Walking to Socrates Sculpture Park

Plus Mitch Epstein Interviewed, Climate Change Storytelling, Photography is Dead Again and more!

I find it more enjoyable to walk in the winter when the temperature hovers in the 30s or 40s than in the hot humid months of summer. I just can’t take the heat but the cold can be managed through proper layering, and once your body starts to heat up on the walk, it creates an ideal condition.

On Saturday I walked up through Astoria, hitting the park and then down to Socrates Sculpture Park to check out the Annual 2019. This was my favorite piece.

For 'Access Grove, Soft Stand,' Gabriela Salazar weaves, drapes, and wraps velvet rope, the ubiquitous crowd controller and VIP separator, in Socrates’ central grove of trees. The red rope simultaneously blocks, guides, and perhaps confounds visitors, whose bodies are shaped by urbanism and architecture, while passing through this public space.

I need to do more research about site specific sculpture that incorporates trees. If you’ve got recommendations, send them my way. I’ve been thinking about sculpture and public art frequently the last few years as I’ve worked on my walking projects. I like encountering sculpture in open spaces, where I can walk around and interact with it from different perspectives. It feels like a harmonious way to mix walking with experiencing art.

I haven’t been up to Storm King yet primarily because it’s difficult to walk to from the train station. I’ve scouted the map a few times but haven’t made a try at it. Walking rural roads can be about as dangerous as it comes for a pedestrian, and after a few near misses in Long Island I’ve decided I need to be careful and not get into dangerous walking situations (more on this topic in the future.)

I also bought this book last year, and have been daydreaming about visiting each park. It’s good to have goals!

Mitch Epstein Interview

“Disorientation inspires me. I thrive when I get out of my comfort zone, and suffer the vulnerability of not knowing where to turn next. Risk, failure, and chance are fundamental to my process and growth.”

Print that one out and put it somewhere you have to read it regularly. Nailed it.

And then this excerpt on his evolution as an artist.

In the early ՚90s, I collaborated with a Vietnamese dissident writer on a project about the economic and cultural transformation that Vietnam was undergoing. The experience forced me to confront what it meant to be an American in a foreign country, one that my own country had ravaged. This instigated a fundamental shift in my practice. I became more mindful of where I was and why; developed a more conceptual and rigorous engagement with my subjects. I began working on extended projects over lengthy periods of time, and doing a lot of research—online, in books, and through proximity, by spending time with people in the worlds I was entering.

Read the rest in Document Journal.

“Considering Photography’s Past, Future, and Pitfalls”

“In a day that left many feeling a bit gutted by what feel like irreconcilable rifts in perspective, Paglen closed the day with a strong, unifying, and grounding exploration of reality. But the larger problem is that knowledge of any complexity relies upon some degree of second-hand information, meaning sooner or later we have to believe something beyond what we can directly witness. Who and what we believe in therefore is a matter of faith and trust, not a matter of fact or evidence, as defenders of truth so deeply believe. Photography used to be an impartial mechanism — or at least, it was thought of as such — and now it has lost that sacrosanctity.”

Solid review in Hyperallergic of “AutoUpdate: Photography in the Electronic Age.”

Storytelling in the Age of Climate Change

To Grankvist, that doesn’t mean pushing fanciful renderings of utopian post-carbon cities as a counter to the catastrophism of the prevailing climate narrative: Such futuristic visions aren’t necessarily a helpful way to make people think about what they need to do, right now. “When you look at how the future of cities is often portrayed, you have all these sketches that come from architecture firms: elegant drawings where everyone is slim, and there are lots of cars swimming around,” he says. Instead, he counsels “keeping focus on the human experience of a what a sustainable city will look like.” 

“You can use approaches such as [portraying] the story of someone’s day—something pretty normal, like taking your bike to kindergarten, dropping your kids off, and then jumping on an electric bus to work,” he says. “When you look closer, however, there’s a whole bunch of sustainable, climate neutral solutions going on. That tells the inhabitants of Malmo that the future isn’t entirely frightening. We won’t have flying cars. It will be fairly similar, even though we have to make some fundamental changes.”

Art and storytelling are absolutely vital but I also very much like the futuristic renderings! I want to see more of them, perhaps realized in visually daring art. Unfortunately I don’t hold out much hope for cinema these days since everything is a superhero movie but perhaps we’ll get the stories on TV as part of the streaming wars.

