What provokes the desire that motivates travel?
One must first have a conception of ‘elsewhere’. With the formation of personal identity, one realises that there is more than just ‘here’, there is also ‘there’- where things are done more or less differently, by degrees. The knowledge of ‘there’ comes through experience, education, things in the culture more generally. Before the internet age, when everything is seemingly available and accessible all the time, these cultural products were sometimes frustratingly, obstinately hard to find, and, although I do not want to labour this theme too much, it is an important one.
In 2013 I travelled from London to St Petersburg by train. Documenting the journey through photography, I took notes but could not find a way in, a framework to write about it. The route of that journey was determined by a travel grant that my partner had received. In the spring of 2015, with my partner based in Stockholm, I wrote an unsuccessful grant application to fund travel there by rail. The reason for doing so was the fact that I could realistically plot a route which would stop at Wuppertal and Hamburg - and the train onwards from Hamburg takes to one of the remaining train ferries to Denmark. Twenty years earlier, when researching the films of Wim Wenders for a cultural studies essay, I watched Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, the two films that the library had, on VHS. Searching the library database returned three articles on Wim Wenders, including one from Sight and Sound from 1984, by John Pym, titled the ‘The Road From Wuppertal’. Although I did not reference this article in my essay, its description of Alice In The Cities, and then reading about Wenders’ working methods for his film in The Logic Of Images left an impression that would have to wait a decade to be realised. Oddly, perhaps, it was this very frustration (and the intensity of youth) that lent a force to these impressions then. Recently feeling like I had lost something - not youth exactly - but something that went along with youth, I realised as I wrote my grant application that a large part of it would became an investigation into autobiography.
There is a formative part of my identity linked to the events in my youth when Europe opened up: I was 14 in 1989, 17 in 1992, and 19 when the Channel Tunnel rail services began. Aspiring to feel European and connected to Europe, it seems recent right-wing shifts in the political landscape have stressed other, narrower, identities. The grant application attempted to reclaim a sense of youthful hopefulness by tracing the culture that made me want to be in Europe, identifying it primarily through European cinema, through films that I saw twenty years ago: notable cases being Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, Edgar Reitz's Die Zweite Heimat, and particularly Wim Wenders' films. However, it was the knowledge or idea of the films that I could not see then - especially Alice In The Cities, Kings Of The Road and The American Friend - that inspired the feeling best expressed through the German word Sehnsucht that I’d learned from Edgar Reitz.