FINDING THE STORY – DEVELOPING YOUR VOICE
[2019 Travel Photography Workshop co-leader]
There is only one certainty: that this winter will edge into spring and we will move again. Clambering into out camper van, my partner and I will turn south from our Scottish winter refuge and follow a route that links together the commissions that arrived over the winter months. Almost exclusively, these projects used to be centred on the design of long distance walking routes, which linked together small, out of the way villages in relatively unknown parts of Europe. But these days, as our knees begin to creak and our backs to buckle, we are doing less high-mountain walking in favour of developing cultural journeys for people who want to explore Europe slowly and in depth.
From March to November we poke around some of Europe’s most fascinating corners, identifying the interesting and the unusual, collecting stories and making suggestions for people who travel in out footsteps. It’s a way of life that delivers all sorts of photographic opportunities and just recently I’ve been reflecting on the photography that has accompanied all this travel. I choose my words carefully, as calling it ‘travel photography’ seems to describe my images in a way that feels both uncomfortable and constraining. Instead, I see the pictures as reflecting a series of encounters of varying duration and emotional connection.
One of the frustrations that I imagine I share with many travellers is that I am just passing through. I am excited by the novelty of the new; often charmed, sometimes irritated, always curious. And as an image-maker I want to respond to the differences, to document my thoughts and emotions: to communicate the beauty of the world around me, its colour, energy and light. But in a mass travelling mobile world, thick with camera phones, I am wary of repeating the obvious and the hackneyed and to being seduced by the comfort of rapid and superficial assessments. Over the years, I can see that I have adopted a number of strategies to deepen my experience. All of them require personal engagement and the expenditure of short bursts of dedicated time.
The first is to travel with an open mind and embrace opportunities as they present themselves. Recently passing through the Langhe in Piedmont, a chance conversation with Guglielmo, a maker of traditional, hand made bread sticks, expanded into a morning with him and his family as they worked the dough, hand rolled, cut and baked the grissini - all the time sharing their stories and pride in their skills and heritage. A day later, passing a grape harvest in full flow, I stopped at the roadside and asked the family if they would share their day with me. ‘Come back tomorrow’, they said, ‘we’ll show you the whole thing’. And sure enough, they spent a whole day, taking us through the picking, loading and pressing involved in this tiny family business before sharing a convivial glass of wine or two. I appreciate that not everybody is blessed with my number one asset which is David, my partner, who not only speaks French and Spanish, but is prepared to ‘have a go’ in almost any language. But, if like me, you find it hard to engage in conversation or are shy of your language skills, then it’s still possible to deepen your image making by consider picking a theme and developing a series of pictures around it. These themes can be carried forward over longer stretches of time and by repeating them in other places, similarities and differences between groups of people and cultures start to emerge. For example I was recently reviewing my snapshots of ‘markets’ – images that span the polite markets of rural France to the edginess of the Palermo streets. Even a cursory view reveals significant differences in values, social structure, wealth and poverty so that the markets themselves become a metaphor for society and now, going forward, I will visit markets differently.
However, perhaps the most important strategy of all is to accept the limitations of fleeting interactions and rather than giving up on the ideas they generate, bank my impressions. I find that I may nurture my thoughts over many seasons before finally returning to a place that has caught my imagination. In this way I allow ideas and the emotional response to place to build, until something breaks and a series falls out. In the photo-narrative of dying Spanish towns, ‘Living with loss’, I passed through the vast region of Castile-Leon perhaps five times over a couple of years, internalising conflicting impressions of silent villages and patchy decay, until at last with the autumn rains approaching, I finally stopped, and talked, and learnt.
Linda Lashford is a photographic artist who lives a semi-nomadic life in the south and west of Europe. In winter, she returns to Wester Ross to focus on her private work. Her images are often marked by a developing narrative and a deep stillness. Throughout the last few years, many of her images have been featured as part of the award winning, 'Slow travel' marketing campaign for UK travel company, 'Inntravel' and the Italian cycling company, ‘Siciclando’. You can catch up with her imagery at:
In October 2019 she will co-lead the OSW ‘Travel Photography’ workshop. Linda will call on over a decade of almost continuous journeying, expressed through both writing and photography, to provide insights into how we can engage with, and deepen our understanding of the places we visit.