#76: Interview: Martin Brink on Walking, Photography and Making Art During the Pandemic
A few years ago when I started to think about the nexus between photography and walking more deeply, one of the projects I encountered was Martin Brink's appropriately named 'Walks.' It was so pure and direct, yet retained enough mystery to keep me thinking about it. I have followed him over the years on Instagram mostly but have also seen his work featured here and there.
When I started thinking about doing interviews, he was at the top of my list so I was excited to have a conversation with him about his walking projects. I am a bit rusty with the interview format and hyper focused on walking, so I totally neglected to talk about his great zine 'Skummeslöv' published by Another Place Press. You'll definitely check that out as well.
Bio: Based in Helsingborg, Sweden, Martin Brink is photographer and artist focusing on personal work and projects, as well as commissions and footage in the architecture, art and design fields. His latest project 'Skummeslöv' was recently published as a zine by Another Place Press. He's the recipient of the 2020 Claës Lewenhaupt Grant and his show 'Walks' is currently on display through August 29th at Landskrona Foto in Sweden.
Bryan: Hey Martin, thanks for taking the time to chat about your work. I love that your project is simply titled 'Walks.' It gets right to the core of it.
Naturally as a photographer, the objective is to make interesting photographs that articulate your vision but with this type of field work where you are walking, there's often another layer to the work.
When did you first realize that walking could be part of the art making process? And I am curious, do you ever feel that the walks are more important to you than making the art?
Martin: Good question, Bryan.
When I started this series about 10 years ago, the idea was to impose a limitation or rule to my photography. That rule was to shoot when I saw a composition appear in front of me, in the direction I was walking. It was more about limiting myself than walking to be honest.
When you start photographing you tend to look everywhere and at everything, and it was great to impose a limitation. Walking, not moving by car or working in studio, was my method of making photographs.
I think coming up with some sort of framework or limitation for making work is valuable and it makes you focus and edit better. If that is burnt cars, portraits, kittens, photos of your meal, still lives in studio or just a very tight topical theme, doesn’t really matter.
The photographers I’ve come to admire often have this framework and deep focus. And to answer your first question, I’d say that walking is at least as important as photography. I do A LOT more walking than ”Walk” photos. Walking has a lot of other benefits than just making photos.
Bryan: That's a great point on creating the limitations. It's something I have thought about often and implemented in a few of my own projects.
For one, I limited myself to 20 frames and even tried to spread them out as evenly as possible between point A and point B. Of course, it didn't end up as 'perfect' I wanted but that's the nature of art.
The looking forward perspective during a walk is very interesting to me. That perspective dominates when you are on a walk, and creates a certain typology so it makes sense you would gravitate to that for the project.
What did you learn from that type of 'looking' during the course of the project?
And now I am definitely curious about the other types of walks as well. How long are your typical walks? Do you track your step count or number of miles per week? Do you have a particular time of day when you prefer to walk? I know that's a lot but I am very curious!
Martin: Funny you mention the ”looking forward” perspective. I’ve always felt that ”Walks” is very much an ongoing and never ending series. There are times when I’m sick of it and when I even feel the work is pretty weak, but the methodology is so ingrained in me that I don’t think there will ever come to a day when I say I’ll never make a ”Walk” photo again.
That said, what I strive for is to make and edit photos that I feel I can’t repeat. That is especially true at this stage, after 10 years.
As for my walks. I don’t usually walk or hike very far, allthough that happens. I don’t use a smartwatch, but my phone says I average about 8-10k steps/day. I prefer to take 2-3 short-mid length walks/day, usually just around or close to where I live.
It’s a great way to clear your mind and I don’t usually shoot during these walks. I play golf (poorly:)) too and during a round you will usually walk 10-15k steps up and down hill with a bag on your back, so that’s a bit more like short hikes really. So far I haven’t played this year though, so no wonder why I play poorly.
Bryan: It's interesting how walking is ingrained in your daily routine, especially the 2-3 short walks. I generally take either one really long walk or one short one in the morning to clear the mind. The long walks I consider work as I am intentionally going to a destination and tracking everything.
The walk is the art, and I liken it to a sporting event in some ways. For you, the walking is a means of creating the work, but not necessarily the focus of it.