Further Reading

Walking to a Park 15 Miles Away

Walking & Flow Sate, Dread Scott Slave Rebellion Walk, Botanical by Samuel Zeller & more links!

I use Strava to record all my longer walks because I like data, although I’m a little uneasy about where that data is going, but for now, I’m willing to make that trade off to better understand my process and have more data for my projects.

I’ve been peaking at about 15 miles in 5 hours for my walks and that feels like the perfect time frame and pace to stretch my body and imagination. It helps to be in a green setting for part of that as well, so I’ve structured my walks generally around the green spaces in New York. I work to connect multiple green spaces, and often cross a few bridges as well, mostly of the pedestrian variety which are a particular fascination of mine. More on them in the future.

What are your favorite books or photography projects about urban green spaces or pedestrian infrastructure? I’m looking for recommendations for a new curatorial project. Drop me a line.

Walking and Flow State

That’s probably an overstatement but it’s Twitter so you’ve always gotta be pushing some overton window or another. Then again, I learned that dromomania was a historical psychiatric diagnosis whose primary symptom was uncontrollable urge to walk or wander. Dromomania has also been referred to as travelling fugue.”

So I like most things, only in moderation, and don’t get too obsessive about it. But maybe walking is only one part of the flow state equation? Mashable digs into How weed, coffee, and exercise can put your brain in its most productive place”

We do have plenty of information on how these three elements work in isolation. Exercise is as close to a silver bullet against ailments as we have found; it's even linked to lower cancer risk. If it came in pill form, every doctor in the world would prescribe it. The psychoactive chemical caffeine is so effective at sharpening the mind that a famous mathematician once uttered the immortal phrase "a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." 

Given that the 18th century's great leap forward, The Enlightenment, occurred around the same time that coffee houses sprung up everywhere and we stopped drinking beer for breakfast, you could also say that humans are devices for turning coffee into modern civilization. (As little as we understand the why, we do know that it is safe to drink up to 25 cups of coffee a day.) 

And cannabis? It isn't just sports pros who sing its praises. Its effect on musicians is well-documented, from jazz (Louis Armstrong was called "Satchmo" for the little satchel of weed he carried around his neck and consumed every day) through pop and rock (Bob Dylan changed Beatles music forever when he  got the Fab Four high in 1964) to hip hop (too many artists to mention). 

Dread Scott’s Slave Rebellion Re-enactment

Organizers expect 300 or more people of color — teachers, lawyers, artists, students, activists — to participate. Over two days, they will march 26 miles in period costumes, armed with prop machetes and muskets and chanting for their freedom.

Certainly the walk of the year in the art world. More in the New York Times.

Botanical by Samuel Zeller

From Paris to Prague, from Glasgow to Geneva, photographer Samuel Zeller captures the strange beauty of exotic plants seen through the dappled glass of greenhouses. These images reveal a rare serenity found in the heart of each city.

I had an exchange with Samuel on Twitter this week which led me to his book from Hoxton Mini Press which has put out a few books up my alley over the years.

Further Reading

Walking a New Routine

Walking and sleep and creativity, Urban forests & climate change, Schutmaat Interview plus more!

I started a new job at Printique (an Adorama company) a few weeks ago which means I’ve had to develop a new walking routine. Change always brings about new insights and an opportunity to work on new ideas. I’m confident at this point in my life that I function best when I start the day with a healthy walk. So I’ve been waking up early and walking for 45 minutes to the Court Square station. It was going well, then for a two days I was running behind in the morning (it happens!) and had to get on the subway right away.

The change in my mood and productivity was striking. The stress levels went up and I started my work day with a cloudy mindset. It took a bit to shake it off. I realized I absolutely needed my morning walk for optimal performance and productivity. I know why too. The walk allows me to organize my day and work on higher level ideas. It gives me time to meditate and not feel rushed. The endorphin rush I get from the walk lasts the rest of the day, keeping me energized.

When I jump on the train, I’ve been reading ‘Born to Walk’ by Dan Rubenstein and thus far it has been phenomenal. Definitely worth taking a look at if you are as fanatical about walking as I am. If you pick it up, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts!


