#77: Gathering Time, Gathering Intelligence and 'Raising Frogs for $$$'
Writer Oliver Burkeman released a new book this week titled "Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals." I have not read it yet but I am intrigued by the framing of our lifespan in terms of weeks.
If you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks.
Given I am 44, that means about half of my weeks have been used up. Of course, the good news is that if I stay healthy, then I'll have plenty of time to left to work on projects. At some point, I suspect the my physical and mental energy will wane to a point where I won't want to work, but that might not be the case.
There are many examples of people working rigorously well into their 80s and 90s. And given the rapid evolution of bio-tech, there's a good chance many of us might live well into our 100s.
I am a bit skeptical for my generation, but who knows. If you're a millennial or zoomer you might be thinking about time and your lifespan much differently than GenXers and Xennials like me.
I can't measure for sure, but I think creatively the last two years have been the most productive in my life. That's certainly due to making more time to work on my projects, and more sporadic work due to the pandemic. We're all experiencing time differently since the beginning of 2020. It's collective anomaly in the timeline.
All of these aspects of time have been floating through my mind lately. My long walks have been a bit less frequent, but when I do get out for a 10 mile walk, I've found there's a new intensity and purpose to them. Part of the magic of a long walk is how they expand our perception of time.
I am hooked on this idea. It's a belief.
I know that four to five hours of continuous walking are incredibly productive for me. For a last couple of years, I've used the phrase 'out gathering intelligence' to partly describe my activities while walking.
On a long walk you are constantly learning from the landscape, built environment, and encounters with nature and other organisms. When we're focussed, the small details become more fascinating, and we're able to understand the flow of life at a different scale.
From this framing, everything around us is imbued with consciousness, and intelligence. We can learn from everything; we can gain intelligence from every aspect of our environment.
But it requires focus, it requires a flow state of mind. Walking and making photographs are a great combination for getting there.
Making thoughtful photographs is about passing along a certain type of intelligence to the viewer, and back to ourselves. Photographs can be great teachers. But they can also teach us that we might not have much to say visually. Buyer beware.
In this current time loop, I have been thinking about the relationship between the collection of data (photographs, notes, ideas, locations, maps) and time. Anything we do digitally comes with a timestamp. Our devices our recording an enormous amount of data about us and know the exact time it is collected. This is terrifying of course, and yet, I find it compelling, like a bee drawn to pollen. On the other hand, with surveillance capitalism becoming more insidious by the year, the DELETE ALL GET OUT, go live in the woods plan is totally plausible.
Staying in my apartment for now, another possibility I have been entertaining is the idea that instead of 'out gathering intelligence,' maybe we walkers and photographers and artists are 'out gathering time.'
I like this framing too because modern life steals much of our time with complete bullshit that we need to get clever with how we manage our time. This is why productivity is such a huge topic. We understand that developing a process, and an organized relationship with time is our best chance at optimizing the amount of time we have for ourselves, whether that's working on side projects, art, traveling, spending time with family or just chillin.
For me, planning and making a 4-5 hour walk is the best strategy I have developed for taking control of my relationship with time. I feel when I am on the walks that I am gaining more time, not losing it. It's additive. I feel the abundance, and it is marvelous. I am grateful that I am able to do it, and I recommend you make time to do it as well.
One way of coping the state of the world is to niche down and focus on the topics that fascinate you the most, for me that's: transportation, cities, pedestrianism, art, storytelling and connecting with likeminded individuals.
I love photobooks but I haven't looked at mine for six months, so this week I finally popped open some of the boxes of my books. I slimmed down my collection a bit before I left for New York, and I'll probably end up selling a good chunk of the rest next year for various reasons, so my plan is to share from my collection, and discuss the books that have influenced me. I am very grateful for these photobooks and want other people to know about them.
One of the books I opened right away was 'Raising Frogs for $$$' by Jason Fulford.
Last week I shared an interview with him from Lenscratch in which the interviewer Tristan Martinez asked:
I was fortunate enough to attend your artist talk in 2019 at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago while I was in undergrad. You mentioned in this talk that you consider yourself more of a collector of images. Is it fair to say that by collecting images from traveling, you are better able to conceptualize your next body of work, opposed to having a grand idea and going out trying to make images that fulfill those perimeters?
JF: Yes. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was from Anne Turyn, who I studied with in college. She said, basically, “Keep shooting. Then look at the pictures and go make more. All the questions and answers will be in the pictures.”
Fulford dodges the question a bit but his answer is still a great piece of advice about learning from your photographs, and your archive.
The archive is always alive and active in this way of working. I think it's fascinating, and appreciate how photographers are often working on and releasing projects with photographs that were made several years earlier.
I love the distance in time between the field work and presentation. The nature of photography and the process of editing and synthesizing ideas, means that we often need time to learn from the work. When photographs and ideas age, they take on different dimensions. Time is a powerful variable.
