Daniel Taylor | Photographs
Ramble: To walk for pleasure, often without a definite route

To ramble means to wander with perhaps only a vague destination in mind. The rambler often has little concern for arriving in good time, and focuses instead on what happens along the way. Importantly, rambling often takes place in the countryside and on foot, two things to which I am greatly attracted.

Rambling is both a literal truth about my nature and a concept fundamental to the practice of documentary photography. No matter how strong of an idea or theory we hold when we set out, we will always encounter things along the way to distract and attract our attention. Inevitably we will arrive at our destination but will be changed by the journey. This change in ourselves will in turn change the meaning of our initial destination, as this place will no longer be what we originally set out for. No matter what plans we have or ideals we hold, we are confronted with the world at hand and must make do with what we see. Rambling is an inescapable reality for those of us who wish to document

Bricolage: Creating something from disparate parts originally intended for other purposes

Rambling is a lot like bricolage, and photographers are, in a sense, bricoleurs. Claude Levi-Strauss, the French sociologist, wrote about the bricoleur in his introduction to The Savage Mind. Bricoleur has no exact English equivalent, the closest approximation being a kind of do-it-yourself person, someone adept at performing a large amount of diverse tasks typically with limited resources.

Bricoleurs are, to use Levi-Strauss' method, easiest to describe in contrast to engineers. When confronted with a task, engineers seek out and procure the necessary paraphernalia for its completion. Conversely, bricoleurs make do with what they have by manipulating the leftovers of others to build their own creations, their bricolages. Unlike engineers, bricoleurs spend their time collecting objects that might come in handy, to ensure that they always have tools available to encounter the unforeseen. The result is a mixed repertoire of objects that were originally intended for other purposes with each of their histories limiting possible outcomes. When presented with a task, bricoleurs must consult their repertoire, begin a dialog with it, index the possible solutions it offers, and set to work transforming its various histories to create something new.

Now, I do not believe that photographers only ramble around snapping what they see and then make something out of it later on. On the other hand, I am equally skeptical of those who believe that the photographic process is a perfect execution of a specific and concrete plan. The creative process itself changes the plan. When we take pictures, we can never get exactly what we want; sometimes we get more, sometimes less, and sometimes something entirely different. The people and places we document do not exist solely to build our store of images, but for other reasons that limit our possibilities. Furthermore, we allow ourselves to be distracted, to shoot a picture because of an unknown impulse or because we believe it may come in handy in the future. We record what we can and build our collections of images, often combining and recombining our work at different times to different ends, and thus create bricolages.

A Rambling Path

I consider myself extremely lucky to have visited many places and even luckier to have stayed in a few of these places for more than a few years. I managed to stay in England, where I was born, for only three short years, but continue to return nearly every year. I was in Canada for another sixteen years and in the United States for the next fourteen. Along the way, I engaged in some shorter ramblings here and there, pausing in China for a brief two years.

I spent the bulk of my time in China working with Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending poverty housing, in very remote and impoverished villages throughout southwest China. In these places, people struggle to make a living from the earth, or, in some cases, simply struggle to live. In rural China, the conditions are dismal and the poverty is grinding. It is not something you can easily look away from. I feel privileged to have seen these places, and to have seen things I never would have imagined witnessing just a few years ago. I was fortunate to have been more than a passing stranger, and to have learned from the people in those photographs.

The two years I spent in China changed my outlook on life and my work considerably. In 2004, when I arrived, I was intent on photographing China's landscape, be it industrial, natural, urban or rural. After two years, the landscape I envisioned has become more of a backdrop for the human one. Like a true rambler, I found that the journey itself invited change. Still, I continue to be guided by certain ideas about our place in the landscape, our solitude and loneliness, the way we look out at the world and the way we are looked at.

--Daniel Taylor

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