“Hey man, gettin’ that release huh?”
I heard this phrase shouted out from across the street which startled me out of my photo walk daze. Normally my headphones are blaring The Rolling Stones, tickling my hippocampus with tunes to boost my mood in the days of isolation, and I would have never heard this awkward statement.
That day however, I was walking around with my headphones in but playing no music. Sometimes I do this by accident, forgetting to actually start a soundtrack. Other times, like this day, I had them in so I would appear to be listening to music just in case people wanted to interact with me as a deterrent. I wasn’t actually listening to music. I also do this for safety to let me hear traffic since my neighborhood, though quiet, doesn’t have sidewalks.
A statement like this shouted out deserved attention. When I was jolted out of my constant scanning for something to take photos of I looked over and saw this…
In the days of Covid-19, isolation, and social distancing, it’s kind of rare for people to speak to each other let alone look at each other. It’s like we’ve all become ghastly creatures that we can’t bear to look at or are utterly afraid to interact with.
Maybe that was another reason why I was startled as well. I didn’t expect anyone to be calling out across the street at me. And when I first heard it, I immediately thought he was calling me out for walking around with my fly being open or something. Quick glance down and nope, fly was not down. After a couple seconds I processed the message and realized it was probably relating to the fact that I was walking around with my camera in hand.
Internal dialogue: Getting that release. Ahhhh. I get it!
“Yeah, you know, I’m trying to at least!” I shouted back to him across the street. And I also realized how weird that exchange of phrases sounds now.
We both kept walking our respective ways on opposite sides of the street when his whole outfit and appearance hit me. It made me stop in my tracks. Wow, what a photo that would make! So I spun around and paused, still hesitant to ask him for a photo.
You see, that’s one of my biggest struggles — having the courage to ask someone for a photograph. I shoot A LOT of landscapes and travel photos, but asking someone to snap a photo of them seems to be a struggle. But I knew I had to ask. His outfit was the cumulation of life and style in the age of Coronavirus.
So I asked. And he said yes!
It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought, and I don’t know why asking that simple question has been so hard. Of course his interaction first with me and the acknowledgement of my camera helped. But simple saying, “Excuse me, I really dig your face-mask and that hoodie combo, could I take your photo?” was all it took. Which became the photo above — a really interesting look at life during Covid-19 and our own personal expressions with style.
Now, when I took this photo I was about 30 feet away from him so don’t worry — I practice the social distancing and take all the precautions out in public. Most businesses are closed and all parks are cut off we are still allowed to walk around. This has been my escape lately (when the weather permits me to) and I guess walking can be considered a creative release.
During the last couple of months in lockdown, I’ve struggled to create much of anything. Some days just getting out of bed has been a struggle. I felt like I had to do something — be it writing or photography, but I just couldn’t seem to find the energy to actually start it. I would lay in bed for hours staring at the ceiling. So I forced myself outside. Get out of bed. Put on clothes. Grab the camera. Go outside. Do something! Get it together Ryan!
Just go for a walk and bring your camera just in case I told myself. Stop staring at the ceiling or the wall or the light peeking through the curtains of the window.
I’ve been in the small town of Pawtucket Rhode Island since November, and the combination of not traveling for a long period of time, the cold bleak winter we experienced here, and the loss of clients and work put me into a serious funk.
So how could I beat this and escape this murky period of creative blankness and depression?
Well, it wasn’t really about beating it because I still haven’t. It was more like how I’ve dealt with my depression over the years — adapting to it and filling the void with something. Not wallowing or drowning in it but doing something just to do something.
Sometimes that’s just taking a shower. Other days you find a burst of inspiration and energy. And these photowalks have been my creative release lately.
Walking the neighborhood streets and searching for small misplaced objects or accidental symmetry has been my attempt to boost my creativity for the most part. There isn’t much around here to look at which has stopped me from doing so in the past. Or so I thought.
No ancient castles or bustling foreign marketplaces or mountains and forests or smokey Serbian bars to people watch with cheap beer. Not even the international influence and historic (to America) neighborhoods like you find in Washington DC. No unique character and characters like you might find on the streets of New York.
So what’s here in small town Pawtucket?
Pawtucket is mostly just blocks of suburban houses and remnants of an industrial boomtown past its prime. Like an old house that has settled and showing cracks in the foundations and peeling facades. It all sits a little crooked. At first I had no interest in photographing this place, and honestly I didn’t know what to photograph. Many of the streets are covered in litter. Power-lines are the skyline and rusted factories or fast-food chains like Dunkin and McD’s are what make up our array of scenery nearby.
Then something changed after my first couple of walks.
I noticed a lot of trash, yes, but also interesting little things about the neighborhoods. Maybe it’s the way someone’s lawn ornament had fallen over, or the contrast of the rusty industrial towers with the sky, or a colorful and oddly shaped piece of trash that is simultaneously beautiful and disgusting, or one of my favorites — a caution cone that had seemingly fallen into the hole it cautioned of.
It was beginning to become interesting to wander the neighborhood and try to see what caught my eye.
And in turn, this practice also helped me out of a creative rut. Or at the very least supplied a subject for creative release.
You might be surprised by what you observe, experience, and what begins to catch your eye as you walk around sans phone and headphones. Even in a place that you think has nothing to offer you as an outlet for your creativity or even attention might suddenly bestow upon you an unknown element that becomes a catalyst for creativity. Like Pawtucket for me.
I still struggle with being stationary after so many years constantly traveling, and in the age of Coronavirus and all of the restrictions, the adjustment to find something to drive creativity has been slow. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t there waiting for you to discover, however rough around the edges it may be or however different from your normal topic of creative release. You just have to open your eyes wider, or just get out of bed and go for a walk.