Frank A. Mills

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"A Photographer's Journal"

Phil Smith looking down side walk stairway

"Phil Smith"

Revisiting Mythogeography: A Review

THE ARCHITECT-WALKER: A Mis-Guide, Wrights & Sites, Triarchy Press, Axminster, England, June 2018. ISBN: 978-1-911193-10-4; Paperbound, 119p, including references, $25/£20

RETHINKING MYTHOGEOGRAPHY in Northfield, Minnesota,John Schott & Phil Smith, Triarchy Press, Axminster, England, March, 2018. Introduction/Photography: John Schott. ISBN: 978-1-911193-38-8; Paperbound, 51p, $20/£15

A review in two-parts

Part 1, is essentially a review of both books. In “Disrupting the status quo of place,” I wrote about how mythogeography (Rethinking Mythogeography, Phil Smith) can be used to rupture an entrophic myth of place and to reverse the false connections brought about by that myth. The architect-walker (The Architect-Walker, Wrights & Sites) is the one who disrupts the invasive myth through playful intervention.

Part 2, Mythogeography & Photography is about a specific application of mythogeography and the playful dramaturgy of Wrights & Sites to photography. It also touches on the philosophy of photography. It is much more personal. It is going to be about how mythogeography and the role of the architect-walker has influenced both my thinking about photography and my actual photographic work.

Synopsis: THE ARCHITECT-WALKER: A Mis-Guide

Wrights & Sites, formed in UK in1997, is composed of four artist-researchers, Stephen Hodge, Simon Persighetti, Phil Smith, and Cathy Turner. The work of each is focused on our relationships to places, cities, landscapes, and walking. Individually, and as a group, they “employ disrupted walking strategies as tools for playful debate, collaboration, intervention and spatial meaning-making.” Their work, like walking, is meant to be porous. They hope others will read into it, draw from it their own connections, and find ways to fracture, erode, and distress specificities and temporalities of sites. As in their previous books, The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide seeks to pass on their dramaturgical1 strategies to the reader.

Synopsis: RETHINKING MYTHOGEOGRAPHY in Northfield, Minnesota

While on a two-week stint as Artist-in-Residence at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, Phil Smith undertook a re-examination of mythogeography as he explored the town. In his ambulation Phil conjured up a new understanding of mythogeography, one that is both urgent and connective. One that “tries less and engages more.” In Rethinking Mythogeography, Phil and photographer John Schott, through his documentation of Phil’s “The Blazing Worlds Walk,” demonstrate how we also can arrive at a new understanding of our surroundings, one that like in Northfield, is both urgent and connective. [Video of Phil talking about “The Blazing Worlds Walk”]


I’ve been a mythographic walker, or architect-walker if you prefer, for many years now. Well, actually I’ve always been one, although it has only been since the late, late, mid-90s that I’ve known how to describe it Up til then I was just simple flâneur on a dérive (experiential walk). It has been an integral part of my work as an urban consultant, as a university professor, a writer, and as a photographer. While I’ve realized for some time now how mythogeography influenced my view of the everyday, I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of my philosophy of photography until just recently.

That thinking began with a message from Phil Smith letting me know that he had a new work on mythogeography about to be released. In the past I have reviewed several of Phil’s works, and have used a couple as textbooks or recommended reading in my Urban Paradoxes course. I jumped at the chance to grab a review copy. I also discovered about the same time, that Wrights & Sites (whom I’ve also reviewed in the past), of which Phil is a part, have a new work coming out in June.

When I thought about writing the review I decided to write it in two parts, the first part as a review of the two books and the second part as an exploration of what these two works offer to me as a photographer.

Part One: Disrupting the Status-Quo of Place

Wrights & Sites and Phil Smith are closely connected. Each book, the astute reader will notice, overlaps the other. As noted above, Phil is a member of the four-member Wrights & Sites group that was formed in the UK in 1997.

In Rethinking Mythogeography, Phil seeks to find the magic of the everyday, of everyday places, in Northfield, Minnesota, while Wrights & Sites in The Architect-Walker explores ways to both rewrite and “re-right” the landscape through artistic walking disruption. In Rethinking Mythogeography Phil engages the incomplete myth of what happened in a way that allows a space (place) to fill the void with its own picture. In The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide Wrights & Sites explores ways that allows the architect-walker (the mythogeographer) to simultaneously be both the architect and the architecture, tools that open “playful debate, collaboration, intervention, and spatial meaning-making.”

