Paul Gaffney sent me his lovely book, We Make the Path by Walking. It’s a gorgeous book that creates a narrative path by following the paths created by people walking. The book is both beautiful and complete and follows on from work that looked at the views from foot (and cow) bridges over the M4 motorway (that’s the one that connects Bath to Wales – or Wales to London if you’re not that hick). It’s a simple idea and one I have often thought about, but Gaffney went out and did it. Similarly with We Make the Path by Walking.
However, the Path is a bit more ambitious. It examines the meditative qualities of walking and how this translates to both the land and our interaction with the land through an instinctual non-analytic way of walking.
Gaffney also walked 3,500 kilometres to make the book, the original idea emerging out of the 800km stroll on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. So there’s a mixing of meditation with pilgrimage that adds a certain weight to the book.
At the same time, the book shows walking to be a mapping of territory, both a physical mapping and a mental mapping. And this correlates to actual mapping (which is both physical – walls and borders – and mental.).
In that respect, the book serves as an analogy to photography, which does the same kind of mapping, both visually and mentally. Perhaps the book is an argument for the idea that there’s no such thing as photography, only the different power relationships created by photography all of which are played out in their diverse arenas making their own pathways.
Or maybe not. Who knows. Whatever it is, it is beautifully conceived and executed, an indicator of the increasingly rich layers of thought that are going into photography in all its forms.
We Make the Path by Walking has been nominated for the International Photobook Award at the 6th International Photobook Festival in Kassel, Germany. Gaffney’s in outrageously illustrious company (and I hope the garish and ridiculously tactile based on a True Story wins it – but it won’t) there with Mike Brodie, Max Pinckers, Lieko Shiga, Ed Clark and many more. Gaffney won’t win it either, but with the level of thinking that has gone into making the book, you get the feeling he’ll be there or thereabouts for years to come.
Colin Pantall is a UK-based writer, photographer and Senior Lecturer at the University of South Wales, Newport.
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