Dispelling a Photography Myth [5 Travel-Free Ways to Find the Photo-Worthy]

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Not long ago I stumbled upon the work of GMB Akash, a photographer from Bangladesh who has accrued a respectable trophy case of international awards for his work. He’s won a handful of “firsts” for his people — first Bangladeshi to win the Young Reporters Award from the Scope Photo Festival in Paris and get selected for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in the Netherlands, for example. Click through the image tabs above to see some of his finer work.

What struck me about Akash’s work (in addition to their quality) was that so much of it was shot in his own backyard.

It’s easy for photographers to buy into the fallacy that more exotic = better photos. Hell, I’m guilty of it at times. Roll back the calendar a couple weeks in this very blog and you’ll find me in South Africa shooting great white sharks , dreaming of helicopter safaris across the Sahara and our Executive Producer just wrapped up her 4-part series on travel tips earlier this week. There is something to be said for the mystery and wonder that comes from traveling for the first time to a distant land. It excites one’s imagination and opens your eyes to the photographic possibilities teeming in that locale.

But Akash reminds us that the photogenic exists everywhere, including the town or city you live in. His shots of life across Bangladesh drip with meaning and texture. The dark alleys, the sleeping pilgrims riding the tops of trains, the child laborers — all this and he never had to deal with airport security or hotel reservations.

So stop shopping Expedia for the cheapest flight to Nepal. Pick up your camera and walk outside. Your next great gallery may lie just around the corner of your front stoop.

Not sure where to begin? Here are 5 ways you can find inspiration without needing a passport.

1) Open your eyes. Too simple? Try too often. As in, too often we become blind to the surroundings we live in. Get off your phone, pick your head up and take it all in.

2) Take the road less traveled. We are creatures of habit, particularly when it comes to our commutes. But we photographers thrive on discovery. So next time you hop in the car to head to the grocery store, pick a path you’ve never taken before.

3) Be an expert on your town. Anne Michaels once said, “If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently.” Explore, explore, explore. And dig into the local library for some town history. At the very least you’ll probably come across some fascinating old photos of the town As It Once Was. Let those inspire you.

4) Climb down a few rungs. Akash’s subjects are those our society might try to sweep under the rug: the homeless, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. Find those people in your town. Their portraits are stained with stories of conflict and hardship. Don’t forget to give something back to them, too.

5) Travel. What? Hypocrisy! But wait, it doesn’t have to be halfway across the globe. Get out on a little excursion (or a longer one), and then come back home. See things differently? You should. A writer once said, “Maybe you had to leave in order to miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”

holly says:

I love the ideas! Will have to apply it partially to another town as the one I live in only has two roads leading out in a 6 block town! Definitely makes me think! !

Karl Baker says:

Very true – Its easy to think that exotic location = better shoot, but just take a look at what you have on your own doorstep in your own country.. its all unique, especially to outsiders.. document your own backyard ! who knows what you take for granted that others do not : )

Rabi says:

I totally agree with this post. However, I think that using Bangladesh is a tough example since the American audience of this blog sees it as exotic. To me, one of the best examples of this concept is David Weatherwax, a photojournalist at the Jasper Herald in Indiana who routinely wins national awards for work done entirely within the borders of quiet Dubois County.

There are stories everywhere. When you travel, everything is new and exciting. Your photos might seem better than the ones you take at home, but they probably aren’t. I fall into this trap as much as anyone.

“I also believe that Apple will need to open up more services to the developers, such as Siri, to generate additional innovation.”

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Erik says:

Amazing pictures! Every picture have a story. Thanks for sharing.

Why would bidders want the public in with them?

Alex Harris says:

Wow. Those child labour pics show a horrible side of things. You know it happens, but I’d hate to imagine my two little guys in the same situation. Brings a lump to your throat.


Beg Ari says:

“a guy who is lucky enough to have interesting stuff happen in his backyard….” it’s documentary work…. Documenting the suffering of ‘his people’ in a place where he calls home. Lucky is not the word I would choose.

faisal says:

His photos tell a story.