That interview made me more curious about Fulford's collector angle. His most well known, and influential body of work is called the 'Mushroom Collector.' I have never seen it but you can get it now in paperback for $25 or so if you search. Mine is on the way.
I did some quick Googling, and found an interview he did with photographer and curator Aaron Schuman, another artist I admire.
And here's the paragraph I was looking for about the collector framework:
The collector I’m thinking of is a scavenger whose mode is to wander. He enters the woods with an open mind. He might find a Scarlet Elf Cup or a Hen of the Woods; he may come home with nothing but an empty pack of cigarettes. The collecting happens over many years. The analogy continues when it comes to editing, making sense of the mess. Presentation is considered. Similar items are compared; the weak examples are discarded. The collector asks: Is there an audience for this? Is supplementary information necessary? Is the collection explanatory or mysterious? What ties the various elements together—the collector’s personal interests, or a predetermined set of categories? Is it about repetition or variety? Does the collection continue to grow, or is it now closed?
Over the years, I've read various interviews with Fulford and attended a 10x10 Photobooks Salon where he presented and spoke about his work. He's an engaging, funny speaker, and like his interviews, enjoys speaking in riddles at times. His books are known for their rigorous, thoughtful editing and sequencing, playfulness and mystery.
I haven't seen everyone of his books, so my firsthand knowledge of them is minimal. One of the aspects about photography that can be frustrating accessing the great photobooks can be a challenge. Perhaps someday, they will be more easily available in digital formats.
Fulford's photographs and editing are excellent of course, but another aspect I really appreciate about this book is how it's structured around chapters. Each one has one line of text, mostly just two words each. They could be song titles, for....pick your genre. Or the entire list could be read as a poem.
After you read the chapter index you are off to the races. Each chapter has a group of photographs that play off of each other, and vary in their placement on the pages. There are no captions and no text other than the number of the chapter.
I haven't memorized the chapter titles yet, but that would probably create another interesting layer to the experience, kind of like knowing the song titles from an album.
As I was paging through it, I knew I was missing an angle, but I wasn't sure what. I put the book down for a few days, and went about my work, with the idea about time pushed into my subconscious.
On Friday, I made my first long walk in a couple of weeks. I walked up to Sauk River Regional park, and then took a route that was new to me.
On the way, I encountered the Heims Mills Canoe Access point, where the Sauk River meets the Mississippi. It's a cool little spot with some amazing views. It's named after Heims Mills which has been around since 1905. It's now used for feed.
I hopped on some big rocks to get onto the sand bar, and closer to the water. I piled some small rocks on top of each other (like Andy Goldsworthy,) walked the perimeter, taking it all in. It felt like a spot I'd be coming back to again.
Collecting locations in the geography is now part of my process. I use Google maps and make notes, and then slowly build out my list. I've been doing this for a few years now. That's my collecting part.
Now that my time in New York has closed, I am working through all the material I've collected in 12 years, but especially the last few years. The photographs and ideas evolve once you're away from the geography.
As I neared the end of the walk, Fulford's book entered my mind again. I liked the idea of 'gathering time' like a collector. As with most ideas, there are multiple ways of looking at it. For some artists, and photographers, time will not be important, nor will location or geography. They are operating with a different focus.
But I think if your practice involves walking the landscape, then you'll organically develop an interesting, and unique relationship with time. Perhaps during the hunter gatherer times we were the geography scouts, making notes about the borders, boundaries and anomolies in the landscape.
When I got home, I opened up the book again, paging through it, looking for a clue.
Then I arrived at the end.
There it is. An index of the photos that includes the location and the year. This is common in many photobooks, so it could just be convention, but I doubt it.
Perhaps Fulford is intentionally trying to communicate ideas about time and location by including this index at the end. Or maybe, he's just playing a small game with his audience. It might be an interesting question to ask him, but I suspect he'd probably dodge again, and give an elliptical answer, given what I've read in the interviews.
For now, 'Raising Frogs for $$$' has made me think about photobooks again for a bit, and now I remember what they can teach me. Sometimes it's all about timing.
- Excellent "Nighttime Walk with Garnette Cadogan" in Isaac Fitzgerald's 'Walk it Off: "Walking changes a space into a place. It changes the unfamiliar to the familiar. It turns a stranger into a passerby and possibly into a neighbor. A friendly face becomes an invitation. Exchanges of hospitality can turn into a conversation."
- Peter Galassi reviews American Geography: Photographs of Land Use from 1840 to the Present in Aperture
- Review of Sara Cywnar's show Glass Life in Hyperallergic: "Cwynar maps her films’ source material across history, theory, and price, creating a rich text that mirrors the networked, almost schizophrenic logic with which we have taught ourselves to use search engines and thus, navigate the internet."
- Jorg Colberg uses artificially intelligence to assist in writing a photobook review of Soft Copy Hard Copy by Stephan Keppel
- More distressing news: The oldest tree in eastern US survived millennia – but rising seas could kill it
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.
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