Joel is a Tennessee-based photographer and writer who spends about half of each year overseas, chronicling people and places.
Raised in Atlanta and Papua New Guinea, he went to college and graduate school in Johnson City, Tennessee. Shortly after his 30th birthday in 2003 — and after having worked in Egypt, Palestine, Ukraine, and Washington DC — he entered the nebulous world of travel writing by boarding a flight to Beijing, from where he began an overland journey across Asia. Fourteen months later, after 529 hours on buses, 206 hours on trains, 121 hours in cars and trucks, and 64 hours on boats and ships, he reached Istanbul. He then disappeared for a year into a Tennessee library with a mound of notes and interviews to craft a book (still unpublished, unfortunately).
In 2006 he began the transition to photography, which today is his primary focus.
ABOUT REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD:
Travel can be many things, and different people focus on different aspects of it. Here is my operating definition for this site: travel is the opportunity to see how others live, and to reflect on what it means to spend a few decades on Earth.
We each live in a limited span of time, at a certain point in history, in a world marked by both beauty and horror. We live with more than 7 billion neighbors. We live with the knowledge that thousands of years of recorded history have preceded us, and with the hope that countless generations will follow us. We live humbly, knowing that we’ll never know it all or see it all, and that sometimes we get it wrong.
Some travel-oriented blogs focus on travel in such a way that the world comes off a little bit like a playground where you jet off to certain areas for adventure, luxury, or self-fulfillment but skip the places that are hard. In these blogs the people who call a place home often play an insignificant role in the background. Reflections on the Road will have those moments of adventure, quiet days on sandy beaches, etc. But the ultimate goal of the site is to deepen our understanding of people and places, find joy in our interconnectedness, ponder the thoughts of great writers, and listen to the voices of others, even those who have died. Through words and photographs, I hope the site will inspire and inform.
Reflections on the Road will sometimes include practical tips on travel. It will show pictures of refugees and backpackers, cruise ships and trains. It will draw from books I’ve read, museums I’ve visited, and stories I’ve heard. And because our world is indeed indelibly marked by both beauty and horror, the content of the site will be spread across this range, too.
Finally, I hope the site will reflect a desire I penned years ago:
Traveling, when done well, is nothing less than learning to love — loving things like adventure and change, yes, but even more learning to love people with names like Mustafa, Flora, Yangyang, Sikander, and Balram. It is learning to love places in all their complexities and contradictions, beauty and horror. It is learning to love our connectedness — that no matter what the religion, war, language, or worldview, we are, when all is said and done, neighbors in a world we share.