Words & Photographs by Thomas Ling
Exploration, escape, and leisure are terms synonymous with travel throughout Australia.
From my experience this is consistent from LA, to Biarritz, and back home in Australia. Whether it’s trip down the coast, packing up the van, or visiting friends and family, the sun pulls at the heart strings of young and old alike.
As I have progressed from my early to late twenties, I have become increasingly interested in how the freedom and creativity of youth is often eaten away by societal and cultural pressures. The irony of the lengths people work to establish themselves financially or through social recognition, often at the expense of simpler innate desires and common truths. This ongoing series was initially intended to have been collected over just the summer months, a hedonistic photo essay documenting the pleasure of sun-drenched days across multiple states.
The discussion surrounding COVID-19 has, understandably, saturated media platforms globally, everyone I know has been affected somehow. In South Australia, we have been incredibly lucky. We can’t help but be grateful when talking to friends in Eastern states, or throughout Europe, who have been hit considerably harder by the pandemic. SA’s been relatively COVID free for a number of weeks now. It’s an eerie feeling, comparable to a strange, socially languishing acquaintance who doesn’t know the right time to leave the party – it’s there, but no one really knows what to do about it.
Without discounting the anxiety, fear, and suffering that this has caused, there is always a silver lining amongst tragedy. I was recently reading articles about what surfing’s ‘new normal’ might look like. For most people, surf travel is incredibly difficult right now. Over the last few months I’ve found myself having numerous conversations with mates discussing how much we’ve loved having the relief of social pressures, and more time to travel to remote corners of our state either chasing waves or literal isolation. We are so blessed to have such a natural and creative playground in our backyard. As with so many others, it has been a time of reflection and realignment.
From a creative perspective, the current climate has provided space to re-evaluate what we truly appreciate the most. It has continued to stoke my interest our psychological connection to freedom, space, and adventure. One of photography’s greatest capabilities is being able to capture, document, and preserve observations of the human condition. My ongoing interest in how people relate to the environment they exist within has been a consistent theme as I photograph my travels throughout remote Australia. Our human experience is often transient and fleeting, a hologram of what has depth of meaning. Having our ambitions, short term goals, pressures, and expectations put on hold, for better or worse, has been a breath of fresh air. It has given us an opportunity to have a sense of clarity, to focus on what we value and truly want. The fast pace and anxiety associated with day to day life can be like a fog slowly descending on us. As the writer James Baldwin articulated, “if we understood ourselves better, we would damage ourselves less.”
Being immersed with nature and culture is one of the greatest human gifts we have been given. So much of how we perceive the world is informed by our experiences and engagement with others. If anything, our current reality has given us an opportunity to learn more, see more, and engage in existence on a more visceral level. Australia is unlike many other countries I have experienced, in the sense that its vastness extends across such huge distances, including many different landscapes, ecosystems, and environments. The emotions associated with engagement in new experiences has underpinned my desire to travel throughout my teens and twenty somethings. This project has now grown into an ongoing series that will eventually culminate as an exhibition, although it is difficult to predict when I’ll be able to put this train of thought to rest.