#OsloBeirut, Sébastian Dahl
On September 15th 2012 a young photographer named Sébastian Dahl left his home of Oslo and set out for a hitch-hiking adventure all the way to Beirut with nothing but his backpack and DSLR. Nearly three months later, on December 6th, the French-Norwegian reached his final destination; leaving behind him 10,000 km and counting 112 cars, trucks and scooters.
Lemonade talks to him about his amazing hitch-hiking trip and photographic journey; the idea of strangers and his love for people.
Not once throughout his entire trip from Oslo to Beirut can he remember having any bad experiences, and one of the things his project goes to show is that there aren’t just bad people out there, there’s another side to the world than the negative image we so often see.
What led you out on such an adventure? Why Beirut?
After graduating from photography school I worked as a freelance photographer for two years in Oslo and started saving money to travel around the world. I wanted to do that trip because I started realizing that photography is about people and the stories out there. Staying in my comfortable Norwegian life I would probably get more and more clients but I was too aware that there are a lot of steps on the ladder that lead to becoming the good photographer I want to become. Thinking about it a bit more I realized that being on the road wouldn’t be sufficient, people would just enter and exit my life all the time. I would have to really settle down somewhere to be able to understand and tell the stories I want to learn to tell properly, so -quite randomly- I chose Beirut, Lebanon and the Middle East. I like Falafel and Hummus and am a bit ashamed of my lack of Middle-Eastern knowledge.
When it comes to hitchhiking and sleeping at random people’s house it was a natural choice as I’ve been traveling this way for years. I did my first big hitchhiking trip in 2006. I don’t know why I did it, but it really changed my life. Since then I’ve hitchhiked all over Europe and a little bit in Latin America.
“Impro-couching” as I call it, is something I’ve been doing for the past three years. Before I used ‘Couchsurfing’ quite a lot, but one day I ended up in Copenhagen with no plans for where to spend the night. I started asking random people in the streets to host me and, to my surprise, I found a place to stay very easily (blogpost here). It is more convenient than ‘Couchsurfing’ because you don’t need to plan in advance where you’re going, and since it’s more spontaneous and random, I find it to be more fun!
What are your best and worst memories from the trip?
Entering Kosovo from Macedonia was amazing. I was sitting on the floor of a Mercedes van with two very friendly Albanians, the scenery was amazing, a tortuous road (Europe’s deadliest) led us from one sunny landscape to another. This was my first encounter with Albanian/Kosovar people and I remember my excitement was coloured by a tiny bit of apprehension. My otherwise-quite-supportive-mom had called me the same morning telling me not to go there and many Bosnians I had met the previous days had told me not to go there as well. Kosovo was an amazing country to travel in not only because people were nice and the country has an interesting history, but also because reality was quite different from my expectations.
I’m being perfectly honest when I say it’s hard to find a bad memory from the trip. The only feeling I can think of is the one that I had the moment I left Oslo. As I got into the first car and turned around in the seat I could see a city I deeply love fading away. I have a lot of family and very good friends there. Leaving them for a year wasn’t easy. But I remember looking at my camera and thinking this was a good idea and the first days on the road felt absolutely magic. I was high on life like I’ve never been before.
Setting out on such an adventure like hitch-hiking across the world is something I can imagine many photographers dream of doing but not so many would. What are your thoughts on that? What if for example you were a female photographer?
“If you talk the talk you’ve got to walk the walk.” It took me a year to take the step from talking about it to actually doing it. When I first began to talk about leaving it felt quite unreal but I just never abandoned the idea.
As I said earlier I travel this way because it feels safe and natural, I’ve never had any problems. I understand it sounds “crazy” to many people but they have to know that I didn’t go out on a 10,000 km journey just like this one sunny morning in 2012. Like I said, I had already done smaller hitch-hiking trips and ‘ Couch surfing’ + “Impro-couching” before. Being a guy of course is a privilege, it would be very naive to think that women and men have the same opportunities but in the end I think it’s less about my gender and more about optimism. If you want to you can do what you want and will find ways to do it.
I understand you have plans of making a book and a short film from this trip, can you tell us a little bit about this?
First of all I want to make a book for myself, not to sell it. Just for me to have the object in my hands to look through it and show it to my friends.
That’s what I’m working on now. I’ve had some requests and I will probably, once I have my own, work on another issue that might be slightly different, but since I’ve never made a book before I think it’s nice to start by making one and take it from there. If I publish one it would need to have quite a lot of text, whereas the one I’m making for me will probably not have any.
As for the movie I have to say I’m a bit lost. I have several hundred gigabytes of audiovisual material and no real idea of how to put it together. I guess next time I’m sick or can’t sleep I’ll fire up Adobe Premiere and see what happens. I’m also considering putting all the video and audio files online and let people who are interested make a movie from my rushes, it could give interesting results! It would make sense since my work is usually copyrighted with a Creative Commons license that encourages remixing and adapting my work. (BY-NC-SA) (link).
What are your plans now, will you stay in Beirut or are you eager to get back on the road?
For now I’m staying here. I’ve made some really good friends who have been taking very good care of me. I’ve been skiing, swimming, hiking and going out quite often. Other than that two things have been keeping me busy: looking for work in Lebanese papers/agencies and a photography app for smartphones I’m working on (www.kamer.at).
I am not directly eager to get back on the road, three months were a lot and it feels good to settle down and get to know the region. But I have to admit I sometimes wonder what’s next. Probably hitch-hiking to Canada or Japan
Who are your greatest inspirations?
The journalists and photojournalists out there who are telling stories that needs to be told. They sometimes take great risks and are very clever people who inspire me on a daily basis. I had Marcus Bleasdale as a teacher in photography school, he probably marked me for life with his stories and pictures. Thanks to him and others I have something to aim at, something important and real.
All pictures by Sébastian Dahl.
Interview by Marianne Demmo