2016 – The Year I Went Around The World Finding Beauty Within Darkness

2016 – The Year I Went Around The World Finding Beauty Within Darkness


“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

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I have returned to the UK with a sinking feeling in my heart, in January I gave up my flat and put my things into a storage container to travel around the world with just a suitcase and camera bag as my home I’ve not missed my things one little bit. I began the new year with a fresh passport and have already filled half with stamps from all around the globe, but not only have I collected stamps, I’ve gained hundreds of memories that I will take to my grave, this year has been the best in my life.

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I’ve been to 22 countries, Netherlands, Ukraine, Japan, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Greece, Austria, Slovakia, Hungry, Czech Republic, Greece, USA, Mexico, Cuba & Canada in 3 continents, Asia, Europe and USA. Kalinga, Chernobyl, Varanasi and Detroit will particularly always hold my heart.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

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I’ve had 45 flights.

London, UK – Netherlands, Eindhoven  – London, UK  – Kiev, Ukraine  – London, UK  – Seoul, Korea – Fukuoka, Japan * Hiroshima, Japan – Tokyo, Japan – Manila, Philippines – Siem Reap, Cambodia * Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Bangkok, Thailand – Chaing Rai, Thailand  – Bangkok Thailand * Ko Phangan, Thailand * Phuket, Thailand – Hanoi, Vietnam – Da Nang, Vietnam – Singapore – Manila, Philippines  – Singapore  – Bali, Indonesia  – Ngura, Indonesia  – Bali, Indonesia – Makassar, Indonesia – Singapore  – New Delhi  – Varanasi  – Mumbai, India  – Doha, Quatar – London, UK – Berlin, Germany – London, UK  – Kefalonia, Greece  – London, UK  – Cologne, Germany – London, UK  – NYC, USA * Detroit, USA – NYC, USA  – Mexico City, Mexico – Havana, Cuba – Mexico City, Mexico – Cancun, Mexico  – Detroit, USA – Boston, USA * Philadelphia, USA – Detroit, USA – NYC, USA – London, UK

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“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

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I’ve travelled for miles and miles and miles across every country by catamaran, bamboo train, bamboo raft, speed boat, tuk tuk, jeepney, train, motor bike, scooter, car, bus, truck, trike, auto rickshaw, boat, bullet train, cycle rickshaw, horse and walked 2000 km.

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I Visited over 100 Dark Tourism sites, over 100 abandoned buildings and a load of tourist sites thrown in. I have two external hard drives with images to fill two books and two new decay photography series. I poured every inch of energy and passion into these photos and I’m exhausted but loved that every day was a different adventure. I can’t wait to start sharing them and the stories behind. Its been hard as I have had no time to edit and share them, I just can’t wait to show you all in my books which will come out in 2017 & 2018. I completely pushed myself out of my comfort zone and going the extra mile to capture them.

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I just could never have imagined the things I’ve experienced, the beautiful people I’ve meet and the things I’ve seen. I’ve been travelling constantly since 2012 but never to this extent, I could never have dreamt I would have been able to do something like this and I feel very blessed.

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I thank everyone who has followed my daily visual diary and been with me along the way. I started doing this just so my family knew I was still alive no matter where I may have been on the planet, but so many have you have watched this journey and worried when I didn’t update, I thank you for caring and your comments showing so much interest is what Ive been up to, I just didn’t expect that at all.

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I’ve made every single day count, each hour has brought a new adventure. I’ve seen things I’d never thought I could imagine, experienced every sense, sight, sound, smell, touch in their extremities. I’ve meet so many wonderful humans along the way, making new friendships, some so strong they will remain in my heart until I die. Some just paths crossed but sharing happy moments together. I’ve had people show kindness all along the way and I feel truly blessed, thank you all for being part of this no matter how big or small.

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At the start of the year in Ukraine I visited the abandoned town of Pripyat in Chernobyl for the third time whilst snow fell all around us, which was a completly new experience for me in this desolate place. It gained a sense of mystery and sadness, which will always remain with me. Seeing a place so full of desolation and despair, makes you realise how special life is and Im glad to have had this experience at the start of this year.

