the walk to where? photography as a daily practice

Dog Waiting for CoffeeMysore? The Walk to Mysore.

Mysore is a city in India. It is also a name given to Ashtanga yoga when practiced traditionally, in a shala (school) with an authorized teacher, with a set sequence given to you by your teacher, at your own pace, on your own breath. Unlike most yoga classes, it is not led, with everyone doing the same thing at the same time. Mysore takes its name from the home of Ashtanga and pilgrimage place of Ashtangis, Mysore, India.

Ashtanga is practiced six days a week. My shala is open five, and we fend for ourselves the sixth. Each weekday, I walk to and from the shala for Mysore practice, 1.2miles (~2km) from home. In January 2012, in an attempt to shoot more, I started carrying a point and shoot with me at all times. Not necessarily to Mysore, but everywhere. In October, my schedule and shala changed, and my subway ride became a walk. Because it is daily, at my most focused time of day, a series of photos began: The Walk to Mysore. It’s also the walk from Mysore, which can include different paths. Sometimes I carry my DSLR but with the weather and light so dreadful this time of year, I usually can’t be bothered. The shot of this dog waiting for his owner to get coffee is with my point and shoot (a Canon S95. It broke in a well known malfuction that Canon won’t address. Avoid their point & shoots at all cost, especially the powershots).

Photography

Photography has always been something that brings me into the moment (except, perhaps, the few years I worked full time as a photog). It also makes me happy. Seeing something that strikes my interest and playing with it via the camera brings me joy. I’ve noticed that on these walks, a few shots can turn my mood around. I’ve often heard the argument that photography does the opposite, takes the seer out of the moment, by looking for a photo or trying to freeze time instead of just being with what is there. This may be true, and may be more true for some than others. Perhaps if you are on a trip and feel the need to snap away to show others you were there—but this is not photography, and the result is not interesting. Yes, there are definitely moments when it’s time to put down the camera. Personally, I’ve found that photography brings me far more into the moment than writing does. Not the moment of actual writing, when there’s little choice, but the stories I write in my head when walking down the street, when I see something funny I want to share. As it is told and retold in my mind, how much accuracy have I retained? How much have I missed passing by? As a form of creativity, I don’t see this as inherently bad. I just notice the power photography has to bring me into the moment and open my eyes. It’s inaccurate to say that photography is not an act of awareness. We don’t hear people complain that writers aren’t in the moment because they are crafting stories in their heads, but it is perfectly true.

The shot below is with DSLR.

The Walks

My schedule is not the same every day, and some mornings I leave hours earlier than others. I notice the difference in light, not just because of sunrise, but because of season, and how the camera will write it. Some mornings I finish practice by 8:30, others not until 11a, so I can be on the streets anytime between 6:30–11:30am. I see how the city changes over those hours. The temperature, the light, and who fills the streets. As a morning person, I’ve long known that NYC is not a 24-hour town. Yes, the subways are open and you can get sustenance around the clock, but the city rests from ~4am–7am. You are more likely to find people out and pizza joints open at 3am than 6am. At 6am, construction workers and school teachers head to work and only large delivery trucks are on the streets. At 7am one day last week, I was almost mowed down by the Astor Place MUDTRUCK zooming into position. By 9am the streets are full of all sorts rushing to work.

Cold WalkIf I leave early I miss John, a construction guy, and the dogs waiting for coffee outside of Le Pain Quotidian, but I usually get a peek at my morning Turk, even if CafeTiNY isn’t quite open when I pass. He was the first person I noticed regularly on my walks, followed by the construction guy. Then the mentally-ill homeless woman who lives on E 8th Street just east of Fifth Avenue. She is usually asleep on my way to Mysore, and awake, drinking coffee and talking to herself, on my way back.

I have relationships with these people, if only in my mind, and some days the desire to see them pulls me unto my usual path, instead of taking the other fastest route, or any of the 9 streets or 6 avenues that would get me there almost as quickly. Those of you who cherish the guys at your deli or barista at your cafe know the feeling. I’m more likely to alter my route back, for variety, to meet a friend for breakfast, run an errand, or visit with Nasreddin. Or go to the dentist. It’s been four and a half months now on these walks (I was at a different shala before, and I took the train. There were some photos, but it was earlier. Too early for creativity), and I have lots of images and some stories.

A few separate essays have popped up within the Walks. The first is Love Graffiti. Much of it is shot in SoHo, on my Saturday walk to another studio, but some my favorites are from the FALAFEL SHWARMA building on the corner near the shala. Another is yet-to-be-edited everGreen, Christmas trees left out on NYC’s sidewalks awaiting trash pickup. Ah yes, New Yorkers’ nod to nature.

It’s been a cold, cold winter that requires many layers of clothing and fortitude. Above, I return from practice and a trip to the grocery store, trusty point and shoot in hand, on one of our many sub-freezing January days.

 

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