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PhD Semiotics of the Dark

A Visual Anthropology PhD in Dark Tourism

It was a day in late December 2013 and I was at home with not a lot to do. It felt weird as for one whole year I hadn’t had a moment to breathe, to even think or to sit on my own and just contemplate the world. I had been rushing around from country to country, doing what I love, exploring the places that others don’t see. It was a year earlier in December 2012 that I was given a gift of an amazing opportunity to create a book and document the Soviet Union before it is gone and what a year creating it, it was. But with the photos completed for the book and the chapters 80% written, I was left to think about what 2014 would bring. I started to think of a new book, one that would take me out of Europe and that would take me to the rest of the world. I thought about what I could photograph and decided to follow my heart.

I typed into google dark places in the world, I cant pin point my fascination for these places, it’s deep routed inside of me and probably why I hold such fascination in the decaying world. I became enlightened to find that these places were categorised as ‘Dark Tourism’ which although goes as far back as the medieval times, it was first coined by Professor John Lennon and Malcolm Foley as a field to study very recently. From this realisation, it lead me to plough the internet for more information, the more I read the more interesting it became, especially as it would seem I had secretly been acting as a dark tourist for many years without knowing. Chernobyl, Auschwitz, The Colosseum, The Body World Exhibition, London Dungeon, High Gate Cemetery. The list goes on and on and little had I known that I was one of these controversial travellers, drawn to death and tragedy.

My search took me to a facebook page, named Dark Tourism, I added myself and began to enjoy the discussions. In some rather random twist of fate one line drew me closer ‘Jonathan Skinner ‘PhD places – Uni Roehampton for research in dark tourism – contact me!’

I had never thought of doing a PHD, with my masters degree under my belt for many years, I thought that was it for education. Infact when I added Jonathan Skinner as a friend on facebook I didn’t have any intention of doing a PHD, the things that light up for me was the fact he was an academic, interested in Dark Tourism and I knew this is someone I would find very interesting to talk to. After a couple of hours of adding him, I received a message ‘Do I know you?’ Which was totally called for, as I did just randomly add him, but it wasn’t long before talks of PHD’s and meeting up had spiralled and just 4 days later I was sat opposite him in his office at Roehampton University, we talked about the PHD and Jonathan gave me a tour of the campus, university cat and all.

The facebook conversation had started with the fact I have never thought of doing a PHD and now it had ended with his PHD is all I can think about. I decieded I would give it a go. What drew me the most was Jonathan told me that there was a special scholarship called Techne, it was very hard to get and the competition would be high, but basically if the application would succeed all tuition fees would be covered and living costs also. So in other words the scholarship was worth around £60,000 in total, a true dream to create something amazing and for the next few months we bounced back ideas and came up with an application.

So with my project application planned and sent off to Techne, I received a confirmation from Roehampton that I had been accepted to the course and now I just need the scholarship in order for me to go forward. One day in May I received news that I had been awarded the scholarship, I was over the moon at what this meant for what will happen over the next three years, I am most excited about with this project and the doors it will open, the opportunities this will give me to research and travel to so many countries and for creating photos which will result in the book I wanted to do back in December 2013.

For three years commencing in 2015 I will be researching dark tourism travel and photography, the title of my thesis is ‘Semiotics of the Dark – The Capturing and Circulation of Dark Tourist Sites’ and I look forward to sharing my journey on this blog to all my readers.

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