Martin Kohler’s ‘Urban Walks’ are one of the most versatile ways in which to study a city
Two days ago when Martin Kohler set out to learn about Hyderabad, he didn’t hire a guide and go sight–seeing. Instead he walked, camera in hand, from Hafeezpet to KBR Park. An urbanist and photographer, Martin was in the city along with a group of architects and city planners from Germany. Speaking at a session organized by Goethe-Zentrum this Friday evening, he explained how walking through and documenting microspaces or places ‘where people live’ is a revealing anthropological exercise.
“When you walk you are closer to the people and have the advantage of seeing things from their perspective. The biggest advantage of photography is that it records things you don’t know at the time of taking the picture.” Martin supplements these photographs with field notes and GPS tracks.
Hyderabad is not the only urban agglomeration Martin has walked. Starting with Seoul in South Korea he has covered London, Istanbul, Mumbai, Detroit, Sao Paolo and Hamburg, among others. While he has a rough idea of the path he is going to take, he does not follow a strict map while walking. If an incident from Seoul where Martin found himself in the wrong side of a military camp was anything to go by, these walks are as adventurous as mountain treks.
His decision to walk through Hyderabad was influenced by the fact that it is a growing urban centre, which is a confluence of history and modernity. He observes that Hyderabad is the least pedestrian-friendly city he has walked. He noticed that roads in Hi-Tec city have large footpaths that nobody uses whereas the areas which have a large number of pedestrians don’t have any footpaths. “In areas without footpaths, I just followed in the steps of someone in front of me!” he said.
Another challenge he faces during his photo-documented walks in most cities is the way people react to his camera. Some people don’t want to be photographed at all while others are overly eager to be caught on camera. “This makes it difficult to capture the natural life of a place,” he says.
When he isn’t walking, Martin teaches urban photography at Hafen City University in Hamburg and undertakes research projects on open urban spaces. He is also looking for an innovating framework within which to publish pictures from his walks.
A slide show of the pictures he captured during his walks can be viewed on Vimeo.com.