an interesting look at how the city has mapped them in the parks. I try to make photographs whenever I see them. I’ve come across a few photography projects on them over the years but honestly they weren’t so memorable.

I can understand the appeal of trying to pursue a project but I think it requires a few more layers on top of just the discovery and documentation. The user generated aspect on Reddit is interesting. I think it’s fascinating that so many people take photos of them. Related: ‘The Cult of the Fantasy Pedestrian’

OldNYC: Mapping Historical Photos from the NYPL

This site provides an alternative way of browsing the NYPL's incredible Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s collection. Its goal is to help you discover the history behind the places you see every day.

This is such a cool project! It’s a few years old but new to me. I’m sure it hit my radar when it first arrived but as tends to happen, it didn’t stick. This time I downloaded the app. The photo above is from the block I current live on in Queens.

Two Views on Editing

At the risk of sounding arrogant, no. I don’t show it to anyone until it’s done. And then I’ll show it to a couple friends, but I don’t solicit opinions because I think I know better than anybody what does or doesn’t work. I know the material inside out. In the very beginning, I did ask a few people what they thought, and then it just got too confusing—each person brings a different experience and a different viewpoint to the material. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to trust my own judgment. Which is not to say that it’s right—it’s just mine.

I enjoyed this great interview in the Paris Review with legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. Believe it or not, I’ve yet to see one of his films. They are tough to find, but I need to get on it. There are a lot of opinions on editing, and naturally a film is different than photography, but I’ve always tended to believe that there are some negative effects of trying to get too much editing feedback, especially if you have a strong vision for the body of work. However….

Photographers can be their own worst editor—that is a fact. With this in mind, it can be immensely beneficial to seek feedback from others once you’ve made a preliminary image selection. This can be a friend, a colleague—or for maximum objectivity—a contact who is unfamiliar with your work. Don’t limit this presentation to the tight portfolio edit you plan to show a reviewer. Getting an objective opinion on a wider image selection can yield unexpected insights.

That’s from a comprehensive article about portfolio reviews by my former B&H colleague Jill Waterman. It’s filled with great advice and I agree with her view on getting editing feedback.

Over the years, I’ve always found that photographers love to talk about editing. It can be perplexing, illuminating and incredibly frustrating. There is no magic method but having conversations about your thought process is vital. If you’d like to talk editing or have a project you need some feedback on, get in touch at info@bryanformhals.com

Family Pictures USA

Family Pictures USA journeys through a rapidly changing landscape where the hallmarks of a familiar and idealized “America” are being transformed. From the streets of Detroit, to the shores of Southwest Florida, to the farm fields of North Carolina, we are creating a new purpose for the family photo album…as an integral part of our collective social and cultural history.

I’m starting on it this week. Looks promising.

Ira Glass Tips on Narrative via Barthes

In S/Z, Barthes takes apart a short story by Balzac, line by line. He asks: How does this story pull you in, engage, and give you pleasure? He names things that are helpful if you want to make stories about people. Barthes explains: here’s how to structure a narrative by creating a sequence of events that will create forward motion that will create narrative suspense, planting questions along the way that can be answered.

That turned out to be an enormously useful way to think about how to do an interview. I still structure my interviews by trying to get people to lay out plot, beat by beat, even if the stories are very small.

He’s one of the best storytellers in the business, so always worth of your time. Interviewing is an art and it’s difficult! I learned a lot hosting the LPV Show and hope to get back into doing more in depth interviews in the future.

Further Reading

  • Commuting Has Always Been Soul-Crushing, but There Are Inspiring Options [NYTimes]

  • Transit Can Save the Environment, Just Not How We Expected [Bloomberg]

  • In Garry Winogrand’s City, a Colorful Kaleidoscope Comes Alive [Hyperallergic]

  • What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot. [NYTimes]

  • Google Maps adds an enormous arrow for the directionally challenged. Turn it on now [cnet]

  • This 22-part plan is how we can feed the world by 2050 [Fast Company]

  • Is self-actualization a biological need? [BigThink]

  • Inside Fotografiska, Manhattan's New Photography Hotspot That's Part Museum, Part Bar [W Magazine]

  • Arctic permafrost is thawing fast. That affects us all. [NatGeo]

  • How digital media killed itself [Spectator USA]

  • As the world becomes more complex, making decisions becomes harder. Is it best to depend on careful analysis or to trust your gut? [Scientific American]

h/t Andy Adams

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