correspondence

For more than a decade now I had been photographing the sublime moments that I encountered during my walks, accumulating a catalogue of these transporting moments. In truth this catalogue was more of an archive, which is to say a collection of files that I rarely perused. But as I became more aware of my walking practice as a thing that I was actually doing, I also became more interested in the photographs that I was making as I walked. I discovered that to revisit one of these images was to be cast under its spell; to experience anew its specific energy. That energy was bound up in the narrative that gave it voice; the particular context that made me stop in recognition of the meaning that together we were making. And yet what each photo evoked was not a memory, but something more distilled and potent. It was an expression of something inexpressible; something that only this moment could convey, yet which seemed inextricable from so many other moments that might be.

In hindsight I suspect that this discovery had some part in the dreaming of my dream about the ghost camera. The camera that remembers everything. Landscapes layered over, layered under; images in conversation. That dream in turn led to my gambling game with the photos from seven years, and also to another project that I had quietly been working on.

Shortly after the week of seven years concluded, I began transforming my photo archive into an actual catalogue. I wanted to play the gambling game with my entire collection of photos, which would require transferring the collection to my phone. (I had been unable to find a desktop equivalent for the mobile app that I was using to make randomised double-exposures.) But I had never bothered to separate my walking photos from the casual snapshots I had taken over the years. A decade of weddings, birthdays, holidays and family reunions. It took me a month to extract the photos that I wanted.

A week into this cataloguing project I began my neighbourhood walking days. And the night before my first walk I impulsively ordered one of the portable photo printers I had been eyeing since I bought the Instax. It was a Polaroid Zip, which networks wirelessly with mobile phones and can print sticky-backed photos the size of a business card in less than a minute. The printer itself is small enough to fit in a back pocket. When I ordered the Zip I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but by the end of my first neighbourhood drift I knew.

If my walking photos could speak to things beyond themselves, two of the photos I took that day seemed clearly to be speaking with each other. It was an obvious exchange, nothing subtle about it, and in fact I would have skipped the second photo if it had not communicated so plainly with the first. But the sense of conversation had been building throughout the day, and in that moment an idea was born: These images were a vocabulary (Hessel 1929; Solnit 2001); a concordance of the city. As I became increasing attuned to ‘the many interpenetrating worlds’ (Cafard 2008, para. 35) of the city streets, I was learning this vocabulary. T1

T1:My idea of the images as a walking catalogue was inspired in part by The Quote Generator (2006-2010), a durational project by the contemporary Australian artist Danielle Freakley. For three years Freakley spoke entirely in quotes, including references, when in public conversation. During the earliest phase of the project, before she had memorised enough material to improvise, she wore an overcoat-like ‘harness’ fitted with expandable folders that kept her collection of quotes organised by topic (Walker 2013).

I never had the opportunity to witness a live performance of the project, but during its second year Freakley and I were in correspondence and she wrote me a letter composed entirely of referenced quotes. Despite her description of The Quote Generator as — among many other things — ‘a foreigner fumbling desperately, constantly trying to learn the new mode of speech’ and ‘an absorption of unoriginality’ (Freakley), the letter is remarkable not only in its lucidity but also in its poetry.

The Quote Generator deals in the linguistic rather than the spatial, and its varied aims are altogether different than those of The Parallaxis. But it had not been so long since I was a fumbling foreigner trying desperately to learn this landscape — perhaps the influence runs deeper than I first recognised.

Perhaps I could begin to join the conversation? T2

T2:If non-representational theory suggests a city that speaks, it also compels us to reply. This relationship is elegantly expressed by the anthropologist Tim Ingold, who writes of waking from a dream with the following lines in his head:

‘Often in the midst of my endeavors
Something ups and says
“Enough of words,
Let’s meet the world.”’ (2015, p. vii)

‘I do not know who put these lines there,’ Ingold continues. ‘Certainly, I did not invent them. But immediately upon awaking, and before they had time to evaporate, I rose from my bed to write them down. They remain, pinned to a notice board in my office, and every so often I take a look at them, to remind myself of the message they contain’ (ibid.).

What Ingold sees in these words is ‘a manifesto for a non-representational way of working’ (ibid.). This way of working is propositional (Jones 2009), performative (Haseman 2006) and relational (Ingold 2000); ‘not a set of regulated steps to be taken towards the realization of some predetermined end,’ but rather a means ‘of carrying on and of being carried — that is, of living a life with others, humans and non-humans all — that is cognizant of the past, finely attuned to the conditions of the present, and speculatively open to the possibilities of the future’ (Ingold 2015, p. vii).

‘I call it correspondence,’ Ingold elaborates, ‘in the sense not of coming up with some exact match or simulacrum for what we find in the things and happenings going on around us, but of answering to them with interventions, questions, and responses of our own. It is as though we were involved in an exchange of letters. “Let’s meet the world,” for me, is an invitation — an exhortation or command even — to join in such a correspondence’ (ibid).

Interventions, questions, and responses … in this correspondence I would finally find my game.