My Life’s a Trip – with Jen Pollack Bianco
Not enough has been said about what an incredible tool the mobile camera is for travel photography.
I was raised on a steady diet of National Geographic magazines and those classic pictures fed my dreams and wanderlust. To this day, travel never fails to fill me with child-like wonder, and though I’ve racked up my share of frequent-flyer miles, I still get excited about seeing new places and things. My inner hippie is alive and well and likes to share.
I used to write zillions of postcards about interesting things I’d see or experienced and send them to family and friends. As a natural evolution to this practice, mobile photography has been a no brainer and a great fit. That’s really what my blog My Life’s a Trip is about—it’s an online book of postcards, like the kind you’d find at a flea market but reinvented for today. I guess the major departure from the postcards in the flea market is that I like to shoot what I call “alternative postcards.”
We’ve all seen magnificent images of the pyramids of Giza, and there is no reason for me to repeat those shots. What I try to do is capture enough of the iconic and add a fresh detail or human element that makes the place more realistic. I shy away from images that are magazine cover perfect. I like to look at them as much as the next person, but I think those too-pretty pictures add to the myth that travel is out of reach. As a travel photographer I’m constantly looking for fresh ways to remove a bit of the shine from that patina, make things a little less pristine and more accessible to those who view my images. My philosophy is that travel is something anyone can do if they really want to do it.
When I shoot, I try to embrace the flaws and find the beauty in the chaos.
When I shoot, I try to embrace the flaws and find the beauty in the chaos. This can irritate tour guides who want to show me the most beautiful view (sometimes a more sanitized version of the actual place) and don’t understand why I want to capture a different perspective and not the prescribed way that others have already experienced. But life is a little bit dirty and just because someplace is a UNESCO heritage site doesn’t mean the people there don’t have the same struggles as in every other place. I try not to hold anything sacred. I’m all for celebrating the realness of a place. That being said, I am human and can cave in the face of breathtaking beauty. I was recently in the desert in Jordan and every single corner felt like a panorama from Lawrence of Arabia. Sometimes the realness of a place is perfection.
A sense of humor is absolutely critical to travel. There’s so much that can go wrong in getting a shot, not to mention in the journey itself, that taking oneself too seriously is not an option. The ability to find humor in any situation is a survival skill. I try to find a way to translate this through photography and some of my favorite pictures have been a result of trying to find the joy in an imperfect scenario. I love visual irony and when it presents itself I’m loathe to have missed it. If I can take a killer image and make myself laugh, that is when I feel most inspired.
It’s hard to evoke lens envy when you’re shooting with an iPhone. This naturally pairs very well with my goal of de-mystifying travel.
I am drawn more to images that tell me a story, give me new insight on a subject or the photographer rather than ones which wow me with with special effects or gimmicks. In my own practice, I always seek to improve technically and keep abreast of available techniques and technology. My goal is to use technology in a subtle way that to me feels transparent. I’m not against letting my inner nerd/geek out every once in a while on the latest bells and whistles but I strive to be present as a photographer and know when I’m doing it—it’s alright for an occasional splurge, but not a dietary staple. I strive to create images that connect with the viewer rather than make images that are precious in their own right.
Mobile photography has been a great way to connect with my readers and share directly from my iPhone, even if I’m halfway around the planet. It also has an innate humility that I respect. It’s hard to evoke lens envy when you’re shooting with an iPhone. This naturally pairs very well with my goal of de-mystifying travel.
At the end of the day, once I’ve taken the shot and shared it, it’s up to the viewer to do with it what they will. It’s not my job to tell them what to think, but just to get the wheels turning. As a little girl poring over those glossy photos of the Amazon rainforest and the plains of Africa, the photographers who took those pictures showed me a glimpse of what was out there and inspired me to go see it for myself. If I can do the same for someone else, I’ll be glad that I could pay it forward.
Jen Pollack Bianco
You can find Jen on TWITTER as @lax2nrt