How Did I Get Here?

Exploring the power of travel to shape one’s outlook on life, perception, and identity.

When I began traveling internationally, I became fascinated with lifestyles and the inherent similarities and differences between people. A custom in one country is nonexistent in another, rituals in this culture are performed differently in that one, and some circumstances have no frame of reference whatsoever. I learn a lot from talking with people, seeing how they live, and walking their streets.

Looking through thousands of photographs and reading my journals from places I visited over the course of 20+ years, I began to perceive them as a single journey, my journey, rather than individual trips. This got me thinking—how does travel shape someone’s outlook on life, perception, and even identity?

How Did I Get Here is my interactive thesis project which explores this question. It was created during a rigorous, year-long program at the International Center of Photography in New York City, where I focused on storytelling and visual communications. The complete multimedia piece, which was exhibited in the school’s gallery, was an amalgamation of analog and digital resources.

I selected more than 900 original photographs from my film archives and I scanned each negative into a database. From there I built a digital “wall” of images to represent a vast array of locations and suggest a cumulative influence. The printed output was a larger-than-life contact sheet, sized 4’ x 7’, which extended from floor to ceiling when adhered to the gallery wall.

A computer was mounted directly on top of it, into the wall. The same “wallpaper” design also served as a digital backdrop on the screen, where viewers could scroll through a series of images from select countries and listen to an accompanying podcast. In the podcast series, I interviewed people who were either from the country or had visited it. When the interviewees opened up about how travel impacted them, deep personal truths were revealed.

A short form on the project website allowed viewers to share their own travel stories and experiences and a narrative created on Instagram (@EverywhereCyndie) added new context in the digital/social space.

The ultimate goal is to create a conversation that becomes a catalyst for connection, curiosity, and greater understanding between people everywhere. This project is a first step.

Project website

How Did I Get Here? Poster ©Cyndie Burkhardt.