So, I’m self-publishing a photobook

 Posted by on November 16, 2017
Nov 162017
 

I’ve thought long and hard about why I feel the need to entomb my thoughts and pictures between some book board. Over the next few posts I’ll be talking about some of this thought process and why, at a time when photographs seem more disposable than ever, I think I’ve got something important to say with them.

In the world of trans-continental bicycle travel my ride was not particularly significant. Many thousands of people have completed much longer, more arduous and challenging bike rides and the bookshelves are well stocked with their tales. So from the start I’ve wanted to do something a bit different from the travel biography and focus on another element of my story.

I spent a long time photographing the people who helped me. The brief spontaneous acts of hospitality which made what could have been a rather repetitive exercise a joy. From the elaborate all-inclusive dinner, bed and breakfast followed by a visit to every living relative within a mile radius, to a brief gesture of goodwill at the roadside. Experiences which were impossible to predict and often barely lasted long enough to document.

After 2 years back home in the UK it’s clear that hospitality for the travelling stranger is harder to come by. Yes it can be found, but it is not as common. I can only speculate at why this might be. Is it that, having achieved a high standard of living, we are now more protective of it? That we have forgotten what it is like to suffer or go without and can’t see when people might be in need? That we don’t have the time? Can’t see the benefit? That hospitality is not a particularly important part of our culture we feel the need to uphold? Or that it is more likely to be thought of as a commercial transaction than a common courtesy?

In reality it’s likely a mix of all the above and more. So when we are presented with an opportunity to be hospitable the risks and inconveniences appear to outway the benefits and more often than not we pass the opportunity up.

What makes those who helped me on my journey special was that they overcame all these perceived risks and inconveniences: the worry that we might not get along, that I might take advantage, outstay my welcome or be a nuisance. In the brief moments they had to act they extended a helping hand and in the process they helped to break down barriers. They created an opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise have existed, for two random people to meet and learn from each other. Out of nothing they created an experience in the hope that it would have a positive effect on both our lives.

Now, I think this and all that it represents is a pretty big deal.

When I look back through my pictures of these encounters I’m struck that they are evidence of the prevalence of human kindness. The images and stories seem an antidote to themes in today’s world which undermine our trust in people: fear mongering news headlines, acts of terrorism, random violence or harassment. Facts and stories which tell us to take caution and avoid, but don’t tell us when to have faith. Messages which appear to have our best interests at heart, but which when followed without question can lead to predictable, boring and, most worryingly, closed-minded lives.

It’s odd then that of all the characteristics of my photographs, I like most that the people in them do not seem overly happy. My photographs do not show the gleeful encounters you might expect from an archetypal travel photograph. Instead, my subjects’ expressions show all of the uncertainties described above: doubt, scepticism, caution…

For me what’s significant in this is that I can see in their expressions the same doubts and uncertainties I experience when wondering if to trust someone. I can see they are susceptible to all the same thought processes as me and they ask themselves the same questions as I do… When does someone who trusts in people’s kindness become someone who is too easily lead, a mug or a pushover? At what point does someone who insists on being cautious become paranoid, boring or closed-minded?

Despite facing tricky questions the people in these photographs still decided to trust and help me. And for someone like me, for whom the inclination does not come naturally and is not habitual, this makes hospitality seem all the more achievable. These images make hospitality seem familiar, everyday, almost banal; as if it could be achieved just as well on my local high street as it is on the Silk Road.

Of course the truth of the matter is just that, hospitality shouldn’t be seen as special or remarkable. For most who do it hospitality is simple and everyday, and a natural extension of who they are and their outlook on life. The people in my photographs aren’t immune to the same uncertainties and doubts that we may have, but what unifies them is that they didn’t let this uncertainty dictate their actions.

It’s this little idea which I thought would make a fine concept for a book. One which can prompt some reflection and serve as a reminder of just how welcoming the world can be.

Next I’ll be chatting about how I’ve taken this concept and worked it into the design of a photobook, including why I’ve felt the need to bind the books by hand.