Walking and sleep and creativity

In fact, the relationships between moving and dozing turned out to be consistent and strong. In essence, the more steps people accumulated over the course of the month, the higher their self-rated sleep quality was during that time. Ditto when the researchers looked at the number of minutes they had spent moving; the more time someone was in motion during the month, the better they rated their sleep over all. - New York Times

I get my best sleep on the days that I walk 12-15 miles. It’s remarkable. I recommend it. And I can relate to Michael Stipe’s relationship with sleep and creativity:

My sleep is a big part of my creative work. I go somewhere really different from here, and it’s consistent, and it’s not scary, and that’s good. It’s the future, but it’s not frightening. I mean, what do you call creative? Because a lot of creation is work — it’s the mundane. But within the mundane, you find those moments that are mistakes, or you find something that was misheard, something that was misread or misinterpreted, or just a bad print. And from that, I find grace and God. That’s where I find holiness is — usually in the mistakes.

The entire interview is illuminating. If I’m struggling with a creative challenge or want to synthesize new ideas, the formula is clear. Meditate on the ideas and challenges, get a good night of sleep, and then walk for a couple of hours in the morning and the solutions will arrive. Solvitur Ambulando!

Fighting climate change with urban forests

A study released by Park People in September identifies three significant ways increased parkland addresses climate change. First, an urban tree canopy provides shade and shields heat-absorbing pavement and concrete from the sun. Trees absorb water from the earth and release it as a cooling vapour – think of dewy grass in the morning.

Second, adequate urban green space is critical to controlling the effects of severe storms and costly flooding by absorbing water that would otherwise cause sewer and drainage systems to overflow. Root systems can also prevent erosion and landslides.

Third, trees and greenery absorb carbon from the air. According to a study by The Global Tree Restoration Potential, published by Science magazine in July, there’s enough land around the world available for tree planting to cut carbon emissions by 25 per cent. - Fast Company

This is a topic I find endlessly fascinating. Part of my new project is ritually walking the green spaces in New York City to better understand how they are connected through pedestrian infrastructure. I firmly believe we need to build more green spaces. We need to transform our cities through biophilic design.

Bryan Schutmaat Interview in ASX

I’m a believer in the photobook and see the form as somewhat of a savior of photographic meaning amidst the never-ending deluge of images in our digital age. Putting a cohesive, well-considered sequence of strong pictures between two physical covers and saying “This means something” has become more important as photography is oversaturated in so many aspects of life. The poetics of the book — the turn of the page, the reveal of the image — as well as the material choices of the book and what they communicate are all very consequential and affecting when done right. Gallery exhibitions also levy meaning, but it’s often a compromise because the physical space of the venue limits the number of pictures included as well as the way the pictures are looked at, plus they go up then come down over the course of a few months. Books are permanent. You can look at them over time, returning at different stages in life, and they mean something new, like revisiting a novel, music album, or film.

There are a few good moments in this interview on ASX. I’ve been following Bryan’s work since back in the Flickr days. It’s interesting to see the arc of his career and how his work has evolved over the years. I’m certain that evolution will continue. One to keep an eye on for sure.

Further Reading

“Walking can do more than boost confidence. It has been shown to promote new links between different parts of the brain, and to stimulate the growth of neurons and their ability to transmit messages. This can improve our memories and our ability to focus on complex ideas - it helps our brains navigate the intellectual puzzles of daily life.” - Dan Rubenstein, Born to Walk

Walking to a Bridge in the Bronx with a Depleted Battery

McQuarrie on finding creative success, the Influencer scam hustle, Rocket Science Issue 8 plus more!

For my current project on pedestrian infrastructure, I have a list of destinations around the city that I plan on visiting multiple times over a yet to be determined time period. I typically plan a 10-12 mile walk that connects and covers several locations, recording it with Strava, making notes along the way and then doing a recap when I get home. I’ve become more interested with data collection the last few years because holy smokes we are collecting data on everything and it’s overwhelming but also creatively interesting. I like finding connections in data.

On Saturday, I started my walk in the Bronx, with my first stop at the Highbridge, the oldest bridge in New York. It was originally part of the Croton Aqueduct and has been a pedestrian bridge since 2015. The views are brilliant and it takes you into Highbridge Park which makes for a scenic walk. I didn’t cross over into Manhattan on this trip, instead I walked south to the Macombs Dam Bridge, stopping by a couple of pedestrian bridges on the way.

At one of the bridges I planned on creating some footage with the Osmo Pocket but when I turned it on the battery was basically depleted. I laughed and was a little disappointed at myself for wasting the opportunity. But I’ll be back, and that’s part of the point of the project. Each visit I’ll learn something new, and hopefully see an angle that I didn’t before. It’s one of the reasons I find these type of long term projects interesting. Once you start working, you never completely know where it’ll take you, and for me, that learning curve is what keeps me pursuing creative projects.

