Travel and Photography

The only thing I miss about my days of being single is the freedom it gave me to travel when I wanted. Nowadays, with a small family it is not so easy to decide on a whim to head off to visit new places. Still though, I am very fortunate that I do get to see new places, albeit with less frequency.

Being married with kids has also changed my perspective on travel. Now, the prime concern is to keep the kids entertained and happy. Once that is achieved, then we can enjoy ourselves too. My secondary concern is to get out and shoot. To see what can be seen and how to see it. And travelling to Asia there is just so much to see. It is an assault on the senses and at times it is just overwhelming.

On our recent trip to Asia, which took in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, I took thousands of photographs using both my Nikon and iPhone. Before going I was so excited. Five weeks in Asia. Five weeks to shoot street photography. Five weeks! Did I have a plan, vision, a project in mind of what I wanted to shoot, to document? Not really. I prefer to allow these things to take their own form; for me to react to what I encounter and not to be restricted by trying to find certain things.

In saying that, there were things I knew I wanted to see and shoot. I wanted to continue with the abstract blur series of people in motion, with both of my cameras. But besides that I was open. I told myself I would be brave and if that shot appeared I would not allow my timidity to get in the way of me getting it. This sometimes worked out and other times didn’t. In later posts, I will have some good stories to tell about situations like this.

However, this approach can result in a lot of clicks, a lot of snapping. I remember the day I arrived in Tokyo, exhausted after an early morning start and little sleep, leaving the hotel and getting out on to the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Now, as my stay went on I came to feel electrified here, but the first time I stepped out on that sunny Saturday afternoon, I knew I should be feeling something and I was, but I was not able to identify what. With the Nikon around my neck and the iPhone in my hand, I was obliged to start shooting. So I did, but with no real purpose or understanding of what it was I seeing or how it could be seen. After about an hour or so I returned to the hotel frustrated. Here I was in one of the most amazing cities in the world, a street photographer’s paradise, a place I had been dreaming about and I did not know what to do or how to do it.

The next day, I met up with one of my favourite photographers – Michael Kistler – who lives in Tokyo and we spoke a little about this. I didn’t make a big deal of it and neither did he. I guess both of us knew this would pass. We spent the day together on a photo walk around Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and back again to Shibuya. Now, I am a big fan of Michael’s work. It is inspirational. Being with him, seeing how he shoots, seeing what gets his attention amongst the frenetic momentum of Tokyo is fascinating. I guess living there he has a greater feel and understanding of the city and its people. I was a visitor, a tourist. He was part of it all. There appeared a logic to his photographing. I was on the outside of it and the shots I was taking were disjointed. Later that evening, I headed back to the hotel, I was not quite as frustrated as the previous day, but still.

Now that I am back and I see the thousands of photographs I have taken over the five weeks and as I look through them I begin to see what I wanted to see. I am beginning to understand it, to see its patterns emerge. And if, by magic, I could walk out my door and step back into it all, I would know how to shoot it. I would know how to connect those dots to create something cohesive and expressive. But, I am a believer in things are as they are. What I shot was what I saw at that time. If I went back now, I would have a different sensitivity and quite possibly miss or ignore the things I saw then. I was a tourist. I was an outsider. And that is OK. The images I made will present that. Perhaps the next time I get to travel I will have more of a focus about what I want to see and what I want to shoot.

It gets me thinking. When I was in Hong Kong, one of my friends asked me why I take photographs. Without hesitation I replied that I took them because I it helps me to understand what I see. And to add to that now, I realise we cannot predict what we will see. So maybe, not having a plan, being free and open to what I encounter is OK.

Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your own thoughts on travel and photography. Do you set out with a plan? Do you feel frustrated when you get back and see patterns emerge that make you feel you missed out; that you need to go back and see and shoot it again?


Asia: Spring 2014



9 responses to “Travel and Photography

  1. Terrific blog and accompanying portraits. Very insightful and thoughtful work. It is one of those ideas that once you read it or write it or think it – it becomes obvious and feel like you knew it all along. Difficult to clear away the fog and see it though – which you did incredibly well.

    It is impossible to understand a place, culture, event, – anything, until you have experienced it and can become used to it and can reflect on it. It’s how life is. You can take those lessons you learn and apply them in new situations and you can always return to the scene and take a new approach.

