Sometimes Travel Brings More Questions Than Answers

Sometimes Travel Brings More Questions Than Answers

While riding around the smoldering embers of collapsed West Virginian coal towns, I felt something like a sadness but that’s not quite the right feeling.

Along back roads tucked in the mountains, I asked many questions of myself, of the universe. I came away with no answers. Only more questions.

I wondered about the lives that lived in broken-down shanties. I wondered what the people sitting on porches in the middle of a Thursday afternoon wondered about. I wondered what people did for work, if they had enough to eat, if they felt limited by their situation or comfortable in all they’ve ever known. I wondered what they would see as luxurious or if they were motivated by material wants. I wondered if the story I’d heard over the weekend about people dishing out frontier justice was true.

It seemed wrong to stop and take photos of derelict homesteads with junk scattered around their yards. The people within were just living their lives and along comes some gawking outsider. It seemed like objectification or judgement. Which, I suppose is true – it was. Though my intention would never be to hurt someone but how could eyeballing someone’s life like that be received as anything but negative? Would I feel the same way snapping a photo of a mansion? My gut says no.

So many questions.

My universe is small. I live a sheltered life. I don’t know how to do anything or work with my hands or build or fix anything. I am coddled by my comfort. I know nothing.

Travel provides a great education and I have much to learn.

9 Replies to “Sometimes Travel Brings More Questions Than Answers”

  1. Hi,

    Human nature, I think. I’m sure my notion of being poor is completely invalid to someone living in an ancient single-wide in the woods. OTOH, I look at the big white houses on the hills and think they are so very brave for going so very far into debt. I’m not with National Geographic or doing a study of poor counties for the State Tax Department, so I usually ride through and collect my memories with my eyes. Usually. And count my blessings over dinner that evening. We are very fortunate to have the resources to travel and also the willingness to go. So many folks never go anywhere.

    “I don’t know how to do anything” – sorry Ms Fuzzygalore, not buying that one. 🙂

  2. I took few pictures on my trip through the Heart of Appalachia. It was such a mixed bag of emotions. Great roads, beautiful scenery, but devastating poverty. It was all so unreal. I must have looked like an alien to those people.

    It really is like a Third World country. And that’s not exaggerating. i couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of those people and their suffering. I did have the video running for a while. I knew it was going to be bad, but it was actually way worse than I’d imagined.

  3. Beautifully written.

    But, travel or no travel, motorcycle or car, don’t expect to find answers.

  4. Fuzzy, my friend, there is value in being a witness, documenting one’s observations, digesting one’s experiences into coherent impressions, and sharing that with others. If nothing else, it can give voice to circumstances and people that might otherwise remain unknown and unheard. It’s up to others how they respond to that, how they inform their own lives and behaviors with it.


    JM: “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness.”


    ES: “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”

    JM: “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business—charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

    from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

  5. I like your mind and your compassion. I felt similar emotions when I visited Detroit. The run-down parts of the city are incredibly photogenic but people actually live there and it felt disrespectful to make art out of their poverty. So I took no photos of those areas. None. While on a trip. For me to do that means something.

  6. Using a camera can raise those questions of objectification. Or commodification. I suppose we all have boundaries we won’t cross but when you approach them it is uncomfortable.

    Thinking about the photograph of the trailer — my feelings mirror yours. Both with those in the trailer and the thought that I probably would feel differently pointing my camera at the mansion. Likely a result of my ability to empathize with one and not the other.

    Save for a period of time as a fine young idiot in college where the camera was an avenue to meeting girls, I’ve always felt uncomfortable invading people’s lives and spaces. It’s why I would make a lousy photojournalist or street photographer.

    The thoughts you have while riding lean toward the big questions. Except when you find yourself selecting a donut. Then you’re on safe group philosophically.

    And your pictures continue to amaze me. Not to mention the riding juggernaut you always seem to be on…

    Be safe.

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