The mixed emotions of being a Travel Photographer
Once again, olives reigned supreme on the fourth and final day of our Press Trip. I completely ignored them at the breakfast table, settling instead for some eggs and some sort of chocolate cake. My head was absolutely pounding from the night before and the lack of sleep wasn’t helping much. But we’ve all been in this situation before, so writing about it doesn’t make for compelling reading.
Thankfully we were all allowed to have a stroll around the town for an hour, which finally gave me a chance to go exploring with my camera. Due to the hangover I was feeling 100% anti-social, which isn’t like me at all, so I was quite glad of the opportunity to be alone for a while.
As I walked past a long, white wall with a bright green door in the middle, an elderly lady emerged with two dogs. When she saw me taking pictures she told me it was OK to nip inside her house whilst she took the dogs out. Opportunities like this rarely present themselves, so I dashed in before she could change her mind.
Upon passing through the green door I found myself in a narrow courtyard full of trees and plants, and a stone staircase leading to the roof. I had to carefully avoid the cat shit that was lying everywhere, but once on the roof I had a pretty nice view of the town. I could see several other bloggers and journos from our group slowly plodding along through the streets, checking the backs of their cameras to see how their last shot had come out. Above all else, I was pleased with my ability to blag my way in to places, which is a gift I’ve had for a long time. Once again, having a camera was opening doors for me.
Another door I opened led me in to the house itself, and it was here that my strange mood took a turn for the worse. Immediately in front of me stood a round table covered in a see-through plastic. The room was extremely dark (despite the time of day and beautiful sunshine outside) and smelt damp and musty. There was a portable heater on the floor to the left of me, and to the right was a single bed tucked against the wall. Above it were two pictures of Jesus (one of them might have been Mary), and two very old photographs of a man and woman. I was intrigued to know if it was her parents I was looking at, or photos of her and her husband, or brother, from when they were young. It was hard to tell, of course, but it made me wonder about this woman’s life. I was feeling ridiculously lonely at that very moment, almost as if I could imagine being in this woman’s shoes. OK, so she had dogs, cats, Jesus and Mary for company, but the whole scene made me feel sad. In 45 years time, maybe I’ll have photos of Luke Skywalker and Yoda on my wall, and pics of my long-dead family. Not a nice thought.
I got out of there as quickly as possible and continued on my little adventure, stopping occasionally for a coffee and a photo or two of a building, alleyway or human.
The healthiest diet in the world – allegedly
At 11am we were treated to a personal cooking lesson with local chef Dimitris Mavrakis. He had quite an interesting story to tell about his life and how he came to be a chef. But even more interesting was the story he told about the Cretan diet. In the 1970s, a study was conducted by a French doctor, who wanted to find out which diets could aid and promote a healthy and well-functioning dietary system. According to the results, the 12-month study was over within half that time, when it was revealed that the Cretan diet was “the winner.” All ten participants had issues with their bowels / intestines etc, and after just six months eating the vegetable-rich food of the mediterranean, 70 percent of these ailments had all but disappeared. (Jesus, trying to type that in to a sentence that reads well almost took ME six months!).
Throughout the centuries, meat was a rare addition to the table, and so it was only consumed on average once a month. Most dieticians agree, that the Western diet – rich in meats, sugar and animal fats – is a huge contributor to cancer and heart disease. And it was obvious just from walking around the villages the last couple of days, that the elderly weren’t doing as bad as their UK counterparts. So you find yourself promising to commit to this kind of food for the rest of your life… until you see the Golden Arches at the airport and it all goes tits-up.
Over the next couple of hours we joined in making fresh pasta and a selection of salads inside Dimitris’ very dark and very purple kitchen (absolute piss-poor lighting conditions for moi). But just like every other day of the trip so far, it didn’t take long for us to feel tired, hungry and lacking enthusiasm. None of these feelings could be put down to the lack of enjoyment or interest in what was going on, but perhaps more to do with the size of the group and the time it took to achieve the things on our itinerary. Needless to say, everybody was over the moon when the food finally arrived, and we were all very grateful to the chef and the trip organisers for making it happen. This was a part of the day we were happy to drag out, as we sampled dish after dish (thankfully we were tasting completely different cuisine from the previous days) and finished up with coffee, dessert and the chance to purchase some cheese from the man.
We moved on.
Next up we visited a Women’s Collective where they were making bread. Now, it has to be said at this point that the Cretans love to eat the same starter over and over again, and it consists of dried bread, crushed tomatoes, goat’s cheese, and I think there are probably olives on there as well. By now I was getting really bored of seeing it every time it made an appearance, so watching the women make it was not for me.
Instead I slunk off to find some photo opportunities and found myself stalking a lady in black, who was sweeping up outside a modern-looking church. I decided that she was the highlight of my day so far, and followed her around for a good ten minutes. She had no idea I was there, or if she did she didn’t let on. Part of me was expecting the locals to be camera shy (I can’t explain why I thought this), but overall they were fine with it. I only met one man who was not cool with having his portrait taken (though totally happy to turn the camera on me) and a dog which growled at me for attempting to speak with the young boy it was playing with. This was the point I stepped in some dog shit.