I’m looking for a designer interested in walking and urbanism for some brand consultation and logo design. If you have a tips, drop me a line at info@bryanformhals.com


Focus on Execution, Don’t Play the Creative Lottery

This thread was targeted to novice screenwriters that want to know how to sell their scripts, but the whole thing applies to anyone working in the creative industry. There are no short cuts. Sure, some people get a big break, and end up with lucrative careers but if that’s the primary goal, then you’re basically playing the lottery as McQuarrie puts it.

The Creative Brain on Improvisation

“Everyday improvisation is about being cognizant of those small moments when you’re dealing with something unplanned or unscripted. Navigating your way to work and having conversations are things you do naturally. But once you frame them within the context of improvisation, it may be easier to build on and leverage that kind of creativity, not unlike how musicians get better at improvising during a set the more times they do it.”

New to me podcast ‘Creative Conversation’ explores the neuroscience of improvisation in creativity. Way back in my Minneapolis days I studied Improv at the Brave New Workshop and was about as bad at it as one can imagine, but it was also one of the most creatively inspiring things I’ve done. And the Improv maxim of ‘Yes and….’ applies to just about anything that you’re doing creatively.

The Job (or Scam) of Being an Influencer

“As digital journalism has converged with influencer culture, a whole genre of coverage has sprung up to account for it, including breathless book-launch coverage around star authors that feels more like celebrity voyeurism. We want to know what and how writers eat, which skincare products they smear on their faces, and what they’re reading when they’re not writing.”

Interesting deep dive on the ‘journalist as influencer’ in The Guardian. We’ll always be interested in the lives of artists but I think we’re reaching a tipping point with influencer culture. Bellamy Hunt, the Japan Camera Hunter rants on the fraudsters he encounters on Instagram. I’m not sure shaming people is right tactic but it does demonstrate the desperation at the core of the influencer hustle.

Kelsey Sucena in Rocket Science Magazine Issue 8

“All of these roots together form the skeletal structure of the dunes which protect the beach, and all of the other plants and animals which call Fire Island home. I imagine my ideal artistic communities in this same light. I imagine the pooling of resources, the trading of nutrients throughout our root systems such that stability does not come from the loose and inhuman pursuit of wealth, but from the warm and caring pursuit of each other. I need money to survive, which is why I work my day job. But the fulfillment I get from participating within the arts, the joy of working with you and with others on such gratifying and frivolous pursuits as understanding the material world, is both radical and stabilizing.”

Artist Kelsey Sucena writes about pursuing art while working as a park ranger at Fire Island on Long Island for the summer in issue 8 of Rocket Science Magazine.

Further Reading

“A solo walk through an unfamiliar swath of urbanity will usually invigorate me, no matter how unappealing the environs or weather. During the decade that I lived in Edmonton, which has among the most frigid winters of any large city on the planet, and an orderly grid of numbered streets, shifting my commute by a single block would reveal small wonders.” - Dan Rubenstein, Born to Walk

Walking to Brooklyn Museum for JR & Winogrand

Plus Seance by Shannon Taggart, Tim Carpenter, Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road, Preserving the World’s Silent Places & more links!

A few years back I was chatting with a friend from the west coast and they asked me if I’d seen a recent big photography show at one of the museums. I told them “no, I missed it.” They were perplexed. “Isn’t one of the reasons you live in NYC to take advantage of the cultural opportunities?”

It’s a valid point and my excuse for missing shows is sometimes nothing more than a physical (and spiritual) reluctance to go into Manhattan. More often than not though I’m using my free time to get outside, walk and make my own photographs. Striking a balance between consumption and creation can be challenging. It’s easy to consume art, especially in digital bytes but creating it takes time, a lot of time. So, something often has to give. For me, that has meant missing museum and gallery shows. But I’m determined to change my ways and this year I plan on increasing the number of shows I attend.

Last Thursday I stopped by the Brooklyn Museum on my walk to Greenwood Cemetery for Shannon Taggart’s talk about her new book (more on that below). On the ground floor was JR: Chronicles, his first major exhibition in North America. It’s an impressive show that reminded me how many of his projects I’ve seen through social media over the years. The most impressive was the new mural, The Chronicles of New York City, which is a collage of over 1,000 New Yorkers against various city backdrops. I’ve been paying more attention to public art this year, so it was good to absorb this show. JR is a talented mofo.

