Five and a half years ago, former war and conflict photographer, Javier Martinez set out on a new and extraordinary journey – to travel the world on two wheels…
We are so looking forward to the talk with Javier Martinez here at the Orms Cape Town School of Photography on Thursday night (18 Feb 2016). For those of you who don’t know about Javier, he recently cycled into Cape Town after an epic 5-year journey on his bicycle through Asia and Africa. Javier is taking a few weeks to relax here in our beautiful city and was kind enough to chat to us about his travels. We also have some of his beautiful images on display here at the school, drop in if you’d like to take a look.
Please note: The talk is unfortunately already fully booked. Stay up to date with upcoming workshops and photographers talks by subscribing to our newsletter. (You can unsubscribe at any time).
First things first, please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Javier, I’m a photographer and a traveller of the world. I was born in Spain 32 years ago. I was very young when my family moved to Belgium, that might have been the reason why the world seemed to be small enough to go and travel around a bicycle. As far back as I can remember, maybe age 5, I always had fascination for maps and geography.
Please tell us about this incredible journey you decided to embark on!
Before I started cycling in September 2010, I was travelling all over Africa and other parts of the world photographing conflict and social issues.
Over time and after having witnessed some crimes and hearing terrible testimonies of war, I decided I wanted to start cycling around the world. Instead of just photographing and thus showing bad news, I wanted to bring stories of hope and kindness instead.
So you’ve been on the road for five and a half years already. How did you decide where you wanted to start?
I looked at the map while I was in the horn of Africa and looked for the farthest point from where I could travel all the way by land – that turned out to be Indonesia. Then after covering an unrest in the occupied Palestinian territories where, just a few metres away from me a Palestinian civilian was killed by Israeli soldiers, I decided that I needed a change. So I took my bike back in England and flew to Indonesia.That was 5 and a half years ago with 67,000km behind me. The beauty of travelling by bike is the freedom you get. With only a map and how you feel on the day as a guide to where I’ll be heading on that particular day. Nothing is planned, totally free.
Being on a bicycle there’s an obvious limit to what you can have with you, tell us about your gear setup.
Yes, the only engine you have is human power, so it’s very important carry no more than the essential things. That said, as a photographer those essential things go farther than for most of the people. First I started cycling with a zoom lens (24-70mm)… I like the close ups. Now I just use a fix lens 20mm and a few times I switch for a 50mm. Wide angles helps me to capture not just the subject, but the surrounding and the story behind the picture.
I use a full frame camera Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and a 20mm f2.8, as well as a solo traveler a tripod is very useful, especially on the lonely night sleeping under the stars. Over the years I have experienced big changes as a photographer. Looking back at some old pictures, the way I now approach a situation and what keeps my interest have dramatically change over the past years.
From a photographic perspective, what has been your favourite place?
Of course there is not a single week similar to the last, so imagine months or years. It depends on how I feel, on my health, on many things the way I take pictures. As a photographer I really enjoyed Bangladesh. This unknown and extremely photogenic country gave me so much in terms of photography and I was lucky to randomly meet one of my favourites photographers – Pep Bonet, from whom I got great inspiration.
You must have a thousand interesting, funny, maybe even scary stories. Care to share one or two of them with us?
Over the years I’ve had some crazy experiences. Some dangerous, some heartwarming and others extremely funny and surreal. Cycling through the Congo was a challenge, but very rewarding. In many areas I was the first white man they have ever seen, as well the first man with a camera they have ever seen. Explaining to them what a photograph is and showing them on the screen, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. People didn’t stop thanking me for taking their pictures, when normally, is the other way around. What fascinated me is that is not yet over.
America is the next leg of this around the world trip, hoping to find a boat that takes me from Cape Town to Brasil, then cycle down to Argentina and start making my way north all the way to Alaska. I have lived so much and I’m not even halfway through, and just thinking about what’s coming next brings me more excitement than the very first day I cycled in Indonesia.
[Content and images shared with permission]