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In Japan I explored the abandoned streets of nuclear Fukushima, walked for miles in the Japanese suicide forest and amongst the cherry blossoms and bamboo forests of Japan, eaten fresh sushi and seen beautiful castles. It was my first time experiencing a culture so different to in Europe and the USA and was a perfect start to my 4 month trip around Asia.

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In the Philippines I rode on the top of a Jeepney, sun on my skin and wind in my hair and visited 1000 year old Kabayan mummies in a secret cave. I walked across rope bridges with breathtaking mountain views as far as the eye can see. Saw my first water buffalo, drank rice wine for the first time and got crazy drunk. I saw the incredible Banaue rice terraces and then travelled to Sagada to sleep in a wooden hut and see hanging coffins on a cliff with some Iranians.

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I’ve discovered the ancient ruins of Ankor Wat in Cambodia and rode for hours through the dust in a tuk tuk, I rode on the back of my first motor bike and started an addiction for that. I watched the sunrise over a mystical temple and had my photo taken with a monk. I’ve cried tears at the killing fields in Cambodia and watched a lightning storm from high up overlooking dry land as far as I could see monkeys ran around my feet. I’ve got drunk with friends, danced and eaten insects.

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In Thailand I meet an elephant, visited the black and white temples which took my breathe away, spent time on the beach with my good friends, relaxing and got taught to hula hoop under a full moon. I volunteered at an animal shelter in Ko Phangan by dressing up doggies and taking their photo.

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Vietnam I spent hours walking around Hanoi getting lost in the bustle of the old town and then got stupidity drunk one night, it was so much fun but I missed my tour to Halong bay because of a mega hangover. I sat on the back of a motor bike on an unforgettable trip around Da Nang and visited  my cousin and her family in Ho Chi Min city.

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Back in the Philippines I climbed my first mountain, lay on the top camping under the stars and felt my first earth quake under my body. I taught a little boy in a hut at the top of a mountain how to make selfies on my phone. I slept in a wooden hut and sat round a bonfire while everyone played guitar, drank and sang. Travelled to the far remote village of Kalinga a mystical land where I was tattooed by a 98 year old lady and her grand daughter with an orange tree needle and the ink with the ash of a fire, while native pigs ran all around me.

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In Indonesia I got a poke tattoo meaning beauty, rode a horse up a volcano and stood on the top of the crater as it erupted and covered me from head to toe in black dust. I trekked up my second mountain in the darkness of morning and down into the crater to witness the blue flames of burning sulphur and then made a campfire at the summit to watch the sunrise. I witnessed my first dead body and felt true happiness of the power of life through seeing death. I attended a unique funeral in a place where death is celebrated more then life and watched the death of animals for the first time, buffalo and pigs died but it taught me a lesson on the importance of life and how fleeting it can be.

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In India I spent three weeks in the holy lands of Varanasi, spending each day in a weird trance like state. The power of spirituality constantly around me, I felt at home here, surrounded by the beauty of decay and in this place where my senses in every way where heightened I felt at peace with the world. I watched the cremation of bodies by the side of the river Ganges and smiled at a culture where death could be beautiful. I bathed in the river Ganges with friends at 2am and danced in the rain in moments of pure joy. Every day I drank chai and eat an assortment of curries and bought an Indian wedding dress which my friend took photos of around the streets of Varanasi. I felt pure happiness as I explored the slums of Mumbai, had kids swarming around me with the biggest smiles on their faces, despite living in such bad conditions.

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On return from Asia I went on a 20 day road trip with one of my new best friends and favourite clown Ben, who I had only known 5 hours before we embarked on a 20,000 km road trip around Europe, we got on like we had known each other for years. We meet up with amazing people along the way and visited hundreds of jewelled skeletons, mummies and crypts along with a tonne of abandoned buildings, drinking lots of wine and forging a strong friendship that means the world to me. (Miss you Ben)

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I photographed my good friends Stephi and Sean’s wedding in Greece, such a beautiful magical day filled with laughter and some pushing in pools very early in the morning and waking up in the best mans bed (he wasn’t in it, he’d just been a gentleman to the drunk photographer who got pushed fully clothed into the pool)

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I last minute booked a flight to Cologne for Photokina where I spent a week surrounded by incredibly talented photographers from all around the world, in an apartment sharing laughs, food, drink and inspiration. Got photographed by the mightly talented Renee Robyn in a giant ballgown in front of hundreds of people at Cologne Cathedral.

