Snap and chat: Photo walking meets the streets of Charlottesville

Stuart Holman’s upcoming release, Block: The Photobook, is the result of a community-wide photography collaboration that captures perspectives of Charlottesville. Photo: Stuart Holman Stuart Holman’s upcoming release, Block: The Photobook, is the result of a community-wide photography collaboration that captures perspectives of Charlottesville. Photo: Stuart Holman

If you ever come across a herd of nerds walking around Charlottesville with expensive-looking cameras, do not fear. They’re just photo walkers. And while their numbers are growing, they’re mostly harmless.

Charlottesville has at least two groups that regularly hold photo walks, and the phenomenon has gained worldwide traction. Scott Kelby, considered by some the godfather of photo walking, organizes an annual Worldwide Photo Walk that last year drew 20,148 participants to 1,052 walks around the globe.

It was inspiration from groups like Kelby’s that prompted C’ville photographer Stuart Holman to start a local version. He’s done five of them under the name Block: Photography Community for Creatives.

“The people that I have met through [online] communities have allowed me to meet people in Charlottesville,” Holman said. “It is really cool to come full circle and find people that share the same passion.”

Holman and a group of passionate shutterbugs’ next trek will wind three miles from the Rivanna Trail entrance near Riverside Lunch to East Main Street. Holman said he’ll bring along a few props—steel wool that’s lit aflame and twirled about, smoke bombs and sparklers—to enhance the experience.

And what exactly is that experience? According to Rick Stillings, who runs monthly photo walks through his non-profit, the Charlottesville Photography Initiative, it’s all about building the community of photographers and sharing inspiration and insight.

“We’re trying to foster an environment where there is collaboration, sometimes mentoring,” Stillings said. “Photography for a lot of people is a solo activity. You go out and shoot things or events, and for the most part we don’t work as a group or socialize as a group.”

Stillings said he likes to organize his participants into small groups of two to five. That way those who have “just taken their camera out of the box” can get some help from the old pros, and likewise the old pros might benefit from the newbies’ fresh perspective. Like Holman, Stillings said he tries to find interesting subjects for the walks—his group once did a tour of a retired insane asylum, and the next one is scheduled for April 4 at the St. Albans Sanatorium in Radford. Stillings’ largest photo walk, a 33-person event he organized in conjunction with a dance organization, was an outlier, but he said he has no trouble finding a dozen or so avid photographers for each tour.

“Most of our groups are amateur to semi-pro,” he said. “They look forward to the idea of just getting out and hanging out with other photographers.”

Holman said he believes online photo sharing has been instrumental in driving the number of hobbyist photographers who are up for photo walking. The relative ease of modern camera use and lack of need for film don’t hurt either.

“The automatic settings on the SLRs are easy to use,” he said. “Everyone is picking up these cameras, and that’s what is making photography just boom. People see these awesome pictures and ask, ‘What kind of camera are they using?’”

Holman and Stillings agree a fancy SLR camera isn’t required, though, and they’ve both had participants show up with iPhones on occasion. Holman said he’d even accept camera phone images for a book of local photography he’s developing as an offshoot of his photo walks—so long as the images show a unique perspective and interesting subject, of course.

The idea behind Block: The Photobook, Holman said, is to give local picture-taking enthusiasts an avenue through which to share their work other than online sites like Tumblr or Instagram.

“I see this image in my head of this thick black book of full-page images of the Albemarle County area, from photographers I know, and you know,” he said. “It gives me a very good feeling.”

Holman said he’ll be collecting images from local photographers through March 31, and the book could be available as soon as a month after that, depending on how many submissions he has to parse. He said he’ll likely be partial to images that capture a bit of local iconography, such as the UVA Lawn, and he favors a personal touch, applied at the time of the shot or using editing software. Each 20-page coffee table book will be printed to order and should cost about $30, he estimated.

Holman, who is a full-time administrator for Blue Ridge InternetWorks, isn’t looking to make any money from the books. Rather, the goal is much the same as that of a good photo walk: Find something beautiful and share it with others.

“It’s about getting out and photographing your city and environment,” said Stillings, who by day is on the systems staff in UVA’s Department of Computer Science. “We don’t do it to make any money, and anyone is welcome to join us.”

Do you have a favorite photographer in the community? Share it with us in the comments.

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