As a traveling artist, I set out with on most trips with three missions (in no particular order)
To document a journey;
To inspire my own creative juices; and,
To tell a story.
As an example, in a ten-hour day on a safari it’s easy to experience jubilation and wonderment with mind-numbing monotony and 20,000 FitBit steps from riding on washboard roadways. One could get bogged down with massive technical challenges like dust, lens choices or the never-ending need for recharging. Focusing on the end goals makes the challenges diminish and allows me to be in the moment.
Documenting the journey is fairly simple. The truck comes to a stop to watch a herd of elephants. Most photographers zoom into a baby elephant nuzzling against its mother or put the wide angle on to get a panorama of 100+ elephants nearby. To capture the journey, I make sure to take a picture of another photographer working in silhouette and to lend context to the distance between the elephant and the lens. Or photographing meals is another example of documenting the journey. Who was our guide? A group selfie at the top of a lookout, taking a cooking class, shopping in a local market or reminders of what was seen in a museum are all excellent examples of documenting the journey.
Inspiring my own creative juices is equally straightforward for me. What captures my eye? Perhaps it’s the way the scalloped curtain contrasts with the chipped wooden window frame in a tiny bathroom. Or the softness of the hazy mid-afternoon light on the Serengeti plain. Maybe it’s the hatched partial roof of a pool cabana seen only while reclining or a flash of bright color contrasted against the colors of the earth as one scans the scenery. Many times, I photograph out a car window while moving quickly through villages and landscapes intentionally capturing an impressionistic view to use as painting inspiration. Other times I will just point and click to see what is captured while walking through a market or across a busy thoroughfare. These images are personal and unlikely to be sold as stock or fine art. Often they are the ones I would choose to view again and again to trigger imagination and memories.
The hardest, and most creative, of my pictorial focus is to tell a story. As both a linguist and visual artist, this can often be a challenge. How does one capture a story without words? If a picture is worth a thousand words, where does one look to capture that story? For starters, I have trained myself to really watch people in daily life – selectively purchasing at a market, sweeping at the end of the day, leaving school, daily chores. Particularly when traveling away from our own homes, these mundane tasks are different compared to ours. I also look for unique locations to set a scene – a child playing in a brightly lit alley in Zanzibar doesn’t actually do anything different from a child playing at home, but the scene tells the story: he isn’t so much different from the young boy next door.
The way women gather at dawn on the Zanzibar coast to bring in the catch of the day, carrying the small fish in five-gallon buckets on their heads is a unique story to that location. So is a vendor selling fresh vegetables anywhere in the world as is capturing an animated conversation over a hot grill. Maybe that grill story is also documenting a journey – maybe not.
Certainly not all of the images captured on any given trip are fine art or saleable. Most are used for more specific purposes. Almost always, my images are intended to set a scene, capture the essence of a place in time. I hope you enjoy them as much as I savor capturing them.