What I Really Think About Travel Photography – Bosnia and Herzegovina

martin parr
Photo by Martin Parr – one of the worlds greatest photographers (link below).

V ery recently, I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina twice. First, it was aboard Marshal Tito’s Train, enroute from Belgrade, Serbia, to Podgorica, capital city of Montenegro. For a ten mile stretch, the train tracks skirted in and out of B&H (the country, not the cigarette brand). A week later, I traversed the entire width of the country overland. From the south east border I left Croatia, passing through B&H all the way to the western border. Hugging the Adriatic coast, I stopped for a Burek and a coffee, and then passed border formalities to exit back into, umm, also Croatia. And so, B&H joined an exclusive list of countries – the countries I have visited where I didn’t take a single photo.

Here’s what I really think about travel photography. Almost all of it, sucks. The world needs another photo of a famous landmark, or UNESCO site, about as badly as it needs a photo of you or me standing in front of another famous landmark or UNESCO site. Sure, I’ve been guilty of this hubristic egotism on far more than one occasion. But as time passes, these typical tourist snaps become the least favourite of all my photos. They’re the ones I rarely, if ever, return to for one more viewing.

The turning point for me came a few years ago. I carefully composed, exposed, and captured a photo of the modernist Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany – hisptering it up a bit by utilising an old school film camera. After the film was processed and carefully scanned in high resolution, I dutifully uploaded it to Flickr for all the world to see. I awaited glowing accolades, and sure enough, I soon received an invite. My Bauhaus photo had been selected for inclusion in the “official” Bauhaus photo group. When I checked out the group, to see what other examples of fine photography it held, I was incredulous – every single photo in the group was of the same building, and all were taken from exactly the same angle. The photos in the collection were taken by different photographers, over a period of several years.

My photo was indistinguishable from a hundred others.

 

click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article

 

Is the point of travel photography to be able to take the same photo as everyone else?

You’ll need to decide that for yourself.

But keep in mind – just because you’re going on vacation, it doesn’t mean you need to take photos.

Despite my love of travel, and photography, and writing about it publicly – Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes the fifth country I have visited, without taking a single photo.

Yes, it was just a quick pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina. Maybe my camera battery was flat, or I was prevented from taking photos by another technical glitch? No. A few years ago I spent sixty days on the idyllic South Pacific island of Vanuatu, visiting four times during a nine month period. In between pools, beaches, resorts, cocktails, dancing with old Filipino ladies, and drinking Kava late into the night at Ronnies with the locals, I didn’t think once to take a photo.

And I have no regrets.

Even the best travel photos fade, but the best travel memories don’t.

If I don’t take a photo on every day of this journey, or in every country, it’s no big deal.

The world will keep on turning, and Filipino ladies will keep on dancing.

Nate

 

PS, the photo accompanying this article is by one of the worlds greatest photographers – Martin Parr

 

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23 thoughts on “What I Really Think About Travel Photography – Bosnia and Herzegovina

  1. Sometimes there are only a few spots that allow you to take photos of some famous object – for example castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria – but you try to make something unique anyway. I enjoy the process as a results too.

    1. Agree Victor – it’s a valid goal to try and get something unique – and it’s always possible. As amateur photographers, we get a lot more out of the process than some other people. Keep in mind, there are a lot of people who are travelling around, and feel “compelled” to take photos, just because they’re on vacation. They may not be as interested in the process as we are. My article is probably more relevant to people like that.

  2. Thanks Nate, I couldn’t agree more. Thats why you’re the only travel blog I read. Your photos are different, as is your writing style. Its about your journey, not the destination.

    1. Spencer, comments like that are my favourite comments of all. You totally “get” what I’m doing, and I’m genuinely glad that I have readers like yourself.

  3. Nate,

    This idea of constant photo collecting, it interferes with the internaliztion of memories. Memories that should be of thought , emotion, desire. Does an image have to be collected for you? Does this image transfer your emotional state when you clicked the shutter? No, there are timeliness and timelessness images. Just because you can does not mean you ought to. I like not stopping on my motorcycle to get a shot, i want this image in my head. And shared experiences with out a camera have a patina of nostalgia that is so much more evocative, memory enhancing…

    Be well

    Laurence

    1. Hey Laurence… firstly, yes. The shared experience, and story telling, is so much more interesting than just “look at this photo”. I see most of my images as transient, and temporary, but the stories and tales of the experiences – particularly when they are shared – are more endearing, and more enduring. And you ride a bike? Me too (well, I did when I was back in Australia – sold it just before heading off on this journey)… maybe there’s something to that? Maybe bike riders completely understand the value of “experience”, as compared to “a photo of my experience”…

      1. Nate,

        I bought my Harley Road King new back in 2000, 130k miles on it. Don’t ride it that much lately due to fires and heat here in Colorado. Love riding through Utah, Oregon, the Redwoods of Northern California. So many miles and vistas.

        Be well,

        Laurence

  4. I wrote an article very similar to this idea: “The world media shapes our iconic image of a place. Tourist go to places because of the images that draw them there. Then they take the same photographs that they have in their mind’s eye. These genres of photographs are repeated. So it is the images that are guiding us to these places that we see.” http://www.pointsandtravel.com/the-philosophy-of-travel-how-travel-writing-and-photography-change-the-world-we-see/

    1. Nice article Cacinda – definitely a lot more thought out than mine (ha!). It is thought provoking, and really does help to explain why we visit certain places. Thanks for posting the link.

