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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Half a lifetime ago I was, very briefly, a security guard/gallery attendant at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.   They’d taken on extra staff for a big Post-Impressionist exhibition. First thing in the morning, you had to be at your place ten minutes before the public were allowed in, so for that very brief period of time you found yourself alone pacing up and down in a gallery of, say, priceless Van Goghs.  And as you paced it was very possible to imagine that you were some kind of supervillain, and these Van Goghs were yours and yours alone.  And funnily enough something very slighty similar happened to me at the weekend in Los Angeles.

I went to the Parker Gallery to see an exhibition by Duncan Hannah, top quality painter, and author of a newish memoir titled Twentieth-Century Boy which is getting masses of attention, and according to its publisher is a “rollicking and vividly immediate account of his life amid the city's glamorous demimondes in their most vital era as an aspiring artist, roaring boy, dandy, cultural omnivore, and far-from-obscure object of desire.” And if you can’t trust Penguin Random House, who can you trust?

I checked a map – the gallery was walking distance from where I live, maybe a forty minute walk in each direction.  Easy.  On the other hand, the map showed the gallery apparently to be in the middle of a very posh suburban enclave, the kind of place that I’m pretty sure isn’t zoned for commercial enterprises.  Ah well, that would be interesting in itself.

I checked the weather and it promised to be warm though not punishingly so, but I set off walking and discovered the forecast was wrong.  It wasn’t just warm but scorching, and by the time I got to the gallery I felt like a mad, sweaty dog.      Incidentally, Duncan Hannah these days looks like such a cool customer I can’t imagine he ever sweats at all:

Doesn't look as though he perspired all the much in earlier years either:


And yes the Parker Gallery is indeed in a suburban enclave, in fact it’s inside a mock Tudor mansion, and the casual gallery visitor would surely be deterred by the prospect of walking up that driveway and knocking on the door, which I suppose is the point. 

But I am made of sterner stuff.   I went up, rang the front door bell, and a very pleasant art gallery girl let me in, and I saw the Duncan Hannah exhibition which was terrific.  
I was all alone, there were no other visitors, and I was able to recreate my Van Gogh moment, walking through the rooms at the Parker pretending these Hannah paintings were mine, all mine.  It was rather a good feeling.

Hannah’s paintings are often both narrative and figurative (a tricky furrow to plow in this day and age), all calm surface but with a hint of inscrutable menace.  Something not quite right may have just happened, or may be about to happen but you don’t know what or why.  This is a particular favorite titled “Man Wrongfully Accused.”

A fellow traveler tells me that the setting is almost certainly Finchingfield, in Essex, and he's surely right, but I don't know what significance that has.

You'll note the absence of cars in the painting, but Hannah is really good with classic cars, such as this Karmann Ghia:

Want to see an old twentieth-century picture of your scribe with his Karmann Ghia? –  Course you do.  (NB I'm well aware that I was no Duncan Hannah looks-wise, but then, few are).

I had a vague plan that after seeing the exhibition I might walk on and have a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis-Brown house, which was not a million miles away, but it was too damn hot, and the route to the house was all up hill, so I went the other way, and I saw this, perhaps the most rigorously minimalist garden I've seen in a good long time.  Painterly.

Monday, April 9, 2018


This is how it sometimes works when you’re a determined pedestrian in Los Angeles. I was heading for the first annual Independent Art Book Fair, taking place as a pop up in a building on Maple Avenue, on the edge of downtown. I vaguely knew there was a street called Maple Avenue, but I had never knowingly set foot there, and I also knew it was part of the Fashion District, just a hop, skip and a jump from Skid Row.

I could have driven all the way there but there’s no joy in that, and besides, I have to protect my reputation as a walker.  But equally I wasn’t going to walk the whole of the eight miles each way, so the idea was to combine some walking with some other forms of locomotion.


So I got in the car, drove down the hill and parked, then walked the three quarters of a mile to the Metro station, got on the subway, traveled six stops, got out, then walked a circuitous mile and a half to the book fair, knowing of course that I’d have to do most of it again in reverse on the way back.  That pretty much adds up to a day out walking in Los Angeles. 


