Travel came to a halt. Borders shut and planes grounded. Far-flung destinations that were once so accessible suddenly became impossible to reach, and the photographers who documented them retreated. Where will they take their careers from here?
Words by Jack Brookes
Photography by Jarrad Seng, John Laurie, Kara Rosenlund & Ain Raadik
When the pandemic hit a few months ago, the world adjusted to a new normal. For many it offered a unique chance to slow down. Now, home-bound travel photographers have a chance to consider a post-pandemic future for themselves and the travel industry.
As many countries begin to wind back social distancing restrictions, international borders remain closed. So, we chatted with four professional travel photographers, asking them how isolation has changed their approach to photography, what it means for the travel industry, and whether travel photography will still be a viable career.
“Maybe this disruption helps some photographers realise that the stress of trying to turn something they enjoy into a battle-hardened business is not worth it for their well being”
Be it for tourism, working on corporate campaigns, or capturing musicians’ world-tours, Jarrad Seng has spent the last decade taking photos across the world. “It all snowballed after I managed to convince my university tutor that photographing the Maasai tribes in Tanzania would be an excellent practical lesson in project management and creativity and that it should count as course credit.”
Pre-pandemic he spent 70 per cent of the year on the road. As coronavirus began to spread, Jarrad was photographing a musician on a six-continent world tour. While navigating a way home, “six months of travel work disappeared within a week. We’re not talking small dollars either,” said Jarrad. Initially panicked, Jarrad now trusts that, “shake-ups need to happen to spawn innovation.”
He believes it brings space for new photographers to emerge. While those with mature careers may phase-out of the industry. “Something like this can make these changes happen at warp speed, but those with resilience and a distinct, high-quality vision will always be alright, in travel photography, or any industry.”
Through isolation, Jarrad’s taken the time to focus on how he can use his travel photography skill set from home. He’s aiming to further his career with diverse income streams through education, print sales, and licensing.
“Those with resilience and a distinct, high-quality vision will always be alright.”
As for getting back on the move, Jarrad believes that a surge in domestic tourism is inbound. “I don’t think the demand – and hence advertising – for travel and escape will be affected. It will actualise in different, more local, ways.” He predicts commercial client’s budgets will take a hit. “It might be bad news for premium photographers and industry veterans but an excellent opportunity for less established creators to hustle and rise through these cracks.”
He tells of his plans to “roll with it” and that the industry shakeup could be a blessing in disguise. “I’m often grappling with decisions about whether a certain job is worth the time and stress. Maybe this will make it easier to distinguish between things I want to do and don’t.” For now, his upcoming work will focus on his home state of Western Australia where he’s “barely scratched the surface.”
“Photography needs a voice and if you don’t have that then it’s probably the biggest thing that you want to focus on right now.”
John Laurie focuses on relatively unheard of places as a travel photographer. Places like Turkmenistan. The location of his image that won The Canon Australia Travel Category in last year’s Monster Children Photo Competition.
It was travelling post-university that first brought John to photography. Later venturing through Europe documenting the original makers – beekeepers and those who make parmesan and prosciutto. “I was interested in this style of real and observational travel photography and it then formed the bulk of my portfolio.” After sending it around, two weeks later he’d landed an assignment and was sent back. Since then, he’s continued to travel 5-6 times a year, photographing commercially in between.
“I’m never one to think that putting all your eggs in the one basket is the smartest thing to do.”
Once the pandemic hit, John focused on compiling cork boards of inspiration. “I haven’t thought too much about travel to be honest. It felt a bit pointless, so I thought more about feelings, tone of voice and symbolism.”
John had shifted his sights to include more commercial work before the pandemic. “I’m never one to think that putting all your eggs in the one basket is the smartest thing to do. Diversity in photography is an important thing to have regardless of the situation.” John draws from the style and lessons travel photography teaches, translating it to the world of commercial photography.
As borders remain shut John sees himself creating closer to home. Although, he aspires to travel to midwest America and Great River Volga in Russia soon, where he aims to shift his approach to find an art and travel crossover, and find a slower post-pandemic workflow. “There’s too many photos out there sometimes,” says John. He wants to slow down his observations, honour the moment and then document. “This has been a process of me thinking a little more inwardly, of not taking so many photos. Developing themes and ideas, having a goal, a plan, and a personal project worth exploring that isn’t just a pretty place.”
“Being a travel photographer before the pandemic was never really a viable career for most photographers to be honest.”
Kara Rosenlund’s career in photography has spanned over 20 years. Before the pandemic halted flights, she was in the air once a week jetting around Australia, meeting editorial deadlines or producing fine-art prints and books. “I started receiving travel style briefs about 8 years ago as the industry started to explode when travel stories became on-trend. The genre got particularly trendy due to social media,” explains Kara.
Like most, she used the pandemic as an opportunity to slow down and reevaluate her career and future work. “I’m looking at putting even more energy into my online shop and self-publishing editions of books. Also expanding my collections of limited edition photographic prints.”
“I’m looking at putting even more energy into my online shop and self-publishing editions of books.”
Kara explains how photographers have always had to diversify. Travel photography alone wasn’t a viable career for most. “The industry’s plagued with contra deals and freebie holidays which water down the industry. The number of establishments who commissioned photographers and paid their full rates was slim. I never took on these deals, as it’s not what I offer,” she says.
Kara agrees that a thirst for new imagery will exist in local and regional destinations, as the tourism industry pushes to revive business when restrictions ease. “They will need to spend, as it feels as though any imagery before COVID is ‘old’ now.”
As for international travel, Kara isn’t concerned. “I adore my own country Australia and it is so vast and so exotic. I’m not wanting to go anywhere else and I’ll take the opportunity to drive to locations instead of fly,” she says.
Albeit a short cross-sea venture, she admits photographing the Torres Strait is on the list. “It feels remote and unspoilt to some degree and that’s what I’m craving. Fewer people, even after lockdown,” Kara laughs.
Ain Raadik is at the start of a very successful career in photography. Having taken it on professionally during the middle of 2017. Come 2018 he was working in Tonga, Japan, and across Europe with a portfolio envious of any senior photographer. He now approaches the pandemic with calm optimism. “It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen in times like this, but if you approach a career in photography with passion and an open mind you’ll always be able to make it viable,” says Ain.
“There will be a bunch of projects popping up with the intentions of supporting local tourism.”
He explains how destinations unconsidered before could now be in a traveler’s repertoire. “Although strapped for cash, businesses spending money on campaigns and capitalising as the restrictions ease could be the key to getting ahead in a highly competitive playing field.”
“People aren’t going to be able to shake the travel bug easily. I’d imagine there will be a bunch of projects popping up with the intentions of supporting local tourism,” he predicts. It’s for this reason he isn’t altering his post-pandemic approach to business. “In the short-term photographers may need to shift their perception of travel photography, from the usual Instagram hot spots to something more local. I’ll aim to shift my focus more so from the location of my work to the subject of my work.”