‘Books for Photographers that aren’t about Photography #2’
'Of Walking in Ice’ by Werner Herzog
(Munich - Paris. 23rd November-14th December 1974)
I have a pretty bad memory, so at first I couldn’t remember where I found my copy of 'Of Walking in Ice’ (shown here). Luckily on the inside cover I had written 'winter. Scotland 2000’. Which narrows it down.
In the summer of 2000 I had graduated from Brighton University. On a whim and with an invite from an old school friend, I had abandoned the south coast and moved to Edinburgh, or to be precise my friends rather isolated house near Dalkeith. By the Winter, the time of this book purchase, I was living in a small flat in Portobello, Edinburgh. I would explore this area with a camera loaded with black & white film that I couldn’t afford to develop; I was making photographs I wouldn’t actually see for over a year. Walking was at the heart of this process, my work stemmed from the wandering, minor explorations in the cold Scottish semi-rural hinterland. Its no wonder I was drawn to Herzog’s book.
'Of Walking in Ice’ is a record of a winter journey made by Werner Herzog in 1974. On hearing that a friend, living in the outskirts of Paris, is very ill he sets off on foot to visit her. He believes that the sheer effort of making this journey on foot will 'bring her back’ to health.
He sets off from Munich and heads cross country to Paris, a journey that will take him three months, with little else but a map, compass and a few things in a duffel bag. He skirts the black forest, walks the Rhien and the Seine; Paris takes shape gradually as he walks into the city through its edges. He takes shelter where he can, sometimes using barns or abandoned houses in which to sleep. The weather becomes a central character of the book, thick damp fog, cold sharp rain and of course snow fill the pages.
After a day or two, away from people, and open to the elements Herzog enters a kind of reverie, he observes the landscape in beautiful detail, with a seemingly fresh clarity.Although Herzog is obviously a romantic, this isn’t an idealistic stroll through Arcadia. The reality of the journey ahead cuts in with the pain of blisters, the discomfort of sleeping rough and the momentary feeling of the ridiculousness of the task he has taken on. The landscape of his writing is often a clash of the natural and the artificial, he notices that even in this modern wilderness you are never far away from rubbish, litter and abandoned vehicles. One of the reasons I recommend this book to photographers is because of the way Herzog observes and describes tiny visual details so well.
Herzog’s reverie, his wandering and his observations, felt like my experience in the winter landscape of Scotland at this time. In his momentary doubts of the sanity of what he was doing, I also recognised something of what I felt about my picture making: why was I going out, making pictures that no one was interested in, that I couldn’t afford to even develop and look at? These are probably familiar feelings for many photographers.
During my winter in Scotland I found Werner Herzog’s beautifully visual & romantic journey a comfort, something familiar to come back to after exploring a winter hinterland of my own. Its belief in the journey as an action of creativity also helped me while I asked a lot of questions about my work, and why I made it.
'Of Walking in Ice’ is a lovely book of just under 90 pages. I’m sure I probably found my copy in one of Edinburgh’s second hand book shops for a pound or two, but looking on line it looks like its now going for about £20. I still think its worth every penny.
(via Amazon UK)
(via Amazon USA)
(via Abe Books)