Monday, August 27, 2007

A walker in the city

"There is no destination. Ideally, the afternoon is wide open. Time is limitless. The streets taken on the way out are never the ones taken on the way back. The walk unfurls according to mood, physical endurance and visual appetite." Nicole Krauss

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"Montmartre," Andre Kertesz, All rights reserved

I take most of my pictures on long walks, usually in the late afternoon. Sometimes there are assignments that mean going to a particular place at a certain time, but I prefer wandering without preconceptions. The method is a little like meditation. Go to a place you want to explore. Empty the mind, concentrate on walking, wait for visual interest to rise in the eye & mind. Walk toward what attracts -- it may be just a color or it may be more complex. Consider it. If you're still attracted, try to photograph it.

Walking photography is always found, not invented. Most walking photographers are drawn to the same subjects again & again. Sometimes these become obsessions for a long time, perhaps even permanently; sometimes they fade fairly quickly. These obsessions are about the photographer more than the subject. For myself, I don't try to explain this in words. I just take the pictures.

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"Boy with cap pistol, S. Minneapolis," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Any number of great photographers are walking photographers, at least part of the time. Off the top of my head -- & this is not only the ones who have especially influenced me -- the list would include Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Lee Friedlander, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, Alex Webb, Mitch Epstein, Sylvia Plachy, Tod Papageorge & Gary Winogrand. It would also include a number of my un-famous friends.

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"Paris chairs," Andre Kertesz, All rights reserved

But the walking photographer I'd put at the very top of my list is Andre Kertesz. I think he's the best walking photographer who ever lived. He made wonderful photographs in his native Hungary, in Paris & in New York. The best to my mind are the ones from Paris. They're subtle & delicate but full of sensuality. Kertesz consistently found masterful compositions in the everyday, & his timing was exquisite. It may be too that Paris in the 1920s was one of those extraordinary places (perhaps Athens around 400 BC would be another) where a certain level of prosperity came together with a rare moment of human awareness in a setting that combined robust tradition with liberating modernity -- all at a human scale.

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"Behind Notre Dame," Andre Kertesz, All rights reserved

That's what I thought when I saw an exhibition a few years ago at the Met of Kertesz's prints of Paris. They were small -- perhaps 3" X 4" -- mounted on boards. They had a golden sepia tone (from time not toner) that gave them a jewel-like quality. They were among the most exquisite objects I've ever been close to.

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"Woman reading," Andre Kertesz, All rights reserved

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"Man reading (with cow)," Andre Kertesz, All rights reserved

The pictures above come from a wonderful book by Kertesz. The American edition was called simply On Reading (in France it was L'intime plaisir de lire). I had picked it up casually in a used bookstore somewhere before I had any idea who Kertesz was. Later I lost it. In the book Kertesz showed people all over the world engaged in this simple & absorbing activity. I looked at this book over & over. It had a lot to do with my decision to become a photographer. Here's a final homage to it.

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"Postman reading, S. Minneapolis," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love Kertesz too. This photo is an all-time favorite:
http://masters-of-photography.com/K/kertesz/kertesz_meudon_paris_full.html

Re: your title. Have you read Kazin's book of the same name? Highly recommended.

-Tom Meadows

Tim Connor said...

Tom, Yes, I loved that book. This post got started in my head when I read a piece in the Times by Nicole Krauss (quoted at the beginning of this post)about walking in the city . She used Kazin's book as a touchstone.

Thanks for the Kertesz link. I love that shot too.

Chris Bonney said...

On Reading was one of the first photography books I bought. Amen to the idea of the walk.

Terri Lynn said...

Walking is good, but I also love to shoot from a car, especially if I am a passenger. If my husband and I go for a long drive, I'm shooting from the car. There's no time to think, you just watch and have the camera ready and as soon as something catches my eye, I shoot. Interesting things are captured that way. Long drives are rather rare these days though.