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The explorer: Moby

The maverick dance music star (real name: Richard Melville Hall) combines his two loves, music and photography, in his new photo book and soundtrack of the same name, Destroyed. Based on the art of travel photography, his book is a collection of semi-abstract images — empty airport lounges, monochrome hotel rooms, ghostly highways — highlighting the dislocating nature of travel

The explorer: Moby

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I’ve always been interested in photography. I’ve been a photographer for 35 years. I started doing photos and music at the same time and as the years went on, I put more effort into music while photos became a hobby. By 19, I thought I’d be a professional photographer and do music on the side. I waited this long to do something like this as I’ve been hesitant to show pictures to people — for reasons I still can’t work out. In this case, doing the book and album together made a lot of sense.

I wanted to document the strangeness of professional travel. My uncle has been a photographer for The New York Times for years. He instilled in me that documentary photographers should record things to which they have access, things that others don’t have access to. In my case, it’s the strange and unglamorous world of professional travel. A world in which I’ve lived now for 20 years. One picture that I think captures the essence of the book is of an airport in Iowa. It’s a farmer and wife sitting and waiting, and it sort of represents that quality of being hot and uncomfortable. My flight had been cancelled, so I was routed through a different airport. It was when I was still drinking, so I was hungover and hadn’t eaten well. I think I might have been projecting a bit onto that image.

Big cities in Europe are really jaw-droppingly beautiful.
It seems that every big city in Europe is beautiful: Istanbul, Rome, Paris, London, Glasgow, Stockholm. But being a touring musician, even if you go to beautiful places, you see their non-beautiful side. Like in Venice. I’ll see the backstage area in the basement of a large venue 15 miles outside the city. The book reflects this, representing three types of photo: there are pictures of big audiences, empty desolate spaces, and then some remarkably beautiful parts of the world that I’ve flown over. I see these remarkably beautiful places from the plane and then I land and go to an empty hotel room or dressing room. I almost never see them from the ground. So some places I return to.

One of the most fun trips I’ve ever had was in New Zealand. New Zealand is a remarkably beautiful place. North Island is subtropical and South Island looks like the Alps. But I think its beauty comes mainly from it being an archipelago that has only been populated by plants and birds for 20 million years, so there’s a stillness to it. It has a grandeur to it that I really like. The most fun I had was renting a house on Piha Beach, on the west side of North Island. I rented a car and drove up and down the coast alongside hundreds of miles of black volcanic beach and saw almost no one. I grew up in New York, which is a densely populated place, so I like places that are empty, New York has that sound. It’s distinctive — police sirens and taxi cabs honking. I do a lot to isolate myself from the barrage of stimuli. Sometimes all I want is a hermetically sealed hotel room, to pull blinds and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist. But some places are so remarkable that you just want to run around and be a tourist: New Zealand; Australia; and Hong Kong; also Rome. For some reason, when I visit Rome, even if I’m there for work, all I want to do is run around and be the most clichéd tourist.

I see sides of a place that a tourist would never see. Before I became a travelling musician, I would go somewhere and want to be a tourist and see beautiful places. When I started touring, I saw the ‘normal’ side of a city. I’ve learned more about the world through the endless repetition of touring than I would have if I’d been an occasional tourist. But some places are so special that, even if you’re the most jaded musician, they amaze you. Like Istanbul. Last time I was there, I had an afternoon off and took a boat across the Bosphorus and it was one of those perfect cloudless days — I could see elements of Ottoman and Byzantine Empires and I was on the boat when it was the call to prayer. I’d never been to an Islamic city during call to payer. It was one of those moments when I realised that, as much as I complain about travelling, I never in a million years would have experiences like these if I wasn’t a touring musician.


Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, Moby began making music at nine. He was in punk group The Vatican Comandoes at 14 and took up DJing while at college, quickly becoming a New York club scene fixture. His fame grew with debut single Go in 1991 (and with his outspoken views on drug use and veganism).

After Go came huge club hits such as Feeling so Real and Thousand — the latter gaining Guinness World Record status for the most beats per minute. 1999’s Play, which sampled 1930s blues tracks, turned Moby into a true global star. A string of hits and soundtracks have followed and he’s produced stars such as David Bowie and the Beastie Boys, and even opened a New York vegan tea house.

Photo book Destroyed comes with a soundtrack (Moby’s 10th studio album) of the same name.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)