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Friday, July 6, 2012

How to identify – and avoid – travel photo ‘porn’ | Paul Sullivan, Matador Network

As an amateur travel photographer (skilled but uncompensated), I think this article is excellent. I know I take some "pretty pictures" when I'm traveling that could be taken almost anywhere. But I also try to take photos that give a sense of place -- be they of people, buildings, plant life, "things" and, yes, scenery. I think my past work as a newspaper reporter and photographer helps with that.

Sullivan notes and then adds:
The Photographic Society of America defines a travel photo as:
an image that expresses the feeling of a time and place, portrays a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state, and has no geographical limitations.
And yet so much of what seems to pass as travel photography today fails to express this “feeling of a time and place,” preferring instead to package travel and place as a kind of product.
BTW, by travel photo "porn," Sullivan is referring to photographs that reduce people and places to stereotypes.

He asks, "How do travel photographers avoid creating travel porn?" And answers:
For me, the more detail and context we provide in our images, the less they’ll seem like pretty but meaningless postcards and begin to take on a narrative — that is, a “soul.” We photographers may not have nouns, verbs, and adjectives at our disposal, but we do have angles, light, perspective, and framing, amongst other compositional tools and strategies, to present alternative interpretations of a scene.
Some other advice (with links in the article to photo examples):
Shifting angle to include at least part of the subject’s facial expression may have given us clues about her identity or state of mind. A different angle may have also opened up a world of detail in the background.
Neither cities nor people are perfect, and the non-beautiful aspects are intrinsic to telling a story and building a more truthful and compelling narrative. ...
One of the most inspiring things about viewing the world through a camera lens is the opportunity to see it in a different way ...
As any documentary or travel photographer will tell you, a good way to improve your images of people or place is to spend as much time as possible with your subject/s. ...
Rushing through cities and communities without taking time out to understand or explore properly can only lead to superficial representations. ...

At the very least, some decent advance desk research about a country, city, or culture can help provide ideas and knowledge. ...
Sullivan concludes:
Borrowing from a documentary mindset, traveling slowly and thoughtfully, thinking about what’s inside (and outside) your viewfinder before you click the shutter: These are all ways to avoid visual travel porn — and to make a much more intimate connection with your audience.
For other articles on this topic, see my daily online paper, Garbl's Picture-Perfect Traveling, at the Travel Photography tab above and by free online subscription.

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