Most people have suffered those aleatory urges to travel that are steeped in some flavour of cliché. A thirst for adventure; to escape a well-worn routine; fatigue with a culture that doggedly runs us ragged; self discovery.
Few people follow through on these motivations like Uruma Takezawa, a professional marine photographer for ten years before he left his job with his camera in tow to see the world and didn’t return for 1021 days.
An Interview with Uruma Takezawa
“I had reached a moment in my life where I had to make a decision,” Takezawa says via email. “I was either going to move in a different direction with my photography or stop being a photographer.”
He knew straight away that a short journey, a brief change before returning to the ocean, would not satisfy him. “I decided to go on a long journey,” he says. “I was looking for new experiences that would reinvigorate and transform me.”
A trip of any length requires some planning, and this was no different, but Takezawa was sure to create an itinerary sketchy enough to give him the freedom to wander and discover. What he wanted to find on his journey would not be offered by any tourist board.
“What I wanted to see and experience were places and people that I had never witnessed before and that moved me in some way emotionally or spiritually,” he says. “One experience encountered along the way would lead me to the next one, and so on.”
This was how a trip intended to last around 18 months ultimately took almost double that, an adventure that saw him visit 103 countries on four continents.
“When I completed my journey to [first stop] South America I had already been photographing for one year, and I still had plans to go to many countries in Africa and Eurasia,” says Takezawa. “I realised that the world was so much wider and deeper, and one year was not nearly long enough to complete my project.”
The photographs that Takezawa took on his journey around the globe have been on display in an exhibition called ‘Land’ at the Foto-Care Gallery in Manhattan.
The direction of the project became clear as the world opened itself up to Takezawa. He discovered that the true purpose of his journey was “to capture with my photos [the] width of land and depth of people’s hearts,” he says. “Width is the land and depth is the people. The moment when these intersect, the land and the people become one. It is a moment of spiritual enlightenment.”
He found himself drawn to remote areas, away from the trappings of cityscapes that had until this journey characterised his life.
“I believe that people in remote areas of the world have a much deeper connection with the land than those of us living in Western society,” he says. This led Takezawa to travel with cowboys as they drove their herd across the sprawling meadows of Brazil, visit a nomadic tribe in Niger, and retreat to Tibet and the company of monks.
“I want to experience humanity that is not changed by the modern world – where the people embody a pureness of spirit,” says Takezawa. “In the places I travelled to, death was familiar and common and people were at peace with it. They also considered nature to be a great blessing, though sometimes it was also a great threat.
“The people I photographed were strong and resilient and deeply spiritual. Everywhere I went the people possessed an inner beauty that attracted me to them.”
These experiences, the unique and inimitable, are sought by many travellers who are so often confounded by the ease of linear tourist infrastructure. In a world that feels increasingly diminutive, escaping the beaten path, that ever-present backpacking antagonist, can feel impossible. Takezawa does not view things quite so literally.
“It was so hard to travel by myself. I always felt lonely,” he says. “But the important thing is to find your own story of journey.” Any challenge or hardship he faced, and there were many, was his alone to handle. “Your journey is something nobody has experienced. The places you visit become your own places. I think that is very important.”
Even after such an epic journey, Takezawa, like many travellers before him, is not finished seeing the world and discovering his place within it.
“I know it is very hard to find, I am still seeking,” he says. “But by staying on our own journey, we might find it.”