Phil, in the introduction to Rethinking Mythogeography, defines mythogeography as “fidelity to the indecipherable.” Although a reading of the book will make what Phil means clear, the definition is perhaps a bit obtuse for the person new to the concept of mythogeography.

So, before the review, an explanation of mythogeography. . .

The term mythogeography rose from the work of Wrights & Sites’ site-specific performances. The concept of mythogeography draws from and is influenced by psycho-geography. Psycho-geography is the study of how place affect the psychological state of a person passing through the space. The environment of place, according to psycho-geography affects both the emotion and behavior of person. The term, coined by Debord2 in 1955, was conceptually developed by the Lettristes International4 and influenced theories of radical activism in the transformation of urban space. The Lettristes re-conceived the dérive, the act of ambulation, as a means of challenging the status quo.

Mythogeography is a way of thinking in new ways about the multiple meanings of place. The meaning of a “place,” more often than not, has have been forced into a single meaning that excludes other potential meanings (for example: heritage tourism, narrow cultural emphasis, stories of the place purposely left out of the narrative). When squeezed into a narrow view the place itself becomes restrictive and unobservable. Mythogeography seeks to challenge the status quo and to open up the space to all of its stories. To celebrate the multiple stories of place in ways that both weave and unweave – to engage and disrupt &211; the multiple meanings of a place.Mythogeography is a way of thinking in new ways about the multiple meanings of place. The meaning of a “place,” more often than not, has have been forced into a single meaning that excludes other potential meanings (for example: heritage tourism, narrow cultural emphasis, stories of the place purposely left out of the narrative). When squeezed into a narrow view the place itself becomes restrictive and unobservable. Mythogeography seeks to challenge the status quo and to open up the space to all of its stories. To celebrate the multiple stories of place in ways that both weave and unweave – to engage and disrupt – the multiple meanings of a place.

In Rethinking Mythogeography, Phil Smith seeks to open up the full story of Northfield, Minnesota, the story beyond the accepted myth. In The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide, Wrights & Sites explore tools that enable us to do so.

Now for the books. In Rethinking Mythogeography Phil works with the concepts advanced in The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide. So, let’s begin with The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide.

Intentional or not, I love the play on words that is found in the name, Wrights & Sites. A wright is a maker or builder, the architect who creates something to be sited in a space, a site. When we see that which is on the site, it becomes a sight.

Then there is "wright" and the homophones, "right," "write" and "rite." There is a certain right implied in being an architect-walker. We have the inherent right to occupy space as we walk. As we walk we write a new pattern on the history of that space where we walk, as well as write a new pattern in our mindbodies. And in a real sense, this walking-writing becomes the rite of reimagining/re-imaging, or re-wrighting, the space. Although not a architect in the strict sense, being an architect-walker is about architecting (building) a reimagined vision of a space.

“Bricklaying with daydreams, creative demolition, first aid for sick buildings, dissolving signs, speaking truth to architecture and mapping hallucinatory post-truth urban landscapes” (From the back cover of THE ARCHITECT-WALKER: A Mis-Guide)

Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide4 explores what it means to walk with the “architecture” of a space in mind without allowing the built architecture (physical, mental, stated history) of the space to interfere with our observations. The goal of being an architect-walker is to reimagine the fullness of a place, a fullness that is not limited by the observed myth (environment & accepted story), but one that is open to what is unobserved and unspoken, to all the unrealized potentialities of the place—past, present, and future. The goal of Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide is to see everything present – past, present, and future -- as porous layers that allow each layer to flow into the other in a way that causes up to speculate, to imagine, and to reimagine/re-image.

The introduction states, “We are all architect-walkers.” It ends with, by being architect-walkers we use our “mind-bodies to soak up and undo spectacular spaces and social media. Where (we) can, (we) sabotage the meeting places of globalism and loneliness …. (We) free the cosmopolitan canopy from its moorings (p.111).” The architect-walker provokes and occupies. The architect-walker, Wrights and Sites believe can bring down the established power with a new power simply by being present in a space.

