Skift Take

InterContinental's master classes in photography are part of a trend by hotels to create unique experiences for guests at the property level. Photographer Craig Easton believes "I was there" photography misses the point, and that photographers need to learn how to see. Sounds like a travel mantra to live by.

InterContinental Hotels debuted a new wrinkle to its Weekend Escapes packages at four European hotels: a photography master class with Craig Easton, winner of the 2012 Travel Photographer of the Year award, who will serve as the photographer in residence at these four properties on their designated weekends.

The program, which includes informal discussions over coffee about Easton’s approach to photography, the chance to conduct photoshoots at locations suggested by the hotel concierge, and then Easton-taken portraits on location, has already taken place earlier this month at the InterContinental London-Westminster and the InterContinental London Park Lane.

And, these master classes in photography, which are free when booked as part of the Weekend Escapes packages, but have limited availability, are slated to take place at the InterContinental Paris – le Grand November 2-3, and the InterContinental Dusseldorf November 30-December 1.

Given the specifics of each hotel and locality, these experiences should truly be unique.

“During the day I will join them at a pre-arranged location for a hands-on session looking at what they’ve shot, running through some ideas, tips and techniques in practice and then I will take a portrait of them on location,” Easton says.

“In the evening there will be an opportunity to talk further and review the pictures they’ve made during the day,” he says.

Easton describes his photography as “dramatic landscape work” and depicting “intimate portraits of real lives.”

Skift had a chance to ask Easton some questions about travel and his craft.

Skift: How did you get into travel photography? Was “travel” your initial photography passion?

Easton: I don’t really see travel photography as separate to any other kind of photography. I’m a photographer, that’s it.

I do, of course, shoot for travel magazines and advertising campaigns and that I suppose defines the images as travel photography, but for me it is all about telling stories and trying to make good pictures — the same applies whether I am travelling or at home. If I lived in Paris would my images of the Eiffel tower no longer be considered travel photographs because they were shot in my home town?

The beauty of the Travel Photographer of the Year awards is that it seems to me to be all- encompassing and covers just about any style of photography or any subject matter under the banner ‘Travel.’ I started as a photojournalist shooting for the Independent newspaper in London and still there is a strong documentary element to what I do. My photographs tend to be of real people and real places whether they are reportage, portraits or landscape images.

In my advertising and commercial work I find that I am commissioned to create a similar style with the emphasis on real, believable, observational images. It’s certainly not necessary to travel to make good pictures and in some senses I think it can detract. It’s easy to shoot pictures if everything is new to you in a new place. The real challenge is to get under the skin of a place or society and shoot something more telling, and with a greater degree of understanding and empathy.

Skift: I see much of your work focus is on landscapes, people and cars. Do you learn more about a country from its landscape or its cars, and why?

Easton: That’s an interesting question – I think you learn most by meeting people. The landscape, the architecture and the cars etc. can tell you much about a place, I’m sure, but what interests me is the people I meet and the way they live within their landscape or city. It’s very much a connection that I want to make with a place through its people and I want that connection to come across in the pictures. My approach is that I’m less interested in showing you what a place looks than what it feels like.

Skift: What is your favorite travel photograph that you have taken? What was the back story to the photo, and what did you learn from the experience?

Easton: I don’t know if I have a favourite, it changes all the time — usually the most recent! There is a picture I took a few months back in Coney Island, New York – a very simple image of a young boy standing alone outside Coney Island station. I like that image a lot. I’m no writer, but it seems to me to be a picture full of stories about that little boy and many more like him. I don’t know anything about him; it’s just a scene I saw and I took the picture. I imagine he is completely unaware that the photograph exists.

Skift: Has the democratization of photography — smartphones, tablets, Instagram, Facebook and sharing — improved the world of travel photography or detracted from it?

Easton: I’m not sure it has necessarily done either. I think it has changed journalism and reporting for sure because pictures are so easily shared in an instant from any event worldwide, and in many ways that’s a good thing empowering people to communicate directly to the outside world. In general terms, I think it’s a good thing that pictures are being shared and published more. It is much easier to get your pictures seen now and I hope that helps create a greater understanding between people and cultures.

I do think however that whilst the proliferation of photography has been exponential these last few years it has not necessarily meant that the standard has improved. Every day I see hoards of people with digital cameras, smart phones and iPads shooting pictures at tourist ‘landmarks.’ It seems to me that they are all taking the same pictures and so whilst there are many, many more pictures being shot now than ever before, it may be that there is very little thought going into some of those images and we are just filling hard drives with the same pictures as everybody else.

Susan Sontag wrote about this way back in 1977 and the challenge is, as ever, to use photography thoughtfully to communicate ideas and visions of the world we see around us, not just as a record of ‘I was there.’ There is also a danger with some apps that they can appear, superficially at least, to make anything look good. I’m concerned however that whilst you can post-process an image to give a cutting edge look to it, the real skill in photography is in looking and learning to see. Real pictures are taken with the eyes not with the camera, which is just an instrument used to record them, and ‘seeing’ pictures is something that you have to learn and work at all the time.

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Tags: intercontinental hotel group, local, photography

Photo credit: Photographer Craig Easton's photograph of The Louvre, and Mona Lisa. Easton is a photographer in residence at four European hotels as part of InterContinental's Weekend Escapes packages. Craig Easton

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