Blognotes from a photographer life...

Feb 18, 2010


As a follow-up to the recent post concerning the Travel Journalist destiny, let me talk of a matter much closer to my -and probably most of the readers- personal life and profession: what is the sense of being a Travel Photographer nowadays. First of all let me clarify that I define "Travel Photographer" only the one focused on presenting places and cultural venues, not those dedicated to the larger news arena, a field of photography formerly known as Reportage and today going under the less fashionable definition of Documentary. Somebody likes also the name Photojournalist.
I can't be too short in making my point or I'll be misunderstood. The travel editorial market was really born in the 80's: travelers were still a small number and magazines were showing dream destinations. The photographers had an easy life: show how nice or interesting a place is at the best of your skills. And not much skills were requested! Plus money was flowing: in a rich environment, airlines and tour operators would finance any project to attract tourists. So good to remember the old days!
In the 90's the market was mature. Many travel publications were produced everywhere. But the mass tourism was a reality by now, therefore the target was adjusted: mass oriented presentations or sophisticated suggestions on specific destinations, or interpretations on the way to visit famous places. Go to Paris, but stay in a boutique hotel, and look at Montmartre in this "artistic" way. Personally I can say it was the best of times, professionally: I was allowed the peak of experimenting in photography. With the first digital manipulation of scanned images I published stories of the Fiesta in Pamplona in a red dominance; the Oktoberfest pictures had the tone of beer; Salvador and Manaus were only partly turned to B&W.. And, above all, it was free interpretation of the places: out of focus, panning, night lights were all right!
Then came the dreadful new century, Internet developed, printed paper started being obsolete.. Confusion reigned. Why would any young guy, under-educated on laptop and cellphones, buy a magazine? And these started struggling for impossible ideas, in fact for a reason to exist, to stay alive.. An impossible task, that have lasted ten years nonetheless..
Here we are, asking ourselves what has become of our profession, or our photographic language.. With this history in mind is not difficult to understand how desperate the task is this time! Telling how a place is in the time of mass travel and communication in a globalized world is ridiculous.. Interpretations are considered eccentric, and they have no space for publication anyway.. Travel suggestions are ok, but organizing trips through the web is so easy and cheaper.. What should we photograph? And how? but, above all, why? For Whom?
My answer is a cross-border migration. For years now what I shoot, and the way I shoot it, can be defined in between "Travel" and "Documentary" photography (even if, for professional clarity, I keep two separated sections on my web site). If showing how a place is has lost interest, telling stories that happens there, especially in a global environment, has not! I'm not saying that there is a large, concerned public for it, but we must make for what we have: the small part of humanity still capable of using the brain in a personal way.
In other words the Travel Photographer should become a Photojournalist dedicated to show not how the world is but rather what is going on in it. Culture is changing fast, many will say it's disappearing in a globalized market: but this reality needs to be told, denounced through specific stories. Identify these significant stories and tell them in an effective way is today's task. Again, not an easy task when the editorial counterparts don't offer you any feedback, as it's happening nowadays.
Finally, about photographic style. Experimenting in color, light and composition to make a story more effective is a must. We live in a time when technology is revolutionizing everything: it would be suicidal for photography -both as language and philosophy- to avoid it's self-evolution. And really upsets me when I hear comments on what is or is not "real photography" based on the chemical history of the media: like saying that music on CD is not good because it's not on vinyl... But the photographer should never forget that the content (it's subject and the situation he's capturing) is it's primary target. Searching the "photographic effect" for itself may be right in fine-art, it's definitely not in photojournalism (see also my older post on it). I see too many images that are nice, sometimes strong, but then I end wondering what they want to say besides the aesthetic beauty.
And the final question remain. If photography is, as it is, communication, we cannot going on without a public to communicate to, and the media to do it adequately. Is this public still there? And will it be there in the future under-educated-globalized society? I'm afraid of the answer.. I prefer to avoid it...

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