Agile PhotoWalks

Saturday’s outing with Toronto PhotoWalks (the photography group I started in 2009) was a good example of why I often refer to them as agile photowalks. (If you’re wondering what a photowalk is, then just imagine a group of photographers getting together to explore the streets and parks of the city, walking quite slowly so that we have time to see and shoot anything we find interesting, and then chatting about photography over a drink.)

From the early days of the group, I have always organised and led TOPW events in an agile fashion: walks have a start and end point, and a (somewhat flexible) time for reaching the end. Much like a project with a deadline, how we get from A to B and how much we do along the way are up to the participants. Sometimes the walk’s leader will suggest points of interest, for example there’s an historic building on road X, but when we’re in the area someone might spot a more interesting building on road Y, so we’ll head that way. (Sometimes part of the group takes road X and the others take road Y.) The main thing is that everyone knows the general direction we need to be heading, so if they take a detour they can adjust and still end up at the final meeting point.

What happened on our most recent walk was that the tail-enders (about six of us) had stopped to watch a few minutes of a football match and then took an unintentional detour (ok, we were lost), so when we reach a literal fork in the road we had to decide whether to go south and follow the route the rest of the group took, or go north taking a more direct path and skipping a couple of places we had hoped to see. There was one optimistic suggestion that we could walk faster and stick to the original plan but more realistic heads prevailed and we sacrificed the southern loop in order to try to catch up.

I usually try to stay near the back of the group to make sure no-one gets lost or left behind. The people at the front know the rough plan and can always contact me if they want to discuss options. Sometimes I need to call those at the front to ask them to pause for a few minutes to give the rest a chance to catch up, but the aim has never been to have the whole group (sometimes over fifty people!) walk in a single pack – almost as soon as we set off small affinity groups form because people like to chat or seek out similar photographic targets.

Then, when we reach our destination (usually a pub) we often discuss what we saw along the way – it’s surprising how often people miss something on the left because they were shooting something on the right, for example, so it’s fun to review a few pictures and learn from each other. Once in a while I’ll ask for feedback from a few people (e.g. a table of four to six people) especially those who are new to the group, because I know the regulars won’t be shy about telling me if they have a concern.

As the group has grown over the past 14 years there have been few problems. Membership is open to all but the Open Space “Law of Mobility” (used to be called the “Law of Two Feet”) seems to apply – those who find it engaging and beneficial stay with the group and those who don’t are free to move on.

With thanks to the TOPW members whose photos I’ve used to brighten up this post.