Photowalk brings together people, technology and nature


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While most people wouldn’t associate aging populations and increased social media use with one another, they do have one thing in common: they’re both linked to higher risk of social isolation.

For the last five years, however, a group of photographers, walkers and anyone in between have been using social media, photography and an appreciation for nature to bring people of all stripes together to combat that isolation and enjoy what Nevada County has to offer.

In October 2015, Kial James and Erin Thiem started their first photowalk using Instagram’s InstaMeet feature, inviting local Instagram users in the area to meet, take photos and hang out. Since then, their meet-ups have grown into a mainstay for local photographers and people wanting to explore the hidden wonders of the county.

“It’s an enjoyable experience for anybody and an excuse to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer,” James said. “I really enjoy showcasing the area we get to call home and the beauty of the different nooks and crannies of Nevada County that sometimes people can’t actually get to for whatever reason.”

According to James, the duo aims to make their photowalks enthralling but also inclusive and accessible to anyone, whether they take photos with a Nikon or an iPhone, are avid hikers or just want to saunter along for some sight-seeing.

“We’ve got young folks, seniors, people in wheelchairs as well, so it’s really open to anybody of all experience levels,” James said. “You don’t have to be a professional at all.”

An opportunity

The group holds multiple photowalks each year, with the first one of 2020 starting at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Outside Inn before heading through the historic cemetery and to downtown Nevada City.

While most photowalks are free and open to everyone, the second one of the year — taking them through the Crystal Hermitage gardens after-hours — will require sign up and a $16 fee.

“Basically they shut down the gardens and give us the opportunity as the photowalkers to go and enjoy the gardens by ourselves with a smaller group, so you’re not dealing with massive crowds,” James said. “You get the opportunity to see these different locations at a time of night or morning when they’re not open to the general public, so it makes it a little more special.”

According to a 2017 study by the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, people who use social media frequently are three times more likely to feel socially isolated than those in the lowest quartile of average daily usage. The study links social isolation to negative health and mortality outcomes.

Similarly, a 2018 Journal of Gerontology report found 24% of community-dwelling adults over the age of 65 were socially isolated while 4% were severely socially isolated. The report also found that white older adults are more likely to experience social isolation than their black and Hispanic counterparts.

According to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, 93% of Nevada County’s population is white.

While a photowalk may not dissolve social isolation entirely, with the emphasis on nature, exercise and camaraderie, it may be a step in the right direction.

“It’s taking a little bit of time out of your day to sit back and enjoy the smaller things,” James said. “When you’re walking around you pay attention to a lot more details and what’s around you in your surroundings, and it’s just an opportunity to slow down a bit and take a break, whether it be from social media or life or whatever it may be.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.




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