Ameena Rojee series, 'El Camino', looks at the act of walking and reflection during her experience of The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
Walking has always gone hand in hand with photography. It is a mode of travel like no other: you are completely reliant upon the strength and will of your own body but you are journeying slowly enough to stop, to look, to notice. It gives you strength – physically and mentally.
Often, walking becomes an exercise in looking; looking at your surroundings, looking at yourself and looking inside your own mind.
Of this practice, the pilgrimage is an ancient tradition which is experiencing a contemporary revival. Originally a religious custom of the more devout, the 21st century pilgrimage has become something different for many: a challenge, a way to connect with loved ones, a fun experience or holiday, or something spiritual.
The Camino de Santiago is one of the most well-known pilgrimages around the world. It is believed that the martyred apostle St. James was brought to and buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. Beginning in the South of France, the most well-known route climbs over the Pyrenees and runs almost 800km across a changeable landscape until reaching the end point – the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, North Western Spain. The pilgrimage has numerous routes beginning from all across Spain, and even several starts and finishes in other European countries. Some say that the pilgrimage begins the moment you leave your front door.
In 2016, as summer turned to autumn, I set off on on this long walk inspired by the physical and mental challenge. It was also a way to explore my roots; Spain is my mother’s country, and Galicia, the region in which the pilgrimage ends, is her birthplace. Over the years I have been to few places around this region, only visiting family on short holidays. I had never fully experienced the culture, as one is able to do when travelling alone, and so I wanted to begin to understand this place which makes up half of my heritage.
The walk became a largely simplistic daily routine: eat, walk, sleep, repeat. The days were mostly spent in varying levels of pain and tiredness. At the same time, my focus turned outward to the places, the people and the changing land around me – the heat of the burning afternoon sun, and the fresh chill of the misty mornings. Except for my walking partner and a handful of friends we made on the road, I spent most of the time quietly observing, not really interacting or seeking to interact. I first considered the project would be about why people made the difficult pilgrimage. Once I was out there, it became less about the why and more about the moments themselves; those fleeting moments which pass us by, when we look but do not really see. A pilgrimage of solitude (but not alone, or lonely).
It became a completely different time and world for me. The utter relief and joy and incredulity at the end of each day when I would look back on how far I had come – all distance covered by my own two feet, every single thing I needed carried on my own back, held up and moving on my own strength.
Ameena Rojee is a London-based photographer currently working full-time for a British photographic publication. Having come from a very mixed background – a blend of Spanish and Mauritian, she was born and grew up in South London and as a result experienced an incredible amalgamation of cultures, worlds and people as a child, and now as an adult. This experience greatly influenced Rojee and her practice, which ranges from fine art portraiture to documentary photography.
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