Destination Nowhere: Geographic Adventures to Primordial Places
Why are we so fascinated by photographs of pristine places? Escapism via armchair travel? Hunger to return to simpler times and less-trodden lands where nature still holds sway? Fear that unspoiled landscapes will be soon be gone forever with the onset of the Anthropocene, wherein the crushing ecological footprint of humankind is now felt on a planetary scale?
Collections of photographs of natural places and wide-open spaces seem to appeal particularly to those of us who have the urge to simply wander. We prefer to travel with no intinerary or fixed final destination on a road to nowhere and everywhere so that humans recede to their proper place in the nature of things as just one of myriad interdependent life forms on planet earth.
Internationally acclaimed outdoor photographer Martin Kers captures this longing to roam the ends of the earth beyond civilization’s constraints in his latest collection Destination Nowhere: Geographic Adventures in Primordial Places. This book showcases what many would call desolate landscapes, but others find inspiring, healing, or restorative places to recharge human batteries drained by the constant busyness of modern life.
On a journey narrated by 350 striking images, Kers takes us beyond the outposts of civilization to remind us of a world free from cities, modern technology, and other intrusive signs of intensive human interference.
Having traveled the world working for newspapers and magazines, often for National Geographic, Kers has a vast selection of experiences from which to pick the locations for his shots. In this volume, locales include Alaska and the American West, the South American Andes, Ireland and the Scottish isles, North Africa’s Atlas Mountains, East Africa, Russia, China, South East Asia, Oceania, Australasia and the Scandinavian countries close to his Netherlands homeland.
The photographs stand alone without commentary, though they are punctuated by a few inspiring quotes from famous authors and thinkers which set the tone and the mood.
“A million miles from nowhere, is better than going nowhere, a million times.”
“Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whisky and some in love. It is all the same way and it leads nowhither.”
—W. Somerset Maugham
“Because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there is no place to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars.”
These reminders about the messages underlying the selection of photographs dovetail with Kers’ introductory mission statement about the intent of his lifework:
“This is a golden age of photography and I’m loving it. Images of landscapes, cities and people tell a unique story about our personal space and how we relate to one another. In many ways, what a photographer does is give others a chance to look at their world and gain perspective on where we stand, and what that means. I’ve always aimed to address the bigger picture and the world is my theatre and my focus…I simply create things to share with the world.”
In this way, each photograph serves as a projective stimulus prompting the viewer to to create her own narrative within the parameters set by the photographer’s lens.
“A car has stopped for a photo op close-up of a moose on a remote Alaskan road. Rather them than me! The moose is totally unfazed by his observers. It is HIS highway. The humans are the anachronism in this wild place—the voyeurs.”
“So cold. You can almost feel the flesh freezing on your bones. Why does Kers have a fixation on such inhospitable places? No traffic, no tracks, no houses on this ice road in Iceland. Why do they even need a road? This is not a place to hang around and just BE!”
“Life jacketed tourists on a raft in Glacier Bay close enough to FEEL the vibrations of the ice calving off. Humans look so small and vulnerable against the immense ice wall. Insignificant puny creatures despite our self-importance in the man-made realm. That too will pass.”
“A tractor is shoveling sand off a highway in the Atacama Desert in a dust storm. The operator is condemned like Sisyphus to a lifetime of mindless repetition so that man and his machines can get through! We keep on thinking that we can dominate nature despite all the evidence to the contrary. ABSURD. When will we ever learn!”
The majority of the photos show natural landscapes with no or minimal traces of human habitation or present traditional peoples engaged in sustainable land use and customary practices such as a tribal dance or ritual hunt. So, the occasional depiction of hyper-modernity comes as a shock. A Society Islander adorned with full body art sits wearing roller skates. Young Samoan women pose by their picnic basket in rather daring high-cut swim suits. One has dyed blonde hair. Another sports a very untraditional tattoo on her upper thigh.
Of course, the choice of locations and topics also tells the viewer something about the photographer. Clearly, Kers has a lifelong passion for the natural world and its extraordinary complexity reflected in his visual poetry and the way he teases out detail and textures even in the most apparently featureless vistas such as the Central Asian steppes.
An untitled frontispiece shows an intrepid road warrior in full field gear from well-worn boots to crumpled safari hat, bed roll hanging off his backpack, each compartment no doubt loaded with essential tools of the cameraman’s craft. This looks like a man on a lifelong mission to collect remarkable places and show the normal as extraordinary, and the exotic as somehow familiar. The end products are enduring artworks testifying to the grandeur and diversity of both nature and culture.
The photographs are not captioned, presumably with the intent of making the viewer read them as visual texts telling individual stories. A list of locations and page numbers is provided at the back of the book, but in very general terms, such as Chile Patagonia and Turkey East and not every picture is listed. Furthermore, the page numbers often seem to melt into the images leaving the literal and geographically anchored at sea. Is that road to nowhere in Siberia or Kazakhstan? People addicted to words might also find the book initially challenging, though the internet era is giving us a crash course on concise interactivity and visual/textual mashups.
Despite, or because of these challenges, which disrupt our accustomed modes of perceiving and interpreting, Destination Nowhere is a particularly timely reminder of the benefits, indeed necessity, of travel on both an individual and a societal basis. Kers cites these inspiring words from Mark Twain:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of earth all one’s lifetime.”
And today, more than ever, no human can be an island, and no country can insulate itself from global currents by constructing walls or moats.