If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know what I think about travel photography – but that’s travel photos as a final product and as an approach. The experience itself though is quite another matter. And I am not talking about traveling to photograph for a project; what I have in mind is traveling for other purposes – even for fun – while being a photographer. As anyone with any level of personal investment in photography has discovered, that can be an exhilarating or an excruciating experience. Here’s why:
1. You see images everywhere. Not just people, places and things, but images with deeper meaning behind them. You enjoy the new sights in a different way. On my flight from Milan to Hamburg last week, I saw the two flight attendants working the aisle with trays in their hands. When they tried to pass each other, they faced in opposite directions and lifted the trays up simultaneously. An instant, beautiful, graceful image that struck me as a lightning – and made me sad since my camera was packed under the seat… You can’t stop being a photographer even if you have something else on your mind!
2. Just like it happens among dog owners, having a camera in hand connects you to other camera-bearers. They start a small talk about your camera and flaunt their own and include you in some sort of an instant camaraderie. You are a part of the tribe 🙂
3. People are wary of you. They can see you are there to capture how they live. They feel you are separating yourself from them; that they are somehow different. They may feel like they are in a zoo and you are the visitor.
4. Your camera inevitably separates you – literally – from your travel companions. You stray into side streets off the common path, get behind or disappear from the established itinerary just to photograph this or that your companion(s) are not remotely interested in. Expect to be dropped from everyone’s list of preferred travel buddies unless you modify your habits and limit your photography to snapshots from just what you can see from the official itinerary. Or become a loner!
5. Traveling with a camera makes you an adventurous traveler, bolder and more curious than otherwise. The intention to take pictures has not only served as an acceptable explanation of what I am, for other people. It has been a great subconscious justification for myself, too, to venture off the beaten path, connect with strangers, learn and appreciate. Because of the camera, I started a myriad of conversations with people I would have no business talking to otherwise. I was invited for tea at a Turkish tailor shop in Hamburg, was shown around by an helpful fellow ferry traveler and learned some family stories from a restaurant owner in Rome. It’s worth carrying that extra weight!
6. You are also bound to miss lots of things, since when you photograph something, you will probably not see other things. Photography is about selecting a portion of the world around you. That could be dangerous, sometimes, as last year I was almost run over by a horse while I was taking pictures of a wedding on a town square in Bulgaria. But, on the other hand, that could happen to you even if you don’t have a camera and don’t photograph 🙂
7. Your experience and relationship with the places you’ve known will be much more vivid, as you’ve invested much more of yourself into paying attention to them, because of photography. However, let’s point out that the camera nowadays has become another way of connecting with our environment. All the historic monuments I passed by this summer were basically surrounded by tourists taking pictures of them and then moving on. Why, if they can buy well printed books with images from Rome to peruse afterwards and enjoy their moment on the spot? Far from accusing them, I’ve come to terms with this phenomenon. Those viewers are actually enjoying the moment; they are participating personally in a cultural symbol by capturing it and by collecting these fleeting experiences.
Frankly, I can’t separate blessings from curses here!