Wrights & Sites began with large site-specific performances. Over the years they have evolved away that to become more of a drifting troupe , ambulant architects, exploring the gaps between things. The Mis-Guide portion of the title is an invitation to join Wrights & Sites in ascribing significance to place.

The “mis-guide” is not merely a guide to disruptive performance. It is rather more a tool manual that suggests tools that provocatively question the status quo, the power of establishment, the accepted story, or perhaps an injustice. It is “misguided” in that the tools offered as examples run counter to the tools offered by the Establishment.

A protest march, for example, is a disruptive performance, but rather than questioning the issue, it becomes confrontation between two versions of the status quo. Being an architect-walker is not about confronting, it is about the “performance” of questioning in a way that disrupts how we view a space. It makes no difference whether that space is mental or physical.

The “Mis-Guide” offers up such tools (performances) as rendering first aid to a sick building, hold up dissolving signs, the literal flogging of boundaries, creating imaginary graveyards, or the mapping of hallucinatory landscapes over the existing landscape.

Merely listing them does a disservice to both the book and the tools. Interspersed throughout the pages are lists of performance suggestions. In between are actual performances that have taken place. Each performance is described and explored. Each exploration further expands what being an architect-walker is all about. Sometimes this expansion of meaning is a few words given as part of the chapter on the performance. Other-times it is a deeper exploration of what it means to be an architect-walker. In these topics such as “leaving the building,” privilege, vulnerability and power are explored. Whether it is from the description and exploration of the performances or from the examination of what it means to be an architect-walk, one thing becomes very clear: Being an architect-walker is not a passive experience. It is an active experience that both feels the place and allows that feeling to change our perception of the place. The place becomes significant in entirely new ways.

Like The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide, Rethinking Mythogeography is sort of an evolution. For Wrights & Sites the evolution took place over the years, for Phil Smith, it was his two-week Artist-in-Residency at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota (2016), that caused him to reexamine his version of mythogeography. Actually, not so much an evolution, as it was a “blurting out of things” with an urgency. A realization of the seriousness of the “magic of the ordinary” and the “network of connections crying out (p.6),” needing to be made.

Rethinking Mythogeography is about Phil Smith learning in Northfield, Minnesota to “try less and engage more (p.7)” and of “urgency” of the mythogeographical pilgrimage, and the need to share it.

“Searching for the magic in the everyday? For the moment when we find a heightened understanding of ordinary things? For a way to welcome enchantment? (From the back cover of RETHINKING MYTHOGEOGRAPHY)

Again, like The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide, Rethinking Mythogeography is two books in one. As photographer John Schott explains in his introduction to the book, this little book of 51 pages is really two “documentations.” The first, on the left pages, a documentation of “The Blazing Worlds Walk,” with descriptions by Phil and photographs taken by John. On the right is the second documentation, Phil’s essays reflecting on mythogeography and what he learned in Northfield. Phil began writing these essays during his last days in Northfield. Both “documentations” need to be read simultaneously.

“The Blazing Worlds Walk,” I like that name. It conjures up both a bright, shiny world and the blazing of a new trail, a new story. The walk was part of Carleton College’s ten-week liberal arts celebration of walking, which John Schott describes as an “artistic practice and remarkably protean theme.”

The Walk was certainly not one that the Chamber of Commerce or the Historical Society would have conducted--abandoned buildings, plaques, a telephone pole, and a pizza joint, were all on the tour. It explored places that didn’t fit the accepted town myth, or when it did, it exploded those myths. Not by destroying them, but by enlarging with new stories. At each stop Phil Smith took on an “archeology of the devalued and ‘invisible’ that blended post-modern theory and … local history.” The walk became away for each participant to re-image their town.

Phil in his essays equates that walk with a pilgrimage. It, however, is not the usual kind of pilgrimage. There is nothing religious about. It is not some sort of special trip to arrive at a significant or holy destination. The pilgrimage that Phil ponders is one that we slip in and out of. It is a here and there journey in which we seek two things (p.11): First, to appreciate the sacredness of the journey itself. To understand that everything – even the journey – has a “need and right to be venerated.” Secondly, we seek to find ourselves on the “edge of the hidden and unrepresentable part and to learn how to protect its borders.”

