Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Bleeding London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bleeding London. Show all posts

Thursday, November 13, 2014

WALKING ON EMPTY



I just wrote a piece about a book titled 100 Not So Famous Views of L.A. by Barbara A. Thomason, for the Los Angeles Review of Books.  You’ll find a link at the bottom of this post: it’s an appreciation rather than a full on review.  The book contains 100 paintings of some of the more obscure parts of Los Angeles (though in fact some of them didn’t strike me as all that obscure) and you look at the paintings and you realize at once that there’s something off kilter about them but (in my case anyway) it takes a while to realize what’s making them seem off kilter.  The answer: with a very few minor exceptions there are no people and no cars in these pictures.


This is fascinating in several ways.  As a Los Angeles walker I do tend to notice other walkers, and although I’m not going to pretend that the streets of this city are packed with throngs of enthusiastic wandervogel, the fact is that I’m seldom the only walker on the street, there are usually a few (admittedly sometimes very few) others.


And in my role as hobbyist street photographer, when I take pictures on my walks I generally try to get at least one person in the frame, to add, you know, compositional and human elements.  But having seen Barbara A. Thomason’s book, I now look at the streets of L.A. with slightly different eyes, waiting for that moment when there’s nobody else on the street, or at least when I can take a photograph that makes it look that way.
                                            

In fact it’s not all that difficult to take a photograph of an L.A. street without any people, but it’s much harder (damn hard, usually) to take a photograph of an L.A. street without any cars.  And even when I do take such a picture, I know, and anyone who looks at the picture knows, that there are always cars lurking around corners or just out of sight.


And I found myself thinking about the Japanese photographer Mataska Nakano who published a book titled Tokyo Nobody which shows a totally empty Tokyo, without people or cars, though there are a few bikes around.  The book was published in 2000, and the project took over ten years.


I’ve never been to Tokyo, though I plan to go there one of these days, but even just from seeing pictures you know how crammed with people it always is, making Nakano’s work all the more extraordinary.  I’d guess that the photographs were taken very early in the morning on Sundays or public holidays but that doesn’t make them any less extraordinary, and it seems that Nakano wants to keep the mystery of how they were taken.  It’s generally stated by people who know about these things that he didn’t use any manipulation, he just watched and waited with the utmost patience.


 Los Angeles photographer Matt Logue was evidently a bit less patient.  His project and book is titled Empty LA – and I gather that his images are indeed manipulated, at least to the extent that he used super long exposure times so that a person or a car could pass through the scene and not leave a trace. 


 I can see how some people might think this is a kind of cheating, but in the end it’s the image that matters more than the process.  Photographs of completely empty freeways do make the head spin.  You could go to his website and buy his book if you liked (see below).


When I lived in a London I had a friend come to stay with me after he’d just returned from Thailand, and as we walked along what seemed to me averagely busy metropolitan streets he commented on how empty London seemed to him.  Compared with Thailand the streets were deserted. 

Cato Street, by rovingmike
And now, as the Royal Photographic Society’s Bleeding London gets ever nearer completion (a photograph of every one of London’s streets, inspired by my novel Bleeding London), with tens of thousands of the images to be seen online, it’s amazing how many of the participating photographers have chosen to represent the city devoid of people.

Portmeadow Walk, by cmansfield
And maybe this is how we really feel about cities.  We like the life, the action, the population, but when it comes right down to it we’d rather have the city all to ourselves.  Sure. there’s something scary and apocalyptic about being the last soul on earth, but it’s also exhilarating.  The city finally belongs to you and you alone, a single presence, a single viewer, a chance to walk all by yourself.  It might get lonely, but on balance you could probably live with that.  And, of course, as here in L.A., in this picture I took just a few days ago, you might have some animals for company.


My piece on Elizabeth Thomason’s book in the LARB is here:

Matt Logue’s Empty LA website is here:

 You can see some of The Bleeding London images here in this Flickr group:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WALKING BLOODILY



Back in the day, I wrote a novel titled Bleeding London.   Among many other things it contains a character called Stuart London who sets out to walk down every street in London.  He carries an A to Z with him, blacking out the streets once he’s walked them, so he ends up with a completely obliterated (and useless) map.  Go pick the symbolism out of that one, kids. 


