A road trip requires a lot of preparation, including logistics, drafting a shot-list and an itinerary. You read that right. Nothing is final as there are too many variables on any given day. My experience has been that the more I prepare, the more I welcome chance.
Luck is where opportunity meets preparation. Seneca
Preparation starts months before the actual journey. During this phase I review travel guides, accounts and travel blogs. This provides a sense of how others experienced a destination – what has been ‘done’.
Crucial to my process is perusing maps, satellite imagery, weather reports and studying ephemeris data.
As an avid reader, I spend most of my time absorbing historic fiction, travel logs and novels set in the area I will be travelling through. This gives context and, vitally, ideas for my visual narrative.
The visual narrative
There are many checklists that act as guide for the visual story teller. I borrowed from veterans such as Ron Haviv, Cristina Mittermeier and others. Over time I have distilled their advice down to this manageable list.
- The iconic image
- The sense of place
- The portrait
- The overall view
- The detail
- The action
- The moment
This list reminds me to look for images that tell the narrative both broadly and narrowly. Each item on the list progressively narrows my viewer’s focus to, eventually, just the moment.
The intimate moment
Having deep experience of nature photography, particularly the landscape & birds, I can explore a place for hours, waiting for just the right moment. The skill I lacked, was getting close enough to tell an inmate story.
As a photographer, 2022 was about building the skill and confidence to get close to humans. I learnt many things about people. The first is that most, if they notice at all, really don’t care as much as you do.
The other is that being small and light of foot allows me to pass through a scene virtually unnoticed. Genetics and the old magician’s trick of redirecting your audience, look one way and point the camera in another, serve me well. Just leave the bright shirts & hats at home!
Roaming in Fall
I had the pleasure of spending three days in Rome many years ago. Coming at the tail end of a long road trip around Southern Italy, I regretted not having more time to explore Rome’s vibrant life & culture. Which explains why Rome ended on my bucket list.
Time passed, life changed and I found more time to explore that list, which had grown very long!
The Rome project started in Spring 2022. Through this project I will explore Rome’s life & culture around the change of seasons.
Spring was also about getting to know the place. Fall will be about diving deeper. I have chosen the Trastevere area because it is an outlier. Because my Roman friends like it, “You have to explore the Trastevere next. There is culture and life around every corner!”
Tying it together
After absorbing as much materials as I can I refer to my notes and attempt to answer a few basic questions:
- How is the Trastevere placed within the history of Rome? How can I capture that?
- What role does the Trastevere play in a Roman’s life today? How can I capture this?
These questions allow me to identify iconic images, images that would give a sense of the place and an overall view. They also stimulate thought around capturing the intimate moments of Roman life today.
Of course, the challenge is to find a unique perspective in a space that – for a few months a year – is overrun with cellphones & influencers.
I was enticed to view Homer’s work at the National Gallery in London because of his style. Homer is seen as a social documentary painter whose work focused on issues such as equality and justice.
Finding everyday heroes
A man who loved to travel, he lived in places as diverse as England and the Tropics! At Cullercoats in Northumberland his work evolved into somber watercolours on large canvases, exploring the inner strength of the town’s working men and woman.
Nassau, the tropics
insert image of Garden in Nassau
Later, in Nassau, he would return to issues of social justice. Works such as ‘Garden in Nassau’ is really about privilege and segregation.
Throughout his work one finds a powerful theme. Equality in the eyes of the law is only the first step. We also need to dismantle the systems that exploited inequality, otherwise they will evolve, often becoming more corrupt & dark in the process.
“One’s work is a way of keeping a diary’ – Picasso.
Homer often took many years, three or more, of study and numerous failed attempts to get a painting just right. This is an anathema in today’s always-on society.
In this society an artist that does not publish daily updates is deemed irrelevant. The thing is, producing great work requires time. Time to contemplate a brush stroke – or an image on the light table – until you know how to bring your idea to life.
It also takes courage to put a finished piece of work on the drying rack and revisit it later asking THE QUESTION: “Does it represent my vision?” It takes even more courage to start over.
Which is a long way of explaining why I recently deleted the Siem Reap collection and started over.
I have learnt much during these last two weeks. The first is never show work that is not ready. This can take years. Siem Reap went through many iterations before I settled on the B&W interpretation, enhanced by the judicious application of contrast, dodge & burn and a ruthless edit.
The other lesson was that time between creating an image and developing it removes the emotional strings that bind you to ‘darlings’. Few of those survived Siem Reap’s final edit.
If my work is my diary, of which the final piece is one entry, then its meaning lies in the process through which it is created. Perhaps this is the journey that should be shared.