Why travel photography? Why did I choose to chronicle the world as I encountered it, or all the worlds I was exposed to that seemed so richly different from that in which I was born in raised?
It begins with why I chose photography at all. Perhaps all the slide-shows my parents made of my sisters and I as children inspired me. Perhaps looking through my grandma's collection of family photo albums. All I know is, by the time I was in high school, I was already obsessed with taking pictures of my environment.
My first cameras were tiny and flimsy, usually 110 or 135 film. I begged my mother for rolls of film at the grocery store. More than half of the images I shot in those days never even got developed. It still feels like I lost that part of my world. I remember the joy of my first instant camera, of waving the developing image in the air thinking it would "get done" faster that way.
When I acquired my first digital camera, I was in heaven! No more waiting! No more film developing costs! What had already been a hobby turned into a virtual obsession. In fact, a travel companion once told me I was so busy framing and taking pictures that I wasn't really enjoying the trip!
My love affair with travel began early. Our family vacations to the Walt Disney World Resort in central Florida felt like trips to another world when I was young, and eventually inspired me to relocate to the area.
But it was the tv show Big Blue Marble, and the international penpals I had from age 12 onward, that proved the most pivotal. They filled me with visions of exotic handicrafts, stories of fascinating festivals, and a passion for the sound of foreign languages.
I set off for Ireland, the UK, and France several times prior to 2005, blessed by chance. Most of my images from those trips are landscape and architectural, recordings of distant horizons and proof (via ruins and what else remains) that man had been around questioning his existence for thousands of years.
The second half of that decade took me to work in the national parks of the American west and southwest. Again, strange new vistas and ancient ruins compelled me to continue shooting. At that time, I still considered myself a landscape photographer.
It was 2009 when an unexpected opportunity led me to India and eventually Nepal. After an internet reunion with a college friend from Mumbai, a spur of the moment type tour of India was planned. A minor personal crisis in Jaipur led me to change my itinerary and head for the north Indian hill station of McleodGanj (upper Dharamsala)...and landed me smack in the Tibetan exile capital which has been home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1960. (more on that at Everyday Exile Photojournalism)
Living in India, and eventually also Nepal, was the catalyst for me to turn from shooting solely landscapes and architecture to recording culture and community. I have developed a fascination for the vast differences between these cultures and my own, and for sharing them with my audience.
So...why travel photography?
Because we can learn so much from observing those who are not like us. We can focus on the differences of their costume and environment to learn about cultural diversity, traditions, and world living conditions. Or we can focus on their faces to explore our unity and interconnectedness. We all have joy and we all have pain, in the midst of whatever unique personal story is unfolding.
In closing, I'd like to share a few shots from McleodGanj which illustrate an almost cliche regional saying which definitely applies to this topic.