The Covid Walks is an interesting series. I love the mix of news headlines about walking with the photos from the walks. It creates an interesting tension between image and text. Walking became such a hot topic during the pandemic that I think all of us walkers started to think about it differentlly as well.
I am still sorting through my project about my time walking in New York during the pandemic. At this point, it feels so distant but also a memory that will always be with us in a significant way.
What did you learn from those walks? Did you have big insights or what was the general mood for you? What are your feelings on the relationship between text and image in this project?
Martin: That's interesting, Bryan. Although 2-3 walks is what's most common for me, sometimes it's one long instead. But it's good to use walks as a means of transportation (if you can) or to do errands.
You're totally correct in saying that walking is a means of creating the work for me and that's a very good way of putting it. Sometimes I even find the title "Walks" misleading, but I've used it for so long now that I've come to accept it. It's very much an ongoing and maybe never ending series, so it sort of makes sense.
I made a pdf back in 2015 entitled "2014 Walks" in which I paired my Walks photos with news headlines that I found while searching for "walk". I then filtered the results to the dates of the photographs. I found that there was this friction I liked between the photos and these online headlines.
When Covid hit I wanted to make work about this phase, or shock, we entered. It was initially hard to come up with ideas though, but as we were allowed to leave the house in Sweden, walking became an important activity to many. It already was to me, but maybe even more so during the pandemic.
I would even go as far as saying they were the highlight of many days during the early days of the pandemic. I just went out with my smartphone at the time and didn't have any serious thoughts of making work, but I made some photos. I then decided to do searches for "walk" during the initial phase of pandemic and the results were interesting.
Of course everything was about Covid, so I thought this is my little project, and I then started to upload photos combined with linked headlines to my website.
I very much think of the photographs as common Walks photos and even showed them as such in my current show, but on my website I decided to pair them with headlines and links.
I think photographs can live in different contexts and it also made sense to do it online during the spring of 2020, as the world was very much online. It was almost the only place where you could experience art and culture. As many countries open up we can experience culture in a physical setting again.
I title my photos Walk YYMMDD and if I combine them with headlines or not, I will probably always feel a bit different about the Walks photos made during the pandemic. That was a long answer and I don't even know if it makes sense anymore.
Bryan: I think Covid probably fundamentally changed many people's relationship with walking, and I'd love to see a large survey of the art made around Covid walks. Could be very interesting!
Before I let you go, do you have any words of wisdom for other walker photographer artists about building a walking routine?
And one of my favorite topics: how to start a project? What would you have liked to know years ago about starting projects?
Martin: I also think Covid changed things for many, an example would probably be how many people got a pet or spent more time outdoors and in nature.
I think this applies to anyone really, whether you're an artist/photographer or not. We all know the positive effects walking has on your mind and body, and I think you have written in great detail about this in your newsletter.
There's no one that can deny that. If you don't have a walking routine, a little bit is better than not doing it all, so skip the car occasionally or whatever your means of transportation is.
Don't sit down for long stretches. I don't love everything about tech, but your phone or smartwatch will know how much you're moving and I actually think that's a good aspect.
As for starting projects, I would say the most important thing is to not force it and let it come to you. For a long time I tried to come up with these master plans for work/projects and it never really worked well. Once you have an idea or feeling, try it. Most times it won't work, but try it.
Another part is that you have to enjoy making and have a real interest in that particular project you're working on, otherwise it will shine through. Both of these things are probably what I would have liked to know years ago.
Thanks Martin! Great words of wisdom for all the walkers, artists and photographers.
- Great interview with Jason Fulford on Lenscratch: “…it helps me to have several things going at the same time—each on its own time schedule, and each using a different part of the brain. So when I’m stuck on one of them, I can bounce over to a different one.”
- This Ezra Klein interview with Annie Murphy Paul about her book “The Extended Mind,” discusses several topics related to walking, movement, productivity and creativity that I think you'll find interesting.
- NPR dives into how photo making can harm your memory, that is unless, you do it mindfully, which is what good photography is all about, right?: "As we search the visual field to decide what to capture in a photo, we are more likely to commit those details to memory. As such, "taking photos can actually enhance memory for certain details in an experience."
I’m a photographer and consultant from Saint Cloud, Minnesota. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Instagram & Twitter