Boys, Bikes, and Bucket Hats:
What Western and Eastern Men Have in Common
To study how gender roles vary from the West to the East and raise money for the homeless and people with limited mobility, British photographer James Parker embarked on a journey. He left Edinburgh on a 1972 Morris Minor, he traveled across 19 countries in an easternly direction, crossed three deserts and two seas, and took 40 rolls of film worth of photographs — about men, their growing up, their vulnerability, and their finding their own way.
Photographer from Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Studied photography in Edinburgh and Toronto. Lives in London. His work is acknowledged by Magnum, Noor, Format, and the Brighton Festival.
— In Boys, Bikes, and Bucket Hats, I explore the male gaze from Romania to Mongolia. The project becomes a response to a personal challenge to drive the distance for charity in a 1972 classic Morris Minor car, starting in Edinburgh, Scotland and ending in Russia. The journey took me through 19 countries, from Europe to Asia, over three deserts and two seas. The journey was completed after 53 days, 9,898 miles (about 16,000 kilometers), with an average speed of 18 mph, and I had 40 rolls of film ready for processing.
I wanted an adventure, to meet new people, and experience new cultures. We were going to drive through some pretty hostile places, and I wanted to experience them first hand. That was the first time I had been ‘traveling’ — if you can call it that, turns out It was certainly more challenging than relaxing — driving 10 hours a day for that long really affects you.
The issues of gender roles and socially constructed male behaviors are topics that I have been looking more closely at for a while, and issues that I still wish to work with. I questioned if gender assumptions and behaviors changed from the West to East prior to the journey. I was being quite reflective with who I was photographing, I realized that I was focusing on situations that I recognized myself in.
The project has this air of growing up, boyhood, vulnerability and finding your way. I included bikes and bucket hats in the project title as a nod towards my youth. The bike being a universal object that no language barrier detracts from using, whilst the bucket hat carries connotations with being homely and a protective object, it just so happens to be fashionable now as well as practical.
We raised money for charity and managed to donate this before Christmas, so that was good. I could go on for a while with the highlights, camping under the stars in the Gobi, getting lost in Istanbul during the attempted coup, riding a hot air balloon over Cappadocia during a sunrise. The lowest points came when we struggled to find food and fuel, or when the police would constantly stop us. Our lowest bribe was a couple of smokes and a handshake. It wasn’t easy and we had a few arguments and breakdowns along the way, but never a punctured tyre.
I was surprised that people want to help each other. We were unsure how western folk would be accepted, but we had the advantage of our unusual car. We would stop for a rest and to stretch our legs, next thing we knew, coffee sprung out from nowhere, ten ‘mechanics’ turned up, the bonnet was open and it was like a Formula 1 pit crew, albeit with a few more bellies around.