In 2015, writer and photographer Josh spent 11 months cycling 22,000km across 26 countries
Photography by Josh Cunningham
If you’re browsing the internet one day and you stumble across an epic shot of someone riding their bicycle across big landscapes underneath big skies, check the credit as there’s a chance it will have been taken by one Joshua Cunningham. Formerly a full-time editorial member of Cyclist Magazine and Bikes Etc, in 2015 Josh spent 11 months cycling 22,000km across 26 countries; starting in London and ending up in Hong Kong. His massive, stuff dreams are made of, adventure is documented in his book ‘Escape By Bike’.
Prior to starting his career in media, where he’s worked as a writer, a photographer, and a marketing consultant, Josh lived in Belgium as a full-time athlete. Originally hailing from the seaside town of Eastbourne, he now resides in that big old smog known as London.
I studied A-Level photography, but after college I barely picked up a camera for five years. Working as a writer, and as such spending a lot of time working alongside photographers, it was then that I my rediscovered my appreciation of it. When I decided to ride to Hong Kong, it felt like the perfect opportunity to start shooting again, and so I bought an entry level setup just a week before leaving; a Canon 550d with 17-85mm and 50mm lenses.
I shoot where my interests take me. The outdoors, people on bikes, landscapes, and general travel stuff. Living in a major city like London, I’m always looking for special moments that appear amid the chaos and so always have a little Sony RX100 ii at the ready. Generally speaking, I love looking for contrasts – be it in context, scale, light, texture, colour, emotion – and you see contrasts everywhere, regardless of the subject matter.
“Being somewhere new forces you to look at your surroundings in a different, more observant way”
When I was at school, a friend and I did a month-long cycle tour through Europe during our summer holidays. The trip shed a light upon the richness of experience that bike travel offers. Life then ran its course for a bit, but I always knew I would one day embark on a long-haul cycling adventure, and Eurasia – with the variety of human and physical geography within it – was the perfect location.
Being somewhere new forces you to look at your surroundings in a different, more observant way. This is obviously really beneficial as a photographer. I feel like this ‘enlightenment’ can follow you back home sometimes too, and can help refresh the way you look at your own street, workplace, commute, or whatever. I take a lot of inspiration from travelling.
My heroes’ work leaves me wondering “How on earth did they see that?” I look looking at the work of people like Harry Gruyaert, the painter Edward Hopper, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Steve McCurry, William Egglestone and Martin Parr.
There’s a collection of images shot by the explorer Wilfred Thesiger from his time in the Hindu Kush, documenting the mountains and its people during the mid 20th century, that I wish I’d taken. They provide a portal into a part of the world that is very much off-limit these days, but which has such history and natural beauty. I’d have loved to have been a member of those exploring parties – and shot some of the photos.
Location: Pamir Highway, Tajikistan. The approaching storm and desolate nature of the landscape are quite intimidating, but the light is incredible, and both the cyclist in the road and fence to the right – the Chinese border – provide a real sense of scale. I had dreamed of visiting the Pamirs for years, and scenes like this made the wait worthwhile.
I followed this road through southern China for over 1,000km; a journey that took me from the rain forested slopes of the mountainous Yunnan province, towards the sky scrapers and urban chaos of China’s megacities. I like the way this image merges both rural and urban elements, as it is indicative of the spectrum of experience that this portion of the journey offered.
Young monks playing on the steps of a monastery in Kaza, India. I just love the playfulness and dynamism of the children’s body shapes, contrasted against the sharp lines and maturity of the monastery. Both are equally colourful though, which is an apt description of this culturally Tibetan valley in the far reaches of Himachal Pradesh.
A young boy offering to help with puncture repairs in the Wakhan valley, Tajikistan. The contact with local people that bike travel offers is without doubt one of its biggest draws; not a day goes by without some sort of interaction, and most days contain many. The way he’s crouched between us inquisitively, as we fix our bikes, epitomises the intimacy of such interactions.
Riding through the steppes and deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was an incredible experience. The unchanging, infinitely flat landscape actually made for quite an introspective journey, but I like this image because looking at it just makes me wish I was there, about to set up my sent underneath that incredible sky, with nobody around for miles.
You can follow Josh on Instagram @coshjunningham, and learn more about him on his website joshuacunningham.info. His book, ‘Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking, and Touring Off-Road’, is available at Waterstones, WHSmiths, Stanfords, various independents, and Amazon.
Check out the rest of the My Life In Pictures series here.
You can read the rest of this month’s Remote issue here.
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