In the meantime, here are some of those quizzical looks from roadside Samaritans to leave you with…

ANG_7926

ANG_3003

ANG_7681

ANG_8055

ANG_0226-Edit-2

ANG_0328

ANG_1889

Looking back at cycling across Asia

 Posted by on October 3, 2017
Oct 032017
 
Looking back at cycling across Asia

I can barely believe it, but it’s been over three years since I finished my bike ride. Long enough for my life to have taken many twists and turns and for it to be becoming increasingly difficult to remember those loose-footed days on the road. All the while this blog has been neglected, but as I’ve got a bit more time on my hands at the moment I’d like to conclude things properly. So I’m […]

Journey’s End

 Posted by on June 11, 2014
Jun 112014
 
Journey's End

15 months of cycling, people, places, cultures, encounters, indescribable highs, soul destroying lows, feelings of boredom, love, frustration and passion all compressed into a single moment. When I look down through my scratched sunglasses, held together with more superglue than anything else, the tarmac slips past at that familiar pace and I could be anywhere; cycling off into Turkey on those first confusing days, bewildered in a big empty Central Asian desert, having a small […]

What I Like Doing Best…

 Posted by on April 12, 2014
Apr 122014
 
What I Like Doing Best...

Cycle, breathe, listen, look about, think a little, then stop, get off, have a snack, maybe a chat, get back on and repeat. It’s the life rhythm which engulfs anyone who travels for long distances on a bicycle. It’s a gloriously simple, wonderfully self-indulgent and a purely escapist way to live. For the most part we do nothing of any great significance, but as my travels begin to near their end I think more and […]

Cycling Laos continued…

 Posted by on March 25, 2014
Mar 252014
 
Cycling Laos continued...

Continuing on from the last post here’s the next episode from Laos. Daniel and I waved goodbye to Stephane in Vientiane where he crossed over to Thailand chasing a deadline in Java. We renewed our visas and then continued along the scenic route snaking this and way that and enjoying taking the time to cherry pick some of the best roads in the country. Even if they do take us out of our way and […]

It’s a Dirty Business

 Posted by on March 10, 2014
Mar 102014
 
It's a Dirty Business

Vietnam heaves with 88 million, Thailand bustles with 66 million and in the middle lies Laos with just 6.5 million people to lay claim to a country similar in size to the UK. It’s quiet, relaxed and there’s space to breathe – the perfect antidote to China. For the last month I’ve been tying together a seemingly endless string of dirt roads to cross this forgotten little corner of south east Asia. It’s a secretive […]

A Year Ago Today…

 Posted by on March 4, 2014
Mar 042014
 
A Year Ago Today...

A year ago today all of this began. The plane touched down in Istanbul, I put my bike together in Taksim Square, checked in with some Couchsurfers and a couple of days later began cycling. 19,000km down the road I’m in Laos with a head full of memories, a very worn bicycle and a stomach bug to go with. So since I’ve got some time to kill and no better internet connection than some flakey […]

It Feels Good to be Back

 Posted by on February 3, 2014
Feb 032014
 
It Feels Good to be Back

With China now a memory and with some dirt firmly embedded in my tyres I can comfortably say that it feels good to be back on dirt roads. China ended as abruptly as it began. Once across into Laos the motivation to continue the sort of rampant cycling that brought me rapidly south evaporated in the midday heat. And now that I’m in a place where travel is not restricted to a date stamp in […]

I am free but I am a prisoner

 Posted by on January 14, 2014
Jan 142014
 
I am free but I am a prisoner

Let’s try that again shall we? Sorry for everyone who read the first version of this post, slow internet caused half of it to go missing in the wires. Hopefully this one arrives with you all in one piece. Enjoy. All those months ago when I was making preparations to leave Alastair Humphreys sent me his mappazine “There Are Other Rivers” which documents his walk across India. Full of nervous anticipation I enjoyed browsing through […]

People, People Everywhere

 Posted by on December 17, 2013
Dec 172013
 
People, People Everywhere

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been winding my way down from frigid Lanzhou to jungly Chengdu. As I’ve dropped south I’ve been slowly leaving the bitter north behind me. Water has begun flowing in its liquid form once again, snow has disappeared from the fields, tent pegs no longer freeze in the ground, toes and fingers stay warm all day long and night time shivers are becoming a distant memory. But before I […]