There are plenty of well-known travel photographers, but how does travel photography actually help the society in any way? That is our today’s topic of discussion. Shortly according to me, photography is the thing, that’s why a society can express themselves across the world. As, you can’t be present at every place in the world at same time, but the picture can. And someone has told a picture can talk much more than words.
One could argue that such a proposition is a bit egotistic and that there are many other ways one could promote a cause and bring about social change.
The answer could lie in our discussion on travel photography. This art form has travelled with the traveller all through his journey. Travel has made him have an enquiry of his own and to take a voyage of self-discovery. He has taken on this journey because he has some personal interest and that very intent motivates him to go beyond the expected.
Often, he visits certain places for the first time or he has heard stories of places he has never seen but his imagination takes over and he lets his thoughts roam over these places and its people. It does not matter whether such a trip has a wider social or environmental effect. That does not matter either. In fact, to that extent, it will also have very little effect in the big scheme of things.
Travel is indeed about self-discovery, to be able to learn more about oneself. Many people, on their journey of self-discovery, tend to fall in love with their own country. One of the prominent photographers of her times, Ansel Adams, once said,
“I have found no perfection in photography. There is a perfection only in every individual shot.”
Even the most artistically inclined and technically proficient, would agree with Adams. Photography itself is a process of transformation. It is never about getting one perfectly composed picture. And that should be the objective, not the end game. In reality, though, most of us have developed a sensitivity towards certain subjects or locations. The colour red can bring about a variety of emotions in us. We feel for its intensity and perhaps for its hue.
When we see a red tree, we feel the utmost joy and perhaps we feel the deepest grief at the same time. The thing is that, these emotions come from within us. They derive their strength from within, not from a photo or a travel book or anything else for that matter. We understand the sources and the reasons that cause these emotions. As photographers, it is our job to understand the subject so that we can convey it to the viewer in the best possible way. And when we convey it, we must be sure of what we have captured.
Travel photography is indeed an art form, it is about a curiosity for self-discovery, it is about observing the scenery with the eyes and in a different light. It is not about being brilliant or being accepted. It is about conveying a particular emotion to the viewer. And yes, a photograph can be gorgeous and it can be extremely romantic, but what is a much more powerful aspect of photography is the ability to depict our everyday lives and places.
We do not talk about our homes, cities, streets or anything else, but we talk about beautiful places, snowy mountains and lush forests, beaches and the ocean. We talk about beautiful woman, mountains and those that are imposing. And what is the worth of such observations? A photograph, no doubt. But what is the human sense of beauty? It is the set of things we are capable of understanding.
As photographers, we use our own understanding and experience. We also use our imagination. Some of us work with what is easily available to us, some of us search for beauty in the raw; we hunt for the unusual in the commonplace, for the extraordinary in the mundane. A good photograph is like a unique memory, the whole experience of being there and trying to capture it in a moment. The photograph has the power to provide those memories to someone else for the rest of his life.
Since a photograph is being made through the camera, the memory of that moment is somehow removed from our life. It is a bit like an encore performance. When we meet someone, our eyes light up, we smile and wave. We may tell some stories and if the person is really nice and accepting, he or she will remember these stories for the rest of their lives.
And when that moment is lost forever, the memory is fragmented. People often ask me, “But doesn’t a photograph preserve that moment?” Yes it does. But it does not in the same way as the memory of the experience itself is preserved. It is the memory that feels a certain way or evokes a certain emotion. And when that memory disappears, it is a heart-wrenching loss.
Since we cannot bring back a lost memory or take back a lost emotion, in essence, we can only look for the next opportunity to feel those emotions, the same way we take a photograph.
And the most important thing is that we should, do travel photography with pure enjoyment. It should be an addiction, an addiction to travel, and an addiction to the world. The experience of spending time in nature is what we should look for. It should be like a drug, an addiction. Like drugs, it can only get better.
Parmesh Shahani has been a staff photographer at The Hindu since September 2006. He is also the founding editor of Pusthakam. He contributes to a range of newspapers and magazines in the country, and has conducted photo workshops in over 70 cities of India.
Nirupama Rao’s statement on Social Photography
Confession of a Traveler is a series of random observations on life. That’s why Photography is good for social change.
“Photography is good for social change,”
says N.R. Rao, director of Satyam Prakashan and editor of journals Social Science Chronicle and Border-Line.
The young women he is talking about are students of the School of International Studies, University of Madras, where Rao is a visiting fellow. They volunteer at the Chennai office of Women for Independence and the Centre for Women Studies.
Recently, Rao and his wife Nadhiya visited Dhanmondi, a developing community in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “The organisation is one of the few to get a decent grant. It is a community that is ignored. We went there to look at the conditions there. The work has helped me a lot. For me photography is not just photography, it is more. It has helped me with empathy,” he says. With India’s growing influence on the world stage, Rao believes that our country is becoming more visible. “I don’t think anyone wants a third world country, a slum country, a third-class country,” he says.
“Our problem is that our place is not being recognised. There is no place for us, it’s about us, the power of representation, the power of memory. A photograph is like a story about something, and once you put it out there there, it needs to reach the person. People read and digest it as it comes,” he adds.
“It is a continuum, but photography is part of it. What if we are a strong country that is recognised and respected? What if it is a country that is properly represented in all walks of life? The government is addressing it in a very small way, but I believe that it will happen in time,” he adds.
On how he would like to see Indian photography changed in the next five years, Rao says: “I would like to see more of our own photographers. There is no country with less than a handful of photographers that are trying to explore their own culture and its history, unlike other countries.
Finally I also think that photography has a great impact on our social. And it is a very important part of our society for it’s growth. That’s why social and travel photography should be promoted. Hope you will love this blog. If you have some more thought on the travel photography, let’s know by commenting down the post.