Next I took the elevator up to the 4th floor for Garry Winogrand: Color which featured 400 rare color photographs from his archive. Like many people, I’d seen a handful of color photographs over the years online and when I got a peak of Winogrand 1964 but this was on another level. I was surprised I enjoyed the show as much as I did. Winograndian style street photography is so pervasive these days that his photos don’t draw me in like they once did.

But I liked this show and thought these color photos demonstrated a different aspect of his vision. The mixture of presentation, there were eight projections of rotating photos, and the Kodachrome color vibes worked well in the space. Since I hadn’t seen most of these photos it felt somewhat like viewing an undiscovered stash that someone found in an attic ala Vivian Maier. I’m sure we’ll see more of this work in the future and probably a book at some point.

After Winogrand, I browsed the diverse set of works on display for Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall. Of particular interest were Elle Perez’s black and white photos of collaborators from NYC. Learn more about Elle’s work in this Art 21 episode.

After absorbing all the art, I took a quiet, windy stroll around the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for the first time. I’m sure I’ll be back several times as it aligns with the project I’m working on about greenspaces. More on that in the future. In the meantime, here are the seven oldest bonsai trees in the world.

I’m always on the lookout for new projects, especially those that revolve around walking, transportation and urban greenspaces but open to pretty much anything. Feel free to drop me a line info@bryanformhals.com and catch me on Twitter and IG

Shannon Taggart, Seance

“The images veer from very haunting and eerie to the sort of cute snaps you’d find in your mum’s dusty, stashed-away photo album of Butlins holiday snaps from the eighties—all gaudy colours and people seeming to have a good time. Whatever your stance on all things ghostly, the book is utterly compelling: the images alone tell a thousand stories. Augmented by a beautiful use of typography and carefully considered layouts, the complete package has the feeling of both a historical document and a sociological study on a contemporary culture that most of us had very little idea about.” - elephant

As I mentioned above, I attended Shannon’s talk at Greenwood Cemetery about her new book Seance which took over 18 years to complete (Disclosure: I’ve been collaborating with her on the book launch). The photographs are brilliant, surreal and transfixing, and the book provides historical context about spiritualism and illuminates the stories and controversy around the current movement. It’s one of those epic projects where you admire the sheer perseverance and obsessiveness that it took to bring to creation.

Tim Carpenter, Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road

“The sequencing of the photographs in Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road is a critical part of its success. There is the very real sense that we are walking along with Carpenter – we see him look at the trees along the roadside, then look more closely at something in that area, then turn and take in the view of the farmland across the road, before moving on to another view of the dirt, and another, before turning again back to the winter trees, the weeds, and the nearby creek. The book is a deliberate exercise in progression, the flow always moving forward with a sense of measured pacing. The “distance” between page turns is never more than a few strides, a movement closer, or a look ahead to something coming up – it feels human, and personal, and mindfully present.” - Loring Knoblauch, Collector Daily

I was able to browse Tim’s book at NYABF and was impressed with how the book flowed. I think executing a project in one day, let alone one walk, in extremely difficult so it’s interesting to see how Tim executed on the concept. You can listen to Tim and his TIS Books partners on this episode of the LPV Show from 2016.

Preserving the World’s Silent Places

“There is an epidemic of extinction of quiet places on the planet,” says Hempton. Haleakala Crater in Hawaii, formerly one of the world’s quietest spots, is overrun with more than 4,000 helicopter tours a year; in a recent story in The New York Times, several naturalists in search of quiet in remote regions of New Hampshire’s White Mountains were foiled by motorcycles, buses, and wailing babies. Hempton estimates that there are now fewer than ten places in the U.S. where natural noise can be heard uninterrupted by noise pollution for longer than 15-minute intervals.

That’s from a profile of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton in Outside Magazine which I picked up via Kottke which has a bunch of good links included in post as usual. It’s too damn noisy (the old man said shouting at sky) and predictably, it’s causing havoc on our health and the health of the planet.

Further Reading

“Adepts of this kind of strategic idleness use their ‘idle’ moments, among others, to observe life, gather inspiration, maintain perspective, sidestep nonsense and pettiness, reduce inefficiency and half-living, and conserve health and stamina for truly important tasks and problems. Idleness can amount to laziness, but it can also be the most intelligent way of working. Time is a very strange thing, and not at all linear: sometimes, the best way of using it is to waste it.” - To make laziness work for you, put some effort into it

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