When you hear the name Walden, you most likely think of some peaceful landscapes, a calm pond surrounded by green trees, and, if you’re of a literary bent, the two years and two months that Henry David Thoreau spent living in a cabin by the lake. And if you encounter S. B. Walker’s new photobook Walden, you might think that it’s just a bunch of photos of this calm locale. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
But it’s not. In many ways, this book shows the dark side of Walden: the way the world has changed and become crowded, dirty, how people have given up on the values that Thoreau presents in his book. Walker’s photos are the rural equivalent of street photography, showing people by the lake fishing, talking on phones, standing by their cars. There are photos of people at a landfill, a fallen ice cream cone, and a bag of trash by the edge of the pond. Even one of the first photos in the book, showing two people frolicking in the pond while a zodiac labeled Walden Patrol speeds by – most likely leaving behind a wake of noise – makes it clear that this book is not about the Walden Pond that is considered a national treasure.
But in showing the other side of Walden – all these photos were shot on or near Walden Pond – Walker shows how the world that Thoreau warned us of in his writings has come to be. How we disdain the beauty of a location that Thoreau felt was almost holy.
This is the dark reality of modern America, in stark black and white, a documentary built around a central idea, perhaps that the utopia of Walden never really existed, or it only existed in Thoreau’s mind. As good photography often is, this book is disturbing, but it is honest.
Here are a few photos from the photographer’s website to give you an idea of what the book contains: