March 5th, 2012
Specialization is the shortest path to excellence. By studying the work of the most dedicated and advanced practitioners of the medium, we can selectively apply those artists’ formalist (compositional) strategies and philosophical objectives to our own work. The goal is not simply to imitate any other single photographer’s style, but rather to create a personal style that is an amalgam / hybrid of these inspirational precedents and one’s own unique instincts and convictions.
RECOMMENDED READING AND VIEWING;
This list is highly subjective, reflecting my personal taste and interests. Some of these titles are acknowledged as milestones in the medium of photography, others somewhat obscure. An asterisk (*) indicates my “must-haves” for any reference library on fine art and documentary photography.
Robert Frank: The Americans*
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographer
Lee Friedlander: Friedlander (The Museum of Modern Art retrospective catalog, 2009)
Sebastiao Salgado: Workers: An Archaelogy of the industrial age**
Sebastiao Salgado: Migrations
Josef Koudelka: Koudelka (A career retrospective & single best overview.)*
Josef Koudelka: Chaos
Steve McCurry: The Unguarded Moment (A career retrospective & single best overview.)**
Steve McCurry: South Southeast*
Raghubir Singh: River of Colour (A career retrospective & best single overview.)**
Raghubir Singh: The Ganges (also released under the title “Benaras”
Robert Polidori: Zones of Exclusion: Chernobyl *
Robert Polidori: Havana
Edward Burtynski: Manufactured landscapes
Edward Burtynski: China*
Richard Misrach: Crimes and Splendors: The Desert Cantos of Richard Misrach*
Richard Misrach: Chronologies
Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light: (A career retrospective and single best overview)**
Annie Leibovitz: American Music*
Films / DVD’s:
James Nachtwey: War Photographer (Netflix). The world’s preeminent conflict photographer, and once a member of the Magnum Agency. Nachtwey left Magnum to form his own photographer’s collective, Agency 7 (VII).
Edward Burtynski: Manufactured Landscapes (Netflix)
Baraka (Netflix): An astonishing, non-verbal film of exquisite photography from the earth’s most compelling and evocative locations – both pleasant and otherwise.
www.gudzowaty.com The web site of Polish photographer Tomasz Gudzowaty. Current work of extraordinary quality, done in the classic Black & White “Reportage” style.
These last two sites are extremely content-rich, and together represent the best photojournalists working in the world today. Known primarily for hard-core news / reportage / conflict photography, they also represent artists (see Martin Parr, as an example) who have a lighter side and also do commercial / advertising work. At their best, these photographers have elevated their craft to a hybrid of compelling visual narrative and very personal and formally stylized high art.
www.photoeye.com Santa Fe based online bookstore specializing in photography titles.
www.abebooks.com Site specializing in out of print and used titles.
www.ted.com: Includes taped lectures with Nachtwey and Burtynsky, discussing their work.
May 24th, 2011
In my previous posting, I mention that our company provides top-notch American tour leaders AND unusually small group sizes – all at a price competitive with other top-tier companies offering similar tours, but in much larger group sizes.
How can we do this?
Simply put, we are a much smaller, highly specialized operation. We do not have the much greater operating expenses of the larger, more generalized companies. These companies must cover the salaries and insurance expenses for dozens of employees.
They also publish annual catalogs of their many trip offerings around the world. These catalogs are can be over 100 pages in size, and they are bulk-mailed to tens (or hundreds) of thousands of households. These catalogs make for great armchair travel and reference material – but the costs to produce and mail these is enormous, and those costs – along with all other operating expenses – are passed along to each and every client, in the form of higher mark-ups on the tours they offer.
May 13th, 2010
How do you best choose a travel company for your expensive (and possibly once-in-a-lifetime) Himalayan adventure tour? What constitutes REAL value, and a high quality experience? There are many variables to consider. Having been a paying client on over a dozen Himalayan tours with nearly every major American tour company – and now running my own specialized Himalayan tour company – I’ve closely observed the industry from both perspectives – the client’s and the travel agent’s.
This “TOP 4″ list represents my own observations and opinions, gleaned from over 20 years of Himalayan touring experience.
1. THE ITINERARY: Who designed the itinerary? Do they know the area intimately, from years of first-hand experience? Have they created a program that includes the obvious “main attractions”, but also brings you deeper into the culture, to explore the more intimate and lesser-known aspects of the place – the things the average tourist will never see or experience? Is this a standard template, “cookie-cutter” itinerary, or is it an inspired, creative and diverse program?
How many full days will you spend IN COUNTRY? One of the most common gimmicks in the travel industry is to advertise a “14 day tour” of Bhutan or Nepal, etc. – but that includes the travel days spent getting to – and from – the actual destination. Look closely, and often you will see that 4 or more of those days are spent in transit (2 in each direction), and that in fact the “14 day Bhutan tour” offers only 9 days in-country. Those other four days are entirely at your own expense (long flights, transit hotels and meals, etc.) and it’s simply misleading to add them to the total “Tour Dates” count.
2. GROUP SIZE: “Large Group Adventure Travel” is an oxymoron. Groups of 16,20, 25 or more are cattle drives, not genuine cultural experiences. How can you interact in a meaningful way with the local people if you are always part of a moving swarm, being disgorged by a convoy of busses at one “point of interest” after another? Groups this large do not represent fair value to each individual client, and they are intrusive and overwhelming to the local peoples in their small villages, neighborhood temples and monasteries, etc.
For your money, you deserve a reasonable client-to leader ratio, with 8:1 – 12:1 being ideal. This is best for you, but also most considerate of the local people. Small-group tours are more mobile, flexible, and intimate – and vastly improve the quality of the experience for everyone involved – clients, leader, staff and the folks you’ve travelled half-way around the world to interact with!
3: GROUND STAFF: The fact is, the company marketing your tour is rarely the same company actually providing the ground services. All major American and European adventure travel companies sub-contract the ground operations (logistics) to a local company in the country the tour is taking place.
Whether the ground staff is Bhutanese, Nepalese, Ladakhi, or Tibetan, they must be very carefully chosen by the American company to guarantee a level of service and attention to detail that the client expects and deserves. Ideally, there is a close partnership and continual dialog between the American tour designer (and in my case, tour leader, as well) and the ground staff. Of course, the quality of meals, accommodations and vehicles are essential. SENIOR GRADE GROUND STAFF will have years of experience working with foreign visitors, be fully conversant in English and be well-versed in the history, religion and politics of their country. Ideally, they are well-traveled themselves, and can relate to YOUR world as well as their own. The very best ground staff are so familiar with the needs and expectations of the clients that they don’t merely REACT to a certain need, but ANTICIPATE it in advance.
4: COST AND VALUE: Low cost and value are not necessarily the same – or the same for each client type. In the age of the Internet, one can easily comparison shop by price for a tour nearly anywhere in the world. However the lowest dollar amount spent (per day, in-country) will rarely yield the best true VALUE, because of all the variables I’ve mentioned above. These variables are intangible before the tour – but critically important to the quality of the experience during the tour. The best source of reliable and relevant information is to talk with past clients who’ve taken a similar tour, and with the same company you’re considering. That company should be more than willing to put you in direct contact with their past clients.
For a travel company, small group tours are inherently more expensive to operate, as their baseline “fixed costs” for staff and vehicles don’t change much whether there are 6 or 12 people on the tour. It is also far more expensive to fly an American tour leader over to Asia than to use an entirely native ground staff. I insist on both – small group sizes of 12 or less, and I personally lead every group tour, working in close partnership with our local ground staff. Even with these added operational expenses, we are still competitively priced in relationship to the other top-tier U.S. – based Himalayan tour companies. How can we do this? All will be explained in the next blog post!
March 16th, 2010
1. Prior to a travel shoot, create a daily shot list schedule, based on the subjects’ locations relative to the arc of the sun (compass bearings), such as building facades, etc. Of course, the weather doesn’t always cooperate, so chasing the “Great Light” may involve repeat trips to any one place. Tenacity pays off!
2. Your experience will be far richer if you read up on the culture before you arrive. One’s first impression of an “exotic “ country may be sensory overload, often accompanied by a somewhat indiscriminate photographing of everything that’s new and unfamiliar. For the people who do some advance research, they’ll enjoy the same visual excitement, but will have a broader context for understanding and appreciating these new sights and experiences – historically, philosophically, politically, etc. They will also likely shoot less but make stronger images.
3. Language: the more obscure the language, the more you will be rewarded for any efforts you make to committ a few words and phrases to memory. Buy a phrasebook in advance of the trip, pick the most useful words / phrases, and write them down on index cards – the phoenetic english spelling of the foreign word on one side, the translation on the other. Most people have a much better “visual” than “aural” memory, and within a few days of occasionally looking at the index cards, you’ll be “seeing” these words in your mind’s eye – and on your way!
Learning a bit of the local language is the ultimate gesture of respect for the culture. It also shrinks the gap between photographer and subject, helping to make more relaxed, intimate portraits of virtual strangers.
4. For fill lighting, I much prefer collapsible reflecting hoops to electronic flash. The hoops show you the effect in real-time, and they can be slowly moved around for very nuanced adjustments of direction and intensity. Of course, this requires an assistant – but sometimes enlisting a nearby local just enhances the “interactive” part of the experience, making it more engaging for everyone involved.
5. For those overcrowded, heavily touristed iconic locations: get up early,(or stay late!), beat the crowds, and charm your way in to the ideal vantage point!
February 19th, 2010
Driving past impossibly lush terraced fields, we round a bend and enter a clearing. There, nestled in the confluence between two sacred rivers, is the massive and majestic fortress monastery of Punakha Dzong. We park and walk to the river’s edge, and suddenly everyone falls quiet. For a few long and delicious moments, we hear only water rippling over rocks, the wind in the trees, and the cry of an occasional raven.
Something about this place commands our reverence. The rivers that flank the monastery are called the Mo Chu (Mother) and Po Chu (Father), and indeed, Punakha is where modern Bhutan was born. This has been considered a deeply auspicious site since the 14th century, and all seems timeless and serene.
When we return the next day for the annual Punakha festival, the ambiance has completely changed, but it is equally enchanting. The grounds and inner courtyards of the monastery are packed with Bhutanese families, dressed in their finest and picnicking with their friends. Some have walked from distant villages, eager to witness the monks’ masked dance performances called Tshechus. Morality plays choreographed to music, these dances meld spiritual instruction, theater, and comic relief into a single, highly anticipated social event.
For the Bhutanese, the worldly and the sublime, the mundane and the profound, are equally cherished – and equally celebrated.