There’s a walk that I’ve found, only about ten minutes drive from here.
It’s one of those handy walks that you can make longer if you want to but works just as well as a short one, ideal for those times when you haven’t got long but just need to get outside at the end of the day, to connect back to the seasons, to breath in sky, fields, hedgerows, birdsong.
The first part of the walk runs along the road. I try and avoid roads normally but this one is as minor as can be, you might only see one car in half an hour or so, and there’s something about this quiet country road, running through the landscape, that adds to the effect.
I love the totality of the landscape here: the gates and ditches, field patterns, fence posts, the cows leaning over the hedges, the swallows darting overhead, the starlings looming on the darker nights, I love the field patterns and the signs of the crops, of work, of farming, of life.
I love the way everything bends, and curves.
I know that this landscape reminds me of the road I used to walk in Galloway, outside my previous house. And I know for that reason that this landscape reminds me of home.
Yet I also remember when I first went to Galloway, a place previously unknown to me, having the strangest, strongest feeling, the sense that this landscape, another lush and curving landscape, this landscape was reminding me, evoking memories of another place, although it wasn’t a place I (consciously) knew.
Rather it was the memory of a landscape that I’d dreamt about, or imagined, or read in the pages of a story, or found in the words of a poem.
Ambition is the picture you have at the back of your mind of how you would like things to look.
It’s the photographs you’d like to take or rather: the ones you’d like to be known for taking.
It’s the desire you have for the things you (secretly) want others to say about your work, and the qualities they’d notice.
It can be a force for good, pushing and nagging you to learn and to practice, to invest and to investigate, to make new connections and allow yourself to be challenged, and inspired.
It can also seriously get in the way of taking a photograph.
I think I notice photographic ambition most intently when I set it down, and pick up the camera.
It’s the lightness I feel, the absence of its weight.
When you put ambition down, that’s when the magic happens: when the world starts to move, and bend, and dance with you, to offer pattern, texture, colour, light, to offer invitation and challenge after prickly challenge, not of the abstract kind but the real: how to show the look of this day, this moment, this light, this patch of earth, never mind how it could look, but simply, how it does.
This is the second in a series of reflections on a single word. I’m choosing to explore the words in relation to photography, as part of my own learning. This week the word was ambition.
It wouldn’t be easy to put into words the various factors that took me to here.
It includes a wish (that no doubt many of us share) to move beyond the slick, glossy screens of digital technology, where things are so quickly swiped, clicked, liked, forgotten.
It includes a wish to learn to sloooow right down as part of the practice of photography.
It followed on directly from trying to learn more about the ‘proper’ functions of a camera and finding it frustrating to fathom what we’re asking a chip to do, when it’s expressed in the language of film that had real, tangible, chemical qualities ~ a physical reaction to light ~ and wondering if I would better learn by seeing how the real works, rather than the copy of it.
Perhaps there’s more to it than that.
Perhaps there’s less.
In any event, some or all of these things have got me experimenting with film.
I anticipate there might be further ripple effects.
Being alone is, for me, a necessary condition for slow, deliberate photography.
Although there are some people that I can happily walk with (well, one or two if I’m honest), walking with photography in mind is a different beast entirely, and is best practiced alone.
Alone offers the space and most importantly time: to mooch and meander, to notice without aim, to bend down, shuffle round or lie down on the warm earth, to watch and gasp in wonder without needing to explain why you’re taking so long, and what it is you’re looking at when there’s nothing apparently to see.
This kind of aloneness, walking with camera in hand, is, for me, a gift, and probably the main reason I am hooked on the practice of photography.
It is not just time out, but also time in: to really notice, to appreciate and wonder and connect, to be alone to be reminded, over and over, that you are not.
Reflections on being alone, as part of a new project sharing photographs based on a single word (a word a week, from David Whyte’s book Consolations). The word this week was alone. More on the project from the announcement post by Kim Manley Ort.