#48: Walking on Tree Stumps

#48: Walking on Tree Stumps

#IRunWithMaud / Right of Way by Angie Schmidt / "knowledge is more like a trail

Walking & process: The creative process has always fascinated me, sometimes even more than the final work. Back in 2014, I co-authored Photographers’ Sketchbooks with Stephen McLaren. For the book, we talked to over 40 photographers to learn how they develop their projects and sketch out ideas. It was an illuminating experience and one lesson I learned is to pay attention to the small ideas because they can evolve over time into something larger.

Sometimes that can happen in the field when you notice something for the first time and decide to make a photograph, or it can be a sudden flash of an idea, built from something you’ve been thinking about for days, months, years, decades. The key is to be attentive and follow your intuition.

The last few weeks, I’ve been sketching out a few new ideas while on my walks. Some times it’s a just a note in Google Keep, other times I’ll be inspired to do something right in the moment, like standing on tree stumps. The first time I stood on one, it felt silly for a moment, but as I took in the view, I felt my perspective change. The following times, I stood there for a few moments, looking in each direction, observing.

It’s a slight push, a small change of perception that feels important. The little gestures can build up into something bigger over time. I’m learning that these rituals are a way to help me stay attentive and in the moment, and that’s the larger life project, beyond art or looking silly for a moment in public.

I’ve also been saving the tree stump locations in a Google Maps list. I have a bunch of list now: desire paths, stairs, benches, pedestrian bridges, art ideas, film, trees, and few more. Each list is growing at it’s own rate, and when I pull them up on the map, I can spot some interesting patterns.

Five months ago, I wouldn’t have thought to use Google Maps as a sketchbook but now that it has been integrated into my process, it feels like a natural extension.

This focus on the details of the creative process has done wonders for me the last few weeks, as I look for ways to alleviate the anxiety over the pandemic. I’ve also realized that digging deeper into my creative process will lead to insights about the direction I want to take my career. I’m looking for was to integrate my passion for walking and art with my background in content and social marketing.

I don’t know how standing on tree stumps and mapping that experience will help me find my next gig but intuitively I know there’s a connection. I’ve been getting the small signals. I’m not going to ignore them. I’m going to keep looking.

For too long, the running community has pretended as though it were possible to keep politics out of running. As if, somehow, running is the great equalizer where people can come together and compete on an equal playing field, transcending all markers of identity. The truth is, when I go for a run as a black woman, that in and of itself is a political act and one that puts me at risk—fearing for my life. As long as we live in a world steeped in white supremacy—and we do—being a black woman will never be separate from my identity as a runner. I often think of this quote, from the hip hop artist Guante: “White supremacy is not the shark, it’s the water.” White supremacy is not just two white men with hate in their heart hunting down black men, white supremacy is also the initial, prolonged silence from sports publications on Ahmaud’s murder. - Alison Mariella Désir, Outside

Injustice: This tragedy is enraging, and I’m sorry that it only came onto my radar this week. I should have been paying more attention. Consider donating to the #IRunWithMaud Gofundme to help Ahmaud Arbery’s family. I will be following the case as it progresses. There needs to be justice.

Transportation journalist Angie Schmidt has a great book on the way about the current pedestrian safety crisis that I think will be a game changer.

In Right of Way, journalist Angie Schmitt shows us that deaths like Duarte-Rodriguez’s are not unavoidable “accidents.” They don’t happen because of jaywalking or distracted walking. They are predictable, occurring in stark geographic patterns that tell a story about systemic inequality. These deaths are the forgotten faces of an increasingly urgent public-health crisis that we have the tools, but not the will, to solve. As body count has risen, the reality has become impossible to ignore.

Schmitt examines the possible causes of the increase in pedestrian deaths as well as programs and movements that are beginning to respond to the epidemic. Her investigation unveils why pedestrians are dying—and she demands action.  Right of Way is a call to reframe the problem, acknowledge the role of racism and classism in the public response to these deaths, and energize advocacy around road safety. Ultimately, Schmitt argues that we need improvements in infrastructure and changes to policy to save lives.

I can’t wait to read this book when it comes out. When pedestrians are killed, it rarely makes news. They are just statistics. This is one area where I can relate because as a pedestrian, I’ve had so many close calls over the years, that one slightly different move, and I’d be one of the statistics. It pisses me off, and it pisses me off that we value people that drive cars more than pedestrians.

“Huxley believed that knowledge, even when empirically proven, is only ever a map, never a view of the territory itself. But perhaps it is not so stark as that: perhaps knowledge is more like a trail—a hybrid of map and territory, artifice and nature—wending through a vast landscape.” - Robert Moor, On Trails

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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