  5. It’s very much the same sort of thing as people who visit a place and only visit the tourist spots. With their photos, they only take photos of things that they think are worth taking photos of, which are the things that they have been told are worth taking photos of. It perpetuates the idea that a holiday is nothing more than a big checklist, fills the traveler with a whole lot of preconceptions and ultimately robs them of the joy of discovery.

    On the other hand, if you enjoy your holiday and enjoy taking, and looking back at these kinds of photos, maybe this is all that matters. Different strokes for different folks?

    1. Yo Paul! Yep, different strokes for different folks. The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you, may not be right for some.

      But seriously, I totally agree with you – the checklist, the preconceptions, it can do more harm than good. As you know – those unexpected finds, and those hidden spots, can really make a holiday that bit more special. And it doesn’t have to be difficult – just put the guidebook down, and go for a walk in a random direction! You’ve hit a nerve though – I’ve been surrounded by more tourists in the last month than I would care to be. Ahh, the irony, and the paradox of being a tourist myself.

  6. Personally I dont tend to many photos of myself in front of the famous things, I do take photos of them though.
    But more important to me is people I meet and just random places that are not the famous sites I came for, because mempories tend to fade and the photos are a reminder and refreshers or memories.
    Whenever I think of a journey I done its almost always related to the photos Ive taken and people I have photos of. Then I might have a very vague memory of some ppl I didnt take a photos of or be reminded of someone I travelled with of those people we met, but because I dont have a photo of them I can hardly remember who they were or what they looked like anymore.

    1. Hi Simon – I think we’re similar- I tend to take far more photos of people, than of “famous things”. And for sure, memories do fade, and it is nice to have a reminder to help keep the memories alive.

  7. I’m with Spencer H.

    Its the images that help tell the story or communicate the emotions of the photographer that matter to me. That’s why I enjoy this blog so much.

  8. I usually take two types of pictures: the pictures I suppose people are looking for on my blog and the pictures for me.
    For instance, on the trip I just got back from I took a super crappy picture of some people in the distance because those people were a couple from a hotel we stayed at who seemed to be doing the exact same things as we were all day long.
    No photographic value whatsoever, but now when I see that pic I go “Ow yeah, that couple!”

  9. Must agree, that I used to feel this pressure to take x amount of shots per day, and if I didn’t have my camera with me at all times on a trip I’d feel a bit “guilty” about it. What made it worse was that it was a hassle carrying an sir around, especially at night when you’re going out for dinner.

    Since moving to a much smaller mirror less camera, my attitutude towards this has changed. I’m happy to have my camera with me most the time, however I don’t necessarily pull it out and use it at all times.

    1. Hey P! How are you… nice to hear from you again. I’m in agreement with you – a smaller camera makes it MUCH more likely that you will have the camera with you – I have mine with me most of the time as well. And like you, that doesn’t mean I feel the need to always be shooting – just nice to have it around. Ya never know when an opportunity will come along, right? I had mine on me in a supermarket today in Budapest, and had an impromptu portrait session with a customer in aisle 5 (hair products) (I don’t need them).

  10. I absolutely agree Nate! I have some friends who are sometimes so pushy about taking literally everything when I go on a trip. However for me it’s not the pictures that matter, it’s the experience. I remember not taking too many pictures when I was in Poland but I don’t regret, I remember every single thing that happened during that trip :)

  11. Great post Nate, and in a world flooded with “photographers”, iPhoneographers, Instagrammers, and teeny-boppers with expensive DSLR’s tons and tons of destinations are being white-washed with bad or similar photos.

    Now, I am not saying I am a photographer. I will regularly tell people that it is a skill I am trying to develop, along with videography, now that I’ve delved into the world of DSLR’s. But one thing I am a huge fan of is perspective, odd angles, and interesting foreground/background imagery.

    Which is why I always dig your work.

    But at the same time, it is good to put a camera down once in a while and soak it all in. We live in a world where everyone has to prove to everyone else that they are doing something, and bloggers are guilty of that as well but that is a part of the “job”.

    But the importance is to appreciate the place, and if you are snapping hundreds of photos every second, you probably aren’t absorbing anything.

  12. So funny, I was just thinking to myself the other day that I have been getting really lazy about taking photographs, that only certain things seem to get me excited enough to dig in to my bag to grab my camera or to decide to lug my DSLR around for the day. And then I read this post and it really resonated with me. I don’t care so much for a photo to show that I’ve been been there… but how can I be creative with what I have in front of me, and if I can’t do anything exciting I just leave it. But then again, I’m a sucker for landscapes and will take a million photos of five yaks grazing.

    1. Agree Megan! Even since writing this article, I have found myself taking less and less photos.. I think part of it is just a natural “lull” in creativity, as well as excessive travel. I’m sure I’ll be back to my normal snap-happy self very soon…

  13. I’m a photographer by trade. It’s something that I’ve been doing for the past 10 years, and I feel more natural behind a camera than without one. Despite this, I too cherish moments without my camera. Sometimes when you’re enjoying a place so much, you just don’t WANT to take a photo. You want to remember that moment in your mind. I wish more people would appreciate those moments and take less photos!

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