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CREATIVE VOICES

Agoraphobic Traveller

By Summer Wilson

From her London home, Jacqui Kenny explores the world—with the help of Google Street View. Then, using the screenshots she captures, she creates evocative images with a distinct point of view.

Jacqui Kenny is attracted to remote, faded, dusty areas of the world: small towns in Peru, Kyrgyzstan, and the American Southwest, for instance—towns on the edge, where tourists rarely go. Her strangely beautiful images of these places evoke feelings of loneliness, solitude, and utter stillness. But as you look closely at her body of work, you realize that these aren’t traditional photographs—and Kenny hasn’t actually been to any of these places.

a photo of Saint-Louis Senegal, from the Agoraphobic Traveller
a photo of a phouse in Sun City, Arizona, from the Agoraphobic Traveller
A photo of camels crossing a highway in the United Arab Emirates, from the Agoraphobic Traveller

Agoraphobic Traveller images of Saint-Louis, Senegal; Sun City, Arizona; and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

Kenny has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for most of her life. When she moved to London to start a company, her anxiety got worse. She struggled when she went outside her comfort zones of home and work, and she often had to run home to avoid a potential panic attack. It wasn’t until she began seeing someone to help her cope with the issue that she was able to put a name to what she was experiencing: agoraphobia. For Kenny, agoraphobia is the fear of places and situations where escape may be difficult. This fear may bring on a sudden panic attack, which she avoids by not straying far from home. Some days are better than others.

A photo of two nuns in rural Peru, from the Agoraphobic Traveller
A photo of rural Kyrgyzstan, from the Agoraphobic Traveller

Kenny is attracted to places far from her London home—for instance, rural outposts in Peru and Kyrgyzstan.

When Kenny’s company closed, she needed a creative outlet. One day while searching Google Street View, she found a scene she liked and took a screen grab. She shared the image with her sister, who encouraged her to keep going. After Kenny began posting her shots on Instagram, her following began to build organically, and a strong, supportive community formed. Other people with agoraphobia, anxiety, and similar conditions reached out, as well as people who just loved the gorgeous pictures.

Meet Jacqui Kenny in our video profile. Click on the image to watch.

THE COMPLETE VIEW

Kenny’s searching via Google Street view is obsessive. She explores every street in the towns she visits—a process that can take days or weeks. When she finds something interesting, she assesses it from every angle, grabs a screenshot (or a few of them), and keeps going. Deciding to leave a town is hard, because she doesn’t want to feel like she missed something. Once Kenny looks at the images she has collected, she’ll choose one and send it to her phone. She lightly edits the images: using Adobe Photoshop Express and her favorite Instagram filters, she crops and adjusts the image until she’s satisfied, and then she posts it to her Instagram page.

Her project, which she calls Agoraphobic Traveller, brings up questions about what photography really is. Kenny doesn’t have a camera, and she isn’t physically in any of these places. She isn’t meeting the people, enjoying the local cuisine, and walking unfamiliar streets. Instead, she is gazing at scenes frozen in time, captured randomly: children caught in mid-sprint; a young couple kissing; a dog running; a gorgeous shadow cast by a tree—all eerily still. But as an artist, she has a specific and unique point of view. She carefully composes and frames each shot and then, instead of pressing the camera’s shutter-release button, presses command-shift-4 on her keyboard.

a photo of a car in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, from the Agoraphobic Traveller
A photo of Belogrod Oblast, Russia,  from the Agoraphobic Traveller
A photo of a young couple kissing in Chañaral, Chile, from the Agoraphobic Traveller

Agoraphobic Traveller images of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Belogrod Oblast, Russia; and Chañaral, Chile.

THE START OF A JOURNEY

This project could have easily cut Kenny off even more from the outside world, but it’s had the opposite effect. Agoraphobic Traveller has opened up an entire new world to her, and in addition to opening the doors to an online community, the project has pushed her into the spotlight with interview requests and interesting projects.

Jacqui Kenny is continuing to develop her aesthetic and driving herself to push beyond her comfort zone. And even though the desolate, dreamy places that she’s most attracted to are the very same kinds of places that scare her the most, she has an overwhelming desire to visit them one day, in person. It’s this curiosity and new confidence in herself and her eye that are driving her to a place where anything is possible.

See more of Kenny’s work on the Agoraphobic Traveller Instagram page.