Do you like to go places? Anywhere’s fine. And take pictures? You just might be a Travel Photographer! At the very least, you can call yourself one and put your photos on the internet. That would be cool. But beyond that, why the hell does this deserve its own designation?
I know it sounds ridiculous to take issue with such an innocuous term. But when empty descriptives like travel photography are proliferated, packaged and sold to eager online customers, it sets a really low standard for what constitutes good photography.
Travel Photography! Picture: deepblue66/Flickr
Just being “not here” isn’t enough to describe a photographic project. Maybe for National Geographic, which sends its photographers out on specific journalistic assignments. But as an all-around term for a person’s artistic aims, it’s vague enough to be totally meaningless.
Anyone can get on a plane or in a car, arrive somewhere, and fire off a series of pictures. Boom. Travel photography. It says nothing about what you’re seeking, what you hope to reveal, document, or create. Seeing the term travel photography thrown around is most frustrating because it’s a marketing term. It’s not just useless; it’s wasting people’s money in the form of “10 Tips for Better Travel Photography,” or “The Perfect Camera for a Travel Photographer.” What’s being peddled is an image of the exotic, wrapped around information, products, and services that really have little to do with what’s actually being offered.
Travel Photography! Picture: Domy Kamsyah/Flickr
You could argue that other photographic categorisations are equally absurd. Landscape photographer, portrait photographer, street photographer. It’s all a bit inane to pigeonhole yourself like that. But at least these genres have a historical context that can help to frame a person’s work according to a set of conventions that are generally agreed on, if only for a very broad understanding. If you are a landscape photographer, you have over a century of tradition, from Timothy O’Sullivan, to Ansel Adams, to Robert Adams, that give people a general understanding of what they might expect, or be surprised about, when seeing your own work. Travel photography, beyond implying “taking photographs somewhere other than here,” doesn’t provide any indication of interests or outcome.
A better idea is to shed categories all together. If you’re a photographer trying to carve out a niche in the big, bloated world of picture-taking, find something specific, that you can make your own, and attack it with fervour. Don’t rely on tropes! Travel photography may look slick as a menu item on your website, but it doesn’t do anything else. It’s useless, so please consider putting it to rest.
Travel Photography! Picture: 57Andrew/Flickr