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Taken by Renee Robyn

Returning to the UK for a couple of weeks I caught up with family and friends and made a couple of special new ones. Before flying to the USA where I spent two months road tripping around 8 states. We drove from NYC to Detroit capturing dark tourism sites and abandoned buildings.

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For so long I’d wanted to explore Detroit and it was special for me to finally be there. I watched the sunset on a crumbling Detroit rooftop with a new special person in my life, drinking beer and then sat with him in his truck on the Detroit, Canada border dancing in the rain at midnight. With promise that hopefully I could return to actually cross the border.

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I partied in NYC with inspiring USA photographers and meet some I have wanted to hook up with for ages, caught up with my NYC photography agent and did a shoot in Central Park with a bunch of incredibly talented photographers.

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Taken by Vincent Minor

In Mexico, with my bro from another mother and awesome friends I experienced the Day of the Dead Festival, photographed the slums in Mexico City, went to the haunted island of dead dolls, Mexican Pyramids and  road tripped 9 hours on Halloween to see creepy Mexican mummies, which were totally the best dead things I’ve laid my eyes on.

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We flew to Havana, Cuba where we walked for hours in the blasting sunshine capturing photos of the beautifully crumbling buildings. Rode in gorgeous vintage cars and got stupidity drunk at an arty party capturing the hearts of many Cuban guys.

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Returning to the USA I spent my final weeks of this adventure first in Salem where I saw where the Salem witch trials happened, with my beloved kind friend Karen I got a pentagram and Ether symbol tattooed on my ankles.  I stayed with great friends Shannon and Dave for a week in their gorgeous home in Rhode Island exploring beautiful abandoned buildings in 4 states. I will never forget the ticks that attacked me and Shannon, multiple 5am wake up times, exploring in the snow and some tricky entries into some epic buildings.

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I got a bus to NYC and spent my first thanks giving, watched the Macy thanks giving parade and eating turkey with wonderful new friends, remembering how thankful I am to be alive and living this life.

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And slowly it began to dawn on me that it would all be over very soon, knowing I had just two weeks left, I made plans to spend time exploring decaying buildings in Philadelphia and then back to Detroit which held my heart. I spent 100 blissful hours in the arms of a special guy who took me raving in downtown Detroit, On my last day we ventured into Canada for burgers, more partying and an airbnb where we lay on the floor next to a glowing fire. a perfect end to the perfect year. I’m left heartbroken for so many reasons that all this is ending, it feels like I have been stabbed heard in the heart and even writing this blog I am choked by happy and sad tears, think of everything I have done.

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People ask me along the way if I’m here for business or pleasure. Ultimately I am working on a photography book commission and also as an anthropological researcher so I can write a thesis in 2017. These have funded this travel and so it has been important for me to achieve what is necessary for these things. I’ve been so exhausted at some stages, but I always kept pushing not wanting to miss a second, always saying yes to every opportunity that throws itself at me. Sometimes after long days travelling for hours, shooting in hot or freezing temperatures and countless km’s walking I arrive back to where I’m sleeping in the early hours in the morning, running on empty I need to find the strength to charge batteries, back up photos, pack, arrange tours and hotels. But I wouldn’t change it, I love how the crazy pace of life.

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This work has been ridden with a huge sense of pleasure, I’ve squeezed into my busy schedule time to see other things that wasn’t necessarily for my work and also found the time out to just enjoy a bit of social and relaxation time. I’m lucky in that I can say I feel so passionate about my work that I feel truly blessed and lucky that I can call this my job.

