#40: Walking to Forget, Walking to Remember

Plus, NYC Maps, Colberg on Daysleeper, Keen on the coming creative renaissance, Mack First Photobook Shortlist and more!

Hello! I caught a minor cold this week but in the year of pandemic it has me spooked. It didn’t stop me from getting my walking miles in though.

I’m Bryan and this is my weekly newsletter on walking, New York City, photography, maps and the existential dread.

Walking & data: Walking is a great way to forget. Some weeks the annoyances and challenges compound, and you just don’t have the solutions. We all have ways of coping and distracting ourselves. There needs to be an escape. For me, that means a good day walk, usually on the weekends, to zone out and zone in.

It’s not always easy to forget though, especially during a walk. The mind will go where it wants to go at times. This is why I have developed tactics for forcing the negative, stressful thoughts from zapping all my mental energy. One tactic that I’ve used lately is note keeping. For every walk, I create a Google Keep card for notes on ideas, timestamps for film photos, observations and comments I overhear.

I know for some, the idea of having the phone open often during a walk contradicts one of the great benefits of walking, which is disconnecting from technology. I struggle with that issue, but right now, the note taking has had the benefit of keeping me more present and focused in the experience and reality underneath my feet. It also helps me forget the daily stresses of our modern hellscape.

So, I’ve been thinking about memory and data lately. I can’t shake the story about Spanish scientist Morris Villarroel who has kept a daily log of his activities for 10 years. That’s too much for me. But during a walk? It makes sense. The ideas I’m pursuing are novel to me, and that has pushed me in new directions. I don’t know if it’ll payoff in the long run but I suspect it will. I also recognize that I need be strategic about the note taking, and find times to turn it off, and allow the walk to activate divergent thinking. That’s critical. That’s when the problems are solved.

Something I plan on doing in the near future is scheduling day walks without a phone or cameras (as recommended by Craig Mod). I’m looking forward to it. I’ve already got anxiety about the walks not being productive (hey, walking is work for me!) but that’s the entire point. Plus, I know when I get back in from the walk, I’ll make my notes from memory which I’m sure will stimulate new ideas. I think it’d be a pretty cool group experiment. I’m kicking around some ideas.

Do you keep notes during walks? Or have you ditched the phone altogether? Drop me a line, it’d be great to hear some other ideas.

Maps & NYC: The second best purchase (finally bought a real umbrella) I’ve made this year is my Rand McNally map of New York City. I have it hanging on my wall, and have started taping some photos around it. Then last week, I picked up a map of Central Park during my walk. I suspect it won’t be the last. Perhaps I’ll print out this map of New York Neighborhoods that I picked up on Gothamist. I immediately started to wonder how the neighborhood boundaries have evolved over the years. I really need to visit the New York Public Library map room. Related: The United States gets a new kind of atlas

Yura Kolomiets understands territory as a living mechanism with socio-cultural functions, one of which is “the ability to absorb social phenomena for further representation in the urban landscape”. “Everything that surrounds us is the result of human interaction with space,” explains Kolomiets in a statement provided by MACK. “Today you can see how the process of myth-making is creating new forms of spontaneous landscape within the city. This has a significant impact on the development of new social norms and mass culture.” - BJP Online

Photobooks: There are a few urbanism themed books on the Mack First Photobook shortlist that came out this week. This one by Yura Kolomiets caught my attention. I want to see it.

“This is a great time,” he says “And, in essence, there’s potentially a creative renaissance coming. It’s a winner-take-all cultural economy, but you can’t just be pumping a camera or pounding a keyboard. You’ve got to be innovative in terms of building platforms, real platforms, crossing boundaries, taking risks, and also figuring out the money side, asking, ‘Who’s going to pay for this? Why is it worth my time?'” - Andrew Keen

Attention Economy: Keen is one of those thinkers that I’ve come across over the years but I have fully invested in reading his work, other than these type of quotes that come across this radar. I fully agree with his assessment. When I evaluated where I was as an artist and photographer a few years ago, I know that I needed to shift courses but I didn’t know how exactly.

Over the years I’ve published a magazine, produced a podcast, authored a book, Tweeted up a storm, made several photography series, tried desperately to scale my Instagram (total failure but you can still follow me, I’m making the feed my folio) and now I’m trying to tie it all together in the next project, which in my mind is sort of the last project since it’ll be my attempt to tie everything together. It’s a risk, and I’m already realizing it’s incredibly challenging financially but for me, it’s the only way to go right now.

“If anything, the book demonstrates how much can be gained from the radical reinterpretation of a photographer’s work that we are given here. These photographs, taken decades ago, speak to us about our times. It is as if they were being made for us, to be seen by us, to have their maker urge us to look at this world. And it is Contis who we have to thank for this; after all, she could have decided to create just another edit of the work that would follow an art-historical approach, picking different photographs of already existing ideas.” - Jorg Colberg

Photobooks & Archives: Daysleeper has been getting a lot of expected buzz. Digging into the archives of an iconic photographer and looking for a new angle is a tough challenge. Too often the easy route is to go with a more known trajectory to appease a broad audience. It looks like Contis skillfully avoided that through the sequencing and discovery of some hidden gems. I’m sure if the photos had captions providing the original context of the photos, the entire book would collapse upon itself. But this is an art book, not photojournalism. The beauty of art is that there really are no rules. That’s why it’s exciting.

More Media

Beautiful morning with a walk to the hermitage lake in the village..
Temperature about 3 degrees c.
Just having my elevenses at the leisure centre cafe.
Love to everyone ❤️❤️
January 29, 2020

I’m a photographer, editor and creative collaborator working in New York City. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter

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.