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The art of seeing #17: What you actually see and experience

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

Recently I was asked to give a talk on travel photography. This got me thinking – what exactly is travel photography? 

The Royal Photographic Society’s travel group describes ‘travel photography’ as images that ‘communicate a sense of place’, while Wikipedia categorises it as a sub-genre of photography that’s concerned with the documentation of an area’s landscape, people, cultures, customs and history. Both are pretty ambiguous. A Google (image) search of travel photography will quickly reveal myriad colourful cliches of Cormorant fishermen, old and characterful Cuban women smoking cigars and so on.

Are these really ‘travel’ photographs or rather some hackneyed romanticised projection of what these places are like? I would imagine the truth of the matter is significantly more complex than this superficial interpretation. And many of these ‘classic travel’ images are staged for a few bucks anyway.

Looking through my archives and searching for what I reckoned might make a good ‘travel’ photograph, and answer my question about what travel photography is, I started to think that the notion of travel photography and the need to categorise it is futile. I also began to realise that for me, if there is such a thing as travel photography, it’s about the journey as much as the destination. 

So I felt this image of Mount Fuji in Japan had the raw ingredients of a half-decent ‘travel’ photograph. An online image search of Mount Fuji will reveal countless photos of the magnificent mountain framed by cherry blossom and other such cliches. This image, however, framed by the window of a tour coach, actually captures the essence of the experience and my first encounter with the mountain perhaps most accurately. 

I love the fact you get a sense of being in the coach, that it’s difficult to see the mountain in a fleeting moment as it whizzes past and other passengers obscure the view. What I love most in this image is how the shape of the window curtain echoes the shape of the mountain giving the image extra resonance, depth and food for thought. BB

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