Header image for Walk Rhythms, SMS Publishing

Grand Dawdlers —

Last week I announced an upcoming walk across a big chunk of Japan. Towards the end I asked for your help: What do you want to see from the walk? How should I best capture it?

Oodles of you wrote in with excellent advice. Yes, even you, guy who made me laugh uncomfortably by writing, “just fucking walk.” Adding, “Thoreau woundn’t have given. A rat’s ass about what type of watch to wear.” Thank you. I’m reading all of your messages (and trying to respond to as many as possible).

Over in the next Roden I’ll write (future tense; arriving in a day or two): “Walks are nothing if not rhythmic. Steps, breaths, days, etc. A walk over the course of six weeks is a set of polyrhythms at different scales.“

Part of the rhythm of this upcoming walk is photography. I have been sifting through monographs over the last week, taking notes. I’m interested, as always, in the mundane shot well. Holly Andres, Stephen Shore, Sian Davey and more. Alec Soth’s “I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating” is exceptional. And his conversation with Hanya Yanagihara is … well, just put everything down and go read it. It makes the images even more impressive.

When Hanya asked Alec to describe his work, this is what he had to say:

That’s what I’m struggling with. I can give a super-long answer. But the short one that I’ve been giving — portraits and interiors wherever I travel: I can feel how unexciting it is. It’s just not sexy. Whereas if you say something like, “I’m traveling along the Mississippi River,” people get it. They can hang onto that.

OK. I’m in. You’ve got me.

Josh Miller, Hursh Agrawal, and Josh Lee have hacked together a publishing experiment for me for this walk. I’d love for you to join in. It’s SMS based, photography focused. You’ll get one image a day.

The crux of the experiment is threefold:

  1. I am curious about using the network to publish without being used by it.
  2. I am curious about fleeting, non-permanent online gatherings.
  3. I’m curious about drawing “edges” around walks.

And here are the full parameters of the experiment:

  1. From April 15th to May 14th I will publish one image each day from my walk.
  2. You can respond over text to the image BUT …
  3. I won’t see the texts; they’ll be collated on the server and associated with the image.
  4. On May 14th, all of your numbers will be removed from the system and the “transmission” will end.
  5. A book will then be automatically generated with images on verso (left) pages, and associated responses on recto (right) pages.
  6. That book will be print-on-demanded to my home in Japan.
  7. I’ll see it all if I survive the walk and make it back.

You can subscribe to this experiment by texting “walk” to the following number:

(If you press and hold on that number on your phone, it should pop up a “send a message” option.)

Your number will be used for this experiment and this experiment only. You can opt-out at any time by texting “stop” to the system.

I see this as a forcing function embedded within the rhythm of the day. I arrive at the inn. Am forced to collate the day’s images. Cull. Cut. Pick one. Push it out. But push it out to a system that doesn’t pull: SMS. Unadorned. No stream. No stories. The best aspects of the network without having to fight the network. And the benefits of real-time communication / response, time-shifted, un-real-timed, put in a book, something to close the loop when I return home.

It feels right to me. Do you all dig?

I like how Alec describes his first understanding of the power of a little peek:

When I was in high school, I used to deliver Chinese food. I loved that moment when the customer opened the door and I could peek into their interior world. It always felt magical and mysterious. Being a photographer is an excuse to invite myself inside and look around. Sometimes I wish I could just look at the person in the room without ever talking.

Thanks for hanging.

More next week,

Your gentle weekly reminder: This newsletter is made possible by members of SPECIAL PROJECTS. If you’re enjoying it, consider joining. Thanks. (We’re just a few folks away from 300 members; help push it over?)

Fellow Walkers

“Torn from the hills of the English Lake District and currently in the Netherlands where all the nature is tended to or built. Plotting escape.”

“I am the son of a sculptor and a seamstress, from a 2000 year old rural town which, for a period, oscillated between being part of the French empire and the Dutch kingdom. The industrial revolution made it so that people who used to work the land were forced underground to work in the mines instead. A local saying suggests that when angry it’s best “make a fist inside your pocket”, rather than showcase your frustration as it could get you in trouble with the powers that be. I think it’s still a saying that carries through a lot of what goes on there. I, of course, moved very far away.”

“‘Home’ for me was the several weeks our family of four spent on a 32ft sailboat every summer, drawing criss-crossing lines between the 20,000 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago.”

“ I’m from low lands: The Netherlands, AKA Holland (named incorrectly for a lot of my countrymen, including my love, but correctly for me). I love the flatness of our green agricultural fields. Here in the west you can ride through farmland on your bicycle from city to city to visit friends. When I was a teenager and fighting my parents, I used to cycle to the dunes and our moody grey sea. After an hour or so, I’d be tired and empty and ready to go back. “

(“Fellow Walkers” are short bios of the other folks subscribed to this newsletter. In Ridgeline 001 I asked: “What shell were you torn from?” and got hundreds of responses. We’re working our way through them over the year. You’re an amazing, diverse crew. Grateful to be walking with you all. Feel free to send one in if you haven’t already.)


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(A weekly letter on walking in Japan)