One of the most evident impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has possibly been the travel restrictions, affecting relationships and world economies that depend on the global displacement of goods and people, which in turn has left many without livelihoods and in some cases, stranded far from their homes and families. For those who have had the good fortune of being secure, we have been forced to take a closer look at our immediate environment and to
re-evaluate our closest relationships. Many of us have had to re-calibrate our lives, adapting to the ‘new normal’ and nostalgic for a time that we may never go back to.
The photobooks presented here invite you to explore themes of travel in photography & book-making practices, within the context of confinement and as juxtaposed with liberty.
If we think of Homer’s Odysseus who makes his journey back home after the Trojan war, or Tennyson’s Ulysses who travels away from home for the sake of travel itself, both represent a kind of nostos from different stages in their lives. For Odysseus, the journey is a homecoming, to his kingdom and his family. The trials he has to face before he settles down for the rest of his life in his own domestic environment, the knowledge and experience gained as a consequence of this circumstance, are his adventures. For Ulysses, the domestic place is one of boredom and travel is the escape, the adventure and limits of knowledge are experiences to strive for to give meaning to what is left of his life. They both want a return to a life which they can never truly go ‘back’ to because time and experience have altered their identities, and also the places from their memories.
Nostalgia, derived from the Greek nostos, implies memory or souvenir as in French. What is a photograph if not a souvenir, a keepsake, a memory vault ?
Dragana Jurišić writes of her book YU: The Lost Country , ‘Photography contains elements such as fleetingness, which allow it to capture that sense of rootlessness and dislocation with relative ease. Both exile and photography intensify our perception of the world. In both, memory is in its underlying core. Both are characterised by melancholy.’ For her, travel is to be always alert and observant, a perspective that comes from our natural instinct to survive, and one that is prolonged when one is exiled.
Chandan Gomes’ journey to the mountains coincides with the finding of a book of drawings made by a child in an Ashram in Jaipur. In his book This World of Dew, Aini Bano’s drawings are resurrected through Chandan’s photographs. In the words of Italo Calvino, Aini's imagined landscapes have, through the photographs, ‘..take(n) on an irrevocability that can no longer be doubted.’
Photographers throughout history have taken to traveling as a source of inspiration, knowledge, self-study, activism, escape, livelihood. Just as in photography, memory and identity are intrinsic to the experience of displacement and displacement is integral to the practice of photography.
Sohrab Hura marries his internal monolog with the life he encounters along the Mississippi river in his self-published book The Levee. Making the voyage by land alongside the southern part of the river from Ohio to the delta in Louisiana, the images he makes are simultaneously a nod to some of the great American documentary photographers before him, and a subversion of popular stereotypes surrounding the places in response to the sociopolitical climate at the time. Hura’s photographs tell us to come closer and to see the humanity for ourselves, there’s nothing to fear.
This equation of documentary photography with truth has lent the medium to being a powerful tool for propaganda and for social justice.
Allan Sekula in his book Fish Story uses photography along with writing to look at global capital through the shipping industry, challenging existing practices in documentary photography and its ability to engage society in critical discourse. He explores the seas as catalysts for globalisation and as facilitators of production and exchange of goods and services, perpetuating a system that overlooks the communities that drive it.
In A Handful of Dust , David Campany takes us through a time warp, proposing the metaphor of ‘dust’ as a point of departure to help understand Modernity through a history of photographic documents found in both professional and amateur archives. We revisit these historical images that interconnect as they travel through time, viewing their trajectories from our contemporary vantage point.
Jean Baudrillard, as quoted by Dragana Jurišić in her book, writes that ‘part of the pleasure of traveling is “to dive into places where others are compelled to live and come out unscathed, full of the malicious pleasure of abandoning them to their fate.” ’
We see traces of this gaze in Martin Parr’s book Life’s A Beach, except in his case, malicious pleasure has been replaced by droll commentary. An alien in these destinations, Parr is like a visitor who is observing the beach-holiday phenomenon and the theatrics of tourism & leisure as if for the first time, endearingly smirking at humankind’s oddities.
Also with a certain lightness, Kapil Das presents us with an objectivity in his gaze which he turns onto his own environment, so to speak, in his book Something So Clear. He takes us on a journey through India and through his psyche, allowing us to look through the mundane and the stereotypes, to find humour in the quotidien and to make our own subconscious map of responses to the image sequences.
Finally, what is a speculation about traveling in this world without a speculation about traveling outside of it ?
If, during the pandemic, looking closely at our environments is a reaction to confinement, then traveling through cyberspace is a rejection of it. The otherworld of bits and bytes that connects us through the ether has its own architecture. Mario Santanilla explores this world of digital archives in Still Life - Mirrors and Window - as he journeys through cyberspace, exploring personal and collective anecdotes and their trajectories in this labyrinth of information.
Photography’s ability to go between fact, fiction and magic realism can open up portals in the imagination. In the book Phenomena by Sara Galbiati, Peter Helles Eriksen & Tobias Selnæs Markussen, we travel through southwestern parts of the United States of America exploring stories of residents’ accounts of alien sightings. Transporting the reader through this playful and slightly eerie documentation, the collaborative book project transforms the landscape, inviting us to suspend disbelief and judgement as we go through the book. Like Ulysees, 'humanity's quest for truth and meaning' manifests in the subjects' search for other worlds, and a vision of this otherworld is manifested through the artists' photographs.
Reflecting on the various motivations for and methods of travel, on photography’s innate dependance on it and on the photobook as a vehicle, this reading room is not a best-of list but a cross section of approaches to imagemaking and bookmaking, all of which are linked, literally or metaphorically, to the ideas presented above and what they represent for our collective present experience.
The sequence of books follows no particular order and every publication is accompanied by a sound piece.
The soundscapes are assembled using found clips and are tailored in collaboration with music producer & artist
Rahul Nadkarni as a response to each book.
We invite you to put on your headphones and to travel freely through this virtual reading room.