#34: Walking and Writing to Connect

Plus I Walk Toward the Sun Which is Always Going Down by Alan Huck, Mapping Ideas While Walking, Tim Davis talks about "Transit Byzantium" & more links!

Hello! It was in the 60s this weekend in New York City and while I consider that nearly perfect walking weather, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive about enjoying it, and I don’t even need to write the words for you to know why.

By the way, if you recently signed up or this caught your attention for some reason, I’m Bryan Formhals, and this is my weekly newsletter on walking, New York City, photography, creativity and a few other topics I’m still figuring out.

Attention economy: Twitter is my main stream for picking up the news and conversation about a variety of topics. One topic that has been on my radar weekly has been the value of social media, and how to manage the constant stream of information, media and conversation (I try not to use the word content!). In fact, some of you probably arrived here from Jorg Colberg’s insightful article on what comes After Social Media.

I try to focus on what brings me the most value in our current media reality, and for the most part, that’s connecting with likeminded people and ideas that move my work forward or illuminate my intellectual blind spots, for which there are plenty.

Finding those connections often happens on Twitter and Instagram these days but since I started this newsletter and focused on walking and photography, I’ve found that some of these new connections are becoming more relevant. It’s a good feeling because it signals that slowly this strategy is working. I still have a lot of work to do, and one of my primary goals this year is to figure out what more I can do to be useful to you, and other people that might find this newsletter (and podcast later this spring). Sharing insights about my process and ideas are one component to it, but I know there’s more to it, I just haven’t completely figured it out yet. That will require more walking.

Does walking making you more productive or help you solve problems? I’d love to hear about your strategies. Drop me a line info@bryanformhals.com or ping me on Twitter or Instagram.


I Walk Toward the Sun Which is Always Going Down by Alan Huck

Photo books: It’s been interesting to observe how my perspective on art and photography has evolved since I started focusing primarily on walking, cartography and pyschogeography. I’m able to focus more clearly on the art and media that matters to me the most rather than swimming around looking for whatever shiny thing I confront. The same goes for when I’m in the field working. Suddenly I’m noticing aspects of the landscape and urban infrastructure that I hadn’t in the past.

It’s a refreshing clarity but also comes with an awareness that there’s even more to learn and absorb. With this topic, there’s a long tradition, and many contemporary artists, um, walking a similar path (sorry, had to do it). On one hand, it’s incredibly inspiring because it means people care about it, and are putting serious effort into adding new ideas to the conversation. On the other hand, there’s a feeling that, damn, I wish I would have thought of that. Alan Huck’s brilliant book is the type of art that made me feel both, but mostly an odd sense of pride that someone at the beginning of their career could debut with such a powerful work of art on this topic.

The book blends text and photographs nearly flawlessly. I read it in under an hour and have paged through it numerous times since. It’s the type of book where you can pick up a passage or image randomly, and be left with a new insight. I have tried and failed to pull off something similar in the past because I could not figure out the right balance. Huck does it so effortlessly that I wonder if he’s discovered a new secret while out on his walks, and has just not shared it with the rest of us yet. Highly recommended.

What’s your favorite recent photo book?

"Beneath the surfaces we travel are layers of the invisible past, embedded meanings that we don’t always visually perceive but which attract us on an implicit and subconscious level" - Desire Lines: Reframing the American Road Trip Narrative in Alec Soth’s Photographs (related: Soth’s newsletter is great)


Mapping Ideas While Walking

Creative process: A couple weeks ago Craig Mod described his Ridgeline newsletter as being about “walking as a platform” and what can be constructed atop the act / rhythm / structure of a walk. I like that. It’s a clear articulation of what I’ve been pursuing in my practice the last year. It also reminded me that I need to take my second trip through Karen O’Rourke’s Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers to see what new ideas I can pick up. It’s packed with them.

For the last year, I’ve been adding more data fields to my notes. First it started with making notes of ideas with Google Keep and then writing a brief after the walk (I’ll share the data fields I use in the future.) Then I incorporated a GPS map of the walk from Strava (sometimes I map out the walk beforehand in Google Maps and save it). In August, I mapped out a long list of pedestrian infrastructure that I planned to visit.

Recently, I’ve started using more lists in Google Maps for various locations. I write a comment for each destination, often including the time, and some observation about the scene. I started doing this for each photograph I make with the Mamiya because I’ve never kept notes for film images, and it’s really stupid because I have a bunch of images where I can’t pinpoint the location and that suddenly matters a lot more to me now that in the past. Always make notes!

For a few months now I’ve been thinking about the interconnection between walking, geography and ideation. I know for certain walking is great for divergent thinking and ideation, but how does that change between novelty walks and ritual walks? My sense is that novelty walks will lead to more ideation but that’s just a hunch. I need data.

So yesterday during my walk along the Hudson River Walkway in Jersey I started a new list in Google maps to track ideas. I don’t know how this experiment will turn out or if I’ll glean any insight from it. It might just turn out to be the beginning of it’s own project. To be continued….

Speaking of good ideas about walking. I like this 2013 project from Tim Davis. Thanks to James Prochnik for the tip!


Further Reading


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.