If I am honest, my real enthusiasm in photography is in documenting my responses to the places I visit on my travels, and I travel a lot at the moment. Four trips are already booked in for this year, with a long weekend in Venice being the first, in only a couple of days time. I therefore want to consider how I can use my studies to benefit these activities, and vice versa as well. To this end, this post is about several series of photographs from Lenscratch (what a wonderful resource this is), which have a clear sense of place while offering a glimpse at another way of life , and to consider some of my own images in that context.
This is a series by a French photographer living in Tunisia. She has taken photographs of the ephemeral beach tents that local people set up to protect themselves from the sun, and the individuality that come through the different constructions says something about both current Tunisian culture and its nomadic past. This is an outsider looking in, in a social documentary style. The images are washed outand do not feature people directly, although some are shown as a by-product of the exercise.
Pierce is a British photographer working out of South Africa. He has produced a number of series of local cultures, and this focuses on the people of mountainous Lesotho, who still get about by horse, as cars cannot cope with the terrain. These are portraits in a similar style to my own assignment 2, but what particularly draws the attention are the wonderfully complex and mismatched clothes that the subjects wear. Again, these photos were taken by an outsider, and combine documentary and portraiture.
Another outsider, Paatos decided to make a long term project of visiting various cattle ranches in mid-USA to document the life there – so romantic in films, but difficult and only marginally financially viable in reality. Her images mix landscapes, portraits and general documentary genres and look at both the hardship and the harsh beauty of the lifestyle.
Barcs is a bit different from the previous photographers. He’s a Mexican photographer and film producer, and this series is about a family who live high in the remote mountains of Oaxaca. Here, the members of the family happily mix old cultural ways with modern inventions like the mobile phone, while going about a very rustic way of life, which has not changed much over centuries. Barcs uses a mixture of documentary style, and also mis-en-scene, to give a romantic, magical realistic tome to the images, which is entirely in keeping with the Central American way of thinking.
All of the above series have strong sense of the place in which they were made, and each has been treated in an individual way to make them internally cohesive. So, what do these series say to me, and how I should go about my own work? Firstly, when travelling, having identified a subject or theme upfront helps unify a series, and gives a better starting point for editing. Secondly, identifying a style of photography before one goes is also good for unifying the results. And finally, and probably most importantly, one person’s travel documentary is another person’s local environment, and I should not forget that what is close to home can provide as interesting and illuminating subject as what I see on my foreign exploits.