Harder than you think.
Most photos are taken while traveling. Who hasn’t heard of slide-show evenings where fathers present pictures from the last family vacation? These days, there could be a slide-show every evening – on Facebook or Istagram. How is Instagram changing the way we travel and take photos while traveling? Do we take different pictures since we have started using our smart phones? And how does that change the places we visit? Berlin only became aware again of the Spreepark, a deserted fun park in the city, through the movie “Hanna” (2011) and the way it was showcased on film. When I posted the picture on Instagram, many international users were delighted because they had seen the movie. However, it is quite difficult to take pictures in this place.
We are accustomed to have an Internet connection when we travel. Naturally, we also post photos of those places we happen to visit at the moment. For a while the phone service providers tried to encourage their customers to send pictures via MMS. That didn’t work. In the meantime, however, thanks to improved technologies, even in far away countries we are always or nearly always online. And there are numerous service providers who enable us to send postcards from our smart phones.
Travel seems to offer ideal conditions for photography: sun, mountains, landmarks. Because so many things are different to our day-to-day life, we want to go and capture them. And it seems we have enough time to devote to photography. However, this mixture of unknown places and enough time is not always the best premise for good photos. It is rather often that which is well-known to us which we can photograph much better. The only thing is, it doesn’t seem so extraordinary to us. But for me, photography is actually about that which is typical. The familiar view of the intersection, the situation at the train station. That’s our life.
The beach at the holiday resort or splashing about in the pool are vacation experiences which are only of limited interest to me. The challenges of travel photography, if I may call this genre thus, are for me to develop my own view of the land and its people. The challenge for an Instagramer is that usually he does not choose the best photos at the end of the trip, but rather posts them straightaway on the same day.
When traveling I discover unfamiliar things of which I knew nothing previously. Therefore, in the morning I cannot know what I will see in the afternoon and what I might like to post. Under those conditions it is difficult for me to illustrate a trip with pictures in such a way that it makes sense for someone looking at my Instagram account. At best, I can tell a story, but sometimes the pictures just seem to be strung together without any reference to each other. Lauren (www.instagram.com/laurenepbath) solves this problem by composing detailed picture captions for her photos. You can see the proximity to a travel blog. However, the photos and the stories they tell of the travels are fundamentally different from travel reportages which were written at some later time and are then illustrated with a selection of photos chosen after the journey.
I would like to describe a few impressions from my trip to South Africa and show you how my perception has changed. Most people, when thinking about South Africa, would mainly think about its imposing nature. I was also overpowered by it – no question about that. The famous Blyde River Canyon and the Three Rondavels were spread out before me so majestically and were phenomenal. I wanted to photograph them in a way that my photo would be different to the myriad of others. Together with our guide Rudolf (www.instagram.com/africa4ever01) we hiked until the sun went down. The photo just happened spontaneously, when Rudolf sat down on the rock ledge.
I also visited a bush camp in South Africa, and went on an excursion in a Jeep to observe the Big Five – i.e., lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, and buffalo. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a lion. While we sat in the Jeep, the environment seemed strangely abstract to me. This changed when we were walking through the bush on foot on the morning of the last day. Now I was experiencing the landscape very differently and much more immediate. We heard a lion roar. Up to now, I had only encountered harmless European forests!
Although South Africa’s nature is impressive, it was also exciting to visit the cities. Johannesburg in particular fascinated me. Before I went on my trip I had looked at photos of the metropolis: streetscapes and high rises. But when I was there, the city did look different. The highlight of our exploration was a ride with a shared taxi, but without Rudolf. The driver was listening to very loud songs by Rihanna, it was cramped, and we were just two ordinary ‘white people’. I did not have the impression that those sharing the ride took any notice of us. On the next day we happened to mention this ride to our friend Paula (www.instagram.com/paularoo). She couldn’t believe it and was quite shocked. This was because travel guides urge tourists not to use shared taxis to drive around Johannesburg. Anyway, it was unusual to be exploring the city on foot.
When you look at the many minibuses in Johannesburg, you wonder how you are going to find the right one. Our guide through Soweto explained it to us: Each suburb has its own hand signal, by which the passengers indicate which direction they want to go. If the bus is going in that direction and has seats available, it will stop. This sign represents Orlando.
This trip was my first visit to South Africa. I had never been to the southern hemisphere before. The sun is very different. The backlight exposures I favor work out very differently there. Just before it sets, the sun is also much more intensive than in Berlin.
The Instagramers from Johannesburg were wonderful in the way they looked after us. If you are going to visit South Africa, you should meet up with them. I am sure that they will lead you to some spectacular locations, or they will show you the really interesting neighborhoods of the city.
Jörg lives in Berlin and has been taking photos since he was 12. Now he has more then 280,000 followers on Instagram.