#47: Walking & First Principles Thinking

#47: Walking & First Principles Thinking

Topographic Study of a Tree on a Hill / ‘The Imperfect Atlas’ by Peter Funch / Men Don't F&!king Move Maps

Walking & Thinking: During the lockdown, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research not only about walking, but also about productivity, creativity and learning to learn.

It doesn’t take much time on social media to understand a significant portion of the digital economy is based on selling education and information products. This constant stream of information sells the promise of optimizing your productivity and building your skillstack to take advantage of new business and career opportunities.

There are numerous skills that an artist-maker-creator can learn online: how to edit video, or how to increase your newsletter subscribers, or how to develop a passive revenue stream, or how to bake sourdough bread (maybe not necessary for your career, but will keep you happy.)

One of my favorites is learning how to learn because if you don’t understand how to remember and utilize any of these new skills, what good are they? It’s something I have struggled with which is probably why I’m still learning to learn how to learn.

A few months ago, a friend recommended ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear so I subscribed to his weekly newsletter because I love newsletters and find them helpful. I started reading them every week because they were easily digestible and provided good, relevant productivity tips.

The weekly drip of emails eventually got me to click back to his website where I started reading his archive. One article led to two, three and then I found myself on his piece on first principles thinking. It’s useful primer on the topic and relevant to creative practice.

Be wary of the ideas you inherit. Old conventions and previous forms are often accepted without question and, once accepted, they set a boundary around creativity

This difference is one of the key distinctions between continuous improvement and first principles thinking. Continuous improvement tends to occur within the boundary set by the original vision. By comparison, first principles thinking requires you to abandon your allegiance to previous forms and put the function front and center. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the functional outcome you are looking to achieve?

Optimize the function. Ignore the form. This is how you learn to think for yourself.

I’ve been applying this to walking and art to see if I can dig deeper into my own motivation for pursuing both. Even if you have a firm understanding of your why, I think it’s still a useful process because it can help you uncover new ideas, and innovate.

I pursue and advocate walking for a few specific reasons:

  • Health: It keeps me in shape, and healthy. It’s my primary mode of exercise (I should do weight training, I know)
  • Wellness: It helps clear the mind and problem solve, provides space to think.
  • Creativity: It facilitates divergent thinking which leads to new ideas.
  • Art & Photography: Walking is how I create projects.
  • Community: Walking connects people: to your local community and town or city, and for me, with other walkers and artists interested in these topics.

While thinking about these first principles, I’ve also discovered that I want to use walking to help. I haven’t found the form for that just yet, but I have some ideas I’m sketching out further.

Photography: I enjoy when these type of projects come across my Twitter feed. The ritual of photographing the same place or subject repeatedly has fascinated me the last year.

Photobooks: Blake Andrews now writing for Collector Daily has a review of ‘The Imperfect Atlas’ by Peter Funch.

But a deeper consideration slots TheImperfect Atlas nicely into the Funch oeuvre. It’s now apparent that his interests have never revolved around urban life. Instead his projects deal with the long reach of time, and how it might be represented photographically.

As it happens, the planet is experiencing a broad time-based event right now: climate change. Global warming may be a cataclysmic process, yet its pace is still too gradual to fit comfortably within photography’s typical timescale. What to do? After some early conversations with Project Pressure, Funch put together a methodology. He began collecting old postcards of major Cascade peaks on eBay. As the most heavily glaciated region in the continental U.S., evidence of warming is right on the surface here. Funch used the old postcards as a baseline data set, and then sought to make his own contemporary record for comparison. Over the course of several trips between 2014 and 2016, he rephotographed the peaks from the same vantage points as the originals.

You’ll have to read the full review to learn the hook! But I do find these type of projects appealing these days. Photographing the same subject repeatedly takes patience, dedication and persistence. I new thought I would try, but once I did, I started to understand the appeal. It’s a thrill when you get to the spot and make a new image.


I’m a photographer, writer and creative collaborator working in New York City. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter

Way of the Walk is my weekly newsletter on walking, photography and creativity. Each week I share updates on my current walking projects as well as interesting creative projects and artists incorporating walking into their process. The podcast is just getting started, tune in!