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This year has been unforgettable for my life. I have learnt that I no longer need a house and possessions  to be truly happy. I’d sooner collect memories then digits in my bank account. I’ve witnessed true poverty with people living with so little but with the biggest smiles on their faces and this to me has been life changing. I know I’m destined to migrate in time, my only ties to the uk are my mum, dad, nan and my brothers family and where ever I end up they will always be in my heart like they have been on this trip and there will always be plenty of visits. The world is my playground and I lust over these moments. I cry as all this has all touched my soul in more ways then one, I am in love with these people and cultures  I’ve seen that even in poverty these people smile and are grateful with even the small things in life. I have been a free spirit for this a year, I’ve never been happier.

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This is a new chapter for my life and I’m fully prepared to lead it now with no structure whatsoever. I just know I’m not one to settle down and I just want to feel free. I have no plans to take my possessions out of the storage container I placed them in January, I’m even toying with the idea of losing some ‘stuff’. I have no desire for things and I’m quite happy to just live with a back pack and camera, just continuing to explore this beautiful world for as long as I can and I already have new ideas for book projects to take me to new countries I wish to experience.

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And to the people! I’ve meet up with so many incredible humans along the way, I’ve meet up with over 150 of you fantastic individuals this year and I thank you all for your friendships and time. And to my auntie Diana who I lost in September you will always be in my thoughts. And especially those that have spent time to help me create my book Fukushima and Dark Tourism. These are now 95% photographically complete and return to Fukushima comes out in just 3 months and Dark Tourism a year after that. I have come in contact with so many souls along the way this year, love to you all and I hope our paths will cross again in my life story.

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I am a dark soul laced with the beauty I see in my surroundings. I choose to encompass myself with death and decay, but my existence is a banding of the beauty found in darkness. I have battled for so many years on why this sorrow consumes my existence, but now I have come to realise it is fine, I am fearless. I used to worry about my difference, my inability to fit in with the normal world, but I have come to realise that I can make a living from being an artistic soul. It makes me unique and therefore it is not something to try and hide.

My camera is how I view the world, it is my key to express the malevolence, beauty and melancholia that manifests inside my dark heart, it is my cathartic release to the visions of surreal darkness that lie inside my mind. I find that my antidote is to seek out in this unique world the beauty found in darkness, poetry and meaning in the forgotten, surreal, worlds amongst decay. My artworks breathe life into forgotten locations, they reawaken old narratives, find beauty and meaning in their shadowy ruin, revive the memories of lost moments in places tainted by the indigenous.

Unseen to the ordinary public who pass their boarded windows and fenced walls, I find entry to these mystical places hidden to the world, I sensitively capture them as beautiful piece of art as they deserve to be recorded for posterity too, before they are lost as time rolls inexorably on and they merely become ashes and dust. I capture the stories and characteristics through carefully composed images to include the romanticism and delicate memories of these ruins. In reality they will cease to exist very soon and as the memories fade, these places and the souls who once gave life to them will be forgotten, I find my inspiration in places lost in time.

I feel euphoria as I grow and never stop learning from this magical gift of capturing the emotion of these realms of the unconscious. I follow the ethereal light amongst the darkness, in finding emotion and serenity in these mystical locations. I will continue to push the boundaries of my work, never stop learning, make sacrifices and find courage to achieve the things I dream of. I have always believed to not put off until tomorrow what can be done today and that life is not about collecting possessions but experiences, when you are dead these will decay and be gone like so many of the haunting places I choose to take my camera

Living is about experiences, dreaming, challenging yourself, loving, travelling, collecting memories not things, as long as I can remember my life has been one big adventure. I dream big, photography is my passion, it consumes me, it makes this world real and the wonderment of creating art is more important to me then the air I inhale, it is my enchanted door away from the demons inside.

My soul is dark

But my existence full of light

I find beauty in darkness and this reflects in everything I create.

“Light Cannot Exist Without Darkness”

Fukushima Coming April 2017

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4 Comments

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  1. 3
    Michael Lewin

    I thought the images in your book Soviet Ghosts were outstanding, truly inspirational. I’ve seen other images of yours on your website which are equally inspiring. What I especially like about your work is the obvious commitment and passion you bring to it which clearly comes over again and again.

    “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
    Susan Sontag

    Good luck with the books

    Michael

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