It is a journey like that of the Grail Quest that learns to ask questions rather than seek answers. Ultimately, like the Grail Quest, it is about spiritual discovery and transformation. Not in any religious sense, rather in a way that recognizes the transforming power in our lives of the multiple meanings of place -- any place – and the veneration of each meaning.

According to Phil, any such pilgrimage is a disruptive walk that messes with our own pretensions and expectations. It critiques, enthuses, embraces, wrecks. It is walking, being still, reflecting, meditating. It is seeking dark places. It is being able to shut down and become, according to Smith, a blank sheet. It is about trying less and engaging more, of becoming entangled with the experiences. Letting things become through their own agency (2/Pilgrimage).

The problem, Phil believes, is that what we see as the big picture is too small, too parochial. It is in reality a deflated “bigger picture,” a picture deflated by a myth (story) of place that is not the full story. It is an incomplete story created by culture and need, yet one that is presented as the story. There is a silence, a void, that hangs around the peripheral.

In Rethinking Mythogeography, Phil explores this idea from the perspective of Northfield and lack of narrative. For Northfield the “town myth” is built upon a raid by the Jessie James Gang on Northfield’s First National Bank and the heroic actions of the tellers that stopped the raid. It has become a “socialized media hallucination (p.10)” comprised of contemporary retellings melded with grizzly photographs, books and clippings written after the fact, a movie, and Northfield’s annual reenactment of the event. The glorified myth overwhelms, according to Phil, other ways of understanding the town and thus creates both a void and an unrecognized inability to move the town forward. Northfield is in lock-stepped with its myth, forever locked in the past.

The concept of town myth as an inhibiting myth is explored in Rethinking Mythogeography through the questioning of observations and rite of wandering. As Phil explores, the accompanying “Blazing Walk” documentation adds insight to his musings and thoughts on how to elucidate the larger narrative.

There’s an urgency in this, in that the connection to a narrow myth of place brings about an ideological entropy that hangs about and permeates the culture. This is what is happening to Northfield, but it is also happening where we live. The urgency to break the confines is not just found in Northfield. It is found everywhere.

The goal of mythogeography, we are told, is to rupture the entropy and reverse false connections. The goal of mythogeography is to “connect texture and detail to the big picture and how, as a common practice it can change situations and not just comment on them (p. 51).”

As I said at the beginning, both Phil Smith and Wrights & Sites have influenced my thinking about photography. In the next part, I will explore the ideas in both works, Rethinking Mythogeography, The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide as I see them applying to photography and the philosophy of photography.


About the Authors

Phil Smith is an Associate Professor (Reader) in the School of Humanities and Performing Arts at the University of Plymouth. He has written several books on mythogeography and published papers in “Studies In Theatre” and “Performance Research,” along with other journals. He is a member of Wrights & Sites

In addition to Phil Smith, the others involved in the writing of The Architect-Walker: A Mis-Guide are:

Stephen Hodges, an artist-academic-curator whose work lands within the territories of live art and interdisciplinary spatial practices. Stephen is Associate Professor in Live Art + Spatial Practices, Head of Drama, and Director of Arts + Culture at the University of Exeter, where he is an active member of the Centre for Contemporary Performance Practices. Website

Simon Persighetti, a Doctor of Ambulant Investigations. As an artist, performance-maker and writer, his practice lives in the re-imagining of cities, towns and landscapes through an active and playful engagement with people and place.

Cathy Turner, an Associate Professor in Theatre and Performance at the University of Exeter. She has published widely on Dramaturgy and Site, including Dramaturgy and Performance (2008, co-author Synne Behrndt). Personal Blog

Notes:

1. Dramaturgy arises from the research of Erving Goffman (1922 – 1982) on symbolic interaction between people. With the publication of his The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956) this research became known as “dramaturgical analysis.” Goffman, influenced by the theatre, where the “drama of everyday life” was acted out, dramaturgy became at its simplest is about “front stage” and “back stage.” The “front stage” is the mask we present to society. The “back stage” is the real us. In terms of mythogeography, the “front stage” is the “established story,” such as the Jessie James town myth of Northfield, MN. The “back stage is the expanded story that incorporates the “other” into the myth, while admitting that even this is incomplete.
2. Guy Debord (1931 – 1994) coined the term psychogeography in his Introduction to a critique of urban geography (1955). He defined it as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.”
3. The Lettristes International (1952 - 1957), gave rise to the Situationists, of which Guy Debord was a founding member, and influenced theories of radical activism in the transformation of cities. They viewed the dérive, the act of ambulation (literally, “drifting”) as a means of challenging the status quo. The Lettristes Movement (mid-1940s) had its roots in both DaDa and Surrealism.
4. The Architect-Walker: Manifesto and Manifestations (pdf)

Part 2, Mythogeography & Photography is about a specific application of mythogeography and the playful dramaturgy of Wrights & Sites to photography. It also touches on the philosophy of photography. It is much more personal. It is going to be about how mythogeography and the role of the architect-walker has influenced both my thinking about photography and my actual photographic work.

APPLICATION

It has been said that the camera is the great leveler: It puts everything within the photo on equal terms. It has also been said that it is the image that raises, and questions, expectations. This seemingly paradoxical conundrum can only be resolved if we differentiate between “photo” and “image.” A “photo” (or “photograph”) simply put, is a picture of what the camera sees. An “image” on the other-hand is a visual representation, a likeness, of what the photographer saw. An “image” then is the “photo” tweaked to visually represent what the photographer saw in his mind. This is not the same as enhancing a photo to make it “look better.”

In terms of mythogeography, the photo is what we “expect to see,” i.e., the common understanding, the understood “myth of place,” while the image is what we observe if we look beyond what is the expected. Depression Era photographer, Walker Evans, called this sort of photography, lyrical documentary. For the photographer, lyrical documentary, is what Wrights & Sites calls, dramaturgy.

Whether we call it “lyrical documentary (photography)” or “photographic dramaturgy,” it is a skill that must be cultivated. A “good photo” is a technically a correct one. A “good image” is a photo that has been developed and refined to meet the expectation in the eye of the photographer’s vision. In other words, an “image” represents what the photographer saw in his mind, his vision. A “good image” conveys all, or some, of the photographer’s vision to the viewer. Technical prowess does not produce such an image, although it can help. The actual ability to arrive at a “good image” must be cultivated, developed, and refined.

I’ve been a mythographic walker, or architect-walker if you prefer, for many years now. Well, actually I’ve always been one, although it has only been since the late, late, mid-90s that I’ve known how to describe it Up 'til then I was just simple flâneur on a dérive (experiential walk). It has been an integral part of my work as an urban consultant, as a university professor, a writer, and as a photographer. While I’ve realized for some time now how mythogeography influenced my view of the everyday, I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of my philosophy of photography until just recently.

That thinking began with a message from Phil Smith letting me know that he had a new work on mythogeography about to be released. In the past I have reviewed several of Phil’s works, and have used a couple as textbooks or recommended reading in my Urban Paradoxes course. I jumped at the chance to grab a review copy. I also discovered about the same time, that Wrights & Sites (whom I’ve also reviewed in the past), of which Phil is a part, have a new work coming out in June.

Since discovering mythogeography, the works of both Phil and Wrights & Sites have become a source of inspiration for my wanderings and urban projects. Anyway, not to belabor the point, I strongly recommend both of these books to everyone who is “searching for the magic in the everyday.”

When I thought about writing the review I decided to write it in two parts, the first part as a review of the two books and the second part as an exploration of what these two works offer to me as a photographer.


This brings us to our two books: THE ARCHITECT-WALKER (Wrights & Sites) and RETHINKING MYTHOGEOGRAPHY (Phil Smith). And here is where it becomes personal.

Many photographers call themselves “wandering photographer.” I have done the same. I have often referred to myself as a wandersmänner (wanderer), and to some extent, a flâneur. However, a “wandering photographer” is not necessarily a mythogeographic walker (Phil Smith’s term) or an architect-walker (Wrights & Sites term). Merely wandering doesn’t cut it. Becoming a mythogeographic-walker, an architect-walker is something that is intentionally practiced, something that is developed and refined over time. I am working on becoming a mythogeographic photographer.