More fucking bread
Back inside the Collective everybody was still making bread. But, the good news was it was about ready to eat. So we sprinkled some crushed tomatoes on top, followed by some goat’s cheese and olives, and what d’ya know, there’s a popular Cretan starter right there in your face. Most of the group couldn’t be arsed to eat yet another one, so it was carefully passed around between us so we could each take a little nibble.
Thoughts turned to suicide a few hours later, when the 900th half slice of dry bread-with-goats-cheese-and-tomato-and-olive starter of the week made another appearance. I for one was ready to throw it against the wall, yet somehow managed to find a place for it somewhere between my tongue and tonsils. “It’s the last one, it’s the last one,” I reminded myself as I took a bite.
The American in the group reminded us that it was indeed Thanksgiving, so to follow the tradition we all took it in turns to thank somebody who meant something to us. I decided to thank the driver, who had patiently driven us around the island all week and had to wait around for us for hours and hours. His face looked blank as I gave my speech, which made me wonder whether I’d wasted a good compliment. There were plenty of others sitting around the table who had made me laugh or brightened my day on more than once occasion since I’d met them just a few days earlier. “He better fucking appreciate it,” I thought afterwards.
I’m going to fast-forward through the booze and food because I’m not that kind of writer. All you need to know, is that it was very very good cuisine and we all enjoyed it immensely. If I was to try and promote Greek / Cretan food then all I can really say is try it. It’s healthy, fresh, and almost served as tapas. Small portions, lots of it.
A confession. And then another one
But this journal is meant to be honest and candid. I promised my readers from the start that I wouldn’t hold back on telling the truth, so here’s the confession. When Friday morning arrived I couldn’t wait to get home. I was counting the hours until I was back in Copenhagen, and had decided that Travel Writing wasn’t really my thing. Sure I loved exploring, taking pictures, tasting new dishes and local drinks, and above else meeting new people. But I was tired and ready for some Friday-night TV. Within 48 hours that all changed.
By Sunday afternoon I was already missing the warmth of Crete and the amazing blue skies. Admittedly, the long, dark, Danish winters don’t help (summer does kick ass, though), but I wanted another adventure. Travel has always been a huge part of my life, especially through my 20s, and has opened my eyes to so many different cultures, political viewpoints, and compelling characters – both good and bad. Running my own photography business has almost made me forget about all of those amazing experiences, which have defined me and made me who I am. I love the open road; having your phone permanently switched off and hidden until you need it; rushing to catch the last bus to the airport, and crossing paths with so many interesting and diverse people.
When I first started to consider which type of photography to pursue, I sat down and wrote a list of pros and cons for them all. Travel Photography was at the very top of my list, but the cons were a little off-putting. The biggest problem is the lack of money available in the industry. Everybody has a camera these days and many amateurs can get fantastic holiday photos. I’ve had phone conversations with Art Directors and Editors who never call back when you tell them the price for a picture. A lot of companies don’t even pay the expenses, so breaking even can often be the best possible outcome.
But of course, this trip to Greece was different. It was an all-expenses paid for experience, and I’d received a positive response from the first travel magazine I’d pitched it to. Suddenly things were looking up.
The reality in this industry is, patience is an absolute virtue. If we want to succeed then we need to be be 80 percent businessman, 20 percent artist. Taking the jobs that pay is the best way to keep the business RUNNING, but taking the jobs we love is the only way towards JOB SATISFACTION.
I’m reminded of a local sports photographer who took a step away from the paid jobs and decided to work hard on her portfolio. Two years later she was working for some big names and brands, and she’d finally found her market. She was demanding good money, too. But over time she seemed to forget where she’d come from, and one-by-one the clients started to turn elsewhere. Her prices and attitude played a big part in this exodus.
The photographer has been forced to rethink her career and financial situation, and at the moment things are looking gloomy for her. In a way, it almost feels like the end of her story as a photographer. Though I hope she can learn from her mistakes.
As we reach the end of 2015 I can only look to the future and prepare for another rollercoaster ride. This summer I took a huge decision and chose not to promote myself as a Wedding Photographer any more. It means that this January I will miss out on thousands of kroner’s worth of deposits, and will need to find an alternative income. But on the flip-side I’ll have much more time in summer to concentrate on the areas of photography that work best for me. This includes a regular Newsletter, my next exhibition, and working hard on strengthening my portfolio to reach new clients. If you stop moving in this industry you’re dead.
As I look at the White Board behind my desk it’s already covered in fresh ideas for the website. Better portraits; more music and travel images… basically my passions in life, and the things that make me want to continue being a photographer. If you’re standing at a similar crossroads in life, best of luck to you.
I’ll finish with a simple thank you to all the folk who made Crete such a fantastic experience. I look forward to crossing paths with you again sometime soon.
This blog post first appeared over at photographybymatthewjames.com