Contextual Research

Week One

As my project may possibly be looking at travel photography in terms of the actual mechanics and process of travel rather than the destinations, I started by approaching the idea from a theoretical perspective – what is travel? Why do we travel? My first stop was the philosopher Alain de Botton, who speaks of

“the curious phenomenon whereby valuable elements maybe easier to experience in art and anticipation than in reality. The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress, they cut away periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments and, without either lying or embellishing, thus lend to life a vividness and coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present…The present might be compared to a long-winded film from which memory and anticipation select photographic highlights.”

So my intention is to try and fill in the gaps. I already have a collection of photographs of hotel rooms, all taken and processed in a similar style, the intention being to show that regardless of where we are in the world, some aspects of our (my) experience change little.

Hotel room, Belfast, Ireland
Chittagong, Bangladesh
Hotel room, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Manama, Bahrain
Hotel room, Manama, Bahrain
Warsaw, Poland
Hotel room, Warsaw, Poland

This also works in conjunction with the book of photographs I made in response to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, in this case, Nineteen Airports and a Metro Station.


De Botton, Alain (2003). The Art Of Travel. London: Penguin Books. p15


Week Two

As with many people, my interest in serious travel photography began with Steve McCurry. Prior to a visit to Bangkok, I went back through his archives, particularly interested in what I remembered of his photographs of the railways of India. Looking further, there were two in particular from his website that struck a chord:

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From India by Steve McCurry
From India by Steve McCurry

There was another shot that I remembered vividly which I could not find on McCurry’s page, of a porter with suitcases balanced on his head.

From India by Steve McCurry

Further research showed that it was a photograph at the centre of some recent controversy after Indian photographer Satish Sharma accused McCurry of having staged this and several other photographs in his 1984 series for National Geographic on India’s railways.

Having already decided to visit Bangkok’s main railway station, I realised that I possess neither the temperament nor the clout to stage photographs, so I would take my cameras and my chances with whatever I might find.


McCurry, Steve, India [online]. Available at (accessed 23 August 2018)


Week Three

One of the facets of travel that I am interested in how to capture, is the idea of time. Having spent innumerous hours on planes and trains and buses over the past few years, I am aware that the majority of people do everything they can to blot these hours from their lives; hence in car entertainment, in flight entertainment, and ten hours on a bus between Hanoi and Guilin with an incomprehensible and ear-threateningly loud series of Chinese music videos. Looking into how this subject has been broached photographically (and with photography being in essence, the capture of an instant in time, there is a lot of it) I was struck by the work of Michael Wesley and his ultra-long exposures of cities.

Michael Wesley 7 August 2001 – 7 June 2004, The Museum of Modern Art

However, if anything, this was the opposite of what I was trying for – when we travel, our immediate environment (the seat, the table, the screaming child behind us) stays the same while the wider environment moves at a rate of knots. My own (not particularly successful) experiment shooting from the window of a moving taxi did, nevertheless, start me thinking about how I might interpret this phenomenon, possibly in a future project.


Wesley, Michael. 7 August 2001 – 7 June 2004, The Museum of Modern Art [online]. Available at (accessed 23 August 2018)


Week Five

This week I was thinking mostly about psychogeography. As part of my move back to the UK, I have rather unfortunately sent all my books in a box to go on a ship somewhere (following them would be an interesting project!) so relied much on what I looked at two units ago when I first looked into the ideas of Debord et all (see Week 7 here). As this is a side project, I have not gone too much further into researching the ideas behind it. Should I ever decide to develop it, then I shall!


Week Six

Having decided that I will focus on British borders, I have a trip to the Scottish border planned for a few days after I return. Much of my research thus far has been historical and, sorry to say, largely Wikipedia based, though given that I am looking for sites to see if there is anything worth photographing I suppose that will suffice. However, via an online article from Time magazine, I did come across the work of Jo Metson Scott, whose series of photographs taken around the time of the most recent referendum have been illuminating. Although her approach is broader than mine, taking into account the people as well as just the landscape, it gave me a much clearer idea of what I will be looking for and how I might approach it.


