#279. Oxford Samurai, Real Travel Photo?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Sep 25

Is this a travel photo ?

It was made during a very recent trip to Oxford (England), yet depicts a samurai that appears to be laughing. Or shouting.

Many will claim that samurai have no relation to Oxford and that this image, therefore, is not a valid travel photo, such as one of the Radcliffe Camera or of the Chapel in a prestigious college would be.


A Samurai armor in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford

Smiling ?


Objection, your honour. Or, rather, 3 objections …


1) Travel photography is not about famous landmarks

Google Oxford, and you will find untold amount of photographs of the Bodleian library and Christchurch chapel. Unless your technique is very specific, or you insist on appearing in every photograph you make during your travels, it’s highly unlikely your capture (or mine) of the bridge of sighs will be significantly better or different from the thousands of others found online and in postcards.

So why make it, in the first place ?

If your photograph isn’t going to be a personal account of a place or event, save yourself some memory card space. Save your digital saliva for personal expression and points of view.


2) Travel photography is a collection, a portfolio

Taken in isolation, it’s true that this samurai armor photographs does little to represent my perception of Oxford.

But alongside the next one, it’s starting to build a more interesting puzzle. One about museums, which tickle my fancy during any trip.


The elegant stone pillars of the natural history museum in Oxford

Miniature Khazad-dรปm ?


The photographs you bring back from your various travels should reflect the projection of your personal interests on the location you have visited.

Why do you travel ? What are these interests ? Urban night life ? Grand libraries ? Nature in town ? Saga countryside ? Architectural design ? Religious semiotics ? Quirky shops ?

The minute you stop following scores of other tourists though the obligatory lists of must-see icons found in travel guides (except for excellent photo-oriented travel guides, that is ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and start to give priority to your own preferences and interests, you will begin to create art that is truly personal. And you will begin to think in terms of projects, rather than trips (more about this later).

Unless your only motivation for traveling is to clame me too status, a list of self portraits in front of famous buildings isn’t going to cut it as long-term souvenirs. You’ll only see yourself aging in front of stone that doesn’t ๐Ÿ˜‰

The photographs on this page are part of projects on museums (of which Oxford holds spectacular examples) and … Harry Potter locations (hey, I never said projects should be high-brow intellectual stuff, now, did I ?)


3) Travel Photography is … Photography

What makes Sebastiao Salgado totally different from Steve McCurry is their strong and distinct visual imprint. You’d never mistake one for the other, even if both photographed the same location at the exact same time.


An eagle-shaped lectern in Wadham college's dining hall. Oxford.

SILENCE ! Albus’s lectern ?


It should be the same with you.

While the latter two photographs on this page are more suitable for inclusion in long-term projects, only the first really reveals my attraction to over-contrasty B&W images. This was my first use of my Zeiss Distagon 25/2 ZF.2 on the A7r and the naturally high micro-contrast of this lens picked up the glow created by the protective window, while the over-the-top processing accentuated it some more. The details are lost and only the large shapes remain, such as the vaguely Star-Wars clone helmet, fierce facial expression and impressive ornaments.

That’s how I like my tea, and many disagree. But this sort of photograph is typical of my production, not something you will find in the memory cards of every other visitor to the glorious Pitt Rivers museum.

Tens of billions of travel photographs are made every year. Makes yours stand out and reflect your true artistic aspirations. Some will love it, some will hate it. And that great. It’s a whole lot better than being ignored by everyone or becoming an insignificant layer in Corinne Vionnet’s (remarkable) “statistics” ๐Ÿ˜‰


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