Text and photos by I-Hsuen Chen 陳以軒.
A “road movie” is a film genre in which the main character or characters leave home to travel from place to place. They usually leave home to escape their current lives.
The prototype of road movie could possibly be tracing back to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which is the most influential piece about road trip since the 1950’s. The main character Sal, or Kerouac himself, goes on the road for writing material and new life experience with another character Dean. This novel has sent countless kids on the road, influencing works about road trip in various forms including road movies and road trip photography.
Often, each character has his own reason to escape from where he belongs. On the road he experiences everything as a reflection of life, which makes him either feel lost in nowhere or rediscover himself. In Wim Wenders’ movie Kings of the road, the main character Bruno goes on the road along the border between East and West Germany as a movie projector repairman. He meets the suicidal Robert, who escaped from his home and wife but still keeps calling her anonymously. In the last part of the movie, Robert realizes that the whole wandering on the road is aimless. While waiting for the bus to go back home, he abandons his suitcase and sunglasses and gets a notebook with a pen instead. This could be a hint that he is not looking back, but trying to put down all of his experiences in words.
In another of Wenders’ road movies Paris, Texas, the main character Travis struggles to meet his old lover, who is also his son’s birth mother. So he wanders around Paris, Texas. Finally, he makes his decision to allow the mother and son to meet; then in the last scene, he drives away alone. He does not find anything out of his journey. He just escapes from the real life, and he goes back to face the music.
[Robert Frank’s] Rebellious anger, coupled with an outsider’s detachment and an insider’s love, is at the heart of the Americans. – Sarah Greenough
The great road trip photographer Robert Frank went on the road not only because of his ambition to capture all aspects of Americans, but also because he held unique perspective from other photographers at that time. He was a Swiss immigrant. “When he immigrated to the United States, he continued to feel separate from other Americans” Therefore he documented the United States with a really sharp eye but a warm heart. Somehow I had a similar feeling as “a consummate outsider” looking in at my native country of Taiwan.
Reverse culture shock results from the psychological and psychosomatic consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture…the readjustment to the primary culture is postulated to be more difficult than the culture shock experienced when going abroad. Furthermore, it is considered the most stressful aspect of sojourning. — Jennifer L. Huff
I experienced “reverse culture shock” when I went back to my country. I did not feel that I belonged to either Taiwan or New York. Losing my identity, I became a “legal alien” in Taiwan.
In the winter of 2010, I went to the artist Alec Soth’s lecture. He affectionately described how fascinating it is to be a photographer on the road. He was also influenced by the idea of the “road trip” in American culture, exemplified in the work of such photographers as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld. At that moment, I thought “I will definitely do a road trip photo project when I go back to my mother land.” A year and six months later, I went on a road trip in Taiwan.
The camera therefore is an eye capable of looking forward and backward at the same time. Forward, it does in fact “shoot a picture,” backward, it records a vague shadow, sort of a x-ray of the photographer’s mind, by looking straight through his (or her) eye, to his(or her) bottom of soul. — Wim Wenders
Escaping from Taipei, my city of birth, I hit the road. I took photographs everywhere as my “self-portrait”. In order to feel my surroundings, I usually sat or stood in certain places for a while. With camera in hand, I shot right from the same angle I had while I was sitting or standing.
Consider the short, 16mm film of Kennedy’s death. Shot by a spectator in the crowd. It is a long take, the most typical long take imaginable. The spectator-cameraman did not, in fact, choose his camera angle; he simply filmed from where he happen to be, framing what he, not the lens saw. Thus the typical long take is subjective. — Pier Paolo Pasolini
Could I structure the picture in a way that my experience of standing there, taking in the scene in front of me? Sometimes I have the sense that form contains an almost philosophical communication—that as form becomes more invisible, transparent, it begins to express an artist’s understanding of the structure of experience. — Stephen Shore
Instead of composing an image, I imposed my point of view into my camera. I was there in that moment, and the camera subjectively documented my experience. Thus it became my first person point of view, or the “perception point of view.”
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was. — Jack Kerouac
Moving from town to town, I saw everything changed from here to there; I lost the sense of time and space without future and past. It totally fit my culture-shock state of mind. I found my self-conscious clearly existed, but vaguely floated without identity. I started to see scenes and situations that seem to be “in between,” neither landscape nor cityscape but existing in an ambiguous space. They were actually “nowhere.” Some of these sites are suburban, or partly urbanized, or abandoned and left behind. I saw the traces of human presence and gesture that reside or remain.
The connections between one element of the story and another were not always obvious to the emperor; the objects could have various meanings: a quiver filled with arrows could indicate the approach of war, or an abundance of game, or else an armourer’s shop; an hourglass could mean time passing, or time past, or sand, or a place where hourglasses are made. — Italo Calvino
While the collective memory endures and draw strength from its base in a coherent body of people, it is individuals as group member who remember. — Maurice Halbwachs
I was illustrating my country through objects. These cultural layers became the Roland Barthes’ “Studiums”, recalling my “Collective Memories.”
I suddenly realized that I had become what Lacan called “others” while studying abroad. When coming back home, I re-encountered a new “mirror stage”: I started to recognize myself through the images of my native country that had shaped me; I rediscovered my lost identity.