The Gestalt of the Photo Walk

I always enjoy throwing German words into conversation. It makes people think I’m really into 19th Century philosophy. Or maybe that I’m planning to invade Poland. Or that I’m just a tool. I like to keep people guessing.

Anyway, in case you actually care what Gestalt (yes, I’m capitalizing it as one would in German even though I’m writing in English – what a rebel I am) means but can’t be bothered to look it up yourself, here’s a definition, courtesy of Dictionary.com: a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts; a unified whole. Pretty handy little word, huh?

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There is a Gestalt (yes, I’m going to keep italicizing it too) to the photo walk, as it is a total experience that cannot be explained or understood by breaking it down into pieces. It’s more than a walk; it’s seeing places in a different way, from a different perspective, looking at things through a viewfinder that might otherwise go completely unnoticed. It’s more than a photo session; it’s not the sterile, mechanistic practice of setting up lighting equipment and reflectors to get the perfect shot, but the act of working with what is available at that moment in time. Sometimes you need to get dirty, or do some work to get to where you need to be to capture an image, or feel your fingertips freezing from holding the cold metal camera in one hand for too long. It’s about taking photos that remind you not only of what you saw, but what you felt, and what it took to get them. And ideally, any proper photo walk should end with beer.

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Although all of the shots in this post were taken with my Canon T3, do not take this as the beginning of another lapse into digital. On the contrary, much of the purpose of this particular walk was to finish off two rolls of film, Tri-X in my FED-2 and my last roll of Fuji Superia 400 in my Olympus PEN EES-2; that mission was accomplished, but it will be several days before those results are in. The DSLR was just along for the ride.

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You can look at the photos, and you can try to imagine what the day was like if you’re so inclined, but you cannot experience the Gestalt of the photo walk during which they were taken. Your fingers weren’t freezing. You didn’t avoid the crazy guy sitting on the rock by the river. You didn’t taste the beer. You weren’t a component part of the unified whole. You weren’t there.


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