A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog about the feelings of dislocation that I often experience when i’ve recently returned home from a trip. The posting seemed to resonate with a lot of folks and I was inundated with personal emails on the subject! (Thanks!)
As of last night, I’ve just returned home from Iceland. The trip didn’t go as expected, but I’ve returned once again with that feeling of being outside myself, detached from my home life and more connected with the life I was leading while I was in iceland.
But there has been a realisation for me over the past month. I’ve started to notice that memories of places I know, or places I hang out in different countries and landscapes, are becoming intertwined with with each other, as if they all belong to the same place.
Dare I say it, but I feels as if the whole world is becoming my home these days, and it’s of no surprise when I consider where I’ve been and where I’m going this year alone;
Iceland (3 times)
Norway (2 times)
Australia / Tasmania
….and also the workshops I’ve done at home here in Scotland
Memories of a familiar cafe in Reykjavík sit alongside memories of familiar restaurants in Chilean Patagonia. Walking up a street in downtown Reykjavík is becoming to feel as commonplace to me as I would feel walking up Sauchiehall street in Glasgow. The same is true, perhaps more importantly, for the landscape. The central highlands of Iceland, to my mind, are not too dissimilar from the landscape of the Bolivian altiplano. This is a rare luxury to own – the knowledge that there is familiarity in locations that others may find exotic. And sometimes certain landscapes trigger memories of other landscapes – I can get confused, thinking that one particular location I’ve witnessed belongs to the wrong country, simply because I see a similarity in the terrain.
I don’t bring this up to brag or boast. But merely to acknowledge that my life is far different from what it once was, and more importantly, it is causing me to re-interpret the landscapes I know so well – differently.
I seem to ‘see’ them in a different way now. Like friends you’ve known for so long, that do something out of character, and give you pause to re-think just who exactly they really are, there is a transformation that happens when landscapes from many countries start to become intertwined in your memories and thoughts. Features that seem very interesting to photograph, because they are exotic, can be used later, under a different occasion, and location, to interpret that other landscape differently. It’s hard for me to explain this. But maybe if I boil it down to this – it might be easier to understand: I’ve photographed many waterfalls in different countries. How I approach a particular waterfall on repeat visits tends to be influenced by how I got to know it in the first place. But what if I visit a brand new waterfall, in a different country, and it has a very similar look/feel/terrain/whatever to a well known waterfall? I find myself approaching it as if it’s a familiar friend to me already. My previous experiences are having an impact on my new experiences.
The world feels like my home, and I have spent so much time in places far and away from my home in Scotland, that I now have favourite haunts wherever I go.
But as much as all the traveling is making the world a smaller place for me, there is a price for all this and maybe one which isn’t so immediately apparent.
There are places I know so well, but I am realising that my friends know little of. I have become a stranger to my close friends through the acquisition of knowledge I’ve gained of new surroundings.
I would argue that most of our friends know the same terrain, the same places as we do. There is comfort and familiarity in knowing the same places. Like being from the same town, we feel we understand each other better if we share the same experiences, if we know the same locations, have felt and understand the types of rain you can get in Glencoe for instance.
I’m aware that some of my friends have little understanding of what it is that i’ve witnessed over the past few years of making images in foreign locations. But that doesn’t mean that their experiences are less valid than mine. I can be found to crave the simplicity of routine, of waking up in the same bed for more than a few weeks at a time. And their lives are going on, just as importantly as mine is. But our path’s have diverged, and it’s inevitable that I’ve become a little more distant because of this.
If all this were to grind to a halt tomorrow. No more travel for me, then I would welcome the chance to get ingrained back into a Scottish way of life. I don’t feel I can do that so easily right now as I’m often having to put my life on pause back here in Scotland while I go traveling. I feel like more than one person at times. But then again, it’s so lovely to meet up with my Norwegian friends in Lofoten when I go to run my photography trips there. They are as close to me, as friends that I have a few miles away from where I live in Edinburgh. I would also miss out on getting re-aquainted with the landscapes I love. I’ve had a serious love for Torres del Paine national park in Chilean Patagonia, and my visits are usually not longer than two or three years apart, since i first ventured there in 2003. I would find it hard to say goodbye to it, if I felt I was never to return.
But this assumption that I will return, is a luxury, and one that has been brought on by a radical change in my lifestyle. Have I changed through the experiences that having these close relationships with landscapes far and wide brings? Have I changed – through experiencing all the people I’ve met through my work, and all the friends I now have on just about every continent there is? Yes I think I have changed. My outlook is much more open. I feel less like a Scot, and more like a citizen of the world. One who still has an interest in finding out more about the world, and I guess that’s just great.