The mythogeographic work of Phil Smith and the dramaturgy of Wrights & Sites has long influenced how I see my environment, built and otherwise. I’ve used it in my urban consulting as well as the basis for my “Urban Paradox” course. What I have discovered as I revisit my photography is that both have influenced how I look through the camera’s “eye” and what I see, as well as how I transform the photo into an image. Nevertheless, I am still working on becoming a mythogeographic photographer, a photographer-architect-walker.

In a way it is ironic. I have tried hard in some of my photographic work to emulate Depression Era photographers, without realizing that they too were mythogeographic photographers and photographer-architect-walkers. Even if those terms were unknown to them.

Walker Evans developed a photographic style – “lyrical documentary,” he called it – that is more poetic, more fictional, than a photo-journalistic document or a snapshot. According to Evans, it is a photography that is more personal and perhaps even more honest than traditional photography. A photography that captures “both the ethos and pathos” of a thing or place. Walker spoke of a photography that captured that ineffable sense that differentiates one place from another, one person from another.1

Another Depression Era photographer, Dorothea Lange, who described herself as a “solitary,” believed that “seeing” is more than a physiological phenomenon. “We see,” Lange said, “not only with our eyes but with all that we are and all that our culture is.”2

As with both Evans and Lange, the mythogeographic photographer is a “see-er,” a “seer” if you will. Not a fortune teller, but rather a seer in the original meaning of the word, “a person who see something specified” within what they are seeing. In other words, meaning. But not just meaning—a seer sees meaning that is disruptive to the expected, to the status-quo, or what Phil Smith calls the “accepted myth.” A seer sees, as Phil would say, with a “fidelity to the indecipherable.” That, of course, raises the question how can I as a photographer see with a “fidelity to the indecipherable”? How can I create an image that is faithful rendition of the indecipherable?

Honestly, I wish I had an easy answer to that. I know it can be done. I have on occasion done so. Both Rethinking Mythogeography (Phil Smith) and The Architect-Walker (Wrights & Sites) provides some clues to help us along the path.

The mythogeographic photographer sees what is disruptive to the common mythos of the observed scene. The photographer-architect-walker uses the image, i.e., the “developed” idea of what the photographer saw, to disrupt what others expect to see when they view the image.

To put it mythogeographical terms: Lyrical photography, the photography of both Evans and Lange, is photography that causes the viewer to see beyond the “established myth” of place. Photography that allows people to re-imagine – re-image, if you will – new stories, stories that porously meld together what is seen with the eyes and what is seen with the heart. Lyrical photography then, is that photography, like architect-walking, that challenges the established myth, the status-quo.

Still begs the question, “Does my photography do that?”

Before I go any further, I must clarify something: Lyrical photography – mythogeographic photography – is not professional photography, if by that term you mean the photography one earns a living by. Both Evans and Lange were also studio photographers, and both actively sought commissions. It is interesting to note that the images remembered today are not those which were commissioned studio works.

To be honest, people prefer not to have their preconceived, and often cherished, ideas disrupted. Thus, most people, when it comes to purchasing photos will gravitate to those photos that convey the world, and their place in it, as they perceive to be.

Still…

Mythogeographic photography is a must if the world is to change. Phil Smith writes in Rethinking Mythogeography with a sense of urgency. He writes that the “magic of the ordinary” needs to be realized, and that the “network of connections crying out (p.6)” needs to be heard. Mythogeographic photography brings to life “magic of the ordinary” and causes the “networks of connections crying out,” to be heard with the heart’s eye.

But back to that personal question, “Is my photography mythogeographic photography? Do my images cause the viewer to re-imagine his or her perceptions? Are they disruptive enough to make the re-imagining something other than fleeting?

The answer?
Sometimes yes,
Sometimes no.
I want for the answer to always be a loud, “YES!” Hopefully, that will come in time.

There is another question I also ask myself, “Is there a way to make even my ‘professional photography’ mythogeographic photography?” I think there is, but to do so is going to require that I need to help those commissioning me, or purchasing my work, to see the world a bit differently.

