Back in May of 2015, I posted about my “local photo safari” to a cemetery, where I took this photo of an oddly creepy, though slightly endearing headstone:

Whatever your art form, taking photos as a creative practice is an excellent partner to it.

Any time, you can grab your camera, or your phone and go on a walk. You can walk with a theme, or walk with an openness to see whatever you see. One type of walk is a color walk, where you walk around with a mission to capture whatever colors you spot as you go. I did one of those at Ox-Bow one summer and made this mosaic:

Color Study Mosaic, all photos are Copyright Elaine Luther 2013

I’ll see if I can find it again and I’ll post the title and author) talked about doing a walk around your neighborhood, taking pictures as you went.

Then you come back and make a simple collage (digital or paper), and then use those colors in your artwork. A way of showing the essence of a place. Or finding a way to express the experience of a place when you hadn’t known how.

Then I got to Ox-Bow School of Art and the natural dye teacher, Pamela Feldman, in her artist talk, showed us her color studies from specific places. She takes her photos from a specific place, uses those as she creates the natural dyes and then creates weavings using fibers dyed with those dyes.

That got me thinking about taking photos at Ox-Bow, with just color in mind. While I also captured the landscape, this mosaic shows some of the bright human-made colors there.


That’s one way to do a photo walk. Another is to use a wandering app. That’s right, we have apps to help us wander!

I was first introduced to the idea of a “drift” or “derive” in 2014, when I joined a project at the University of Illinois Maker Lab with artist Amanda Guitierez at the helm. She taught us the history of derives and took us on a number of themed wanders through the neighborhood. It was particularly interesting to me, and all of us in the project because we all had personal connections to the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago and the surrounding areas.

There are two main apps for photo wandering, Drift and Serendipitor. Drift describes itself like this:

“Drift helps you get lost in familiar places by guiding you on a walk using randomly assembled instructions. Each instruction will ask you to move in a specific direction and, using the compass, look for something normally hidden or unnoticed in our everyday experiences.”

Serendipitor describes itself like this:

“Serendipitor is an alternative navigation app for the iPhone that helps you find something by looking for something else.”

That’s the basic idea of a technology-guided wander. Here’s what I wrote about one of our walks during the project at the Maker Lab, the project was called Pilsen Derive.

Moon Over Pilsen Copyright Elaine Luther

Moon Over Pilsen Copyright Elaine Luther

Hole in Fence Pilsen by Elaine Luther

Hole in Fence Pilsen copyright Elaine Luther 2014

Green Door Pilsen by Elaine Luther

Green Door Pilsen copyright Elaine Luther 2014

Here are a few pictures from our second “drift” or wander through Pilsen, directed by the app Drift. The app had us going in circles and on busy roads.  Bad app!  Send me to the side streets.

The one of the green door, the app told us to go to the next stop sign, turn right and take a picture of the nearest door.  The nearest door was unbearably boring.  This one was across the street.  I took a picture of this one.

When we go on drifts, I am the slow one, taking lots of pictures, holding up the group.  Now I know how my husband, the photographer, feels.  “Come on, come on,” everyone says, and meanwhile a picture is calling to you to be taken.

Lately, this idea of neighborhoods and the history of where you’ve lived keeps coming up, all over the place.  Perhaps this is not that odd, since Chicago is a city of neighborhoods.  Other cities are not like this?

Waves of immigration define the city and immigrants settle together.  It’s possible to settle in your neighborhood and stay there, shop, live, work, and never need to speak English.  This is true across the city for a number of different native languages.

For the past two years, I’ve worked in Chinatown as part of the 20Neighborhoods project of Woman Made Gallery.  Now I’m part of Pilsen Derive, a collaborative project involving maps, history and photos of the Pilsen neighborhood, where I used to live.

The first thing we did at Pilsen Derivas was draw a map of all the houses/apartments we’d ever lived in.  Mine took three large pages.  I checked with my parents later, I’d forgotten a few houses.  Three, I think.

Friday night I was at an art opening and Nicole Hollander was there, doing a demo.  Her graphic memoir in progress was up on the wall and what was there, but a photo of the apartment building she lived in as a child.

Place, home, neighborhood.  I’m open to exploring these more in my art.  That seems to be the message I’m getting!


And here’s a link to my post showing images of my pieces at the final exhibition for the project, HERE.


Ready to try it?

You can find Drift in the app store, HERE.

Find Serendipitor in the app Store via this link on their site, HERE.