Off the Beaten Path: Happy Trails to You

June 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
I'm taking a little detour from my normal O.B.P. format to address a less-than-happy-trails phenomenon. I belong to several different online groups for professional photographers and enthusiasts. Occasionally, a post crops up linking to the latest travel tragedy that's ended with a woman photographer's assault or death abroad.

Like most who've spent years photographing in a variety of locations - many times alone, isolated, or under less than ideal circumstances -  I've relied on street smarts, copious amounts of planning and communication, and common sense to ensure that I enjoy the same freedom to discover as my fellow humans of the XY persuasion.

But is that still enough?

While, unfortunately, travelers can be targeted anywhere, attacks against women in particular are on the rise. Granted better reporting may have something to do with the uptick in (almost) daily horror stories but when only the locale changes and the acts do not, it's time to take note. Whether solo-trekking, exploring with loved ones, or even embedded with other journalists, there no longer seems to be a fool-proof travel security measure.

I asked Travel Talks interviewees Sandra Jordan and Hortencia Cisneros for their thoughts and tips earlier this year:
Since I mostly travel alone, I blend in. You walk and act like you're a local. I like to be very aware of my surroundings. I feel it's easier for me when I travel alone, since it keeps me aware of everything and everyone around me. You [need to] have awareness everywhere you go. (Hortencia Cisneros)
 I haven't made any changes in the way I work or travel, for me it has always been about being respectful of the country you are travelling in.  (Sandra Jordan)
Is having faith, showing goodwill, and staying out of State Department travel-restricted countries the key? Or, voluntarily curtailing travel overall? Perhaps adopting a siege mentality and only travelling defensively? And to what effect? In my everyday life and in my wanderings, I notice when women are absent. In fact I feel more disoriented and to a certain extent vulnerable in places where women aren't visibly going about their daily routine and adding to, well, the life of a place.

For female travel photographers, I believe we have a responsibility to be seen as well as actively seeing others and there's no way that can happen with our taking root behind closed doors. The world will continue to be a magnificent and disturbing place whether we traverse it or not. I can only hope that through offering our experiences, imagery, and continued presence we can be the subtle reminders of shared humanity and curiosity. 


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