Borrowing from “The Architect-Walker: Manifesto & Manifestations,”3 I have adapted some of Wrights & Sites ideas into my functioning as a photographer-architect-walker, using them here and there to make me re-see what I think I am seeing. Last week while on a photo-jaunt, I realized that I often use one or another without realizing I am doing so. Even better, while showing a shop-keeper my work she got it, and asked to sell some of the images in her shop.

I haven’t quite become a mythogeographic photographer, but I am on my way.

Here, in no particular order, are some of those I’ve adapted to help me become more of a mythogeographic photographer. Some are simple exercises, camera in hand; others are ones that help me refocus my eye-mind-heart sight. There are those that help me see more deeply, to see that which goes unobserved in the midst of the observed, to see with a “fidelity to the indecipherable."4 There is one premise that underlies each exercise: All space is living space, as such there are emotions to be felt.

• When I wander I often employ “disruptive wandering strategies” to create potential for surprise. I will wander down an alley, peak into a back yard or through a door.

framing space

• Often I will stand in a vacant lot and have a conversation with the lot, wondering what the vacant lot and buildings on either side saying to each other. I wonder what they have going on?

• Sometimes when wandering, a song or a phrase will come into my mind. I let that song or phrase interact with what’s around me.

• I talk, but mostly listen. I talk with myself about what I see, what I am doing. I listen to what I say. I listen to what my surroundings are saying. I talk with my surroundings. I talk to passer-bys.

• There is in me some sort of empathy for the decaying and dead zones. I can’t explain it, but it does cause me to search out the decaying zones and the dead zones. I try to feel their pulse (or lack of pulse) and their emotions. I try to hear what they are saying. But to understand, I must also search out the thriving zones for they also speak and in so doing often illuminate what the decaying and dead zones are saying.

• I try to take time to feel the space beneath. I try to let both my heart and mind, as well as my eyes, guide me. [I sometimes just start shooting away, often I find that in doing so I have allowed my mind-heart-eye combination to click the shutter.]

• Time effects both the Present and our observation of the Present. Thus, I vary the times that I shoot as a photographer-architect-walker. For the photographer-architect-walker the only “Golden Hour” is that A-Ha moment.

• “Hazards” are something I consciously add to my wandering. Rather than taking the simple, the obvious path, I will choose the more difficult one. I find that this not only changes what I see, it often challenges how I see.

• I let my imagination wander along with my feet. I wonder about what was once there. Why it is no longer there. Why what is there is there. Even, what might be there in the future. I often try to layer these images on top of each other to create a multi-layered image and then seek to create it as the end product of the photo-image.

• Reflections, I love reflections, the stories they tell. I shoot through windows. I savor dirty windows. I seek imaginary ghosts. Frequently when I shoot through a window, “ghosts” appear in the image. Not how did they get there, but why (in a meta sense) are they there? What are they saying?

drive in

• I see signs as signs of what was and might be, seeking to explore the “was” and “might be” through my images.

• Shooting sitting down, laying down, shooting through my legs, from a wheelchair or out a dirty window changes both how I see and what I see. Likewise, I often shoot from positions and angles that I would not normally shoot from.

• Sometimes I try to put my mind in an imaginary liminal space that is not here nor there, one thing or another, and then shoot from that space. For me, this is a hard space to place myself in. I find that it comes easier when I have no agenda about what I want to shoot.

• Sometimes I need to “reconfigure” my perspective. To do so, I might stand in one spot and turn, clicking the shutter every couple seconds with no regard to what I am actually capturing. I hold the camera high and low, at angles, and sometimes even behind me. I might even shoot “through me.” Or I might lay out a shape that approximates my bodily dimensions, and then walk it, shooting as I move around in it. Sometime I just wander about, shooting away with no thought to subject matter or composition. This is when I most often come the closest to that liminal space.

• This is a fun one for me. It always makes me see differently. I take someone with me and shoot through there eyes at what they see from the space they point out. What makes it fun is that more times than not we each see something different in the image, and we each learn through the other’s eyes.

• I am still working on: The carrying of an imaginary photo image in my mind and taking shots that conform to that imaginary image.

• Have no agenda, other than an agenda to make images. I find that when I predetermine what shots I want to take, I rarely get anything that speaks to the photographer-architect-walker in me. It is those fortuitous shots that I come upon that do so.

