The more I explore Photo Universe, the more I know that often my best work happens when I leave the structured trip mindset behind and Go Walkabout.
Walkabout. The word really entered the collective consciousness in 1997 when Nic Roeg’s film of that name was released. With my interest in meditation and spirituality, I totally got the message: be in Nature, listen to your own instincts and find your place in the universe.
This shift in gears can happen at any time, it’s built into human experience. — Sunday morning chillout, isn’t that the time we allow ourselves to stop and ask, “What do I feel like doing on this lazy morning?” Walkabout.
The Australian film, Walkabout, plays the theme out by following to contemporary kids who’s father self-destructs, leaving them to fend for themselves in the Outback. They meet an Aboriginal kid who is doing the traditional walkabout in the desert. Roger Ebert describes it this way:
During the transition to young manhood, an adolescent aborigine went on a “walkabout” of six months in the outback, surviving (or not) depending on his skills at hunting, trapping and finding water in the wilderness. [Ebert Review, April 1997]
The young Aboriginal guy saves their lives by showing them how to live off the harsh Australian desert. The two teens seem like they might grow closer through the experience. But in the end, they end up returning to their respective cultures unchanged:
…all of us are the captives of environment and programming: That there is a wide range of experiment and experience that remains forever invisible to us, because it falls in a spectrum we simply cannot see.
So the film doesn’t show this walkabout being of particular spiritual value. But that’s the director/writer Nic Roeg. The real thing should offer the walker some new awareness of our environment and programming (to use Ebert’s words). That’s the point, to start seeing new possibilities in our surroundings.
And that’s exactly what should happen if you do a photo walkabout. Here’s the idea. Instead of going to Paris and saying, “I need to get shots of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Notre Dame, the Seine, etc.,” we think, “Today I’m going to start at this spot and wander around based on what tugs at my inner energies.” It’s kinda like being Cain in the old Kung Fu TV show — except for the martial arts part.
I first noticed how much a structured travel agenda can stifle creativity when I did a 2 week tour of the Scottish islands a few years back. Rabbies does small van tours for general tourists. They’re quite accommodating when someone sees a cool photo opp. And for a general tour, they’re one of the best companies out there. But a fifteen minute stop isn’t always enough, as I found out on the Isle of Skye.
Skye has some of the best landscape photography in the world. And while on the tour, the bus stopped at the northern end of the island, the area called Quiraing.
This spot is the one place on Skye that I have to go back to. The weird moodiness of the landscape is so unusual. I could spend a day at this one location trying to bottle the otherworldliness of it all. And we were given exactly 10 minutes to get photos. Painful.
A good photo tour with the master photographer is totally the opposite. They cart a bunch of photo enthusiasts to various locations, like a general tour. They know the perfect locations and when the light will be best. But there’s far more time spent at each spot. And the experience is structured to encouraging you to stretch your craft. Of course, a tour for photo enthusiasts will cost 3-4 times as much per day as the average general tour.
The difference between these two types of tours is the difference between a goal orientation (“…We’ll also visit 7 magical locations on the Isle of Skye as …”) and allowing yourself to flow with your creative instincts.
A Walkabout Version
My ‘walkabout” idea makes photography the focus, like the photo tour, but you are guided by your immersion in the environment — and your own inner instincts. And that makes a huge difference.
When you’re immersed in this free-fall type of photography, you’ll find that outside influences, a person or situation, is always enhancing your creativity. Maybe a waiter gives you a guided tour of an old style French kitchen or some lady starts telling you about the famous person who used to live in this mansion. That stuff just happens.
You allow yourself to be totally open to people — seeing how they live and work, seeing stuff the tourists all miss. And you’ll be surprises how many locals will respond to you.
You start connecting to people more intimately. You notice the street cleaners at dawn or the patisserie owner sharing a moment with customers. You’ve turned that annoying tourist brain off. You’re sitting at the cafe watching the world go by. Now you’re in the flow.
The walkaround paradigm helps you pull back the curtain. And that sustained awareness on the pulse of a place is just as much a boost for your craft as taking a photo class.
Go walkabout some time — even if it’s just to a local mall. You’ll be surprised.