A new way of seeing

by Tim Turner – Aug 13, 2020

When lockdown began, way back in March, many creative types decided this was their opportunity to embark on a project they’d always meant to tackle: to write that novel, master that musical instrument, learn that foreign language. I didn’t set out with any such ambitions, but I did start an Instagram account.

I know – ‘writer opens new social media account’ is hardly an earth-shattering headline. But to appreciate why it was a big deal for me, you need to know that I’ve always been someone whose understanding of the world is based almost entirely on words, not pictures. Basically, if there’s nothing to read, I’m not interested. When I visit a gallery, I spend at least as much time reading the labels as looking at the pictures, and art forms that have no verbal or written element – classical music, sculpture, ballet – do nothing for me.

So social media, for me, has mainly meant Twitter and the challenge of saying something witty or interesting in 280 characters. Until lockdown, that is.

Once I’d been exiled from the West End to my home in south-west London, I soon realised that walking was going to be vital, both to replace the exercise I would normally get from commuting and to get me out of the house. So, twice a day, before starting work and after finishing, I would tramp the local streets for anything up to an hour. And that’s when I started noticing things I hadn’t really seen before. A humorous memorial plaque on a bench in the high street. The way the sun lit up an alleyway in the morning. Quirky architectural details on unassuming buildings.

So I decided to start an Instagram account and set myself a challenge: to post a picture every day, taken on my iPhone during that day’s walks. That way, rather than just wandering along in a dream, I would be actively surveying my surroundings, on the lookout for something interesting to photograph. I’m lucky enough to have the Thames a couple of hundred metres from my house and Richmond Park a little further in the other direction, so picturesque scenery is easily accessible. But I’m equally liable to photograph a graffitied railway gantry or a set of railings that have rusted in an interesting way.

I’ve now posted more than 100 pictures. Inevitably, my editor’s instincts did eventually kick in; after a couple of months I introduced occasional ‘themed weeks’ as a way of giving my walks, and my photography, a particular purpose for a few days. Themes so far have ranged from shuttered pubs to graveyards, and from plaques and inscriptions to ironwork.

But I still try to resist the urge to write long, informative captions; two sentences at most, a few hashtags and that’s it. Let the pictures speak for themselves. And that’s something I never imagined myself saying.

Published Aug 13, 2020

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