Jeffrey Bowman is a creative director whose website opens with the image of a lonely, hooded traveller, trekking in a beautiful landscape, and a simple, typed phrase: “It's better to be outside than in.”
Quite unusual for a Briton nine-to-fiver, one might think. But this is a man who, at a young age, presented himself with an important question: “What is the force driving us, in our quest for meaning?” The great outdoors, nature, the glorious womb of life, became for him a clear answer, a source of inspiration, and a journey he wished to share through The Great Wide Open, the second book he has co-edited, published by Gestalten in February 2015.From Iceland to Mongolia, through the Alps, the US and Scotland, from silent forests in Sweden to infinite skies in Italy, this book is a compilation of photographs that capture and celebrate a new desire for outdoor adventure, taking us on a visual journey to some of the Earth’s most breathtaking places. However, it is not the destinations featured in the book that enjoy the real focus here, but rather the stories, visual and written, of the people taking the photographs and their journey. One peeks through the lives of hikers, campers, cyclists, mountaineers, surfers and globetrotters - travellers whose longing for the outdoors is not limited to just brief getaways while meeting with daring, professional photographers who continue to find new, exciting ways to evoke man’s deep relationship with nature. This selection of stories and images was shaped by Bowman’s own experiences and point of view: “My criteria was to choose stories from ordinary people doing extraordinary things, people who were professional adventurers as well as individuals who were actively on a mission to inspire others to get out there”, he states. Ironically enough, he got in touch with his protagonists mainly through the Internet: “Instagram played a really big role, connecting the community of outdoor/travel photographers, creatives and people on amazing journeys” he says. “What they all have in common is the authentic way they capture nature and the outdoors through the lens and the authentic way they live their lives”.
By interviewing them, Bowman wrote their stories, pulling out specific themes and weaving a tight tale, covering all aspects of outdoor life. “It was a partnership between myself and Gestalten, working closely to produce the best book we could”, he says. Going through the pages of this exceptional, 352-page expedition of narratives, images and short essays, we meet, among others, a couple that left their settled life behind in order to move to the Alps. We follow a man who travelled deep into Sweden’s backcountry together with his two huskies. And we are introduced to Chris Burkard, the landscape photographer who emulates the mythical Ansel Adams’ commitment to capturing the perfect shot, often battling with nature in order to do so. And it is his images that seem to mostly stay in mind according to Bowman himself, who, at the closure of his preface, states: “Though we are but small and insignificant beings in an endless landscape, nature can somehow make us feel like we have a greater purpose. These moments that are ours to discover, draw us back to the outdoors time after time”. At the end of the book, “Reasons to travel or not to travel”, a list of pros and cons written by the adventurer Alastair Humphreys appears to be a sort of eyewink to any readers still hesitant about whether they should just go out and explore. Posed with the question on whether this is intentional, Bowman replies: “Yes, I think so. I actively want people to go out there, not just be an observer but be an active participator. The whole purpose of The Great Wide Open was to do just that: inspire others to get up from behind the screen, put down the iPhone and reconnect with the outdoors”.
Though we are but small and insignificant beings in an endless landscape, nature can somehow make us feel like we have a greater purpose. These moments that are ours to discover, draw us back to the outdoors time after time.