Table of Contents
Welcome, to all the new people that joined in the past month.
My name is Mitch and you are reading Dialogue. A monthly newsletter about photography, exploration (whatever that might mean), and other oddities that occupy my mind. Photography really is the underlying current keeping everything afloat though. If you find this not to be your absolute jam after reading this month's missive, feel free to unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. I promise you won't hurt my feelings. And if you feel like you have something to say in response, that's also possible. In fact, I encourage it! This newsletter is called Dialogue for a reason. Now with that out of the way, let's get into the story.
I'm sitting in bed with a cat on my lap. It's not uncommon; they are usually extra kind around mealtime anyway, but today is a little different. The cat on my lap has already been fed but still doesn't want to leave my side for even a second. I think he senses I'm about to leave him for a couple of nights. If animals really have even the slightest heightened sense of awareness in this area, he must definitely notice the mix of nerves and excitement flowing through my body right now. I gently shove the cat from my lap and get up to walk over to the pre-packed bags in the other room. One final check to see if I have everything. Clothes, camera, another camera, tent, some chairs to sit on. 'Ah! My phone charger', I think to myself. I might even say it out loud to ensure I remember to bring it. Meanwhile, the cat is still watching my every move, now also joined by his brother. I pick up my bags and strap them tightly to my back. 'I'm going camping, guys, and I'm away only for a couple of nights', I tell the cats while pretending they understand what that means exactly. I look down at the tiny creatures on the floor, questioningly looking back up at me. Despite the weight on my back, I crouch down and give them each a kiss on their heads, almost losing my balance as I get back up and head out the door.
Down the rabbit hole
It's been exactly a year since I photographed chapter nine of our (it's a joint project between me and my friend Thijs, who's a writer) book The Efflorescence and now we're heading back to the same grounds to see how much life has changed since then. Down The Rabbit Hole 2022 was the first edition of the music festival everything returned back to normal for and, to us, that was worth documenting. It was the start of the euphoric conclusion of our year-long documentation of the pandemic and its effects on the festival and club industry in The Netherlands. Last year was special, this year probably not so much. At least not in the same way. Honestly, I'm mostly happy that I get to use my tent again. I got it for my birthday about a year and a half ago and have only gotten to use it once before it returned to storage for a whole year. Camping is a little cumbersome, sure, but it's also very fun. Sleeping outdoors comes with challenges and experiences you can't get while hiding away in a hotel room somewhere. Plus, the latter is not really an option for a music festival anyway. Definitely not when you wish to get the full experience.
We arrive at the campsite first, which means it's up to us to claim a spot for the group. There are just four of us right now and another eight following suit soon, so it's a balancing act of reserving space while respecting the people around us trying to do the same for their friends. I pitch our tent first because its sheer size signals a certain dominance to the immediate surroundings, while my friends work hard on getting our party tent on its legs. With both structures in place, we are able to mark off a sizable area for friends arriving tomorrow.
I'm halfway through pitching my tent when I realize I shouldn't forget making photos of this process too. There's no way these images will become fine art prints, but that shouldn't be the goal. This is my life, and it happens right now, so if I don't shoot it, I'll lose it. In some ways, documentation is not something you do, it's more a thing that's part of who you are. So even when I'm doing something as insignificant as pitching a tent, I still enjoy recording the experience because, suddenly, the insignificance fades and makes room for fond memories. I'm currently learning to focus on not only the fun moments, the type of stuff that most people would take a photo of, but also the moments when I'm not enjoying myself as much. Dragging the heavy stuff from the parking lot to the campsite has exhausted all four of us and I have to pace myself not to get grumpy when things don't go as smoothly as I prefer them to. This is exactly the type of situation where I would leave my camera in the bag. I don't necessarily want to remember the time I was tired, thirsty and still had to hastily pitch that tent. But now I also realize that's just part of life and if I don't document that part as well, I'm not telling the full story. So after I sit down and have a drink, I will be glad to have some images of even this glamourless moment that I would've otherwise forgotten.
