“The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.” – Susan Sontag, On Photography.
To travel, is to photograph: the landscape, the food, the locals… the occasional selfie. I tote around more cameras than most and they’re all film to boot. There are no secrets in photography, no recipes, and no equations. While there are lists of do’s and don’ts, like the English language, there’s always an exception.
Don’t shoot into the sun. Keep the horizon straight. Get closer.
Photography is limitless. Travel photography has brought me out of my comfort zone time and time again. It engages me with the people where I am. While travel photography is something that can never be mastered, I do have a process that I’ve adopted, my art.
The greatest resource for the traveling photographer is the street. I’ve spent the past couple of years bouncing around the blue planet with my girlfriend, Finley, and when we get to a new city the first thing we do is walk. We walk a lot. We get our bearings straight. We get lost. If it’s hot, we get an ice cream. And then we keep walking. Walking is everything. Walking the street is how I’ve landed a lot of my favorite photographs.
Once I’m walking I come across the quintessentials of the city. The ins, the outs, the flavors, the scents, the temperatures, the faces, the merchants, and the textures are apparent. When I see a something that I want to shoot, I come to traveling photographer’s dilemma: do I ask to take the photo, or not. I don’t want to advocate snapping relentlessly at foreigners in their native land; however, sometimes asking can compromise the shot. Sometimes when I’ve asked, it changes the original message I wanted to capture. One time in India, I took a photo of a kid and his uncle cooking. I had just purchased a meal from the hawkers and I wanted to get a shot. Another Indian man came up to me screaming demanding that I not shoot the child working. I had already gotten the nod from the Uncle that it was ok, but I still felt conflicted. While I don’t want to accentuate ‘slum tourism,’ I certainly don’t want to do is sugarcoat the harsh realities of foreign lands and cultures or downplay the beautiful ones. One of travel’s greatest lessons is gratitude.
Gratitude comes from the experience. The experience is what it is all about. It is the reason we travel in the first place. Digital cameras can fulfill our need of immediate “Did I get the shot?” anxiety, but from what I’ve seen abroad, digital cameras can create a habit of taking 1,000 photographs for 3 good ones. It can foster looking at the world only through the lens. I saw a girl in the Galápagos who only saw the majesty of the sea turtles from behind her GoPro. Did you know a man died taking a selfie at the Taj this year? Put the camera down and be where you are.
With film, I work backwards: how do I want this photo to end up? Do I want to convey speed or action? What do I want to focus on? I think through the shot, and then I set the aperture and shutter speed. I take a few photos and then I put my camera down, unknowingly of the results. I get my photos but I experience the place, the people, and the company. Film allows me to take my trip twice. Sometimes months go by before I get to pan for gold on the contact sheets. Film limits the amount of shots that I can take, which immediately gives each one more personal value.
The author is hosting a release party and photo exhibition for his film photography book entitled FARANG on Friday October 23rd at 8pm at Back Bay Brewery with live performances by Lloyd Vines and Bennett Wales. FARANG is a self-published 94pg photography book covering 15 countries through 129 slides over the course of 2 years. You can order a book here: blackwellsdisease.bigcartel.