Travelog – a few thoughts on my travel photography

Writing my journal, Italy, August 1989
Writing my journal, Italy, August 1989

I’ve been travelling for decades. And i’ve been taking photographs for decades. These two things go naturally together, of course. Of course? Not necessarily. Amongst my many long or short journeys there are a few i did not take a camera with me. My reasoning then was that when i earned my  living as a professional photographer all year long i needed at least some weeks a year without holding a camera in front of my face. I wrote a travellog instead and so i have rather extensive written records of motorcycle journeys all over Europe without a single photograph to accompany them.   Now i sometimes regret not having taken pictures on these journeys. Why didn’t i at least take an old folding camera with me and hit the shutter release button once a day? No use in lamenting my omissions of old, and the records of those journeys have their very own unique carrier. When i read these lines, scribbled into scuffled notebooks in front of my tent or on deck of a ferry boat,  i feel like sitting in a cinema and watching a silent movie that has no pictures, just subtitles. Or like something somebody tells you about his journeys without showing you the corresponding pictures on his smart phone.

Even on my very first motorcycle journey in 1972 – i rode a DKW 250/2 from 1953, my friend an Adler M 250 built the same year – i had no camera with me. Instead we had a record player with batteries with us and a collection of our favorite LPs we listened to while sitting near a camp fire in a dry river bed somewhere in Catalonia. The fact that i have a couple of highly cherished photos from this trip is owed to the fact that another friend joined us with a Minolta SLR we used in turn to snap a couple of black and white pictures.

From a journey without a camera - DKW RT 250/2 (right) and Adler M 250 in Alfarras, Catalonia, 1972
From a journey without a camera – DKW RT 250/2 (right) and Adler M 250 in Alfarras, Catalonia, 1972

Of course i also undertook journeys that i have pictures of. Many pictures, actually, as my motorcycles became more reliable and my means of attaching luggage carrying systems to them more refined. When i was travelling with a sidecar, i even took a professional Nikon or Leica with me, together with a couple of lenses and a lot of film. In those days i sometimes believed it a photographic overkill to shoot on a private journey like i would on a photojournalistic assignment. Nowadays i am happy that i have eight magazines or so of color slides i then thought nobody would look at anyway.

Today i look at that from a different point of view. After i took up digital photography i shot literary thousands of pictures in the four or five weeks i was travelling. Compared with that number my old color slides seem ridiculously few. I scanned them all lately and am quite happy i took them. Could actually have been a few more …

A journey with a lot of equipment - Heavily loaded MZ ETZ 250 crossing the alps, 1989
A journey with a lot of equipment – Heavily loaded MZ ETZ 250 crossing the alps, 1989

I guess that in a few decades or so the myriads of digital travel pictures will be as valuable to me as the negatives and slides of old. But this means that they have to survive this span of time. A negative or a slide are physical entities that live in boxes or sleeves and if you do not throw them away they have a good chance to survive you and to be accessible to anyone in a hundred years or so. I recently scanned an old Agfacolor film my father took in 1967 and after fifty years the pictures are still there while the first digital photographs i took at the end of the last century are quite a challenge to find and recover from the various hard disks or photo CDs. Hard discs loose their magnetism, CDs are not readable any more after ten or so years (i can tell that from my own experience). I even have JPGs that have deteriorated from having been copied from one medium to the other and show strange color streaks.

My mother 1967 in Paris. Agfacolor negative film, scanned 50 years later
My mother 1967 in Paris. Agfacolor negative film, scanned 50 years later

A couple of weeks ago i came back from yet another journey. My first one since my return to analog photography, and with me were my lovely wife and four analog cameras: Retina III C (big C) for color negatives, complete with a 35mm and an 80mm supplementary lens, a stereo attachment and close-up lenses, a Retina IIIc (little c) as a backup (i never used it), a Rolleiflex with a Tessar lens for black and whites and a Polaroid SX 70 which i used for my project “Travelling SX 70”. My digital Panasonic GX 8 i had to take with me because of a video job on the way did not take a single photograph in the four weeks of this journey to central Italy.