         The book was considered a success (these things are always comparative). Time Out ran a piece titled “London’s Most Erotic Writers” and I came in 19th on the basis of Bleeding London, which I thought wasn’t bad, considering that Walter, author of My Secret Life came in number one, and Shakespeare came in number seven.  And I was thrilled to find that I was ten places ahead of JG Ballard. 


Over the years various people have wanted to “do something” with my novel, turn it into a movie, or TV series, or comic book.  I’ve always said, “Great, go ahead,” but ultimately nothing has ever come of it; it has steadfastly remained a book.  So when I got an email from Del Barrett of the Royal Photographic Society saying she wanted to curate a photographic exhibition based on Bleeding London, I again said sure, go for it, but never really expected to hear from her again.


         Oh me of little faith.  On the 15th of May I was in London for the official launch of Bleeding London: the exhibition, which according to the press release is “the most ambitious photo project that the capital has ever seen – to photograph every street in London.  Based on the Whitbread short-listed novel, Bleeding London by Geoff Nicholson, we are challenging Londoners and visitors to follow in the footsteps of Stuart London and cover the entire A to Z.” 

         If the standard A to Z is to be believed, that will involve covering 73,000 streets, an enterprise that sometimes strikes me as utterly insane.  At other times however, I think well, let’s imagine the RPS can round up 1000 committed photographers, that’s only 73 streets each, and these guys can take a couple of hundred pictures in a day, so that seems perfectly doable.  Here’s a picture (by Roger Kelly) of me and the infinitely generous, infinitely tireless (and infinitely able to marshal the troops) Del Barrett, at the launch party.  We're about to start obliterating London.


         Wanting to be involved, and determined to show willing, while I was in London I walked all the streets in a single square of the A to Z as determined by Del, covering part of Lewisham.  The annotations and the wear are all mine.  And frankly it was absolutely knackering, mentally as much as physically (although the expedition only took a little more than three hours), as I walked up Algernon Street and tramped along Marsala Street and flogged along Shell Street and meandered the length of Vicar’s Hill (among many others) and finally ended up in Loampit Vale, snapping as I went.


In fact I often carry a camera with me when I go walking, but if I take half a dozen photographs in the course of an afternoon I think that’s plenty.  Here there was the impetus, the necessity, of finding something to photograph in every single street.  You could argue that there’s something very democratic about this, maybe something very Zen.  Every street becomes equal, you have to find something of interest, something “worth” observing and photographing regardless of where you are.


It wasn’t always easy.  Certain streets seemed to offer multiple attractions, some seemed a bit dull, and offered nothing whatsoever at first glance.  The job therefore was to look harder, to see through the perceived dullness and find the things that are worthy of attention.  And although the majority of the streets were suburban and very quiet (I like suburban streets very much), there were some oddities, this thing, and I can’t decide if it’s a sidecar from a motorbike or a rocket ship from an old fairground ride (I suppose it's the former, but I hope it's the latter),


and a Zombie Outbreak Response Vehicle, among them.


Inevitably not every picture I took was massively interesting, and there was a certain reliance on my own set of clich├ęs: show me a corrugated metal fence or and I’ll snap away with the best.


And sometimes – and this was a curious and unexpected thing - the street signs themselves were as fascinating and picturesque as anything in the street.


All in all it was a strange mission, involving a curious sort of discipline.  It was definitely a walk with a purpose, but by no means a walk from A to B (let alone from A to Z).  It represented a way of exploring the territory, making it your own, exhausting it even as you exhaust yourself.  I write about this a lot in the novel.


And I kept thinking it was like a sort of minimalist or conceptualist art project, something Sol LeWitt would have approved of. I don’t claim that Sol LeWitt is a completely open book to me, but I do know that he said, "When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."  Who wouldn’t want that? 


I also discover that in his early work, LeWitt was influenced by Eadweard Muybridge’s serial photographs, not least of walkers.  Well yes.


You can find out a whole lot more about the Bleeding London, RPS project right here: