Asia Middle East Photo Essays

Across Asia in 1997 | A Re-Discovery of Forgotten Film

February 11, 2019

by Rick Stolk

A note from the editor: These photographs were taken by Rick on a backpacking trip in 1997. Some 21 years later, he found the negatives of the forgotten film and decided to rediscover his journey. Rick contacted ROAM with the images and it’s safe to say I was completely blown away by what I saw. Not only are the images shot with an excellent creative eye, but they create an incredible sense of what travelling was like some 22 years ago, before the internet, digital camera and mass globalization. I have chosen only a selection of Ricks images to publish here, and I urge you to see the full series on his website and Instagram to get the full picture of the trip. 

I decided to do this trip when I’d just finished my 4-year education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the Hague. I studied photography. I was 26 and my theory was: if I wanted to do a long trip, I must do it now, before the ‘adult life’ takes over, with a variety of different responsibilities. The route was dictated during the trip, the only thing I did was bought a one-way ticket to Beijing on the Trans-Mongolia Express, and after that I was blank. I used Lonely Planet books for places to see, and often things were dictated by where to cross a border safely, or where a visa could be issued.

Every place and country had its own charm, but if I had to pick one place which really stood out, it would be Laos. The people, the food, the scenery: it was all beautiful. But so was China, Vietnam, Indonesia. Russia and Mongolia had a very special ‘vibe’: very harsh, but extremely photogenic.

I’ve never physically returned to any of these places. 10 years ago, I developed a massive fear of flying, so long distances are out of the question. I also got a job, became a father etc. But virtually, I went back to some of these places. While reading my journal and trying to determine where some of these pictures were taken, I googled them. It was very unnerving to see. A lot of these places became ‘just another tourist attraction’. When I travelled, the internet was only just beginning. In my journal, I found a step by step manual guide on how to create an email address. Communication with my parents and sister was by fax and telephone. People would send letters to the General Post Office of the capital of my next country, so I would collect them when I arrived there. The magic!

Even with all the benefits of the internet nowadays, I’m very happy I travelled pre-internet. It made it a little bit more special, at least for me. All these images were taken on analogue film: I’d stack 5 rolls and send them to my sister in the Netherlands and she would have them developed for me.

When I looked back on these photos, it was disturbing how much I’d forgotten. Thank god for the journal I’ve painstakingly kept! The overall feeling is that I’m so glad I did it then. If I hadn’t, I probably never would have.

My name is Rick Stolk. I’m 48 years old and live in the Netherlands with my wife and daughter and Lewis the Labrador.
I’m a photographer and head of the Medical Photography in the Erasmus Mediscal Centre, Rotterdam.
My work can be seen on and


Rick Stolk is a 48-year old photographer who lives in the Netherlands with his wife, daughter and Lewis the Labrador. He is head of Medical Photography at the Erasmus Mediscal Centre in Rotterdam. You can find his work at and @rickstolkphotography

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