Thursday, July 2, 2015
What is the role of a travel photographer? And how should that inform your photography?
Let's get a definition out of the way first. When I say travel photographer I mean anybody who travels, and takes photos. Amateur, pro, beginner, veteran. If you go somewhere and take photos you are a travel photographer. Right, now that that is out of the way I guess we can come to the conclusion that for any of us reading this on a computer, laptop or tablet who has the financial ability to leave the place where we live, well that makes us travellers. If we take photos while we're away that then makes us travelling photographers. And that gives us some responsibilities.
Here in Australia at the moment there is a lot of demonising of peoples from other countries, religions or backgrounds. It's mostly a lot of rhetoric and hyped up political clap-trap designed to fool those who don't know any better. And who doesn't know any better? Those who haven't travelled for one. So that puts you dear reader at a distinct advantage. When you travel and come directly into contact with foreign cultures and peoples you get to form your own opinions first-hand, without the filter of somebody else telling you what you should believe.
But photography then gives you the chance to be one of those filters, or influencers. If you choose to do so. Never before have we had such possibilities to share our work with others. In the days of film you would have to hold a slideshow, or pass around the family album, and would at most reach those in your family and close circle of friends. Now you can reach millions at the touch of the POST button on any social media platform. You have the opportunity to show those who can't (or won't) travel how things really work. Not how mass media wants you to think it works.
So what should you be showing them? Well if I may be so bold as to give some suggestions here is what I think. I think that we travel photographers should be showing what an amazing planet we live on. We should be showing beauty in all its forms. Immediately you might be thinking of the usual travel cliches - Cable Beach in Broome with the camels walking along, sunrise at the Taj Mahal, neon signs of Tokyo. Yes you should definitely photograph those things, one because they're wonderful to see and experience, and two because they are truly wonderful examples of this amazing planet. But if you stop there you've missed the most important bit.
And for me the most important bits are the bits and pieces on the way to those destinations. The street on the way to the Taj Mahal where ordinary people live ordinary lives that are so different from our own. Where shops sell trinkets and foods that you have never seen before, but the locals consider a part of their everyday life. Where grandparents hug their grandchildren, just like in your home town, only whilst wearing a sari, or a kimono (rare these days I know!), or a conical hat. Not because they are trying to impress you, the visitor to their land, but because it is a part of their culture, their way of life. And to them it is nothing out of the ordinary.
Only by showing what to us is extraordinary, but in the light of ordinariness, can we contribute to the breaking down of cultural barriers. By showing those who don't have the opportunity to travel, that we are all basically the same, we stop these idiot politicians and mass media dimwits from trying to shape us all into their view of how the world should be.
So by all means photograph the cliches, but also take time to photograph ordinary life. Ordinary for some, maybe extraordinary for others. In this amazingly inter-connected world (again a first and second world phenomenon I know) we have the opportunity to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. To say, this is how incredible this planet is and how wonderful the people who live in it are. To celebrate our differences while acknowledging our similarities. To show that we're all in this with each other and the big,wide world is a beautiful place full of wonderful people that are just like you and I and deserving of all the respect and understanding that we seem to sometimes only show those from our close-knit social group.
In short travel photographers can, and should be, the true voice for cultural understanding and compassion. Together we can drown out the scaremongering politicians and headline chasing mass media which seeks to highlight our differences in order to promote xenophobia, rather than highlighting our similarities to promote compassion and understanding. Travel photographers of the world unite I say!