2: Landscape as Journey

Chris Coekin

Chris Coekin website

Chris Coekin’s monograph The Hitcher (2007) documents several years of hitchhiking throughout the UK. Coekin was drawn to hitchhiking as a unique form of transport, which relies upon the generosity of strangers and demands relinquishing some control over route or even destination. The Hitcher comprises self-portraits and incidental details that illuminate his journey (rubbish, mushrooms, prophylactics…), taken on a compact consumer camera, the quality of which reflects the impromptu nature of the project.

The Hitcher series 1

The Hitcher series 2 focuses on portraits of the drivers

The Hitcher series 3 focuses on objects along the way – dead rabbits, cigarette packets

These anecdotal images perhaps illustrate the sense of pace of the road, which is subverted by drawing upon details of litter and other detritus that are impossible to take in when travelling in a car at speed. Coekin also used hitchhiking as a means to collect portraits. After drivers dropped him off, he would ask to take their portrait. For Coekin, what was so distinctive about this approach was the fact that the process removed responsibility from the photographer to select whom he wanted to photograph.

In the book’s introductory essay, Camilla Brown contrasts Coekin’s method to traditional approaches in documentary, which, in spite of photographers’ best efforts to the contrary, invariably remain voyeuristic: “They [the drivers] effectively selected themselves to become part of the work, through their split-second decision to give him a ride. This is interesting when one compares it to other journeys recorded by photographers who are part of the social documentary tradition, in which it is the photographer who decides whom and what to photograph. The subjects are usually unaware that they have become part of a body of work. Even those that are called ‘concerned photographers’, who live in amongst the people they photograph, remain in a voyeuristic perspective – outside of, and separate to, the subjects of the work. Coekin’s project is by its very nature much more participative, and there is a different level of exchange between the photographer and those who are photographed. They all have the choice to take part, and invariably they are happy to oblige.”

Source Alexander 2013.