The ‘Agoraphobic Traveller’ who found a whole new world, courtesy of Google.
For most of us travelling is a pipe dream for when someone decides to pay us to do it or we somehow become Insta-famous without trying. Photographer [and London-based New Zealander] Jacqui Kenny’s globetrotting dreams were grounded for years, but for a much more pressing reason.
As a self-defined ‘Agoraphobic Traveller’, Jacqui found it difficult to leave the house. She suffers from an anxiety disorder that gives her an irrational fear of busy, public areas and distance from safe spaces. At its worst, Jacqui experienced panic attacks when she strayed too far until, finally she realised she was only comfortable close to home.
An aspiring photographer, Jacqui lost confidence when she had to close down her business as a result of her anxiety. But when she started looking for a creative outlet from home, she found a surprising source in Google Street view.
“I realised it could look quite beautiful,” Jacqui explained. “It looked a bit odd as well. I think I always really loved photography that was slightly a little bit unusual.”
Jacqui takes screenshots, searching remote corners of the world street-by-street, all from her London home. From dogs fighting in Peru to mobile homes in Kyrgyzstan, she’s taken over 27,000 screenshots to date. Her favourites are documented on her Instagram, where they’ve attracted the attention of over 80,000 followers, and even Google themselves. For a limited time, Jacqui’s been given permission to sell her prints online. Proceeds will go towards the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation, who work to ‘improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of mental illnesses.’
Google have even helped Jacqui take a step towards overcoming her agoraphobia. Boarding a plane for the first time in years, she was flown out to New York to do an exhibition.
“The travelling actually wasn’t that hard,” Jacqui said. “I had so much support from my family and friends and through the Instagram community. I felt so supported and protected that it was fine.”
Jacqui has become a sort of agony aunt since her audience has grown. She receives messages from followers – inspired by her refusal to be subdued by agoraphobia – about their own struggles with mental health.
As for the future, Jacqui has big plans. She hopes to someday visit the places she’s documented online and take some photos for herself. There’s even been interest from filmmakers about making a documentary, both on her creative process and ongoing battle with anxiety. So, here’s to you Jacqui. Thank you for reminding us that no obstacle is ever too big to overcome, we’ve all got to start somewhere and we never know where we will end up.
In the meantime, Jacqui is working through her mental health issues with the help of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness. She now spends just a few hours a week on Google Street View, and hopes her wanderlust will take her further than her computer screen sometime soon.