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Silence And Photographs: Nashua Man Walking To California

Sheryl Rich-Kern

It’s summer. And for many college grads, a last chance to do something daring before entering the real world. Greg Hindyplans to spend a year walking from New Hampshire to California. Along the way, he’ll take photographs with a field camera. He calls it a performance art project, mostly because of the unusual rules of the journey.

Greg Hindy is taking a yearlong vow of silence.

That means no talking, no writing, no texting or watching TV.

Hindy took off a week ago.

"Generally, with a field camera, the first thing you have to do is load up the film."

Greg Hindy stands in his family’s living room in Nashua. It’s a couple of weeks before he begins his six thousand mile walk — in silence — and he’s practicing with his gear.

"It takes setting up this little pup tent for film changing."

In addition to a small tent, a compass and a map, he plans to carry a tripod and a large-format field camera.

"It’s all light-tight within the camera. I can remove the dark slide.  Take the picture.  And then…"

As he adjusts the lens, his gestures are calm and meticulous, much like his demeanor.

But Greg Hindy — who graduated from Yale with a degree in cognitive science  —isn’t shy.

In fact, he can talk endlessly about what he might think about during his tour:

"I think the unknown risks…I think it draws me towards it because I really don’t know what will be the worst day of the year…I think it will be lonely and maybe disturbing…I think that how we experience life through consumption of time is an interesting concept."

Hindy says he’ll photograph what interests him and mail film back to Nashua.

That way, his parents will know where he’s been. They’ll also see his debit transactions online.

To get by without speaking, Hindy will use pre-printed cards that ask things like, “where is the bathroom?”

Hindy has mapped out a general route heading west.  But it’s not like he’s plotted every waypoint.

"I’m assuming I’ll be lost most of the year. I generally get lost very easily. In a way, if I ended up completely lost and walked circles the whole year, I wouldn’t consider the project a failure. I may even find that more interesting.

Hindy says that next year when he develops the film, he’s curious how the photos will trigger memories.  Of course, he won’t have notes.

The rigors of the trip seem a bit extreme.

But Hindy says the restrictions he’s placed on himself are what make this a performance art piece.

He opens an oversized book on the Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh, who he says inspired him.

"As you flip through the photographs, I think they communicate a lot."

He points to the black-and-white portrait of Shay, who confined himself in a hand-built cage for a year without speaking.

"It’s not about struggle. It is a struggle, photographed. A person’s response tends to be, why would he do this? I think just causing people to ask those questions, such as, why do I sit in a cubicle all day that’s smaller than his cage? We really confine ourselves in these daily routines. We don’t do it for one year. We do it for forty years.

But certainly artists can find less drastic ways to probe the meaning of life.

And here’s the point in the story where the reporter might ask a psychologist: why would anyone want to do this?

As it turns out, both of Hindy’s parents are psychologists.

And they both acknowledge it hasn’t been easy coming to terms with Greg’s project.

But his dad, Carl Hindy, says that his son doesn’t see his silence as a barrier:

"For him, the fact of his silence is communicating. And how people react and deal with his silence is part of what he is observing."

His son also convinced his dad that this year they may connect more than ever.

"It’s true in a way, in a kind of an artist’s way, that he’s going to be constantly on my mind. Every piece of data — or charge I see he made on his debit card —  is going to seem all that much more important for the lack of more data. You know, let’s see, what did he buy? He bought granola and bug spray, oh great."

Greg Hindy left home the second week of July. He expects to break the year of silence on his 23rd birthday at a friend’s house in Los Angeles.

That will bring him to July 9, 2014. By then, he’s likely to have a lot to say.

Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ

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