Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, May 21, 2018


I was walking up Beachwood Drive, which leads to Beachwood Canyon, and used to give pedestrian access to the Hollywood sign, although currently it doesn’t: the neighbors complained - they had a point.  Not that this deters people from driving up there for a “good look” at the sign.

This is, in many ways, absurd. The sign is visible from miles around, and was in fact designed so that it could be seen from Wilshire Boulevard, which at its nearest point is six and a half miles away.

And, of course, tourists always think that Los Angeles is a kind of theme park and so they stand in the middle of the street and take pictures of their friends or themselves with the Hollywood sign looming behind them.

And the most annoying thing of all, nobody ever runs them down, much as I will them to.

Still there are sights to be seen on Beachwood. Obama still rules up there:

And there are Simpsons-esque amusements:

And best of all this house, which admittedly does reinforce the theme park idea, not quite a ruined castle, but close, and I guess it’s being refurbished.  

And I do wonder if they’re going to keep that hell’s mouth arch (or possibly porte-cochere) - though I suspect that may make the place harder to sell.  It reminds me of the l’Enfer Cabaret (the Surrealist met there occasionally) on Boulevard Clichy, a street I have certainly walked down a few times over the years, though I gather l’Enfer has been a Monoprix supermarket since 1950 or so, which would explain why I never saw it.

And it also reminds me of this mouth at Bomarzo (the Park of Monsters) where I still have hopes of walking one of these years.

And now, and obviously this is the actual inspiration, Mr. Matthew Licht send me this image of the facade of the Biblioteca Herziana, the German Academy, on Via Gregoriana in Rome.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


I recently interviewed the Los Angeles-based photographer Mike Slack for the British Royal Photographic Society.  Inevitably a certain amount of our conversation ended up on the cutting room floor and some of that concerned walking.  
Mike is creating a series of books with the overall title Walking in Place, in which he walks around various cities, photographing what he sees.  The first book featured New Orleans.  This is a spread from the book:

Perhaps inevitably, we mentioned psychogeography in our conversation.  Now, I’ve learned from experience that when you mention psychogeography to most civilians their eyes just glaze over, so that was one of the first things to be cut, but since I imagine readers of this blog are made of sterner stuff, here’s how the exchange went:

GN: I see that notions of walking, maybe psychogeography, pop up in your work.  Can you say anything about that? 

MS: The aimless wandering aspect has always been a really fruitful method for seeing new things and making new pictures. An increasingly important part of it for me is the randomness, just rolling the proverbial dice and ending up somewhere and zeroing in a specific scene, a picture, at whatever scale, which always seems to link somehow to another specific picture from another time and place, and so on, all of the pictures somehow connected. I don’t know if that’s strictly a psychogeographic approach, but the “game” aspect of it is really appealing, using playful methods to tune into your immediate surrounding, and letting chance dictate the content or pathway. 
Here's Mr Slack with an image that appears in the New Orleans book: 

And here's the link to the RPS interview:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Perhaps you saw, a couple of weeks back, an obituary for Ninalee Allen Craig, who died in Toronto at the age of 90. If the name isn’t immediately familiar, one photograph of her is very famous indeed.  It's generally known as "American Girl in Italy."

It was taken in 1951 in Florence by Ruth Orkin.  The two women were staying in the same cheap hotel, and Orkin was working on a piece of photojournalism about American women traveling alone in Europe.  She enlisted Craig (who was known at that time as Jinx Allen) to be her model.  The end result appeared in Cosmopolitan the following year. Some sources say the title of the piece was, “When you travel alone … tips on money, men, and morals,” others say it was “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.” I’ve not been able to locate the interior of the Cosmo in question and look inside, but I think it’s this one:

         Of course the very fact that single women were being offered advice about traveling alone in Europe in 1952 is some indication of female freedom and independence, even if it was surely a minute number of women who actually did it.

The Orkin photograph seems easy enough to interpret from our current perspective: an attractive single women can’t walk down a street in Florence without being hassled by lecherous Italians, although in fact the magazine caption rather contradicted that.  It read, “Public admiration . . . shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.” Well …

In later interviews Ms. Craig also felt the picture showed an essentially benign interaction. “Women look at that picture and feel indignant, angry,” she said. “They say, ‘That poor woman. We should be able to walk wherever we want to and not be threatened.’ As gently as I can, I explain I was not feeling fear. There was no danger because it was a far different time.”

