01
Dec 16

Keeping a Travel Journal

As a traveler I aspire to keep a handwritten journal/sketch pad. It’s great fun to pull out my old journals and read all the goofy and sometimes awesome stuff I did on my adventures. It’s a place where I can write, scribble and store stuff in real time. I have pressed flowers, train tickets, attraction passes, coffee stains and all sorts of other goodies tucked into the nooks and crannies of my journals. It is a physical memento of life experience that will survive and outlive the trendy social media of the day. Remember Livejournal and Myspace?

My Pen and Journal. Fes, Morocco. 2015

My Pen and Journal. Fes, Morocco. 2015

Start with a quality notebook or sketchpad. There are lots at your local bookstore, the most common being Moleskine. Moleskine are easily available and come in a variety of sizes and configurations, each with a handy pocket inside the back cover. On the down side, their paper is thin and prone to feathering and bleed through. If you like the Moleskine form factor, a significant step up in quality can be found in the products of Rhodia and Quo Vadis.

The Rhodia Webnotebook comes with a black or classic orange cover and with either lined, blank or dot Rhodia paper. The dot paper is an interesting variation on traditional graph paper with dots where the vertical and horizontal lines would intersect, but the lines themselves have been removed. Rhodia writing paper is outstanding and among the finest in the world.

Quo Vadis Habana notebooks come in lots of colors although I prefer basic black and can be found in both blank and lined varieties. These are softer than other hardcover notebooks and feel really great in the hand. They are the only journal/notebooks of the Moleskine style to feature Clairefontaine paper, which in my opinion is the finest smooth writing paper in the world. I own several of these.

How about something a little different? Try the Midori Traveler’s Notebook. These great Japanese notebooks are beautiful, clever and absolutely ooze quality. They come in a few basic colors but have so many accessories that you’ll never run out of fun and interesting ways to configure and utilize them. The paper is superb and I believe it is Japanese Mulberry, one of the oldest, most durable and archival types of paper in the world.

Lots of people love basic marbled composition notebooks and the bamboo or sugarcane paper in these is pretty good. A lot of companies make fancy covers for composition books and they are a great option.

Something to be mindful of are all the leather bound travel journals  populating the internet and bookstores. The paper can be of poor quality, it is often rough bulk paper or really cheap paper, bleeding ink and feathering worse than an eiderdown goose.

The travel notebooks and journals I use are made by Innovative Journaling. I’ve been using them for several years and I love the quality, materials and craftsmanship.

What to write? Everything! I like to make notes about trip planning, why l chose to go to certain places and not others. I write about the people I’m traveling with, who I meet, where I’m staying and what I had for breakfast. I write about my expectations and if they were fulfilled. I write about how my experiences changed me and my perspective on life and the world.

So there you have it. Get a good journal and a good pen, take them with you everywhere and write.

I plan on writing a more detailed article on journals, inks, paper and travel in the near future.


02
Sep 16

What is Pre-Visualization?

Jewish Ghetto. Venice, Italy. 2015

Jewish Ghetto. Venice, Italy. 2015

What the heck is pre-visualization? This term was first popularized in the early 20th century by some of the great landscape photographers shooting their beloved large format view cameras.  Changing environmental conditions and the fleeting moment required these photographers to have an exacting knowledge of the behavior and magical alchemy of light, lens, film, filter, process and print. It was always about the print. While setting up and exposing a single sheet of film they knew exactly what the end result would be when they pressed the shutter release.

Many people are familiar with the story behind Ansel Adams’ famous “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”. Adams saw the scene, saw the moon and loved the light. Getting out his gear he couldn’t find his light meter but knowing the brightness of the moon he set the exposure on his large format camera accordingly and exposed one of his most beloved photographs. He was a technically experienced photographer and through the process of pre-visualization he knew what he wanted and how to get it.

Some of the most admired and respected photographers in history came from disciplines other than photography. For example, Edward Steichen was trained as a painter, Paul Strand had first been a film maker and of course Henri Cartier-Bresson was a painter and sketch artist. Cartier-Bresson maintained that he never stopped drawing and that his ubiquitous Leica was an instant sketch pad. The point of all this is that these great photographers were visual thinkers, experts in non verbal communication and used the photographic medium to speak their particular language. Their artistic instincts, experience and training prepared them to look at the structure of a scene, the light and geometry and whether or not it was worthwhile pressing the shutter. It’s not an easy thing to do well.

If you find your photographs lacking, spend time looking at and learning from the masters, study the structure of their images, look at their interpretation of light, line, and rhythm.  Cross train, pick up a pencil and draw something you see, write, let your creative juices flow.

Next time you start to press the shutter, take a moment to pre-visualize and ask yourself these questions. Does everything inside the frame contribute to the strength of the image? Is there anything I can do differently to improve the light, or geometry of the image? Contemplate what you are trying to say and ask yourself if the image would speak for itself when printed and framed on your wall.


05
Apr 16

Travel Photography, Cherry blossoms and Ramen

When I travel, I love to get to know people, the land and the culture. Respectfully photographing people in other countries can be a challenging and a topic worthy of it’s own blog. I find it satisfying to take nice images of people and I’ve written previously about my struggles to become a better landscape photographer. What else is there? Well, you could go to festivals and social gatherings, or hang out where people shop and work. One of the ways I like to get to know people better involves going to small local cafes, restaurants, and eateries. Seeing the what people eat and how they eat it goes a long way in understanding who they are and how they live. In this spirit I make it a habit to hunt down local food and eat what the locals eat.

I offer you two images. The first is inside a small sidewalk Ramen shop in Kumamoto Japan. The second image was taken in a formal restaurant in Nagasaki showing cherry blossom infusers used in exquisite food preparation. What do these images tell you about the people and culture? Does me telling you what they are change your impression? In case you are wondering, the food in both locations was outstanding!

Ramen Pot. Kumamoto, Japan. 2014

Ramen Pot. Kumamoto, Japan. 2014

Blossom Infusers. Nagasaki, Japan. 2014

Blossom Infusers. Nagasaki, Japan. 2014


25
Nov 15

What is “the long view”?

I was having this conversation with a friend a few days before we left on our current Europe/Morocco expedition. She was asking me what I found most interesting as a traveler and why I found it so important to study history. I expressed my phrase, “I like to take the long view”.  For instance, I said, on the way in to see you this afternoon I noticed a small building. It was made with concrete blocks and stucco with a small arch and an array of windows reflecting facets of light and life. This wasn’t a particularly attractive building but that was not what caught my eye. What I saw were two thousand year old building techniques pioneered by the Romans that form the cornerstone of some of the greatest monuments of western civilization. Romans invented concrete, clear glass windows and the arch”.

Historically, successful ideas like concrete and the arch lead to the Pantheon and Colosseum, solved problems and moved society and culture forward. To me, the reason the long view has value is because it exposes the causal chains of how one idea leads to another and how additional minds contribute to the subject or idea connecting it to even more ideas as one thing stands upon another.

This is what I crave as a traveler. To understanding the world and the cultures and the people in it is to understand that they are the product of the causes and conditions of everything that has come before them. Understand those causes and conditions and those events and environments and you will have a better foundation to understand peoples, cultures, civilizations and the world. This is the long view.

RomanColumn

Two thousand year old spiral concrete columns. Roman Volubilis. Morocco, 2015