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Central Asia, then and now – A Rephotographic Journey in the Footsteps of Sven Hedin

Public Lecture Series with Lars Larsson, Sweden Chapter Chair

Sven Hedin (1865–1952) was a famous Swedish explorer and one of the very first honorary members of the Explorers Club – elected before 1910. By simple course and distance measurements, he alone explored and mapped larger areas overland than any other person in history. In total he spent almost 20 years in the field filling out the blank spots on the western map of Central Asia. Hedin’s autobiography, “My life as an explorer”, was marketed by his New York publisher in 1925 as “the greatest story of exploration and adventure by the greatest explorer of them all”. He was once a national hero and an international celebrity, but his strong sympathies for Germany would make the later part of his life take a different turn. After supporting Germany in World War 1, his French and British friends took back the honors they had bestowed upon him.

Lars Larsson is an International Fellow of the Explorers Club and lives in Åre, Sweden. He is the director of the Sven Hedin Project and a close collaborator to the Sven Hedin Foundation at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 2013, funded by National Geographic, he set out on the first of a series of expeditions to Asia in Sven Hedin’s footsteps. The main purpose of the project is to raise awareness and knowledge about environmental and climate change, as well as increasing the knowledge about Sven Hedin’s role in the history of exploration. Larsson’s main objective is to study and document how the natural and cultural landscape has changed in the locations Hedin visited more than 100 years ago. His main method is repeat photography, taking advantage of Hedin’s vast photographic collections, consisting of thousands of images, held at the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm.

Larsson is aiming to retrace all of Sven Hedin’s expeditions carried out between 1885–1935, an epic journey that will take him up snow-clad mountains, down wild rivers and through the burning deserts of Central Asia. So far, six years into the project, he has done five trips – three to Iran, one to the Caucasus and one to the Pamirs, the latter spanning the countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Xinjiang, China. What originally was conceived as a five-year project has become an open ended and potentially life-spanning project.

A second objective is to create a digital “time machine” that enables travel in space and time, following the footsteps of Sven Hedin. This will be achieved using digital immersive technology and media such as 3D geographic information systems (GIS) and virtual reality (VR). One of the platforms used is Google Earth, and the content includes comprehensive material for the user to explore, such as Hedin’s historical maps, photographs, routes, camps and diary entries.

Besides his focus on Central Asia, Larsson is also an expert whitewater kayaker, a former Swedish Champion, member of the National Swedish Team for ten years and a pioneer of over 40 whitewater first descents in Scandinavia. He is the founder and formerly publisher/owner of several Swedish outdoor sports magazines such as Paddling, Surfing and the Swedish edition of Outside magazine. Larsson has a Master of Social Science in Psychology and has done master studies in Computer Science and Engineering. He is a member of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography, and is Chair of the Sweden Chapter of the Explorers Club.

Date: Monday, November 19

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Program

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, NY, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $10

Guest Ticket Price: $25

Student Ticket Price: $5 with a valid student ID

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste