Issue #63: Walking to the Countdown
+ The Hunters Point South Park project, Instax Photos from the same spot, Luminescence by Nobuho Nagasawa, and the meaning behind the clock
|Bryan Formhals||Jan 18|
Hello! Thanks for reading! I’m Bryan and this is my newsletter on walking, photography, parks and new beginnings.
I was apprehensive about last week’s issue because of the political nature of it but I ended up receiving more positive feedback on it than I have for any previous issue. Thank you!
I don’t work from an editorial calendar just yet. I have a collection of ideas I’m working on but these days current events have a tendency to intervene. We’re in the midst of world changing events, and the pandemic has caused such unbearable suffering and stress that I’m surprised any of us can move forward, but we do, and that’s a testament to our resiliency.
That means you. You’re doing a helluva job right now. Give yourself a break. Keep working. You’ve got it.
With everything going on right now, it’s almost unimaginable to realize that it was this upcoming week last year that the Wuhan lockdown started. I remember watching the TikTok’s while at my previous job and muttering “this is going to be bad” loud enough to cause worrying looks from my two colleagues. I couldn’t help myself from making it worse with my follow up.
“Because of the population density in New York City, if the pandemic gets here, it’ll probably be terrible.”
Somehow, as a I look back, I was starting to get into a groove with the epic day walks, which I define as a walk over 10 miles. I always strive for 15-18 miles, and early last year these walks started to become easier as I built up my stamina.
It was during these walks that I also started to focus more intently on the parks, and how they interconnect. I always make it a goal to walk through at least a few parks on each hike, and many of them I’ve visited repeatedly by now.
One of my favorites is Hunters Point South Park in Long Island City. It’s a newer park in the city, and connects to Gantry Plaza State Park on the Queens coastline in the shadow of the Long Island City condo row. It’s an affluent neighborhood, so no shock that it has nice parks. Of course, the view of the Manhattan skyline can’t be beat either.
After making a few visits, I decided to start a project on the park. I wanted to do something different, use it as a stage to test out some new ideas. As I built up the ritual and routine, it started to feel like a performance, and that’s how I framed it.
I didn’t have to worry about any type of anxiety because my audience was completely unaware of the performance. It turns out, an ignorant audience makes it easy to take chances. There were never any gasps or mocking laughs when I messed up.
Naturally, photography is a big part of these performative walks. At the southern entrance, there’s a point where two paths diverge (I know, I know, but it’s a great cliche). This would be the first photograph of every performance. Since I was working with Instax last year, those make up the majority of the photos.
Then I have one on medium format film that I can’t specifically date just yet. How does this happen? I swore I noted it somewhere. I’ve improved my attention to detail in the field tremendously this year, but there’s still more refining to be done with my note-taking system.
It’s a beautiful walk along the shore, typically busy with joggers and parents pushing strollers. I normally would take the shore path, but I decided I needed to change it up later in the year, so I took the high path, and that led me to these trees (I think I shared this one before!)
The next stop is one of my favorites. It’s a perment installation by artist Nobuho Nagasawa call Luminscence. Ther are ‘seven cast concrete domes representing the phases of the moon.’ I love sculpture and I love public art, so when you combine the two, I can’t resist. I consider this to be a portal, which is part of a larger project that I’ll just have try to explain in a later installment.
There are normally kids and dogs running around. I always walk to the highest point and then make a photograph with my phone, and upload it to Google. It’s funny how the ritual solidifies over time, and the motivation to fulfill the task gets stronger and stronger.
So far this year I’ve uploaded 40 total photos (not all of Luminiscence) to Google that have generated 605,622 views. That’s wild. Means nothing, but definitely more views than I’ve received on Instagram the last year or probably ever.
I’ve made a couple Instax as well. At some point I want to make a long exposure at night. That would be the best, right?
This walk performance isn’t completely refined yet. I have some elements where I’m not creating any visuals. For example, there’s 10 ft of old rail still visible near one of the piers. I always try to walk it without losing my balance. My success ratio is about 50%. I have some videos for when I piece the entire performance together.
The ultimate goal I think is to one day invite a few folks to hang around the park as I make the walk, but I haven’t built up my performance artist confidence just yet, and who knows, this might just all be prelude to what ends up as a photography project/book. The ultimate lesson is about creativity in the field. Trying new ideas and testing my experience has pushed me creatively (I think.)
But where does this walk end?
I can’t recall on which visit I first noticed the clock. I couldn’t make sense of it. Then when I went home and Googled it, I learned the clock was counting down to the last days of Trump’s first term. It was a collaborative effort led by artist Mathew Barney (one of those artist I know about but don’t necessarily understand. He’s made some crazy art films though).
So, at the end of my walks through the park I’d look at the clock for a few moments. I made a few videos and if it were easier to just embed them in Substack, I might do it, but I think the photos are sufficient.
I’ve thought about going back each day until it reads zero. But I decided against it. I want to move on. We all want to move on. We all need to move on. I want the clock to hit zero and for these last four years to disappear from our consciousness. I know that won’t happen. The destruction is too devastating. I’ll be back walking Hunters Point South Park again, maybe in a few weeks, maybe a month. When I get to the end this time, I’m hoping for a new beginning. The ritual continues.
A few more bookmarks from the week:
“In book editing, “there is no formula”: she describes projects occupying a sliding scale, from a photographer needing help navigating a large group of work, to presenting a fully-realized book dummy that needs fine-tuning & translating into a final form” - Leslie Martin, On Book-making and Editing
The future of work is one of those issues I pay attention to. This is a good article from the New Yorker that explains partly how we arrived at our current point: What’s Wrong With the Way We Work?
BJP has a nice article on Jorg Colberg’s new book Vanterland which I haven’t seen yet, other than on Instagram
I’m an photographer, writer and editorial strategist in New York City. This is my newsletter on art, walking, and mindfulness. Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me. You can email me at email@example.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter