NYC & Immigration; walking is trending; peak newsletter; revisiting Camilo José Vergara

July 21, 2019

A newsletter about walking, photography, and the media-tech attention complex

I'm deep into doing research for the new project, and much of it focuses on New York City. I've been living here for 10 years now which I've heard is the timespan required to become an official 'New Yorker.' I think that most people living in a metropolis like NYC, Los Angeles, London, or Tokyo at some point has that feeling like they just can't grasp the enormity of the place. Part of that feeling has to do with history as well.

For many people, history doesn't have much relevance on their daily lives, at least that they’re aware of. But I'm fascinated by history. When I read about a person or an event, I’m often struck by how much it relates to something happening today. This week I revisited the great PBS documentary New York which covers the history of the city up through 9/11. It's impossible to watch it and not understand that New York City is perhaps the greatest experiment in immigration that's ever existed.

It's not a perfect experiment by any means. There have been serious mistakes, and there continue to be mistakes. It's often been a brutal history for the most vulnerable but it's simply impossible for the city to exist without the dynamic creativity and hard work of immigrants.

As I finished the series at the end of the week, all I could think is that there's a good portion of this country that just has no clue about the history of New York City which is really integrally tied to the history of the United States. There simply is no United States without immigration.*

*The series also covers the brutal violence inflicted on the Lenape, the original inhabitants of Manhattan. The genocide of Native Americans on the North American continent is a tragedy that we have not done nearly enough to address. I know I need to do more to learn the history and contemporary issues.

Walking: "Glorified for its creative benefits, the pastime has become yet another goal-driven pursuit."

  • The more conscious writers become of its creative benefits, the more walking takes on the quality of goal-driven labor, the very thing we are meant to be marching against. The hazard was always there. William Hazlitt gestures toward it in his entry in Beneath My Feet. “When I am in the country,” he writes, “I wish to vegetate like the country.” If he begins to feel that he has to produce a piece of writing from his walks, like “my old friend Coleridge,” then he’s “making a toil of a pleasure.”

'The Unbearable Smugness of Walking': Well, that headline is nearly impossible for me to ignore. I found it about 10 minutes after sending last weeks newsletter.

The author reviews two books about the relationship between walking and literature which is a frequent topic. For the writer, walking often stimulates their imagination and facilitates new ideas. I think many walkers can relate to that, even if they aren't writers.

For the photographer, obviously walking acts as a more direct method of creation. And then there are just the people that walk for leisure. I feel that I often fall into all three categories but I do agree with the article in some regard, it does seem like walking might become just another productivity hack. Walking is also becoming trendy, exhibit A --> ‘Walkers are middle aged, hikers are cool’

I had a few conversations on Twitter this week about photoland. It felt like old times, and a repeat of many of the conversations we were having 10 and 5 years ago. I think the photography industry has probably become more cutthroat in the last five years, primarily because the media industry continues to struggle as well as an increasing number of small fine art photography publishers.

The reality is that the market just can't support all the talented photographers. It's a shame. I have definitely felt the squeeze and I have plenty of anxiety about my plans moving forward. As Jonathan Blaustein said, "we all have multiple hustles these days"

Camilo Jose Vergara popped up on the New York documentary during the 9/11 episodes and I immediately had that moment of finally remembering a name that always slips my mind. It's strange. I've known of his work for a long time but for the life of me I can never remember his name. So now I have his website bookmarked and I think you should take a look if you haven't. His primary project is a long term rephotography project that's just brilliant.

Peak Newsletter

  • To me, part of that ethos is retained in the newsletter ecosystem. “The magic of newsletters, I think, is how they cut through the noise of social media and establish this consistent, pretty intimate connection,” said Cai, who in 2015 spun her habit of DM’ing links to coworkers into Deez Links, and who now has 1,200 subscribers. “You end up building a relationship with people in a format that isn’t completely obsessive about the scale of your audience or monetization, so it can kind of float under the radar and feel like a big inside joke or a fun club.” As Warshaw put it, “in this age of the attention economy, newsletters let you be intentional about who you give your attention to.”

Yes newsletters are trendy in the media industry but they've also been with us for a long time. I think this current evolution of newsletters is here to stay because we just don't trust social platforms.

My biggest regret is not starting a newsletter ten years ago when I was publishing LPV. At the time, I believed that social media should be the focus but I was wrong. I firmly believe the strategy is to focus on building your own blog and newsletter rather than focusing primarily on social media.

Further Reading

  • Are nature documentaries the greatest art of our time? [Washington Post]

  • Cops, Uniforms, and the Visualisation of Power [Magnum Photos]

  • Cars take up way too much space in cities. New technology could change that. [Vox]

  • America has fallen out of love with the suburbs [Fast Company]