Walking is… photography

“Is it OK if I take photos?” During Street Wisdoms, people slow right down, paying attention to the streets around them in a deliberate way that encourages fresh answers to old questions. “Of course!” I said to her. We normally recommend turning phones off, but this participant clearly wanted to use her phone to enhance her awareness.

And in a way photography is exactly right. It’s a useful metaphor for what we’re doing when we’re on a Street Wisdom. By paying closer, slower attention to our surroundings we effectively “photograph” (literally “draw with light”) what we see, making moments last longer. We use the camera of our eyes, the camera of our walking, the camera of our feet, the camera of the streets to do the photography, to bring light (“photo”) to our situation, whatever that may be.

We become like Christopher Isherwood who wrote in an uncannily Street Wisdom way, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.” Unlike Isherwood, I think we are in fact “quite active” in this process of photographic processing.

My participant was perfectly right to use the camera on her phone, and in the third hour of our Street Wisdom workshop she shared her digital photos beautifully with the rest of the group, right-swiping enthusiastically in the dark room of her developing story. The photos weren’t necessary – you don’t need a camera to do Street Wisdom – but they certainly shone some light on the invisible university of the streets around her.

by Philip Cowell

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