Impressions and Expression
Sometimes I find a collection of photos so lovely that I want to press myself against the images in the hope of osmotically absorbing the goodness and life contained within. It’s a guttural reaction to the visuals, so balanced for my sense of aesthetics that I wish they were my own.
It happens sometimes in a bookstore when I uncover a large volume of art posing as photography. Or when I visit a museum and glimpse into the heady days of glamour photography in the 1950s. Today it happened when one of my past travellers, Tim Fitzgerald, shared his website with me.
I know not every one of you will have the same reaction that I had, but the reasons for my adoration will not be lost on others. Tim joined a photo tour with me in Thailand, heading through and Laos and Cambodia, and was at the early stages of embracing the art. His personality is what shines through in his online gallery, but he did tune into a few of my ideas and work them into his own expression.
I quickly wrote down my impressions, because he deserved at least that much and deserved to know just how impressed I am…
"I just love it, I really really do. I love the richness of the people, the abundance of smiles, the depth of engagement, the raw presentation, the jumble of places, the immersion of your presence, the dynamic use of motion and light. I love all of it.”
With a Purpose
I’ve gone back a revisited that collection a few times today, noting special places that we travelled together, recalling the exact moment I saw the photo taken, and some of the conversations we had before and after. Part of my joy comes from knowing that my time spent travelling and teaching on a photo tour was well spent. It gives validation to my lifestyle choice, to spend such a large part of my time sharing photography techniques. Teaching is a part of who I am, hence this website, so it’s nice to know there might actually be some positive impact heading out into the world.
I’ve been doing the tours and workshops for nearly ten years now. I feel old just saying that, but in a way it’s kept me young through constant change and renewal of ideas. The concept was really new when I started, mixing genuine travel with photographic tuition. Since then the basic equation has definitely caught on (and been mercilessly copied) and I keep looking for new ways to make the experience better for my travellers, and for me. I’ve learned more out of these adventures than anybody else, ironically, because it’s proved to be a huge opportunity to push myself and develop as a photographic artist.
Over those years I’ve also seen my travellers win so many awards it’s ridiculous, some winning trips to Africa, others stunning new camera kits, some winning brochure contests and many scoring points in their local camera clubs. I had one guy who actually cheated on his club competition, having badgered me for days to try and arrange a model to pose by the Li River for sunrise. It takes all kinds to make a world.
A colleague of mine recently ran a photo tour in Vietnam and had one of the worst travel companions along that he could ever have imagined. One of their major conflicts was a dislike for Vietnamese food, insisting on "meat and three veg" at every meal. Some people simply should stay at home, but it’s exceptions like them which help me appreciate the lovely majority whom I travel with.
Eat and Run
Ironically it’s been the connection between food and travel that has lead me back home, to be spending more time shooting in Australia and a little less time on the streets of Bangkok. Food has always been an integral part of the travel experience, and nowadays most travellers embrace the opportunity to connect with local cultures through the cuisine. In my editorial work it’s been a long standing theme, but now it’s front and centre.
Over the last two years I’ve been shooting for Food & Travel UK, and loving it. We’re always time poor and champagne rich on these trips, dashing about for a few days trying to capture the most enticing images of local culinary persuasion. It’s hard work but intense, rewarding and often rather pampering. I most love the opportunity to shoot with talented people, great chefs and skilled writers.
When I travel I have to decide which hat to wear, the editorial photographer, the food photographer or the travel journalist. You can’t slip easily from one to the other, although they often meet at the edges.
Observing these different disciplines, my custom designed food photography workshops are very different to the photography tours I run in Sweden or Bhutan. They are richly immersive in the art of shooting food, and provide time and space to work towards individual learning. Great styling doesn’t happen at the drop of a hat, or the click of the fingers. It’s a process and ideally one that reflects the character of a place, or the cook or a cuisine.
Your own Journey
This is why the food workshops run for four days, so there’s time to leave behind the world you know and experience something else. It’s also why we get out of the big cities, we leave the mental space and pace of our regular lives so we can detach and decanter. They are indulgent but also informative. Even though we don’t travel far they are also a journey.
I watch my lovely companions on these food photography workshops unfold themselves, slowly in carefully and over the course of days. It takes time to let down the guard sometimes, just like it takes time to learn and relearn a technique to the point that you can own it. Nobody leaves empty handed and everybody takes away something different.
The last one I ran in March was very challenging but I’m now sitting back to watch the Instagram feeds of some really talented people and hope that I’ve helped to advance their art. It gives me a buzz, kind of the same way I got all excited when I saw Tim’s website featuring our travels in Asia and his journeys to other parts of the globe.
Seeing the fruits of other people’s effort is what makes these workshops so worth while. I never know just what will come of these events, it’s a mystery and a surprise every time. But I always know something lovely will happen, and for years after I get to see those images drifting back and remind me once more.
I see my role as a photographer to share with the world what makes the world so beautiful. It's even better to have a role in helping others to do the same, in their own unique way.
(this image from timfitzphotography.com)