‘It is about a road which begins many miles before I come on its traces and ends miles beyond where I had to stop’, (‘The Icknield Way’ by Edward Thomas, 1913). So much in such few words.
Thomas, a prodigious long-distance walker, was not just referring to the physical journey. Things must have been building in 1913 when Thomas walked the holloways of the Icknield Way. Less than a year later he was manning a gun battery in Flanders, and a few years later, dead on a battle-field, miles before what he might have achieved.
Just as I feel things are building now. I too feel myself being drawn to the need for an arduous walk with my large format camera as I move further into my twilight days. But why does it need to be arduous? I don’t know. Some form of catharsis? The deep need to feel the rain and wind in my face? A private rebellion against a gentrified world? The thought that without struggle, there is no art? Perhaps all of these.
It was Hamish Fulton who said that ‘walking is an artform in its own right’ and argued for wider acknowledgement of walking art. Perhaps only pilgrims, the marathon Monks of Mount Hiei and seasoned walkers would fully understand the sentiment here. Long-distance walking, as Art, is something that is suffered.
Walking in moderation is pleasurable. But 30, 50, 100 days of unbroken day-to-day walking? Fulton would have known such endeavour from first-hand experience. His picture, ‘France on the Horizon’, taken on a circular fifty-mile one day walk made near Dover, southeast England, is testament to that. Fifty miles in one day is quite a full day. Fulton began from his house at Saltwood near Hythe very early in the morning, reached Dover between five and six a.m. and returned home ust before midnight.
It reminds me of Thomas Joshua Cooper’s voyages to the limits of the world for just one picture. A glorious endeavour.
But what do we have here in Thomas’s poetry, Fulton’s art works and Cooper’s photographs? A case of effort adding value. The results are more rewarding, the more effort required to obtain them. Perhaps Gandhi’s assertion that ‘satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment’ misses the mark, but the sentiment is well judged. The value of a picture is proportionate to the difficulty of obtaining it.
So here is what goes into making an oil picture:
- Walking (say 3 days)
- Developing the film (1 day)
- Making the oil print substrate and exposing to the sun (2 days)
- Oiling the print with lithographic ink (1 day)
- Drying the print (5 days)
- Oiling the finished print in, say, Almond oil (1 day)
- Two further cycles of oiling (2 days plus 1 week in between)
- Drying the print (30 days)
Start to finish takes about 50 elapsed days, if all goes without a snag.
Is it worth it for what might be a fairly ordinary picture? Well, yes. That little word ‘ordinary’ is the problem here. It suggests that we should only strive for the extraordinary. But such a course commits you to a search without end. Is it not better to accept that the ‘ordinary’ is no such thing?