I’m occasionally asked to be a “presenter” at a camera/photo club. The one I’m preparing for now is on travel photography — specifically, photographing a different culture.
Here’s a confession: I’ve done a lot of photography in foreign lands and I’m totally interested in making images which show the characteristics of other cultures but…well…I just never thought about it much. I do it automatically, not with forethought.
OK, so now I’m committed to making a ninety minute presentation on the subject. Reality sets in. Nothing will organize your thoughts more quickly than having to present them to someone else — or a whole room full of someone else’s.
So…here’s where my thought process has taken me.
To start with, culture is all about people or, stated another way, culture is an expression of how people ARE. Other things may influence (for example, weather or geography) but, ultimately, to photograph culture you are going to photograph people — what they do, what they wear, how they worship, how they raise their children, how they socialize, how they conduct their lives.
And, to do that, you are going to have to be where they are and you are going to need their cooperation. The bottom line is that you will not photograph real culture at the tourist sites. From a tour bus you can but hope for a sampling of the culture.
(In this posting I’ve used images I made in Lhasa, Tibet, to illustrate the point. But you don’t need to be in Tibet or any other exotic land to make images of the local culture. Think about it. My home state, Georgia, USA, has a distinct culture.)
You have to be in and be with the culture. The documentary photographer and photojournalist, Sebastiao Salgado (possibly the best culture photographer on this planet), takes this to the obvious extreme; he lives with his subjects — sometimes years. Most of us can’t do that but…
…we can communicate (even if we don’t speak the language) and we can be allowed inside the subject’s life for a little while.
Do that and your travel photography will improve by leaps and bounds.
I’ll explain how I do that in a future blog. It isn’t difficult and it may cause your travel photography to jump off the page.