This is a guest post by Trudy Hamilton, a portrait and lifestyle photographer and blogger, originally from Florida and now residing the the San Francisco Bay area. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Most photographers that I know enjoy the adventure that travel brings into their lives. Whether it be personal travel, such as visiting family, or business travel, such as the destination wedding or a location commercial shoot, travel is both a pleasure and necessity. However, unless we're all Joe McNally, we probably don't travel as much as we'd like to.
One of the best reasons to travel is simply to experience the culture of another, hopefully though an open mind, heart and camera. However, you don't have to travel all of the time to experience and photograph another culture. An exciting and economical way to do so is to explore the cultural events of your community. I photographed my first community cultural event in 2006 and I have been interested in them ever since. The beauty of people, music, food, fashion and uniqueness has always excited me and appealed to me. This is why I travel, but also why my mind and heart can travel even when I am home.
A few good reasons to embrace your local community cultural events are:
1) It's a learning opportunity. If you are open to it, a community cultural event can be a learning experience for you. Certainly I could have read an article on the Obon Festival, but I chose to attend one in Japantown of San Jose, CA a few weeks ago. I have been to Japan, but certainly couldn't pick up and go again a few weeks ago. But by attending the festival, I chatted with and photographed Japanese, Japanese Americans and others at the event, listened to the powerful yet soothing sounds of the San Jose Taiko and enjoyed gyoza–some of the same activities I did while I was actually in Japan a few years ago. For several hours, it was like I was transformed from traditional Bay Area Cali and merged into Japanese culture.
2) It's a photographic opportunity. Certainly most photographers desire paid work versus unpaid work, especially the ones running a business. However, sometimes it is good to photograph truly for the sake of creation. Cultural photojournalism differs from my portraiture work. I use different camera settings, I have different compositional ideas and a different intent and message with every photograph that I create at a community cultural event. It's great exercise for me for when I do have paid event photography and great exercise in my creativity and storytelling, in general.
3) It's a networking opportunity. I am an introvert. Though I am not shy, as introversion does not always equate to shyness, I am usually uncomfortable and drained by traditional networking events and conventions. However, at a community cultural event, such as one I attended a month ago in San Francisco, Juneteenth, I can stay below radar and only photograph if I choose, or chat with people who ask me about my work simply from seeing me with what they call a big camera. At this aforementioned event, someone came up and talked with me. I ended up booking them as a client on the spot. So not only was it a great cultural experience (even just to embrace stories of Black people in America–ones that I could see in the very skin of the men I photographed below, who are only a few generations removed from slavery) but it was a business opportunity as well.
Acknowledging, embracing and understanding the cultures of others doesn't just make us better photographers, it makes us better humans. So I encourage you to view your city's website or a site like Yelp and look for the next event in your area, whether it be a Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Filipino, Jamaican or Irish festival (I've been to all of these types) and check it out. It may truly be a learning, photographic and networking opportunity for you as it has been for me. Embrace the true beauty within yourself, by embracing the beauty of others.