The Art Of The Travel Portrait
Making Images While On The Road

The Art Of The Travel Portrait

Cruising through Pineville, Idaho, in our silver VW Vanagon "Freedom Rider," I spotted George Wrenner on the sidewalk set up with all of his handmade furniture. His great face initially caught my attention but his mind and ideas ended up captivating me for three hours as he shared his poetry and life philosophy. Every now and then he would break up our discussion with timeless fiddling. I gravitated toward this renaissance man's wisdom, values, and outlook on life. Wrenner was definitely a person who "seized the day."
Photos © 2002, Daryl Hawk, All Rights Reserved

My 25 years of traveling on the back roads of the world has led to countless adventures, experiences, and stories from the array of characters I have met along the way. As a documentary photographer, I take pictures of people, landscapes, nature abstracts, architecture, and wildlife. I like exploring remote places where my mind can run free and fast with the constant visual stimulation I experience from dawn to dusk--always seeking something new and different. But it is the colorful individuals I encounter and photograph of which I have the fondest memories.

My goal has always been to make an image that captures the individual spirit of the person. In order to achieve this, I have learned over the years that it helps to spend some time getting to know my subjects. The cooperation and rapport that is established between photographer and subject is critical.

It was a long hard drive from Lafayette to Mamou, Louisiana. I woke up at 6am one Sunday morning and drove on all back roads to reach this small town club to listen to Cajun music. People from all over the county would gather here every Sunday morning to dance and party for hours. As I left the club, with my ears still ringing, I encountered these two friends sharing a joke trying to sell a Stradivarius violin.

I love connecting and communicating with other cultures, and the camera is a tool that allows me to get closer to the people I want to learn more about. By taking it slowly and immersing yourself in the landscape you will be able to experience their surroundings. The strength in people photography is the ability to work in intimate situations. A friendly smile and eye contact is the initial key. Engaging in conversation and listening to their stories before taking any photographs is advantageous.

Whether I am driving on back roads or walking the streets of small towns, my style is to always be looking for faces that have certain character traits--faces that will translate on film in a way that gives the viewer an emotional response. I will then approach my subject and begin a conversation. By seeing the camera around my neck, they immediately know I am a photographer. I explain my goals and then quickly begin planning out my portrait.

Along the windy, rugged coast of Newfoundland from Rocky Harbor to Cow Head, I spotted this unusual house with large butterfly sculptures all over it. After photographing their dwelling, I rang the doorbell and asked the owners if I could take a picture of them. This is the pose they gave me. After some small talk, they invited me inside for some refreshments and lessons in witchcraft. I politely declined and hit the road!

Developing a photographic vision takes time and can only be enhanced by experience. As long as you have a real passion for photographing people, your work will continue to get stronger each year. I love becoming part of a world of different cultures and lifestyles. It is out of these experiences that the photographs will come. You must first be moved by what you are looking at and then you have to trust your instincts that you see the world differently. Let your own way of seeing what deeply moves you come through--let your heart be your eyes!

Daryl Hawk is the host and producer of the Cablevision television show "The Unconventional Traveler" which features some of the world's leading explorers, travel photographers, and filmmakers sharing their work from various expeditions and documentaries. Check your local listings. Hawk is a writer, photographer, and adventurer whose articles and photographs have appeared in numerous national magazines as well as on NBC's "Today" show. He is a member of the Explorers Club and a fellow of The Royal Geographical Society.