By Hailey Apperson
The Oxford English dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” In my eyes, photographers around the world capture the true essence and spirit of art. Many individuals can take pictures that primarily serve as a preservation of memories. However, what separates renowned photographers from amateurs is the possession of skill and imagination in conjunction with divergent thinking to produce powerful, striking, and inspiring images. The freedom of expression that comes with photography serves as a platform for people to present their unique perspectives. Numerous principles and sensations that French philosopher Frederic Gros discusses in A Philosophy of Walking are noticeable in the intersection of walking and photography – a fusion of two activities into one philosophical, artistic experience.
Halloween day, filled with an abundance of sunshine, which called for a break from the stresses of school by enjoying the great outdoors. Therefore, my friend Nick and I decided to go on a walk together through the woods. Although we chose the same location as our last walk, the shift from September to October resulted in a change of scenery and landscape, depicted by the leaf-covered forest floor and sun-bathed tree branches. After walking downhill towards the stream, we sat on a log, looking around and admiring the surrounding nature. The minimum requirement for this walk was to abandon the use of cellphones and earbuds because this type of technology serves as a distraction. However, a digital camera promotes spirituality and encourages artistic endeavors. Therefore, when Gros writes, “all you need when walking is the necessary,” I took only myself and my camera. A camera acts as a set of eyes, and I would consider eyes a necessity. Wouldn’t you?
Photography can highlight and emphasize some of the most therapeutic qualities of walking. Walking by itself can bring you pleasure and joy; however, when photography is added to the mix, the happiness felt is elevated to a philosophical and artistic experience. Gros promotes harmony between self and nature. Viewing the outdoors through a camera lens forces you to see the world through the eyes of nature. In other words, the barrier between you and nature is lifted and you become one with the universe. There are four extraordinary sensations: energy, pleasure, joy, and happiness, that each contribute to the overall powerfulness that can be felt when you combine photography with nature.
Gros emphasizes the idea that energy originates in the Earth’s core. Therefore, by decreasing the distance and separation between yourself and the Earth, you are capable of gaining energy of the heart and mind. First, energy to the heart emulates passion. Gros writes, “the well-being in walking in the cold is partly from that feeling of a small stove burning in your vitals.” The heart is considered one of the most important vital organs because it distinguishes life from death. By utilizing your heart, and thus evoking passion, a photographer in the wilderness can balance intense enthusiasm with patience to produce the desired photograph. Nature has a mind of its own, so photographers must enjoy the entirety of the experience – ranging from the waiting, dedicated to the search and admiration of nature, to the moment the shutter button is pressed. Second, energy to the mind instills wisdom. Gros explains, “to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life.” I consider one of the greatest mysteries in life to be nature. Photography provides insight into nature’s mysteries while also striving to uncover hidden truths and make discoveries. The most striking photographs are the ones that provide the viewer with a new outlook on a topic we cannot understand as well without the artistry of photography.
Gros defines pleasure as “the encounter with the good object: the one that causes a possibility of feeling to blossom.” Walking does not always have a final destination in mind; however, photographers are always searching. Photographers possess the ability to notice details ordinary people may miss. They view their surroundings in terms of composition and framing until they focus on one specific aspect that piques their interest. To that extent, with pleasure comes appreciation, encouraging us “to explore every dimension, to taste it in all its fullness.” Walking activates all five of our senses – sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch – however, photography pushes our boundaries, heightens our senses, and allows us to explore nature at a new level. You can even purchase cameras that work at the microscopic level that will reveal components of nature that were once invisible.
Gros explains that “[pleasure] becomes flat with repetition, warmed over, tiresome, always the same” when we become too comfortable with the ordinary. We tend to restrain ourselves by placing limitations on our minds when we should be exploring new things and pushing the boundary on what is ‘normal.’ I consider photography to be timeless; through the years, it has proven to be an artistic outlet that allows new ideas and images to be formed. Each photograph is like a snowflake, formed by our own unique hands and minds. Therefore, it becomes impossible to replicate a photograph exactly especially when each of us travel different paths. The satisfaction of artistically representing ourselves and our journeys remain when producing new photographs.
Gros explains, “joy is an activity: executing with ease something difficult that has taken time to master, asserting the faculties of the mind and the body.” Just as the activity of walking takes time to master, photography does too. Years are devoted to grasp the technical side of photography. The learning captures the importance of perseverance and continuity through the process of trial and error. When merging photography with walking to reveal nature, a feeling of joy rushes through your body because the experience requires you to think and feel with both your heart and mind. Once the ability to experience photography as a philosophical and artistic endeavor is acquired, it becomes possible to “[taste] one’s own presence in harmony with the world’s.” The ability to freeze time and capture the relationships between various aspects of nature is unique to the artistry of photography. What used to be a personal experience can now be shared with anyone and everyone. As a result, nature photographers advocate for harmony; the photographs serve as nature’s voice, allowing for a conversation between two forms of life – humans and nature.
Finally, Gros presents the sensation of happiness by stating that it “involves finding oneself the recipient of a spectacle, a moment, an atmosphere, and taking, accepting and grasping the blessing of the moment.” Walkers often wish they could preserve the beauty and serenity of nature when returning home. Photographers have the capability to capture these special instances while feeling blessed to experience the authentic moments. I can confidently say I experienced happiness on my walk as a result of the breathtaking landscapes. Gros writes about the autumn atmosphere and scenery by describing its charm and beauty shown by “twisting [paths] among hills”, “purple and gold scarves”, and “silvery glitter of olive leaves.” On my walk, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a simple leaf. After admiring the amazing quality of the sparkling light reflecting off the orange leaves, I allowed my camera to serve as my new set of eyes. The details the camera detected produced a new level of appreciation for nature.