Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

New Horizons for Travel Photography

Le Paulmier reaffirms photography genre as having bright future

Published: Nov 17, 2020 12:57:00 PM IST
Updated: Nov 18, 2020 01:03:37 PM IST

New Horizons for Travel Photography
Malaga skyline view from the Cathedral rooftop

Clichés, it is said, are dead metaphors. The first time someone uttered, “like a bull in a china shop,” everyone thought of the havoc in the scene. But as the phrase is used over and again, we no longer see the seething bull or the white shards of Fine China scattered on the floor. We only hear the words and recognize what they are getting at.

But clichés go beyond sayings. Today, we have cliché-bound genres of photography — namely, nature and travel. But a new wave of photographers is looking to change this.

In a recent article by Pat Le Paulmier, the creative photographer proposes a name for this new admixture that he is keen on promoting. So called “fine art travel photography expands beyond the current regimentation of travel, nature, and fine art, bringing together threads from all three to produce images that take even the most well-worn destinations and turns them on their head.

A Much-Welcomed Change

The moment you consider this genre, it seems strange that it hasn’t already been picked up by experts & industry insiders. Outdoor & nature photography, while sometimes achieving great aesthetic heights, are overloaded with journeyman work that says little more than, “Look at that. Don’t you recognize it?”

And this despite the fact that they have the luxury of capturing some of the most stunning sights on earth.

There are some photographers working in these fields who are capable of much more, while the genres can sometimes be tired. In some cases, the glut of these shots doesn’t even rise above stock photos. The Empire State Building, Grand Canyon, sand dunes of the Sahara, Tokyo skyline — endless straight-ahead photos served up hot and fresh.

It’s especially tragic given that all of these are captivating subjects, but every so often the photography is simply meant to be sold to please a magazine editor or particular commercial endeavor. The goal is to avoid putting your fingerprints on the work at all. You are trying to deliver a product that is now standardized, with firm expectations to match the beliefs of the other party.

The cynicism, and that’s really what it is, in these fields does come down to the commercial side (not always). Certain clients are more enthused by photos that looks like it could be any photo of, say, the Brooklyn Bridge. They don’t want a masterpiece or a different location. They seem to relate to the standard shot, and they want to buy it by the yard. Think of various retail chains or websites selling canvas prints, at the lowest price possible, without any context for what it took to capture that moment.

Adding a fine art approach to these subjects creates images that reawaken us to the power lying at the heart of nature and travel photography. We get mystery, adventure, nostalgia, yearning, even rapture.

Finally, these locales can express themselves again, lending the frame their charisma and cultural heft. And now we also see the return of the photographer — imagine that! We can grasp the perspective of an artist at work, trying to communicate the almost mystical brew of forces that perfumes the air of Turkish streets, Spanish towns, and Italian hillsides.

Photography as Exploration

Every place has its own hidden power, its own pull. For so long, landscape, travel and nature photography haven’t always delivered on this. Instead, it opts for little more than portraits to draw emotion or a plain postcard replication. As these new traveling photographers bring their unique approaches and individual point-of-view to these magnificent subjects, they reinvigorate what once was limited to a few genres of photography.

But there is more to it than simply bringing us new views of old standbys.

What I hope to see most of all is a rejuvenation of the travel photographer as the globetrotting artist on the hunt for the sights we haven’t seen. Next time you fly, look out your window. It’s a great big world. And yet in the travel and nature photography genres, we keep getting not only the same standard shots but occasionally the same standard subjects. Fortunately, the remedy doesn’t necessarily involve going to the most inaccessible areas, simply to make it sound overly exotic.

As for Le Paulmier, the photographer seems eager in his recent piece to call for more adventuring, for discovery as an integral part of the practice. The inclusion of culture, history or other personal elements, can also add a little zest. This alone can break up a photographer’s routine and present new situations for which there is no patented process to turn it into the same stock images we’ve seen a million times.

Reading the Signs

Hopefully, this hybrid genre of photography coheres and gains momentum, I’ll be eagerly anticipating what it produces. In the coming years, one can hope it establishes itself as a core member of the photography family.

We keep our eyes peeled, looking for the influence as it drifts through the culture and finds new champions and suffers new hack imitators. In that turnover, I think we’ll find a healthier, more robust field, capable of generating compelling, beautiful images with that special sense of adventure that we turn to travel photography for.

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.