Odyssey

Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, Traffic, 2013, from the series Eurasia

Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, Traffic, 2013, from the series Eurasia. Courtesy the artists, RaebervonStenglin, Sies+Höke, and Peter Lav Gallery

“The tourist hopes to catch something through his lens, while the traveler seeks to surrender, even to be claimed by a surprise in very real life,” celebrated travel writer Pico Iyer notes in his introduction to a portfolio of Jacob Aue Sobol’s photographs made while riding on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The unexpected route, the captivating spell of wanderlust, and the lure of the unpredictable bind the images in this issue. From early twentieth-century expeditions like those of Vittorio Sella, who created sublime views of the world’s most treacherous mountains, to the recent documentary projects of Invisible Borders, a West African photography collective, the camera is central to the journey—not just a means to prove the trip was made. Even so, for Emeka Okereke, the artistic director of Invisible Borders, “The purest form of the project is while we are on the road.”

Among the peripatetic wanderers brought together in these pages are Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, who drove a four-wheeler from Switzerland to Mongolia, photographing unfamiliar landscapes and futuristic architecture, and Justine Kurland, who has crossed the United States in a weathered van, adding thousands of miles to her odometer while pursuing a chronicle of American drifters. Precedence can be found in the travelogues of Wilfred Thesiger, who opted for camel over automobile in his arduous midcentury expeditions throughout the Arabian Peninsula, slowly pushing forward into the desert. “I had no desire to travel faster,” he wrote. “In this way there was time to notice things.”

Likening her artistic process to an “unconscious journey,” Tacita Dean, known for her prodigious output in film, still photography, and other forms, is attracted by the hunt for found images. Her oeuvre is marked by references to personal quests: one in search of Robert Smithson’s then-submerged land work Spiral Jetty, another for a boat, languishing on a remote island, that once belonged to a doomed amateur sailor. Yto Barrada also traces the path of submerged relics. Following the “dinosaur road”—the lucrative trade of purloined fossils between Morocco and Arizona—Barrada constructs her own map of archaeological exploits, constructing a sequence of landscape collages and found paintings, published here for the first time.

Some journeys are undertaken at moments of upheaval; some maps extend past the realm of public knowledge,or into an uncharted future. In his latest project, Trevor Paglen has plunged beneath the ocean to document the Trans-Atlantic cables that carry the bulk of Internet traffic now heavily monitored by government surveillance. Taryn Simon’s Black Square contains a letter to the future, a project expected to achieve its full realization in one thousand years. But the odyssey emblematic of our time, perhaps the most pressing issue of contemporary international consequence, is the flow of mass migration across North Africa and the Middle East toward Europe. Powerfully represented by Samuel Gratacap in his series Empire, refugees from many nations have reached a standstill at Choucha Camp in Tunisia and await passage to an elusive haven. To their north, the islands of Lesbos, Kos, and Lampedusa, among many others that figured in the geography of Homer’s epic poem, form an archipelago of uncertainty. At the edge of the Mediterranean, the longest journey is still to come, the territory just beyond the horizon. — The Editors

To read more from “Odyssey,” buy Issue 222, Spring 2016, “Odyssey” or subscribe to Aperture and never miss an issue.

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