You know, I don’t hear the term “gendered space” as much as I used to, but that may say more about me than it does about space and gender.  I was by no means the only man on Maple Avenue, but it was interesting how out of place a man can feel when he's in a street festooned with strange, gaudy fabric, all of it for sale.  

Did I feel marginalized?  Well, maybe a little.   Did I experience the inverse tyranny of patriarchy?  Not so much.   Did my presence feel transgressive?  Well no, but it did feel like a small adventure, that I was in a place where I had no business and no involvement.  Clearly needs were being met, transactions were taking place, but they all seemed completely inscrutable to me.  What would you actually make out of fabric that looked like this?

I'm sure that Walter Benjamin has a fair amount to say about this. It didn’t seem to me that I was watching “high capitalism” at work but obviously commodities were involved and were changing hands.  Benjamin writes in The Arcades Project, “Empathy (in German einfühlung) with the commodity is fundamentally empathy with the exchange value itself.  The flâneur is the virtuoso of this empathy.”
I don’t know that I felt a great deal of empathy with the commodity in this case, kind of hard to have empathy with fabric that looked like this:

But I did notice one thing, that although some of (by no means all) the things for sale had prices on them, I had absolutely no idea whether this was a reasonable exchange value.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


I just reviewed Geoff Dyer’s The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand – there’s a link below at the end of this post – so I’ve been thinking a lot about Winogrand and street photography.

Neither the book nor the review discusses walking per se, but as a street photographer, Winogrand obviously did a lot of walking, as I suppose all street photographers must.  We tend to think of his “beat” as being in Manhattan but he traveled widely and spent time in LA.  Here he is on Hollywood Boulevard; the photograph is by Ted Pushinsky.

And here’s his most famous Hollywood Boulevard picture:

Towards the end of his life (whether he knew that he was coming to the end of his life is a moot point) he moved to Los Angeles and since he was suffering from a slow to recover broken leg, he had people drive him around and he took photographs out of the car window.

In a sense this seems like no way for a street photographer to operate, and his “strike rate” for good pictures seems to have been pretty low at this stage, but it did result in pictures such as the one above.  And this one:

That link is here: 

Monday, April 2, 2018


Lately I’ve been going for a walk on Sunday afternoons – no big deal, just in the neighborhood, East Hollywood and sometimes drifting up into Griffith Park, more of a stroll than a psychogeographic expedition.

And since more and more places are open on Sundays, and since more and more people work on Sundays, you might think Sunday shouldn’t feel so very different from every other day of the week, and yet it does.  I’m not completely sure whether it’s me or the universe, but there is something curious and melancholy about the world on a Sunday when you’re walking.

My best guess (for the time being) is that the people who are on the streets on a Sunday have more time on their hands, they move at a different pace than in the week, they have some sense of being “at leisure,” they’re drifting just like I am, and this creates some specific “ambiance.”

And naturally I found myself thinking about Thomas De Quincey’s line, “It was a Sunday afternoon, wet and cheerless: and a duller spectacle this earth of ours has not to show than a rainy Sunday in London.”  And yes I do think that a rainy afternoon in London is much worse than a sunny afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard, but the latter is not without its melancholy.

I can’t swear that the fellow below on the sidewalk (he's the same as the one up above) is an opium eater, but I’d guess he’s probably taken an opiate if not an opioid.  He looks quite comfortable.  And you know, having taken the picture I'm feeling guilty.  Should I have checked his pulse?  Should I have called an ambulance?  Well yes, possibly I should, although if you called an ambulance every time you saw somebody passed out on the sidewalk in Hollywood you wouldn't have time for much else.

And I can’t tell you what, if anything, this fellow below has taken (maybe beard-enhancer) but it didn’t seem to have cheered him up much:

And as for this person, well I don’t know if anything had been taken at all, which is to say I don’t know if this is a man or a woman, transvestite or transsexual, or someone who’s just gender fluid  – hey, in Hollywood in the park on a Sunday afternoon we don’t always check IDs.