500px Global Photowalk: 110 cities and Guildford, Surrey...
"You'll need to notify the police" my wife said when the number of people expressing an interest climbed past the 30 mark. "Nah,” said I. "Human nature. Half of 'em won't turn up." In the end my prophecy was over optimistic. In spite of advertising all over the place on social media, the Guildford "chapter" of the 500px and Fujifilm Global Photowalk 2015 was, shall we say, compact and bijou. We outnumbered the parliamentary Liberal Democrats—just.
Photos by Bill Palmer (click on images to enlarge): (1) A political statement as the group helps church fundraising (2) Constitutional Hall, High Street (3) Old Grammar School, completed 1586 (4) Landmark clock in the High Street (5) Keep off the grass (6) Millmead (7) The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (8) The White House (9) Guildford castle (10) George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury and local philanthropist (11) Alice Through the Looking Glass (12) The Three Pigeons (13) Debenhams department store (14) The 500px group at the castle (15) Castle signage
I had learned that 500px was organising a worldwide Photowalk back in August when it was mentioned by one of the members of a forum on which I moderate. You could attend, or volunteer to run a walk of your own. Me being me I took the latter course and Guildford in Surrey proudly took its place alongside London, New York, Hong Kong and other megacities.
My first hurdle came with the recommendation of hosting your walk on Facebook. Since I would rather endure root canal work in a Sao Paulo sewer on a wet Wednesday I chose instead to use Meetup - a good choice as it happened, and one I will use again.
I set up the microsite, did some publicity on FujiXSpot, Photographers' Lounge, Streetwise and Twitter on top of that on Meetup and 500px, and watched with interest as members signed up—“build it and they will come" and all that. Within a week I had over 20 members, with about half that number "committed" to attend. The numbers climbed steadily over the next five weeks, peaking at 49.
Had they all turned up I would have indeed had a bit of a crowd control issue, in a busy market town on a sunny Saturday morning, but in the end just eight plucky souls made it on the day.
We spent three hours mooching around the most picturesque parts of central Guildford. As always the town did not disappoint - the Sun shone and the street was alive with people, performers and protesters— pretty much a normal weekend. Our route took us on a fish-hook shaped stroll from the Royal Grammar School at the top of the town, via the castle to the river and back up again to Tunsgate Arch. I'd walked it before, so I knew that it was both target-rich for all tastes and no more than two miles in length.
I put a lot of work into publicising and prepping. I don't regret a moment of it (and I have my notes on the various points of interest to use again) but it was quite disheartening on the day to see such a low turnout. On the morning, I had 14 confirmed attendees (down from a peak of 28 a week or so before) and in the end, just 8 turned up. Call me old fashioned, but if I say I am going to be somewhere or do something I follow through, or make my excuses in time. I seem to be in the minority these days.
Lesson two—a slow two-mile walk is far more tiring than a fast four mile one! I was not taking photos myself but I found new respect for my wife who has to hang around whilst I fiddle with lenses and point a camera at whatever has caught my eye this time.
Photos by Mike Evans, click to enlarge. (1) Abbot's Hospital (2) Alms box at Abbot's Hospital dated 1619 (3) Guildford's historic High Street (4) Alice Through the Looking Glass (5) Guildford Castle (6) Faux coat of arms of Edward I and Queen Eleanor, sometime residents at the castle, gracing the side of a car park (7) Alice in the glass in monochrome (8) Castle grounds (9) Alice again (10) Millmead. Black and white from M246 and 50mm Apo, colour from D-Lux.
Lesson three—it's immensely satisfying to share. Some of my party knew the town well, but were still seeing parts of it anew and with fresh eyes. Photography isn't always about capturing the image. Sometimes it's about presenting the scene for others and letting them realise a vision of their own.
If you are wondering about the outbreak of Alices, it's because Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) lived and died there. After the death of his father he became de facto head of the family, and took responsibility for the welfare of his six spinster sisters. He bought them a house - The Chestnuts - close to Guildford castle. He visited regularly and wrote Alice Through the Looking Glass there. He died in the house, and is buried locally. Guildford is understandably proud of the connection.
Lesson four —when organising something like this, too much information and too much notice doesn't necessarily pay dividends. Most of those who actually attended were late sign-ups, many who had committed weeks before did not show.
My thanks go to those who made it on the day and to the ever helpful Martyn, the manager at London Camera Exchange in Tunsgate who made us welcome at the end of our walk, He even offered a special discount on Fuji kit to the participants.
Would I do it again? Hell yes, but I would be a bit more pragmatic about numbers on the day!