Walking to the George Washington Bridge (or the ends of the earth)

Plus Maps for Getting Lost, Great Photo Editing at Bloomberg & Cars are Death Machines duh

On September 24th I walked over the George Washington Bridge for the first time. It was part of a longer walk I plotted out a few days earlier that included an interesting pedestrian bridge in Fort Washington Park and a walk through Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve found that goal oriented walks have been the most fulfilling for me this summer, and in a dense, urban setting like New York City it’s easy to connect multiple points of interest for a 7 to 10 mile walk. The paths and connections are limitless. It just depends on your goals and interests. One of my main goals right now is to explore the interconnectedness of New York City parks, bridges and greenways.

All of my walks can be reached by public transportation and other than reckless drivers, most are not physically risky (I’m not climbing skyscrapers). My projects don’t require long travel times to get to my destinations. For now I work locally. But I have a growing list of cities around the world I’d like to visit and hope to get to them eventually, if time, money and health allow.

I do think epic projects that require traveling all over the world to complete are fascinating (funding, dedication, ambition). One of my favorites in this vein is ‘The Oldest Living Things in the World’ by Rachel Sussman who was a guest on the LPV Show in 2015. It’s still one of my favorite conversations. It came to mind when I read this illuminating profile in the New Yorker about photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper.

He’s been working on this project for 32 years, making photographs “from remote, forbidding, largely unpeopled, all-but-forgotten outcroppings, on five continents and at both poles, along the perimeter of the Atlantic basin.”

“In setting the parameters of his project, Cooper made a series of vows: to work exclusively outdoors, to make only a single exposure in each place, and to pursue his vision at the expense of all else. “It wasn’t melodramatic,” he told me. “It allowed me to realize that, whatever it cost me to get to a place, I was willing to pay the price. If I said to myself, ‘I am already dead,’ then I had nothing to worry about. I’m free. I no longer have any fears. Only the joy, the peculiar kind of ecstatic joy of making things at the point where nothing else is left.”

And he’s doing it all with a field camera! Remarkable. The photos that I’ve seen are abstract landscape photos, so it would be difficult identify the location by looking at them. I love that aspect of the project. Another aspect that I think most photographers would find interesting is his printing process.

Printing requires total concentration—fifteen hours a day, a week per print. (Mooney packs him lunch.) From contact sheets, Cooper makes eight-by-ten study prints, which help him to decide which to enlarge. Working in darkness, he adds light by overexposing, and inhibits it chemically, an idiosyncratic variant of the rigidly scientific developing system codified by Ansel Adams.

Then Cooper immerses each finished print in selenium- and gold-based toners, layering reds and blues. Even those who have watched the process up close find it baffling.

Cooper throws out most of what he makes. Patrick Lannan told me that one six-week trip that the foundation funded, at a quarter of a million dollars, yielded eighteen images. One of the things Cooper hates most about photographs is that they can be infinitely reproduced.

That’s crazy. That type of money could fund so many projects. I definitely appreciate the perfectionism when it comes to printing. I don’t know that I have the dedication to make my own prints but perhaps I’ll change my mind later on down the line. More on printing at a later date!

‘Maps for Getting Lost’ by John Ryan Brubaker

Maps for Getting Lost is an ongoing series of photo books based on exploratory walks through urban environments. They are an investigation of the process of travel without destination, or orientation.

John showed up in my Instgram feed this week and I was reminded about his project which I featured in LPV several years ago. He’s up to 14 maps now, with each walk conducted by a unique prompt for getting lost in Brussels.

Further Reading

“Reality itself is indeed shifting, and documentary filmmakers must respond. The commodification of the overshare — on social media platforms that appear to be democratic but are corporately controlled playpens — have and will continue to transform the very nature of nonfiction images. What is art, and what is merely consumerism disguised as self-expression? Instagram and other platforms can yield great nonfiction (see Zia Anger’s phenomenal work), but what happens if the mere idea of “documentary” is reduced to its most basic form?” - Robert Greene