Backyard Adventures: Rethinking the Art of the Travel Photo
The Lofoten archipelago is one of the most photographed regions in Norway. Its images have flooded social media in the last couple of years — certainly both you and I have seen them. And at some point, both you and I have been dreaming of visiting either Lofoten or other places we have seen in the form of breathtaking imagery.
I have finally made it to my dream location in June 2018, and it was exactly as I have seen on photographs. I made sure I stopped in all the places recommended by other photographers and pressed the shutter button so many times I am amazed it still works. After some days of driving around the islands, my travel companion and I moved on to a neighboring archipelago – Vesterålen. And we were both a bit disappointed.
The mountains did not rise directly from the sea as we expected, and there were more flatlands and occasional crop fields. It did not feel right though not to appreciate the beautiful nature there. It is, after all, a magnificent place. When the trip came to an end, and I was browsing through my photographs from the comfort of my sofa back at home, I discovered, to my big surprise, that I hated most of them.
I have already seen most of the pictures I have taken during my travel through archipelagos in the north — in the form of books, postcards or online photos. Sure, they were my own take on the region, but how many unique images can you find from the same viewpoints, anyway? Some might argue that a hundred different photographers can take a hundred different snapshots of the same object, but when you multiply the numbers, the chances are that you will get a lot of similar images. Just browse through Instagram, focusing on one location.
These few photographs from my trip that I liked were mostly details or landscapes taken out of the context of the location. They were more anonymous – they could have been created in Norway or any other country. In the sea of scenic Lofoten landscapes I have seen, only the weird ones, not exactly about Lofoten itself, caught my eye. And my conclusion was the same as the one Roland Barthes wrote before me: “In an initial period, Photography, in order to surprise, photographs the notable; but soon, by a familiar reversal, it decrees notable whatever it photographs. The ‘anything whatever’ then becomes the sophisticated acme of value.”
That seems so accurate, especially now, when images are so easily distributed online, but it also appears as a way too obvious conclusion in this case. There was something more going on in the background.
The pictures I liked were able to capture the feeling I had while being there – the quiet loneliness of ethereal nature, the sense of freedom. That is, in fact, my favorite feeling. It makes me aware that I belong in that exact place in the exact time I am shooting. Similar feeling to the one I get wandering around my so familiar backyard, just with a little bit more thrill of the new location. And that made me look at the pictures taken around my house and compare them to the ones from the trip. The ones taken back at home were unique – they were more “me” than the ones from the Lofoten expedition. Fortunately, there aren’t millions of tourists traveling to my backyard every year taking the same postcard photos again and again.
Some might say I am lucky, I live in the picturesque countryside, in the south of Norway, with surrounding crop fields, forests, and lakes. But for me it is one of the most boring landscapes there is, no dramatic mountains, no stormy seas. Here I have to create my adventures. I have to work hard to notice something worth documenting, in a landscape I pass by every day. But when I finally manage to find something worth pressing the shutter button for, then I feel like I belong there with my camera, in that exact moment.
All the photographs you see on this page were taken on my own backyard. Sure, they are no dramatic postcards from some dream location, but at least they depict my unique voice. I have not shot them in a place I have seen before on Instagram, but they aren’t just ordinary moments either. They show moments I have been chasing through my backyard with a camera countless times, to get that one perfect photo. I have probably traveled the same distance through my backyard, as I have to Lofoten and back.
My point here is that sometimes we forget where we come from and why we travel. Do we take our journeys to see what we have already seen so many times in images taken by other photographers? Do we wander so far to create the same picture we can buy on a postcard in a souvenir shop? Sure, I am also guilty here, I have often before traveled to get that one photo that already existed. It was easy. But maybe if we treat our backyards as the most thrilling destinations, and treat the great viewpoints as our backyard, we could see things differently. I surely will think about that next time I step outside, whether I will travel to the other side of the globe or just the end of my garden.
About the author: Marta Anna Løvberg is a Polish photographer who has been living and working in Norway since 2008. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Løvberg’s work on her website and Instagram. This article was also published here.