The rest of the weekend is a blur in the most positive way possible. Music festivals are always hectic and bordering insanity when it comes to social interactions (40.0000 people on a field is crazy if you really think about it), personal hygiene (who needs showers when you can freshen up with a dab of cold water and a wet wipe), diet (fries with mayonnaise is a perfect substitute for a hearty home-cooked meal), and sufficient rest ('I can survive on 4 hours of sleep once a year, right? I'm sure I can do that three nights in a row as well'). Now that I think about it, camping at a music festival doesn't really give you the core experience of camping at all. There's no peaceful silence, no fresh air, no moments to reflect and come to yourself in a beautiful place. These are all things I associate with camping in my mind and what we're doing right now has a closer resemblance to survival.
Camping on the Big Walk
My ears are still ringing from the festival when I open my eyes again in the same tent but in a different location. This time though, I can actually enjoy the silence and fresh air because my tent is now pitched somewhere in the Batavia region, a 45-minute car ride south of my hometown. The reason I am here is to continue that Big Walk that I've been doing intermittently for almost two years now. There's no real reason for it taking two years besides my decision to walk it in segments whenever I had a gap in my calendar. It turns out that gaps in calendars fill themselves if you don't fill them so I've gone a full year, almost to the day, without making progress. I've already walked most of the route from the start until somewhere close to Veenendaal, and it's time to finish what I started.
As luck would have it, my dad and I were long overdue for a father-son outing, so when he suggested taking my new(ish) tent for a non-festival spin, I was immediately game. The segmented approach to a Big Walk (that's not really a Big Walk at all with its 90 km, but I digress) forces me to travel to the trailhead and back home after the walk on the same day. Most of the Grebbeliniepad runs close enough to my home that this is easily doable (hence why I've picked this route to begin with), but the final section is a solid hour and a half train and bus ride away. There's no convenient way to make this an enjoyable day of walking without staying overnight someplace close. Enter the father and son camping trip. With our date picked and our calendars blocked, I quickly concocted a plan to walk the otherwise unreachable extremities of this walk. I found a campsite smack dab in the middle of the route that allowed us to walk in one direction on the first day and the other direction on the second.
Connecting the dots
So on this Saturday morning, we strapped on our comfortable shoes and headed off towards our endpoint of the day, the bus stop (how glamorous) of Ouwehands Dierenpark, close to Rhenen. I calculated that if we managed to walk to this location, I would be able to easily take a bus to that stop on a different day and connect whatever we would traverse this weekend with the segments I've walked previously already. It's always a bit of a gamble how nice a walk is going to be because Google Street View can only tell you so much. This is especially true in forested areas where no Google car has ever ventured. While most of the walk was spent on roads where cars could come too, I've patrolled through gnarlier sections before, so it was rather enjoyable (I hope my dad thought so too). We end the day with a couple of beers and a good dinner at the local tavern.
The next day is perhaps even less glamorous because water is literally pouring from the sky when we wake up. Luckily the tent is spacious enough to comfortably enjoy a cup of coffee while waiting out the rain. As soon as it dies down, we are back on our feet to walk toward the end of the Grebbeliniepad. A momentous occasion because even though this is not the final segment of the walk I will be walking, this does place me on the other side of a 90KM route I decided to complete all those months ago. Before we are there though, we have to battle through a haunting combination of wind and rain that's roaring over the embankments of the river the Waal. It's by far the worst conditions I experienced during the entirety of my Grebbeliniepad walk. Even those January walks were easy compared to this. I feel a little bad for my dad because this is not the pleasant summer walk I promised him, but he's a real trooper through it all. Reaching the end of the route, a lunchroom awaits us and we order our second coffee of the day (much needed!). I look around at their choice of food, which turns out to be limited. French fries...? Fries and coffee..? I mean… both are nice, I guess. Ah, what the heck, why not.
The walk back is quick and efficient. I shot most of the images of the route on the way to the endpoint already, but I still keep my camera prepared at all times. The same location can look totally different when you approach it from another side. Just as we reach the tent we experience one more shower, making this the rainiest day while walking the Grebbeliniepad I’ve had so far. I guess if we’re talking about survival, this qualifies a little more than camping at a music festival. Despite the unfortunate weather, I am once again very motivated to finally complete this walk. It’s a rather arbitrary goal I set for myself simply because the route is easy to reach for me but it's been a great exercise for possible similar projects. Having now documented almost the entirety of it, I can really see the appeal of experiencing and documenting a landscape like this. Some of you know I've been playing with a couple of thoughts regarding this for a while already, but I'll save you the trouble for now.