The queue was already snaking across the parking lot when I arrived. I had bought tickets for this event last summer, wearing a t-shirt and no tights, back when I had a different job and a different life. Now it was freezing and people were huddling together like penguins. Penguins that would come to play a rather unexpected role later in the evening.
All these people had gathered to see Henry Rollins: singer, artist, writer, poet, all round performer and creator. And also photographer. To him East Anglia must have seemed less remote than it seems to some English people. Rollins has been to places most of us have barely heard of. Last week he joined us to tell us all about his adventures.
The set up was simple: a stage, a screen, Rollins dressed in a black t-shirt and trousers holding a mike. He started telling us how he had become a traveller and photographer in the first place. Always on the road with his band Black Flag, he began to long for places bands never go to. Like Timbuktu. Or Iran.
When the American army contacted him, asking him whether he was interested in performing at their bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, he hesitated. He had nothing against the soldiers but had been vocal about his dislike of their boss: George W. Bush. The opportunity to explore countries few Americans have ever visited voluntarily, however, proved just too tempting.
After those first trips Rollins never stopped. At first he used the written word to capture his experiences. Soon this no longer sufficed and he bought his first camera. Then a better one. Now he’s a bona fide photographer, albeit one who’s not that interested in the technical side of things. To Rollins the camera is an extension of his mind, a way to share with us what he sees. The people in his pictures are always more important than the way in which the picture was taken.
Rollins kept on travelling around the globe, preferably to uncomfortable, remote, ugly, or downright terrifying places. He went to Antarctica to spend a night with penguins and found the experience underwhelming. Turns out penguins shit a lot, shout even more, and are anything but the cute creatures we know from Happy Feet.
He seems the happiest, on the other hand, when he meets people. It doesn’t matter whether those people live in slums, are deformed, or unable to understand him. Wherever he goes Rollins takes pictures of the people he encounters, then shows them the pictures he’s taken and tries to talk to them. It’s the opposite of the tourist who shares pictures with no one but their Facebook friends.
When I got home I deducted that Rollins had been talking for 2.5 hours. 2.5 hours that felt like 2.5 minutes. A week later I’m still high on his energy. I’m making plans to travel to that place I’ve been wanting to go to ever since I was a kid. I might not get there anytime soon, but like the 300 other people in the sold out venue, I have been inspired. And that’s a rare experience in a day and age where everything seems already done, already so.
Curious about Rollins’s work? Have a look!
Image Porapak Apichodilok via Pexels