But, i must admit, i had my iphone 6s with me as a photographic notebook so i could provide my analog photos with the proper place and date. When coming home i could not believe that i took over 2000 pictures with this little thing. Pictures i most probably will not look at again after cataloging my analog crop. But that is different story i maybe will tell in another post.




The instant of an instant – Travelling SX 70

My project „Travelling SX 70“ originated during this years journey to Italy. In order to feed my flickr-account with analog travel photos i added my old Polaroid SX 70 together with a couple of b&w and color Impossible films to my mobile photographic gear which consisted of a Kodak Retina IIIC and a Rolleiflex Automat. My plan was (similar to my Project “The last Photographs of the Twentieth Century i did in 2000) to shoot a new polaroid every day or so, reproduce this with the camera of my iPhone 6s and upload that to flickr. When i took the first picture of the first Polaroid shot in Arco, Trentino, i noticed that the background of the picture – a flat piece of rock – had a pictorial life of its own. It was like the iphone wanted to say: Hey, i am a camera too! Don’t use me as just a means to reproduce something. And right it was!
The first Polaroid in my project - Arco, Trentino
The first Polaroid in my project – Arco, Trentino
The pictures of the polaroids i took with it were a linke between digital and analog photography, between the real world and the world depicted in a photograph which when photographed again becomes a part of the real world itself. Interesting. I had two different kinds of instant picture in one. The kind where you have to wait until it materializes itself via a chemical process and the other kind that is on your display all the time and gets frozen into bits and bytes by touching a virtual button. One you can hold in your hand as a piece of  substance matter, the other is only digital information remembered on a tiny chip and is not really a part of the material world, just a matrix of false and true that, when activated, tells a display which pixels it has to light up in different colors.
A developing polaroid on my knee in Volterra, Tuscany
A developing polaroid on my knee in Volterra, Tuscany
After realizing that i gave up my original plan of taking an instant picture a day and uploading it via my iphone. Instead i started to explore the interaction of pictures and reality. During my journey i took a couple of polaroids which i held in front of a real scene (the same as in the polaroid or another) after some time had elapsed. Sometimes it were just the 10 minutes i had to wait for the polaroid to develop, sometimes one or two days. You can see most of them in the gallery above. An interesting thing was how dramatically the color instant film changed after just a few hot summer days in my camping car. While the colors of the first pictures i took were still kind of okay – albeit a bit too warm – , they quickly deteriorated the longer the films were exposed to the heat. The last color pictures i took were of a bluish grey that showed no reds at all. Once developed, the colors remained stable, the deterioration took place in the undeveloped emulsion.
Two “Impossible” polaroids. Left after one week in a hot camping car, right after three weeks
Now i know i should have kept the films in the fridge of my camping car and maybe i should have put the SX 70 there too to travel in darkness amongst beer and wine bottles an chunks of italian cheese. I tried to remember how heat sensitive the original polaroid films were when i did my last big project in 2000 on a six week journey to Norway. Okay, in the north you never have temperatures of 35 degree Celsius inside a camping car. But still i think the films were different then. At least in one respect: During my old project i used to alter the developing Polaroids by scratching their surface with the tip of a ballpoint pen, creating my own drawings overlaying the photographed picture. I remember the chemical substance under the clear plastic coating of the pictures to be more soft and malleable than the one of the new Impossible stuff. When i run my finger over the now 18 years old Polaroids of my Year 2000 project i can still feel the lines i created with my ballpoint pen while the Impossible pictures remain perfectly flat after the same procedure. Whether this is also due to the heat the film has been subjected to i will be able to tell when i purchase a fresh pack and do some testing.
Two altered Polaroids. Left a 18 year old original Polaroid, right a contemporary “Impossible” polaroid