“Where We Walk”

By Rusty Sterling Back to


As a photographer, I look for inspiration. This takes me to the heights of epiphany or the depths of frus- tration. Most times I think I wallow somewhere in between. For me my epiphany as a photographer happened after three years of study with Dick Dischler, my mentor/photographer/teacher.

My project “Where We Walk” began after a walk-about with Dick. During our stroll he stopped to make a few images, explaining to me that he “sees in small things the full landscape of an image.” A short time later I spied a light reflection on the asphalt of an alleyway. I took my first shot and he, always pushing me, called out “work it!” I took several more and during the rest of the walk-about I began focusing on what I saw at my feet and seeing that “full landscape” before taking a shot. Often I had heard those words in Dick’s workshops, but that day it clicked.

It certainly is a privilege to study with Dick. A long-time member of the Ralph Weiss workshops in NYC, he studied with Arthur Leipzig. Dick also was an early member and served on the board of directors of the Jamaican Arts Mobilization ( J.A.M.) group that created Public Studio Project #1, which is now part of the New York Museum of Modern Art.

I joined one of Dick’s early six-month Pre-visualization Workshops at Keeble & Shuchet Photography in Palo Alto, CA, during the summer of 2009. These workshops are similar to the Weiss workshops that Dick attended as a young photographer. The essence of pre-visualization is not just seeing an image and capturing it with a camera, but also visualizing how it will appear once it is processed and printed. I now understand that to be prepared and pre-visualize allows me to “see” and create rhythm in my photographs.

Admittedly, I struggled through workshop assignments in the past trying to grasp Dick’s suggestions as he reviewed my work. Dick spends the time identifying strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. I walked into the reviews feeling worthless about my work and left feeling more so. It wasn’t what he said. It was what I personally perceived about my work. Certainly we are our own worst enemies. This is one of the major lessons I have taken away from my studies with Dick.

I am not new to photography. I spent some 20 years as a photojournalist. But that day in the summer of 2011 on the walk-about with him, I ended up with my head turned around. I realized a new clarity about what he had been saying in the workshops over those many months. He exhorts us to “get small.” In the past, I thought time and again I knew what he meant; but on that day I suddenly realized it really was about getting my ego out of the way, relaxing and relying more on my instincts. There is a Zen to photography.

At the same time, I remembered him telling me many times that Edward Weston said: “If you can see your feet, you can see a photograph.”

On that day, I went home, looked at what I had shot and decided that there are images right at our feet if we can only let go enough and take the time to see them. There is art at our feet on the sidewalks, in the streets, on the walls and fences we pass and in the gardens where we often only give a glance.

Some of my images are easily familiar to most viewers but many are merely random abstractions of chance. It could be a mason’s last swirl of his trowel after laying a sidewalk; the shapes left in old bricks that have been newly laid; a water stain forming a pattern as it dries on concrete after a rain or paint dripped randomly on the sidewalk or street.

So I plow the fields of my neighborhood generally carrying my Lumix LX3. I learned a long time ago that the camera does not matter. Yes, I do own a couple of DSLRs and a bag full of lenses. The smaller LX3 serves me much better for this project.

I have to say that I feel inspired knowing that there is art to be found merely by walking around and looking down. I am prepared to “see” as I observe images that had previously eluded me. I often recognize photographs before bringing my camera to my eye.

Certainly, as photographers the images we take are static. Nonetheless, a good photograph—even of static things—will have a rhythm that engages the viewer. I find myself literally dancing with the possibilities that were always there yet I previously failed to see. I certainly notice more than one of my neighbors looking at me like I have lost my mind when I am down on my belly capturing a vision that mesmerizes me.

My wife even started walking with me. At first she expressed annoyance at my constant stops to make images. Later, she started pointing things out to me.

My wife’s acceptance of my shooting is most gratifying. The best compliment she has paid to me is noting, “I love how you are always seeing photographs.”

I created the book “Where We Walk” using the new Book Module in Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 4. I have shot more than 1,200 images since the beginning of the project. I only used 49 for the book.

In my travels, there are things I stumble across that “work” much more than others. For example, I discovered a skateboard park that resembles a canyon. I couldn’t just take one, two or three images of this gem. I spent one day going back several times to shoot in different light situations. The discovery is calling me to do another project.

I already am working on a couple of other projects unrelated to “Where We Walk.” One of them, which I call “Whimsy,” is a result of a quality that Dick and I discovered in some of my images. I don’t go looking for whimsical photos, they just seem to present themselves to me. It is how I see the world—my unique, emerging style and the product of my preparedness and pre-visualization.

These three years of study in the workshops has not only changed the images I take but my sense of self. It also has introduced me to a community of talented and supportive photographers. We all learn together and inspire one another.

I now see the essence of photography as honing the ability to see what is presented to me as I capture the image. Ever grateful for Dick’s tutelage, I now experience frequent epiphany moments with greater depths of passion as a photographer.

Resources: Adobe Lightroom: adobe.com; blurb.com; panasonic.com

About the Author

Rusty Sterling
Rusty Sterling has held a camera in his hands for more then five decades. He worked for 20 years as a photojournalist with daily newspapers in California and Virginia and won numerous awards for photojournalism and fine arts photography. With a particular love of black & white photography he still embraces film but does most of his work with digital cameras. For the last two years he has worked as the Photography Exhibit Director for the San Mateo County Fair Fine Arts Galleria. rustysterling.com. View the book Where We Walk at: http://www.blurb.com/ bookstore/detail/3061479