Drifting and striding 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.

Friday, May 31, 2013


Here’s something from Henry Rollins’ column in this week’s LA Weekly:

“I don't do much walking in Los Angeles. I am sure there is a lot to enjoy as a pedestrian in our city, it just never occurs to me to do it. Years ago, when I lived in Silver Lake, I used to walk for miles all the time. As I would make these epic, biped journeys into Hollywood to see shows, I always had the same feeling that I wasn't really going anywhere except deeper into the seemingly endless sprawl of Sargassoid stucco.
“In Washington, D.C., I walk for hours, take a break for food or writing and then set out again. Most of my walks are referential, having to do with music. Places I saw bands, places where bands used to practice, houses I used to hang out in and listen to records. I go to these places over and over again, decade after decade. I know that sounds strange and it probably is, but to me, it's like a Kata or a meditation. The walk, the arrival at the spot. A moment to dwell on the significance and then to walk elsewhere, is to me what it means to be 'poetry in motion.'"

I think any even half-way serious walker would completely agree with what he says in the second paragraph; I think we’re talking psychogeography, or deep topography, or conceivably Proustian remembrance.  I’ll drink to that.

But I wonder if I get his point in the first para. “Endless sprawl of Sargassoid stucco” is a nice, if slightly opaque, phrase, and I assume it’s a reference to the Sargasso Sea: a two million square mile gyre (another nice phrase) – i.e. rotating currents - in the middle of the North Atlantic. It’s a seaweed-choked place of mystery, discovered by Columbus, where ships have historically been becalmed and where uncanny things have happened.  These days apparently it’s also a vortex of swirling plastic waste, much like the North Atlantic Garbage Patch.  So, not much walking to be done there.

Still, be that as it may, I think I’m enthralled by the idea of walking “deeper into the seemingly endless sprawl of Sargassoid stucco,” in fact I think it’s what much what I do it all the time.  Here’s a pictures of Henry Rollins, walking (sort of), not in seaweed, but on the red carpet:

Sunday, May 26, 2013


And speaking of Garry Winogrand, as I often do (that's him above),there’s currently a huge exhibition of his work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  Winogrand hated the term “street photographer” but most people would think that’s precisely what he was.  The thing about street photographers is that they walk the streets themselves and take lots of pictures of other people who are also walking.  I find this enormously appealing.

Winogrand was a New Yorker, through and through, who grew up in the Bronx, and I think it’s fair to say that the majority of his best pictures were taken in New York, but he worked plenty of other places too.  There was a great early series that became a book, The Great American Rodeo.  He even took some pictures in England. 

Towards the end of his life he moved to Los Angeles and took a lot of pictures there too.  By then however he wasn’t doing much walking.  He got people to drive him around and he took pictures out the windows.  The received wisdom is that this isn’t the very best way to take photographs, certainly not “street photographs,” and that it indicated a great falling off in the quality of his work.  This is an occasion when The recievde wisdom appears to be true.

However,  I just found the wonderful picture above by Ted Pushinsky showing Winogrand on Hollywood Boulevard, at the corner of Whitley Avenue.  Winogrand was, however briefly, a genuine Hollywood Walker. He does look a little overdressed, but then so do the other people in the picture.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


 I’ve been doing some walking in Manhattan.  I didn’t go there specifically to do any walking but, as I’ve said many times before, New York is a place where people end up doing a lot of walking, whether they intend to or not.  And I think there’s something suitably Zen about this, that some of the best walks happen when you don’t intend to do a “walk.”

It was when I lived in New York that I first started carrying a camera with me full time, sometimes walking the streets pretending to be Garry Winogrand, or someone.  Of course, New York explodes with quirky, unexpected, eye-catching details, and characters. Even so I was slightly surprised to find this sign on a street in Hell’s Kitchen, on a day in mid-May when the temperature was pushing 80 degrees F.

It reminded me of my favourite bit of New York street art, this wonderful faux Ed Ruscha piece - not quite a mural, since it's not painted directly on the wall  - at the Gaseteria at the corner of Houston and Lafayette. 

Obviously it didn’t always have a pile of snow in front of it, but having taken the picture, that’s the way I always remember it. There’s still a gas station on the site, but it’s no longer the Gaseteria, just a BP station, thriving as far as I could tell, with many yellow cabs using it, and the faux Ruscha has gone - perhaps even to a loving home.  This is not surprising and it would have been absurd to "preserve" it in perpetuity, but still, I sort of miss it.

My wife and I were walking down Fifth Avenue and we were discussing the women and high heels in New York.   She said that she wasn’t seeing any New York women in high heels.  This surprised me.  When I lived there my impression was that the streets were full of them, and then as if to prove my point, up ahead I saw a very well-dressed woman wearing extremely high heels, a woman, it must be said, who looked amazingly short, which was perhaps why she needed the heels.

And then, a split second later, I realized this was a “famous person” – Nina Garcia – one of the judges of Project Runway (yes, yes, my wife sometimes makes me watch it) and also Creative Director of Marie Claire Magazine, whatever that might involve. Nina was struggling to find the right shiny black SUV that was there to take her wherever she was going next.  There were quite a few of them parked in the vicinity, and the streets and traffic of New York were unrelenting.  The first shiny black SUV she went to wouldn’t let her in.  She did some yelling, both at the driver and into her cell phone.  I reached for my camera. 

I got a shot, though alas I couldn't get the shoes.  I felt like Garry Winogrand, or maybe Ron Galella.

Monday, May 6, 2013


And speaking of John Keats and things writ in, or on, water, I discovered an Italian “street artist” named Guildor who cuts letters out of foam and arranges them into words and phrases containing vaguely uplifting sentiments (in Italian), phrases like “Think thoughtless,” “Love, let the rest flow,” or “Happiness happens.”  At least that’s how they were translated by the New Yorker.  He then ties the letters together using nylon cord and floats them on the surface of Italian rivers; I’m not honestly sure which rivers to be honest.

This reminds me of a time I went walking by the canal in Sheffield a few years back.  Growing up in Sheffield I never even knew there was a canal, but now that the heavy industry has died in Sheffield, many of the remaining industrial relics have been cleaned up, turned into heritage, and made accessible as a walking route.

I was there by the Sheffield canal one Sunday afternoon with a companion, and we were walking on the towpath and suddenly we saw a big foam letter floating along the canal towards us.  It was the letter Y.

Now, my pal, a man of spiritual inclination and yearning, suggested that the universe was sending us a message, encouraging us to consider the big questions: Why? Why indeed?  Why anything?  I, being less that way inclined was reminded of the old Simpsons episode, you know the one with Ringo Starr, in which Marge becomes a painter, and there’s a show in an art gallery and one of the  paintings looks like this:

Still, it was a good walk by the Sheffield canal.  And there are many, far worse things to find floating in the water than a big foam letter.