The Zip printer took a fortnight to arrive, during which time I continued my neighbourhood walks despite the growing sense of tedium. It was still good to be out walking, although autumn was beginning to cool into winter.
I also continued with the project of creating a portable image catalogue from my larger photo archive, although I was doubtful at this point that I would use it to extend my double-exposure game as planned. The idea of endlessly remixing my own history felt akin to sitting at home talking to myself, now that my walking had revealed this conversation of the streets. I was more interested in what might be revealed if I brought those old signals from distant lands into correspondence with the present moment.
The Zip arrived but it was another fortnight before I finished organising my image catalogue. When it was complete I had a photo album for each of my meditative walks, beginning with a May 2004 walk in Portland, Maine. I imported the entire collection onto my phone, and despite the late-April chill I headed out the door.
I still felt like I was hunting, and for the first 20 minutes or so I found nothing. But then I came upon a signal, emblazoned larger than life on the side of an old warehouse, that immediately brought to mind a response from my collection. Excitedly I sat down on the cold ground and pulled out the printer and my phone. After wirelessly linking the two I called up the photo that I wanted and sent it to the printer. Presently the little device began to hum, and slowly a miniature photo emerged. I confess, with no academic pretence, that it felt a little bit like magic. After several minutes of struggle with the adhesive backing on the photo, and then a near-disaster with an unexpected gust of wind, I affixed the image to the wall below its corresponding signal. I then tried to take a photo of the two for the sake of documentation, but the vast difference in scale between the two made this task nearly impossible. As I walked away I wondered if anybody had observed my actions, although I didn’t dare to look around. Still, as I strolled away with eyes fixed forward, I was smiling.
The Zip had rekindled my dwindling sense of play, and had infused this play with a feeling of wonder and joy. Suddenly the game seemed to have boundless potential. As the day progressed I became attuned to a new range of frequencies, which had previously been eclipsed by my focus on the traces left by deliberate human activity. These other frequencies were attempting to communicate even on my first walk after seven years: looking back through the album of that day I can see the stirrings of awareness, and then an unmistakable moment of attunement. But soon after this I seem to lose reception; the photos narrow down again to predominantly textual signals.
Now the spectrum was alive with chatter, awakened by the printer’s ability to bring these signals into direct conversation with each other. The expectations that had turned my game into a hunt gave way to an anticipation that was decidedly playful. This transformation was wrought not only through the increased variety of these new frequencies, but also through the very nature of their signals. Shadows, puddles, the unexpected poetry of abandon and decay. Such ever-shifting ambiguity did much to help me understand why the game had previously become inert.
The playful nature of these more indeterminate frequencies became apparent on my second day out with the Zip. I was trying to print a photo to place within a rooftop’s peaked shadow that was being cast upon a laneway fence. The shadow encompassed a perfectly-drilled circle about the size of a golf ball, and for reasons that are lost to me now I found the composition to be both pleasing and intriguing. As it happened the Zip’s battery had gone flat and required a boost from the portable charging cell that I had brought along. Once it was powered up enough to print the photo I then tried for the first time to use a sheet of sticky dots I had brought along to reinforce the adhesive on the photo paper, only to discover that the dots were much more difficult to apply than I had anticipated. Some 15 minutes after I had begun working on this installation, it was finally complete. The hole in the fence was no longer contained within the shadow, to my disappointment. I wandered down the dead-end laneway to continue exploring and by the time I walked back out again 20 minutes later my installation was no longer in shadow either. I was crestfallen at first, and then delighted. The shadow and I had created a secret game, that might be discovered by a passer-by who glanced down at just the right time of day.