John Waller: Permanent Drift

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday May 27, 2021


New from Daylight is Permanent Drift, a collection of black-and-white photographs by John Waller based on random explorations of his Philadelphia neighborhood when he was new to the city. Luminously caught in black and white, seemingly at the magic hours of late afternoon to evening, the images, as a sequence, convey the photographer’s experience of discovery and meaning in a rapidly changing urban environment.

Waller writes, “Olde Kensington, a small neighborhood just north of Center City Philadelphia, was predominantly a post-industrial area when I moved in, yet ominous signs of imminent change seemed to indicate that the fate of the place rested in other hands. 


“Muddling my way through the unfamiliar streets on foot, [I found that]  the city seemed to push and pull me in this direction or that one, like it was leading me somewhere. Sometimes I resisted, others I followed, but I never caught a glimpse of my secret guide, who insisted on remaining shrouded in the empty spaces of the city. As a record of these ambulations, this work limns the tension between the extant and the imminent, the intervalic experience of living in a city in flux, and a complicated relationship to place.


Waller then refers to the mid-twentieth century Paris-based intellectual movement called Lettrists International (later reconfigured by Guy Debord as Situationist International), radical artists who aimlessly wandered city precincts, “searching for what was something they called the city’s psychogeography. “ Waller goes on to say, 

“They did this by walking around without a destination, listening to the language of the city, drinking and talking in bars, and embracing chance encounters with images of affirmation, negation, eccentricity, and revelation. Streets and alleyways speak quietly about which way we should or shouldn’t go. These places may appear on a map and yet, be empty in our minds. In other words, we know the place exists, but we haven’t been there. Cities are full of these empty spaces. 


“Photography re-organizes the visual world.  The experience of living is made concrete through photography, but it is not accurate or true. The abstract reality it creates is a floating world. The space in-between photographs is blank. This gap in memory, this empty space, reverberates in the empty spaces of our own memories and ideas about our relationship to a place.’


True to co-founder Michael Itkoff’s concept of a photobook, this volume first seduces, then informs. Pete Duval’s insightful essay, “Ghostly Traces: Wandering the Urban Interstices”, which situates Waller’s work and process within various contexts, including that of the Lettrists, is placed at the end of the book, together with its captions. The high production values of Daylight, overseen by Creative Director Ursula Damm, are evident in the jacket image (above)  deeply debossed into the gray cloth cover; the print quality; and the heavy-weight dull coated paper. Quotes here from Waller are extracted from the Daylight blog.

Permanent Drift by John Waller, is available from Daylight.