Hi, I’m Jeff, another one of Jim’s long-time friends. Jim recently invited me, along with his other friends to write a guest post for his blog. I presume he thought his friends would jump at the chance to give to his blog and like Tom Sawyer, his friends would paint his fence. I was onto him though and intended to politely decline, because I find writing too much work and I have done quite enough of that for now, thank you. But as I was drafting my response to his email, my fingers somehow typed the words “Sure … it sounds like fun” and now I’m stuck. I hate when that happens. There is no pain worse than self-inflicted pain!
Because I didn’t have any ideas what I might write about, I subsequently asked Jim if he had any particular topics in mind. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very helpful, suggesting only that I should write about something that’s related to travel or photography, even if only minimally. Oh, and if possible, I should try to make it humorous, too.
Well … okay then.
Unfortunately, my past and present family circumstances have been/are such that I’m not able to travel very often nor very far these days. Instead I wind up photographing my dog, Miss Abby, while we’re out walking. I have a photoblog where I post the resulting photos: https://abby.aminus3.com/. The only photography I do nowadays is typically done late at night while I’m walking around well-to-do Scottsdale neighborhoods with Miss Abby in tow or in the seedy, grimy downtown Phoenix warehouse district.
While I’m not able to travel as often or as far as I would prefer, I do still enjoy getting away from it all when I can, even if only to a small and very temporary degree, and the very best way I’ve found to do that is to take a hike … literally. Fortunately, I live in the geographic center of Scottsdale, which means there are two hiking areas within a 10-minute drive from my house and three more within 20-minutes, all of which are part of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy project (https://www.mcdowellsonoran.org/).
At each of these hiking areas, I can hike for several miles without backtracking over the same trail and better still, once I’ve hiked 15 minutes or so away from the trail head, it’s surprisingly difficult to tell that I’m on the outskirts of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the U.S. instead of way out in the remote desert, miles from anywhere (The only thing that occasionally ruins the illusion is the broadcast towers visible on top of some of the nearby mountains). The time commitment is small; two to three hours, max, round-trip from my front door. These trips require minimal planning, so I can usually be out the door and on my way within 10 minutes of when the urge to get away hits me.
While I’m not much of a landscape photographer these days, I always bring a camera with me and practice what I have come to call “hikography,” which means taking photos while I’m hiking, sometimes even one-handed and without breaking my stride. It’s roughly similar to “street photography” (walking around with a camera and recording scenes of everyday life), except that in the desert, there are no streets, only trails … and a lot fewer people.
To my way of thinking, hikography is different from other genres of photography, because hiking is the primary activity and photography is strictly secondary. This means that I leave my tripod home, as well as the extra lenses and filters and other accouterments that are part and parcel of the landscape photography experience, and instead carry a simple, point-and-shoot-type camera in my right hand, secured by a wrist-strap and always powered-on, so it’s immediately ready for use.
For me, the key to hikography is that it’s not purely photography nor purely hiking, but a complementary combination of the two. Without taking photos along the way, I find hiking pointless and boring; and without hiking, I find landscape photography ho-hum (which is almost, but not quite boring) and largely a waste of time due to the all the standing around and waiting on the ‘magic’ light.
But combine the two and something magical happens, just as when peanut butter and chocolate combine to make Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. When done together, the two activities, hiking and photography, create a greater, more enjoyable experience than either of them one does when practiced individually. Hiking now has a purpose, a raison d’être, if you will, and photography becomes a tangible experience, not just an intellectual search for pretty scenes to put in front of a camera when there’s good light available. The two activities build upon each other, the way that fine wine complements fine food and a cigarette after sex used to hit the spot. Just ask the Queen … er, never mind.
So now I have a reason to hike regularly, as well as a reason to take photos while I’m doing so. By engaging in both activities simultaneously, I am now actually engaging in both activities, instead of just thinking about doing them … tomorrow … maybe. Did I mention the fitness benefits of hiking? They are real and if it’s done often and energetically enough, hiking can replace a significant amount of time spent in the gym (Unless your gym is amply stocked with attractive, toned women wearing Lycra and Spandex and doing pole aerobics [or, I suppose, depending upon one’s orientation, hunky men pumping iron], this is a good thing. Alas, my gym is not one of those, because it recently closed and I now use the free gym at the nearby Scottsdale Senior Center, which is very aptly named. Needless to say, given my options, I would much rather spend my time hiking in the desert than working out at the gym.)
By now, you’re no doubt thinking, Well, … this is all well and good for him, but I don’t live in the desert with many hiking areas nearby and I’m not very good at using a camera, either, so what good does any of this do me? To my way of thinking, the answer to that question is crystal clear: Just as New York is said to be a state of mind, so is landscape photography. Landscape photography — literally, photographing the land, doesn’t mean just photographing grand vistas at a National Park or the Grand Canyon. It can also be done (in fact, it should be done!) close to home as well and not just during the two weeks of the year when you are vacationing somewhere scenic.
No matter where you live, there are many places nearby where you can hike and photograph the land. It may not be the pristine, natural land untouched by man that you want to experience, but just as with sex and pizza, even the worst you’ve ever had is still pretty damned good! While there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the work of others (or buying many large prints to hang on your walls … hint, hint), there’s also nothing like creating art of your own. Even if the only camera you own doubles as a telephone and video arcade, it can still be used to take (nay, to make) great photos, so long as you point it at an interesting scene instead of at yourself (Just say No to selfies … puh-leeze!).
No matter where you live, there is somewhere nearby that you can explore, both on foot and with a camera. Now you have two reasons instead of just one to push your chair back from your computer, lace up your comfy shoes, and head out the door with your camera in hand. You may well come home empty-handed. Hey, it happens. At least you will have gotten outdoors for a while and had yourself an experience, and possibly even a bit of an adventure.