Tim Roper says:

It does take more effort at home, but it is a good idea in general to take time to appreciate where you are, and share it with others if you’re an artist. I mean, everyone knows how beautiful the Golden Gate Bridge is, right? Well, try telling that to people stuck in traffic on it, late for work, having to pay the toll every day. Then it’s just another damn bridge. But taking the time as a photographer to put all that aside and notice and capture its beauty again may just help others feel the same way about where they live. And perhaps that’s a little more valuable than heading to Bangladesh (although that’s good, too).

Titus-Armand says:

I don’t mean to be an ass, but this is kind of meaningless since the guy is already living in a place dripping with “meaning and texture. The dark alleys, the sleeping pilgrims riding the tops of trains, the child laborers.” I don’t see any child laborers or pilgrims riding the tops of trains where I live.

Maybe the point would have been better illustrated if you had chosen a photog living in a seemingly boring, uninteresting place. Right now, all I see a guy who’s lucky enough to have interesting stuff happen in his backyard. Not all of us have that.

jbstrick says:

It is only meaningless to those who can not see. Every town, village and city has an unknown story begging to be told. Thank you Chase, for sharing.

Naomi says:

The opposite side though of living somewhere dripping with meaning and texture (I just left India after living there for three years) is that soon after arriving and getting all of that color, beauty and striking photo opps, you turn a blind eye to it because it too gets weary, tired and old. I thought the article and advise was brilliant.

Titus-Armand says:

My point is that not all unknown stories are exciting, interesting, or worth telling. The unknown stories of his backyard > the unknown stories of your backyard. If you disagree, feel free to provide photographic evidence that proves me wrong.

MJ says:

Looking at his work, I am pretty sure he would take amazing picture wherever you put him….. even in your backyard!

Does the sun set and rise where you live?
Do people live where you live ?
Are there trees?
Flowers ?
Cars ,streets ,bridges ?
Is there life where you live?
If so it’s not a boring uninspired place
It’s how you view life and not where you live.
Anyone can luck into a great photograph. Great photographers make the the boring uninspired into inspiring beautiful works of art. It’s work sometimes very hard work but its worth the journey. Look at the work of JULIA MARGARET CAMERON she made some of the most influential portraits of the early 19th century. She created her works in a chicken coop and used a coal bin for a darkroom. You can only limit you it’s not where you live. Go out and create its there just open your eyes.

Todd says:

While I’m no where near being a great or even good photographer, one thing I learned from one of the greats, Rick Sammon, is “don’t take a photograph, MAKE a photograph.” It kind of goes along with what you are saying above. Great photos are all around, we just have to be observant enough and have the balls to approach people and ask, or to arrange a subject so it is more striking. Everyone may have different feelings about this but in the end, those viewing the image have no clue what went into making the photograph. For all we know, some of the above photos may have been choreographed.

Mick Ryan says:

Titus, you must live in utopia or else you walk around with your eyes shut without imagination. Seeing a photo op is the real talent

Jeremy says:

I see your point, but that doesn’t mean that where you or I live can’t be dripping with meaning and texture. For him [GMB Akash] his backyard is exoptic to us. Maybe where you live is exotic to Akash? What Chase is getting at is that we tend to overlook stuff that is always around us.

This reminds me of an assignment in an intro to photography class that I needed for my degree program (an art class was a requirement). And yes – that class launched my love of photography BTW. Anyway, the assignment was to pick a space somewhere in my neighborhood that was no bigger than about a basketball court and shoot a whole roll of film confined in that space. Once you have shot all the obvious subjects in your space, you are forced you to look closer, deeper at your surroundings for pictures. The instructor commented that the best pictures from that assignment are almost always the ones that you were forced to take. I know mine were.

Ashraful Alam says:

You know what? I don’t want to be an ass, but you are an ass. You need to grow up before understanding the meaning of Photojournalism.

W says:

What the Hell?! I thought we had all but abolished child labor. Great photos, but there is a bigger story here.

Richard Storr says:

Good tips ! i’m traveling to turkey this week, hoping to get something more than just holiday snaps.

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