No doubt it was, but there are other issues here too, I think.  The image may not strictly speaking be “staged,” but some of those men certainly appear to acting up for the camera.  But the real problem is the expression on Jinx Allen’s face.  She looks at best uncomfortable and pained, and at worst frightened.  And this too may be put on for the sake of the picture – but that only reinforces the problem.  Was she actually feeling comfortable but the photographer asked her to look pained for the sake of a good picture?

         I don’t know, neither did I know until very recently that there’s a whole bunch of other pictures by Ruth Orkin that show Jinx Allen being a solo tourist.  And the fact is she doesn’t look very comfortable in most of them, but again whether this is “natural” or a pose I can’t tell. 

You can see some of the other pictures for yourself on this website run by Ruth Orkin’s daughter:

Monday, May 14, 2018


Laura Kipnis is an interesting writer and I think an interesting character, the author of Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, about the moment when Liberalism becomes Stalinism, a contrarian perhaps, though most of what she writes makes pretty good sense to me, but that’s probably an argument for another time and place.


       Her appearance on a blog about walking, and I realize I’m a bit late on this, is because of a headline I saw on the Sun website that read, “LABOUR PERV - Minister ‘stuck his hand up young woman’s skirt 10 minutes after they met’.” Say what you like those tabloid guys, they know how to write a headline.

The young woman in question is, of course, Laura Kipnis, and the Sun refers to an article she wrote for the Guardian, part of which reads as follows:
“The culprit was a future MP and Europe minister, the friend of a friend. We were in a group of people heading into a restaurant, and this guy, later to become so politically illustrious, who was walking behind me, and whom I’d met maybe 10 minutes before, reached forward and goosed me.”

Goosing is a curious word, isn’t it?  It sounds kind of friendly and innocent, although I suspect that if you’ve ever been bitten in the bum by a goose you might think otherwise. 
Kipnis continues, “By goosed, I don’t mean he touched me on my butt, but in my butt, through the thin skirt I was wearing. I turned around and glared at him – I was young, jetlagged, and confused. Was this customary in Britain? What he’d done felt humiliating. I turned ahead and resolutely kept walking, whereupon he did it again.
“When I say things turned out well, what I mean is that he later went to prison. The ostensible reason was for cheating on his expenses, but I like to think it was cosmic justice for his crimes against my person.”

The best line here of course is the question “Was this customary in Britain?”  And I wonder how different things might have been if goosing had been an old British custom.  Would that have made it OK?  I don’t think so.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


I was walking in Culver City (named after its founder Harry Culver), not a place I go very often, and usually I’m there with a purpose that doesn’t leave me with much time on my hands, but on this occasion I organized things so that I had time for a bit of a drift.
I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and a lot of the time I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at.  I know for example, that this thing below is part of Sony Studios but I don’t know why it’s all wrapped and Christo-ed up like that.

And I assume these giant dishes also have something to do with Sony but lord knows what, and I’ve never seen anything like them on an ordinary city street before.  I kind of liked them, unless of course they cause cancer, which I'm sure somebody says they do.

And I definitely had no idea who Saint Rita of Cascia was. 

Turns out she was born Margherita Lotti, and lived in the late 14th and early 15th century in Italy. She was a victim of spousal abuse, then a widow, then a nun, and in 1900 a saint, at which point she was given the title Patroness of Impossible Causes.    Sounds good to me.  She’s also known among some believers as a patroness of abused wives.  
And no, I don’t know if there’s a person lurking behind that shopping cart, but there very well might be.

Oh yeah and don’t ask me why any dentist would call their business Picasso Smile:

You see the problem?

And currently one of great sights of Culver City is a very large hole, which is in fact best viewed from the Metro station platform.  

This will be Culver Steps - a huge development featuring 65,000 square feet of office space, and 45,000 square feet of commercial space - I'm not sure I absolutely understand the difference, but I'm sure there is one – Amazon are moving in.  

There’ll also be, apparently, a 10,000-square-foot staircase leading to a 10,000-square-foot plaza.  It will be, and needless to say I’m quoting here, “a walkable urban hub.”  Why does that make me feel so weary?