Grant Sheehan is a travel photographer. His new photobook, In Memory of Travel (Phantom House Books, RRP $60), he explores the place travel holds in our memory and how it changes the way we see ourselves and the world.
What are the constraints and challenges of travel photography?
With proper planning and research, you can expect your daily life to go reasonably smoothly. However, when you travel, random moments in the universe can appear out of nowhere, no matter how carefully you take care of them.
There were a few challenges – getting arrested in Moscow’s Red Square by tourist police wanting to supplement their meager salaries, being accused by a very angry teenage elephant in Botswana and freezing my lip on my aluminum tripod in the Winter Alaska.
The worst part, however, was breaking my ribs disembarking from a small boat in strong waves at the start of a 10-day mission to the small volcanic island of Ambrym in Vanuatu, to cover the annual festival of magic.
It didn’t hurt that bad as long as I didn’t move. Unfortunately, with no vehicles, no electricity, and many hilly tracks on the island, a lot of travel was required.
How has travel changed the way you see the world?
In 1971, barely out of my teens, living in a small rural town, I traded in my precious, almost new Kawasaki Mach 3 motorcycle for a ticket for a charter flight to Amsterdam, with a return date of six months.
To me, that old cliché that “travel expands the mind” was a huge understatement. These six months of absence have been transformative. I hitchhiked across Europe, attended gigs by future super bands, lived nearly penniless for weeks in Amsterdam’s Vondell Park alongside remnants of the Ashbury Heights crowd, lived briefly in Berlin, then, accompanied by two German friends – one of whom had a father who fought against mine 28 years earlier in North Africa during World War II – I saw more of Europe.
I learned what it’s like to be almost destitute, walking around the amazing gardens and Palace of Versailles and hanging out on the trendy beaches of the Costa Brava, among several other mind-blowing experiences. I came back quite a different person.
No trip I’ve taken since has come close to that cathartic first experience, but it seems to me that every time you venture out into the world, your horizons expand, at least to some degree. measurement, by default. All in all, it certainly made me appreciate the variety and wonders of this planet Earth.
Favorite travel books that inspired you?
There are enough that I find inspiring, but there are two that really stand out. The first is Jan Morris’s, A Writer’s World, Travels 1950 – 2000 which summarizes his incredible career. Like all the best travel writers, his work was humorous, transporting and often peppered with memorable offbeat details.
She was also a wise commentator and had this to say about modern travel: “Travel, which was once either a necessity or an adventure, has become largely a commodity, and on all sides we are persuaded to think that it is is also a social requirement. .”
The second is Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, a journey by aging train, dilapidated bus, canoe and ferry across Africa, starting in Cairo and ending in Cape Town. This book, too, has a compelling, transportative quality and a rich descriptive texture. He brings to life the many diverse characters he encounters along the way.