• Sometimes I will see objects within other objects. I speculate about the relationship between those objects Which object enhances the other? What would be loss if one or the other object was not there? Is there a way to capture this as an image? (Sometimes I have been know to place one object within another to create an entirely totality.)

stone in puddle

• I love photographing shadows. I will often play with linear shadows in post-production. The result always makes me see the subject differently, and in so-doing I learn something (or makes me want to learn something) that I didn’t know about the subject.

• Form follows function, or so they say. I try to make play the function as I click the shutter. I find this to be an especially good axiom to follow when I shot a portrait. For me, play is the opposite of posing. It also has the potential of making the photo into an image. (Perfect for lifting “professional photography” into the realm of mythogeographic photography.

• Along these same lines, as I look through the viewfinder I often imagine how I might wiggle what I see into something else, whether it be a different shot, or multiple renditions of the same image. Sometimes I will create dozens of the same photo differently. Each makes me see the subject a bit differently. I recently did this with some photos of people at a soda fountain. They liked the images better than the photos (See first paragraph under “Application.”)

• I like to create my own disruptive photo-ops, such as drawing in sand or creating beach architecture out of driftwood. They disrupt the flow for a while, but eventually the flow disrupts them. To capture that disruption in the image is the goal.

beach architecture

• Since a kid, I have loved fantasy. For me, creating fantasy from a series of photos changes how I see. What I have started with becomes something else. This then makes me speculate, what was it that I actually started with? How does that enter into the fantasy? For example, I have two ongoing series that uses store mannequins to tell two different stories. One is, “Shopping with Mani Kin and Friends.” Here the mannequins are photographically manipulated to create a story (with text). The second is “Millinery.” In this series, mannequin heads wearing hats become “people” modeling hats. Now, when I walk into a shop, I see that shop differently. I am looking for mannequins, but the context is also important. My vision has changed.

dummy in car

• I tend not to take too many notes. If I forget why I took a photo, I am forced to see the photo in a different way.

• I love messing with my photos as I refine them. I will use photo-manipulation software, and other software, as much as I need to get the image I saw in my mind when I took the shot. And to be honest, as I refine the photo I often discover all sorts of things I didn’t even realize where there when I took the shot. Many time these are the very “things” that make the image a disruptive one.

• Use software, as much as I want to is for me not a “no-no.” I use software to alter the photo into an image, an image that recreates what I felt, or disrupts my thinking.

• It has been hard for me, but I am becoming better at saying, “Dang the rules! “

SUMMARY

Photography is literally written by light, or “light-writing.” Lyrical photography – mytheographic photography – is about feeling that light. Lyrical photography – mythographic photography –is about memories and mysteries. About enlarging our own personal human myth, filling the voids that we have left with our narrow, acculturated, unconnected memories. It can be justly questioned if the final image does not mean more to the photographer than to the subject. This is mytheographic photography. This is being a photographer-architect-walker.

Notes:

1. Walker Evans: Lyric Documentary, John T. Hill, Steidl, 2006.

2. When Dorothea Lange calls herself a “solitary,” she is an “architect-walker.” Lange says that she came to the idea that “seeing” is more than a physiological phenomenon during her years as a seventh and eighth grader when she aimlessly dawdled around New York City’s Lower East Side between the time school let out and the time she arrived at the library where her mother worked that she formed her idea of what was beauty and how it might be conveyed. For Lang beauty was found in the multifaceted faces of poverty. Yet as someone from the solid middle-class she was ambivalent, and that too affected her way of see. It is during these solitary walks that she began to understand that “seeing” is more than a physiological phenomenon. Certainly if we explore Lange‘s images we can see that.

Linda Goodman in her extensive biography of Lange says it is during this period that Lange developed her persona as a “Walker in the City.” (Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits, Linda Gordon, W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 2009.)

3. “The Architect-Walker: Manifesto and Manifestations, “ Wrights & Sites Link to Manifesto

4. In the listing of exercises I often use the words, “talk,” and “hear.” I try to hear with my eye, my mind, and my heart. I frequently talk out loud, but I try to let my mind and heart form the words. Maybe a better way of saying this is that I try to feel, and hold a conversation with, the emotion of the space.

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