Travel, culture and communication

Author Archive


The goal of August Sander (1876-1964) was… “to create a collective portrait of German society during the Weimar era, a truthful outline of the existing social order. With the systematic methodology of a social scientist, Sander assembeld in front of his lens individuals from all walks of life – peasants, clergymen, painters, bureaucrats, gypsies, secretaries, bricklayers, nuns, clerks, the unemployed, and the mentally ill – representing them in their daily environments or against neutral studio backdrops. He divided the portraits into seven sections comprising a total of forty-five portfolios, ordering them sequentially to make the existing social order visible. Each section addressed a specific population group: farmers, workers, women, professionals, artists, and city dwellers. His enormous archive ended with “The Last People”, those on the fringes of society: the handicapped, sick and dying.”

In Focus, August Sander. Photographs from the J Paul Getty Museum. (2000)

I have always been fascinated by attempts to impose order on complex human life. Sander meticulously documents typologies, but at the same time, each individual stares out at you from a personal world too mysterious to ignore.

The following photographers appeal to me for the same reason. There is order and there is individuality, facelessness and identity. Jim Naughten’s “Re-enactors” portrait project documents people who come from all over the world to simulate WW1 and WWll battles in a field in Kent. Dressed in authentic war apparel, they re-enact the war. Bill Kouwenhoven (foreward to Naughten’s book) suggests that ” Naughten deliberately provides us with almost nothing of the real lives of the persons he photographs, but rather he present us with images of people pretending to be soldeirs or sailors who have just re-staged various battles… Naughten invites us to ask “Who are these people?” and “What makes them tick”?

Jan Banning’s Bureaucrats are united in a pursuit, divided by “culture” and identity. Simply by observing their environments in the minutest detail, their lives reveal themselves to us. We are similar, we are different.


Student Work – visual methods

“Visual images imbue modern society with potent and persuasive means to convey information, evoke mood or sell products. Rarely do we get what we see, so much so that, as viewers, we approach visual imagery with something of a jaundiced eye. Are we seeing a fair representation of reality in the visual image….? We know that photographers can be highly selective in constructing their subject and so as sociologists, as consumers, as viewers we rarely respond to images as simple truth. We are used to visual material being shot through with a hidden or not-so-hidden agenda – having an ulterior purpose.”

Picture This: Reseaching Child Workers. A Bolton, C Pole and P Mizen. Sociology. Vol 35, No 2. p 504


“To photograph is to confer importance.”

“The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque. It is a view of the world which denies interconnectedness, continuity, but which confers on each moment the character of a mystery. Any photography has multiple meanings… The ultimate wisdom of a photograph is to say: “There is the surface. Now think – or rather feel, intuit – what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.”

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. London:Penguin


“The intelligibility of a photograph is no simple thing; photographs are texts inscribed in terms of what we may call “photographic discourse”, but this discourse, like any other, engages discourses beyond itself, the “photographic text”, like any other, is the site of a complex “intertextuality”, an overlapping series of previous texts “taken for granted” at a particular cultural and historical juncture.”

V. Burgin (ed) (1982). Thinking Photography. Palgrave MacMillan


Journeys with my camera






“In Chinese, it is the same word 豕 (jia) for “home” and “family” and sometimes including “house”. To us, family is same thing as house, and this house is their only home too. 豕, a roof on top, then some legs and arms inside. When you write this character down, you can feel those legs and arms move around underneath the roof. Home, is a dwelling house for the family to live.

But English, it’s different. In Roget’s Thesaurus, “Family” related to: subdivision, greed, genealogy, parental, posterity, community, nobility.

It seems like that “family” doesn’t mean a place. Maybe  in West people just move round from one house to another house? Always looking for a house, maybe that’s the lifelong job for Westerners…”

Xiaolu Guo, (2007). A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers. Chatto and Windus.


“If our lives are dominated by the search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest – in all its ardour and paradoxes – than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about outside the constraints of work and the struggle for our survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems – that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, we hear little of why and how we should go – though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial and whose study might in modest ways contribue to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia or human flourishing.”

de Botton, A. (2003) The Art of Travel. London: Penguin. p 9


Alain de Botton sets up an interesting dichotomy between “work” and what happens outside our “struggle for survival”. Our travels become a search for happiness, escapism perhaps, a way of learning about the world and ourselves. But is he right that most travel is in fact about airports, immigration queues, the next meal/sight/activity, avoiding mosquitoes… and as such is only a form of work displaced to somewhere else?

Post your thoughts on anything – travel, happiness, places, cultures and people that you will never forget, how we can appreciate the new….