In 1964 an eighteen-year-old art student named Richard Long went for a walk in the hills near his home in Bristol, where the land was covered in a thin layer of snow. In a moment of boyish caprice, he began rolling a snowball through it. As it rolled, it picked up granules of snow, leaving behind a denuded, muddy trail. Charmed by the sight of that line—a kind of negative sculpture, a deletion, the memory of motion—Long photographed the snowball’s crooked trail.
He liked the photo enough to show it around. Perhaps, he thought, he had discovered some new form of sculpture. Not long afterward, a faculty member from Long’s art school called his parents into a meeting to announce that their son was being kicked out. Decades later, when asked the reason, Long replied that the kind of work he had begun making troubled them. The administrators worried Long might be going “mad” and instructed him to have no further contact with the other students. “That was really my first big break as an artist,” Long recalled.
Next, Long took a train out to the countryside and found a flat grassy field. With intensely methodical steps, aligning himself with a point in the distance and another behind himself, he began to walk across the field to the edge of the forest and then walked back, being careful to make as straight a line as possible. He repeated this until a faint line appeared in the grass. Then, using what he called “a ridiculously primitive little box camera,” he snapped a single photo. He would later title it “A Line Made by Walking.”
In 1969 Long’s work was included in a seminal exhibition called When Attitudes Become Form. His photograph of a simple line across a flat field now hangs in the Tate in London and is regarded as one of the seminal works of British land art—understated, ephemeral, philosophical, a rebuke to modernism, materialism, and the age of machine travel. “Long,” wrote Tate director Nicholas Serota, “gave new meaning to an activity as old as man himself. Nothing in the history of art quite prepared us for the originality of his action.”
(Source: Robert Moor—How to Cross a Field of Snow, Lapham’s Quarterly ‘Discovery’ Issue; Richard Long—A Line Made by Walking, 1967)