”Swart”. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen, Iceland.
Autumn is usually the time when life slows down. The clocks are literally turned back, and time, instead of racing by, seems to turn on a new mechanism, marked by the changing leaves. But this change in rhythm and pattern was felt very early on this year, back in March. As the first flower buds flickered to life and turned their faces to the sun, lockdowns descended on the whole world.
Travel came to a halt. People halted, too, sheltered in place and reflected. Then we once again sought refuge in nature and discovered that we could find beauty in the blackest of times. We started to cherish familiar territory and learned that travel doesn’t have to be about the destination, or not even about the journey, but about a fresh perspective on things. Travel is always about a leap of faith. For now, we have to put our faith in the vastness of our imagination, in the solace and beauty of our close surroundings, in the joy of rediscovering our own countries and in the flighting power of watching a sunrise from the peak of our own mountains. It is now that we can set the pattern for the future.
I have asked photographers and travel writers to join me this autumn and share with us their thoughts on life and travel during these exceptional times we are living. Today, my guest is photographer and visual storyteller Frederique Peckelsen. Her photographs feed my imagination the way the stories and fantasy tales from my childhood did. All those books of adventure that feed a child’s restless spirit, curious mind and fearless dreams. Frederique’s photography makes me see our world as a young world with barren skies, which will reveal itself only to those who truly believe.
”Some Forgotten Land”. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen, Tibet.
What are the positives you have taken away from lockdown?
For quite a long time, it felt like the earth was trying to tell us something, but we were all too busy living our lives. I think it was clear that change was inevitable. In this case, a forced and in a way unwelcome change – because it was so sudden and so intense. But the earth, and we, can finally breathe a little. Nature can restore, animals can swim, fly and walk where they used to go, and we humans, we have to reflect. It’s like all our lives are in winter season, but for almost a year now. We’re taking a step back and rethink, reflect and take time again. Also, because we are stuck at home, we are forced to look around us, and not look beyond. My eyes were always beyond the horizon, but never on my own heritage and culture. I rediscovered the richness of my own past and the nature around me.
What helped you escape during that time?
Doing research on old folk customs, learning about cultures and their history – not through physical travel but through books, films, internet and conversation. It’s more a travel of the mind in that sense. It gave me so much new inspiration and made me feel creative.
I have also been walking with my dogs in the forest a lot and spending time with my family as I moved back home with my parents for a while. They have an old farm in the woods, with a beautiful garden. I discovered I really like tending the garden! This lockdown also gave me the incentive to reflect on my own work and path in life. Because time seems to be standing still, I can rebuild parts of my mind that needed tending too, just like the garden.
Oh, and finding amazing new artists on instagram has also opened up a whole new world. The internet can be such a magical platform full of creativity and beauty that can be very inspiring and healing.
We have all more or less taken travel for granted. How do you think travel will change from now on?
Travelling has always felt like something big, in a way I can’t quite explain. Maybe because it has always touched and impacted me, whenever I went on a long or far away journey.
One thing I have learned though is that there is no need to travel just for the sake of it. Sometimes I felt that I had been home long enough and it was time to just go somewhere. Those journeys would never really impact me, because they might have been initiated out of boredom, instead of real interest in a place. I rather have a place coming to me through a photo that sparks a fascination or an article about the history of a place or even an old illustrations book from a certain area than me just picking a place to go to just because I want to leave. I think that fascination is a vital part of the journey for it to be meaningful. I’m intrigued by our world’s nature, our different religions, traditional clothes and its symbolism and can read about it for weeks or months prior to a journey.
I realise that a lot of people think that travel will be more locally, now that people rediscovered their own surroundings. But I think it might also have the opposite effect. It could mean that people rather travel to a special place every few years, instead of flying to a different country not too far away every month. I do think people will rethink the way they travel, and hopefully the way of how to get to the destination. But to be honest, I’m not quite sure if they will.
What is the first place you have travelled to after sheltering in place, or where will you first travel to after all this time, and which are the things you are taking into consideration before you do?
I haven’t done any real travels yet. I tried to stay as locally as possible, which has also shown a lot of beauty in its own way. If the situation allows for travel again, I would love to go somewhere in Eastern Europe, to see Greenland and revisit Central Asia, China and Mongolia. I do believe I have to ask myself before every travel why I feel I have to go, and will only allow myself if the answer is worth the cost. Not money-wise per se, but more so in terms of the environment and climate. Especially travelling by plane doesn’t do our planet any good, even though I believe it enriches us as human beings. But if I want my children and their children to come to enjoy the same things I have seen, I have to be honest with myself and be critical about the things I do and the future travels.
Are people creatures of place? Is travel essential?
I do think we are creatures of place. Most of us are very attached to the place we build a lot of memories. But I also think, in order to really appreciate this, we need to leave that place sometimes. And on the other hand, travel not only makes us appreciate our own surroundings because we can put things into perspective, but travel also very much enriches us. It broadens our minds and understanding of life. If you’ve been in a place for too long, you might not see the beauty of it anymore because you’ve gotten so used to it. There is magic in seeing everything like you’ve seen it for the first time. It makes you realise how beautiful our world is. I like the feeling of being in awe. In that sense, travelling is a little like falling in love.
But if there was a place you never wanted to leave, which one would that be?
I guess it would be either Scotland or Iceland or Georgia (country). All three places feel so wild and ever inspiring. It feels like you would never stop exploring and finding – all for their very own reason.
”Swart”. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen, Iceland.