Travel photography is visual storytelling, through a mix of genres including street photography, landscapes, architecture, wildlife, cultural imagery it tells the story of a destination or culture. While travel photographers seek to inspire, this doesn’t necessarily mean producing a series of unfeasibly beautiful images, but also providing a social and historical dialogue.
Historical and Cultural Storytelling
We perceive images of past important periods of history, the turn of the century, WWI or WWII, fifties or sixties with nostalgia or fascination. They bring memories to those old enough to remember, while those too young search for the narrative. The architecture, vehicles, fashion and culture of bygone times.
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It may not seem instantly obvious that this is travel photography, but even long before the dawn of photography, there have always been travellers. Equally there has always been visual storytelling, providing insight for those separated by distance or time from another culture.
How will future generations view the images captured in the social media era, will they be able to identify with the age of the selfies?
The rise of digital photography, smartphones, social media and the improvements in camera technology means there is an abundance of imagery available, beyond anything produced in the past. Modern visual storytelling is now available in a myriad of forms, it seems likely that more images have been captured in the past few years, by more photographers than in all the previous years combined.
A humorous view of photography in the modern era: Smoasting all over the World
I was recently involved in a debate about the relevance of street photography, a protagonist claiming the images are boring. Their viewpoint maybe understandable, a standalone street scene can appear boring, without context, but when included as part of a series, they can provide a fascinating social commentary.
Context maybe required to tell the full story, an individual image may tell one side of a story, which is not always clear. However, several images displayed together may provide the missing jigsaw pieces which complete the story.
It may require the viewer to go on a journey, using their imagination to discover the story behind a single image, a series of images or related photographs.
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A Tale of Two Boats
I’ve chosen two decrepit vessels on the Isle of Mull to illustrate this point; decaying, rotting hulls just outside the town of Salen. They still appear to have a strange, serene beauty, stubbornly defying the elements and time. Yet, in the height of season many drivers merely continue their journey without giving them a moment’s thought.
Once the pride and joy of their owners, try to imagine the day the builders launched them with pride, or when each owner took delivery of their brand new, shiny boat. Visualise the first time they took to sea, or the first-time full fishing nets were hauled aboard by tired, but eager crews. Consider how many times their crew risked stormy seas, how many times they have been to sea, how often they have returned home fully stocked or with empty fish lockers. How many crewmen or restaurateurs have relied upon them for a living and how many families have been fed by their catches.
How would their builders or owners feel if they saw these decaying vessels now, stranded by tide and time, slowly, imperceptibly rotting on the shoreline of the Sound of Mull, on Scotland’s west coast?
Returning a year, or decade from now, what will we find? Will the two hulls have disintegrated into a series of disassociated, peeling planks, or the local council decided they are merely glorified litter that needed removing? As an optimist, I’m hoping an enthusiast will lovingly restore them to former glory.
It’s important to remember the significance of the scene when clicking the shutter button; what is story are you trying to tell? This is the art of visual storytelling, attempting to convey a message in a single image, however there are times one image is not sufficient and a series of images necessary.
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Thinking carefully about how a difference in composition, colour, light or shadow can subtly change the context of an image. This possibly differentiates between a visual storyteller documenting a destination and a vacationer taking snaps.