#37: Walking With an Inaccurate Map
Plus, Contact Sheets, Sol LeWitt on being an Artist, Life under the Instagram Scroll, and more links!
|Bryan Formhals||Feb 2, 2020|
Hello! It’s the second month of 2020 and the start of my least favorite month of the entire year, but to be fair to February, it’s really the gloomy weather than I generally revile and not the days of the month. If I were in Melbourne for the Australian Open and walkabout, I bet my views on the month would be different. Bucket list!
If you recently signed up or this caught your attention through Twitter, I’m Bryan Formhals, and this is my weekly newsletter on walking, New York City, photography, maps and the creative process.
Walking & maps: Last Sunday I took the Metro North Hudson line to Peekskill for a planned hike to Croton Gorge Park, where the Old Croton Aqueduct trail originates. Last year I walked most of the trail, except for this beginning section. On this second time around, I want to complete the full hike. Looking at Google Maps, I thought it would be perfect to start the hike in Peekskill because I could walk through Blue Mountain Reservation park and hook up to the Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway which would take me to Croton Gorge Park, and then down to Croton-Harmon Metro North Station. It seemed like it would be a straight forward path. I should have known better.
The hike was going smoothly through Blue Mountain. It was a beautiful, high energy creative start. I’ve started to keep more detailed notes along the way, pinning places I make videos and film photos. I entered Briarcliff-Peekskill Trailway State Park at 1:04pm EST. After hiking for about 15 minutes, I came across a zig zagging group of bike trails that were not listed on the map. It was confusing. I had trouble locating my trail. I started to go off trail, crisscrossing through the woods, trying to figure out the route.
Sahil Lavingia @shlI think I've solved more problems on long walks than in front of a computer.
At one point, I thought I was back on it, and ended up out of the park and on a busy road. There was no clear, safe route to pick up the trail, and it was not the path listed on Google Maps. I was thoroughly confused, so I circled back, knowing I must have missed the trail back in the park. The experience deteriorated quickly from there. I became frustrated, circling around. I tripped twice, taking a hard fall on a muddy trail. After I brushed myself off, I remembered I had the AllTrails app on my phone so I decided what it had listed. But it didn’t even have the trail on it, however it did have another one, which would take me out of the park in the opposite, forcing me to circle back and abort my original plan. I was frustrated, but felt defeated, and knew I had to get out of the woods, as it was getting later in the day. I didn’t want to be stuck as the sun goes down.
I ended up on Furnace Dock Rd which didn’t have any sidewalks, and barely a shoulder to walk on. It was hazardous five mile walk. I don’t recommend it. I’ve made those walks a few times, and they always make me nervous. But it’s a reminder that people are forced to make dangerous walks all the time because there’s no pedestrian infrastructure.
I eventually made it to the Cordlandt Metro North station. Exhausted, I opened up Twitter and learned about the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash. It was a strange feeling. The crash happened right around the time I got lost. It was bewildering. Then I checked Strava, and noticed the trail was listed, but it was a different route than on Google Maps. In fact, I was about half a mile from hooking back up with the trail, if only I’d made the hazardous walk on the busy road the first time I exited the park.
My mistake was trusting Google Maps. I blindly assumed the trail was accurate. It was not. That was the lesson. The data is not always accurate (should be obvious.) Don’t be lulled into believing so but on the positive side, sometimes it’s good to get lost. It forces you to problem solve, and focus on the immediate task of finding your way home. It gets to the essence of walking. Get lost sometimes. In fact, it might contribute to keeping our brains young according to a new study.
If you're talking about brain health, the hippocampus--the brain structure that mediates memory--evolved for geonavigation, to help us remember where we are going, so that we can move toward food and mates and away from danger. If we don't keep that part exercised, we do so at our own peril. The hippocampus can atrophy," he warns.
A hike through your local park is an ideal way to keep that particular part of the brain in top form. "Being outside is good, because anything can happen. You have to stay on your toes to some degree," he explains. "You're encountering twigs and roots and rocks and creatures; you've got low limbs that you have to duck under. All that kind of stuff is essential to keeping a brain young."
Archives & process: I’ve never made contact sheets. A couple of years ago I was using 35mm slide film for a project and would get 4x6 prints made for each roll. Scanning slides is tough and I liked how the prints looked scanned. It’s my preferred method when using 35mm film now. I wish I would have started this way 15 years ago in Los Angeles. I’ve always been fascinated with the editing process and how we determine which photos are the keepers, which are throwaways and which are sketches. What’s even more fascinating is how a photographer’s perception of these photographs change over time. In the Observer, writer Karen Chernick reviews PROOF: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet, which opens February 7th at the Cleveland Museum.
Contact sheets aren’t about the cover shot, they’re about process. “A dozen contact sheets tell far more about a photographer than a dozen ‘good’ pictures taken by that same photographer,” American shutterbug Elliott Erwitt once said. Like a photographic version of the painter’s preparatory sketch, these sheets are a peek at a photographer’s hunt for that great image, instead of the cropped and color-corrected final product.
Cort Anderson @cortdanderson@bryanformhals Process and project descriptions and project development should be footnotes to the actual images. Not the other way around.
Creative process: At times, I feel I become too immersed in process and not focused enough on outcomes. In fact, that might the core challenge I’ve always had with art making and photography. Although photography solves that problem because it’s simple to make an image, get it printed, then claim it to be art. But I can’t settle for that. My mind won’t allow it, so I need to explore ideas. I feel it’s the inevitable path, and I always recall James Luckett writing “it’s all conceptual” in a private forum a few years ago when we were debating process. While it’s a superficial listicle type article, this piece in Artsy on Sol Lewitt has a few nice pull quotes I find relatable.
“The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple,” he stated in “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.” “Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas, the artist is free even to surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition.”
LeWitt didn’t see his work (or anyone’s, for that matter) as moving towards a particular goal or end. Rather, he thought of artmaking as an eternal process of building, reinventing, and growing. Each thought or experiment led to another, encouraging innovation.
Attention Economy: The most relevant ads I get served up on social media are from Instagram Stories. I’m in a pro photography + entrepreneur lookalike audience, and the ads are becoming almost useful. Almost. They are still missing a component. They are not hitting the right value prop just yet. It could be that I’m disciplined when it comes to my purchases, or that they just need more data. I don’t know but writer Dayna Tortorici takes a deep dive into ‘life under Instagram’ over at the Guardian, illuminating many relatable anxieties. Related: You Are Now Remotely Controlled
The entangled dynamics of who sees whom and who knows they’re being seen have always been present. Where Instagram seems truly new – beyond the introduction of machine learning and commercial surveillance to the mix – is in the strange instability of the viewer’s position as a subject. A voyeur knows what kind of viewer he is, but looking at Instagram, you are not always a voyeur. Neither are you always a witness, nor any other single kind of watcher. Your implied identity slips with each stroke of the thumb. -
Great tribute to Jason Polan by Jerry Saltz. I never met him, but admired his work over the years. Very sad. RIP.
Curbed has some ideas for a ‘car free America’ and I am here for it. Please.
PDN shut down: Here’s my Twitter thread on it (not my most coherent thinking but hey, it’s a Twitter thread!)
This newsletter is a weekly digest mixing updates on my current projects with the articles and media that catch my attention during the week. Topics I’m focusing on these days include walking, urbanism, New York city history, news about photography and photobooks, the attention economy and existential dread.