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A Journey Along the Mekong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Niemann Cambodia

National Geographic sent illustrator Christoph Niemann to Cambodia and Vietnam and he returned with this series of drawings and observations. He talked about the trip in this behind-the-scenes video.

In a region with so much natural beauty, ancient architecture, and vibrant culture, travelers can easily get stuck behind their viewfinders — consumed with capturing the most vivid moments for their photo albums and Instagram feeds. But over the years, Niemann has developed a different method of documenting his trips.

“I always drew when I traveled … I draw just to calm down essentially, so I’m not constantly checking my phone,” he says.

Niemann believes that painting and drawing his experiences creates a dialogue between his mind and a place — this process ultimately allows him to turn the lens on himself. “Essentially the drawing is like a visual filter,” he explains. “You take the world — and you take it through the abstraction of your drawing — and you start seeing differently.”

Some my favorite posts I’ve written over the past few years have been about my travel: my western roadtrip, Berlin, Istanbul, the solar eclipse. Aside from the eclipse post (which gives me goosebumps every time I reread it), I hadn’t intended to start writing about travel. Ostensibly these trips are supposed to be vacations, my time off from constantly sifting through culture for observations. But Niemann is right…there’s something about applying the creative process to unfamiliar places that that makes the experience more worthwhile. For me, photographing and taking notes for a later post gives me a much better sense of a place, forces me to pay more attention & be more open, causes me to learn about myself, and produces a written document of my trip that I can go back to and experience again.