Metson Scott, Jo (2014). The Borderland [online]. Available at (accessed 23 August 2018)


Week Seven

One thing that I noticed at the border was, yet again, just how ridiculous borders are. The line along the countryside that thousands or more have died for is now mostly just either a dry-stone wall through a field, a picnic spot or, often, even less. Thinking that my aesthetic should really show how dark I find the idea of borders, I remembered the work of Don McCullin I saw in Arles two years ago. It wasn’t so much the war photography as the peacetime landscapes of his Somerset home – they were still infused with such darkness as though what he had witnessed had tainted the way he sees the world forever.

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It occurred to me that, really really not wishing to draw too many parallels between my own comfortable middle-class existence and McCullin’s experience of humanity at its worst, this might be the sort of aesthetic I could use. Previously, desperate to try and carve what I though of as my own style, I really wanted to keep the same look as previous units, but with this different subject matter it just wasn’t cutting it.

The border north of Berwick
The border north of Berwick


McCullin, Don (1988). Dew Pond by Iron Age Hill Fort, Somerset [online]. Available at (accessed 23 August 2018)


Week Eight

Shooting the Welsh border was at the same time easier and more difficult – easier because my father is Welsh and an historian; harder because this meant that there was a lot more information to sift through. Two books were pivotal – John Davies’s unparalleled History of Wales and Jan Morris’s Wales. I found these immensely useful also in that much of the Anglo-Welsh history is a lot further in the past than its Anglo-Scottish counterpart and thus further obscured. I identified Cwmhir Abbey as both a battlefield and as a link to the martyr Llewelyn ap Gruffudd (after whom I am (middle) named) as well as the birch forests of the Black Mountains which remained lawless (due to geographical terrain) long after the borders were decided. Also, the battle of Bryn Glas which left nearly a thousand corpses rotting in a field seemed now to be a beautiful and ancient church in the middle of a meadow.

Visually, I went back through the work of David Hurn, who though perhaps most famous as a celebrity photographer of the swinging sixties, also returned to his home in Wales in the 1970s and produced a great deal of great work, which I have always dearly loved.

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This proved close to both the subject matter and the aesthetic I was looking for.


Davies, John (1994). A History of Wales. London: Penguin Books

Hurn, David (1976). Tintern Forest [online]. Available at  (accessed 23 August 2018)

Morris, Jan (2000). Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country. London: Penguin Books


Week Nine

This week has mostly been researching Irish history and pretty grim it has been too. I have, again largely via Wikipedia, targeted several areas that I need to visit, primarily Crossmaglen, Killeen and Various parts of Belfast and have booked a ‘both sides of the story’ walking tour taken in two halves by former members of the IRA and UVF respectively.

Photography wise, I returned today to Mark Power’s work on the Shipping Forecast as my exemplar of how to tell a story and how to sum up a place visually. As usual it is a little dispiriting to look at work of a quality that is so high I can barely even understand the thinking behind it, but every time I return to it I find something new. As in my day job (teaching English) I am convinced that the more good quality work we spend our time with, the more of its language seeps into our unconscious. As I never tire of telling parents, you can’t teach the difference between students who read every day and those who rarely pick up a book. Power’s image of Malin (where I will travel as it is close to the border) is a real favourite.

MALIN. Monday 6 September 1993. Southeast backing easterly 4 or 5, increasing 6 in south. Mainly fair. Moderate or good by Mark Power


Power, Mark (1993). The Shipping Forecast [online]. Available at (accessed 23 August 2018)


Week Ten

Charles McQuillan is a Belfast photographer commissioned by Getty Images and then the BBC to photograph the border between Northern and the Republic of Ireland. I discovered his work via a BBC article and found it extremely informative, particularly in the context of the article itself. Much like Jo Metson Scott back in Week Six, his work is much more specific with regards to looking at the people affected by the border as well as the border itself, but it was instrumental in helping me find where to look.

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This, along with the historical research into the Troubles (particularly in South Armagh) allowed my to draw up a plan and gave my work the narrative focus that I was hoping might develop after my return from Scotland and Wales.


McQuillan, Charles (2017). The Border [online]. Available at (accessed 23 August 2018)