    I have had many similar experiences – not just in photography but in life in general. I don’t understand what I am experiencing until later. I think reflecting, sorting, thinking – all of these things train your instincts. So that the next time you land in a new place or a new experience – your instincts are more informed and you cope a little bit better. Incremental improvements over time to how you are a person, to how you are an artist, add up over time.

    Well done Brendan and I am looking forward to the remainder of this body of work.

    • Thanks Michael. A very thoughtful response. It is, as you say, true of all things really.
      I appreciate your kind comments a lot.

  2. I am a new follower of yours but I have enjoyed what I have seen and I like reading your thoughts. The Bean is planning on taking my eldest man-cub on a trip to Japan for his senior year and I think it might be good for him to read this! As I have been delving into street photography (which I find is my passion, though I am such a newbie at it and terrified) I read that we are best at shooting what we know. It’s helped me a lot and I can see in your post that indeed you were shooting what you know…just not knowing it til you got home. Does that make sense? Anyhoo, I enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you!

    • Lucky son – how cool would it be to go to Japan with your dad. Yes! Do go. It is an amazing place.
      Thanks for dropping by – it is great to get positive feedback – thanks!

  3. Love the topic here Brendan, love your introspection.
    I totally understand your frustration and thoughts. If I visit a place for the first time, I never plan how to approach it photographically speaking and by the end of day one, I often have the same feeling you described here. When somewhere new, I need time to immerse myself before I can feel a flow overtaking me.
    For cities that I have been too multiple times like NYC, Paris, London I make a plan and I know exactly what I want to accomplish before I go.
    The wonderful thing that photography has brought to my life, is that it is allowing me to see my own city Montreal, at times like a tourist, which is really not a bad thing. Sometimes to have a new, fresh look at things can be incredibly stimulating.
    Looking forward to your next one,

    • Hey Josee,
      Thanks for this. It is funny how many people have said they experience the same thing. Glad to know I am not the only one. I like what you said about “When somewhere new, I need time to immerse myself before I can feel a flow overtaking me.”
      I guess this is true for me too.

  4. Brendan
    Great blog, great subject; it struck a chord with me too.

    Last year i travelled to Australia for a month, i wasn’t particularly inspired and spend most of my time looking forward to my week in Hong Kong on the way home!

    Boredom in Oz, and my excitement about visiting HK resulted in me making a plan and by the time i arrived i knew exactly what i wanted to shoot, even down to the time of the day. However, when i got there i found i was completely overwhelmed and lost all concentration and focus, my plan went out the window and i ended up shooting thousands of images in what i think you describe as “tourist” mode.

    Normally i shoot on instinct, when i see the story i capture it there and then, however by having a plan i think i’d put myself under so much pressure i found myself working with a more contrived mind, 5 days didn’t feel long enough to immerse myself in the culture, so i found i was almost setting up scenes without any real “connection” as if i was trying too hard to find that perfect shot.

    Looking back now, like you, i see me, the themes, the style (hmm) – some good stuff yep, not my best but not my worst. I suppose my lesson learnt is not to put too much pressure on myself, not to have a plan – i tried too hard and lost not only my focus but my eye – for a while.

    I’m so looking forward to seeing your journey through Asia.

    • Hey Greg,
      It is great to get a response to what I wrote. Flickr is great and I love the community aspect of it but sometimes conversations don’t develop beyond the short comment on each other’s photos – glad to see things generating conversation here on the blog.
      Funny, Australia is a place that holds no interest for me. It is English speaking culture and I guess there is not a lot to learn – I may be wrong.
      I am like you I think – I need big cities. And ya – it is so easy to be overwhelmed by it all – but then that is part of what we shoot and what we interpret… it helps us for the next time, I suppose.
      I am slowly going through the images I took and hopefully I can put together a proper collection.
      Again, I really appreciate your email – and of course your support here and on Flickr – I enjoy your work a lot, especially of HK. It is so interesting to see what others see there.
      Thanks again.

  5. That sense of being overwhelmed by the visually fresh is a familiar one. Obviously, that’s magnified when you are in a completely different culture / country.

    Having said that, you hit on something there that strikes a cord with me too – that with familiarity comes nuance. There is something to be said for the rawness of first sight but I find a more nuanced reading comes from knowing a place better.

    Interesting blog post Brendan. I enjoyed reading that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s