Of course, I am not alone in using walking as a way to allow my mind to wander, understand better what I have read, or nurture ideas in a safe and private space. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed:
“We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors – walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful.” (Gros 2015).
And as Gros explained:
“During long, easy walks, on well-traced routes, when all you have to do is follow an interminable set of hairpins, you hatch a thousand plans, invent a thousand tales . . . While the gentle shock-free rolling of happy legs drives the evolving narrative forward: challenges arise, their solutions are found, fresh ambushes appear.” (Gros 2015)
In my love of walking, I am joined by writers such as William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Louis Stevenson as well as Virginia Woolf who was a wanderer and observer, using her tramps around Bloomsbury as a means to spark her imagination.
For me, the combination of walking, fresh air, and the pursuit of the reality of Skye through my photography is rather like an extended pilgrimage, a life’s work, and time for reflection. In the company of so many artists, writers, and philosophers throughout history, I feel comfortable that walking provides me with the creative foundations of my practice. Whether it be slowly making my way around the loch, walking in the hills and woods behind the lone tree, or simply parking at the ruined church of Kilchrist and choosing to take a walk down the single-track road through the feeding sheep in the shadow of the Red Hills: Beinn na Caillich (Hill of the Old Woman) and Beinn Dearg Mhor (Big Red Hill) and Beinn Dearg Bheag (Little Red Hill) to get an early sense of the creative opportunities that might lie ahead.
But walking offers me more than that. It is a space where I can reflect on what I have read and the images I have taken. I find the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other a cue to let my mind wander as I get into my stride and step up the pace. I attend to my surroundings, the crying oystercatchers overhead and the unforgettable call of the curlew close by, but my brain begins to work, and words and phrases come to mind. I reflect on why particular images did not work and what aspect of the Onion Diagram might be used to remedy this shortcoming.
The images below show the views from a recent walk where I glimpse Loch Cill Chriosd from above as I walk in the foothills of the Cuillin.
I follow the burn from Broadford to Loch Cill Chriosd gaining a bird’s eye view of the topography of Strath Suardal.
I turn the corner and see the first glimmer of the water, alongside which I have spent so much of my time, and as I climb higher the Red Cuillin are replaced by the jagged peaks of the threatening Black Cuillin.
As I continue to climb, I pass the relics of an old marble quarry and a deserted manse. As I approach the top of my climb, I turn around to see Loch Cill Chriosd gleaming in the late summer sun and my thoughts turn to the many hours, days, months and year I have spent searching for its ephemeral hiddenness.
I retrace my steps to have lunch beside the loch.
And what were my thoughts during the walk? I was thinking about the inevitability of photography being about revealing and concealing information to the viewer. The camera is therefore well placed to capture reality. Whereas a painter lays down paint and information, the photographer peals away the layer in a process of reduction.
I also thought about Attention and Intention in my photography and that will be the subject of the next post.
Gros, F. (2015). A Philosophy of Walking. London, Verso.