Travel the World – Photography by Stuart L Gordon
Travel the world with Stuart L Gordon Photography and Eastlake Framing, as we bring you a First Friday art adventure. Stuart, a renowned landscape, travel, and wildlife photographer, along with his family spent a year journeying around the world, visiting 23 countries and capturing its stunning beauty by photography.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller
Join us Friday, June 1st and be inspired! The night is hosted by Deb Spicer, owner of Eastlake Framing who showcases his photography beautifully by creating the perfect frame for each piece. Doors open at 5pm. Come meet Deb and Stu, learn about their approach to photography and framing the perfect pieces, view and purchase Stu’s stunning photography, and learn how you too can make your own epic journey happen!
We sat down with Stu and learned a little more about his passion of photography, and his round-the-world adventure!
Sunset at The Twelve Apostles monument near Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia. On this particular summer evening, making a memorable image seemed to be a game of cat-and-mouse. The sky started off being perfectly boring and clear in the northwest. Then high wispy clouds rolled in just before the sun sank to the horizon. Finally, it happened – passion in the sky that was reflected back onto the terrain. It went from orange to pink to red and then to a dull ashen gray as the fire in the sky burned itself out. It was an unforgettable evening on the Southern Ocean in the underbelly of the Australian continent along the very scenic Great Ocean Road.
EAS: Tell us about yourself and describe your journey into becoming a photographer.
SGP: Most of my life I’ve been a writer, and I was the last person you would have expected to become a photographer. I was the guy who went on vacation and was reluctant to ever pick up a camera and take pictures. I regarded a camera as a distraction from viewing a beautiful scene or enjoying a beautiful moment with my naked eyes. Then one day in 2009, I took a photo of my youngest son while we were traveling. When I looked at that photo on the computer screen, I was struck by how it seemed to capture the essence of that little boy in this portrait. I was moved by that photo, and I wondered if I could repeat that in other images I might shoot. That’s when I realized that if you’re talking about photography that merely records what you’re seeing or doing, I’m not very interested. But if you’re talking about photography as a means to capture and reflect what you feel about the subject you are shooting, that’s art, and count me in. I was hooked after that epiphany.
Mt. Fitzroy bathed in the golden light of sunrise outside El Chalten, Patagonia, Argentina. Patagonia is a long way away from where I live in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, so when you get to an iconic photography location like this, you are naturally keeping your hopes up that weather conditions will cooperate. On our first two attempts to photograph sunrise at this location, we were disappointed by the cloud cover snuffing out any hope of seeing Fitzroy. But on the third morning, with our bags packed and ready to go, we drove out to this location and were treated to a beautiful sunrise, with dispersing rain clouds that made everything even more dramatic.
EAS: What is your approach to photography?
SGP: To me, photography is a way to train your mind to be constantly attentive and aware. Photography becomes not something to practice only when you have a camera in your hands on weekends, holidays or vacations. Photography trains you to see the world with fresh eyes. It has a way of deepening and enriching our experiences by strengthening our connection to the people and places we encounter on our journey through life. As we make an effort to capture the spirit of a place or person we frame with our cameras, we train our eyes to “see” the extraordinary in the ordinary and “reveal” that which lies below the surface. My “best” images are the best precisely because they capture the raw emotion of the moment I framed the subject in my camera and snapped the shutter button. They trigger not only memories but also emotions. I love it when people look at one of my images and tell me they feel as if they were standing next to me when the image was taken. It doesn’t matter to me whether a place has been photographed by hordes of photographers, seldom photographed, or never photographed. I try to approach each location and person the same way — with gratitude, reverence and humility. They’re all “iconic” subjects to me.
Young male lions act like playful kittens as they await scraps from a zebra kill made by the females in the pride. Through our guide’s knowledge of tracking, nature’s signals provided by an acacia full of vultures, and the warning cry of a kudu, we were able to find and observe a pride of approximately 15 lions in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. The females had just hunted and killed a zebra, but it was the alpha male who enjoyed the first taste of the carcass. The other members of the pride stood back waiting to pounce on what the alpha male left for them.
EAS: Why did you decide to take your family on the round-the-world trip?
SGP: I’ll try to answer this by deferring to the great American novelist, Henry Miller, who said: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
I think that quote brilliantly sums up how a journey can change our perception of reality. Travel and photography have much in common, and like photography, travel teaches us to see the world with fresh eyes. Travel negates our human tendency to cultivate “a disdain for the familiar,” because when you travel, the natural assumption is that nothing is familiar. Everything appears to be new and fresh. Even when things resemble the “old and familiar,” our and eyes and minds seek to find a nuance of difference when we are nomads experiencing new people and places. My wife and I wanted our children to experience new ways of learning outside the confines of the four walls of a classroom. Often we hired naturalist guides to lead us on extended hikes. Our three children, who were ages 8, 10, and 14 at the time, were learning things about the world without even realizing that they were learning. They were learning as children should learn, through a sense of wonder about the world. The journey taught our children that they were capable of much more than they thought. They overcame hiking challenges, foul weather and learned to push themselves beyond their usual boundaries. They became much more independent, self-reliant and self-assured. They returned very different children than when they departed. We were all changed by the sheer magic of seeing and experiencing something new each and every day for almost a year — a rare opportunity in life that was both humbling and inspiring.
A Sami man and his reindeer near the North Cape of Norway, well within the Arctic Circle and the most northerly point of the European continent. What wasn’t there to like about this scene. The dress of the indigenous Sami people, the character etched into the man’s face, his trusty sidekick reindeer munching away on moss and lichens added up to a magical travel photo. I managed to get down very low and shoot up rather than at eye level, giving the man a more impressive stature as he looks off into the distance at my request. The reindeer, on the other hand, totally ignored my requests.
EAS: Where did you visit on your trip?
SGP: We followed the Northern Hemisphere’s summer and then we dropped down into the Southern Hemisphere to avoid severe winters. Our trip started on Father’s Day 2014 by flying from Bend to Iceland. From there we went to Norway, England, Wales, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Greece, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Thailand, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia (including the island of Tasmania), Chile, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Archipelago, Costa Rica, Turks & Caicos. We decided not to return home to Oregon at any time during the journey because that would have made flights out longer and time zone adjustments more difficult when we resumed our trip. The trip required 61 plane flights, 28 boats and 21 trains to complete. The longest single flights were from Greece to South Africa and then from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile. Our longest stay in one country was six weeks in New Zealand; our shortest stay was five days in Cambodia.
The village of Oia on the island of Santorini, Greece is all about beautiful sunset and sunrise light and its iconic blue-domed churches. This was taken at sunrise as the western sky is being lit by a soft golden light over the blue of the Aegean. The colorful stucco homes make for great visual entertainment. As I took this I was thinking what a great jigsaw puzzle this would make. I was also thinking this is one of the most romantic places on earth.
EAS: For those who have always dreamed of traveling around the world, how did you make this adventure happen, especially with a family?
SGP: I still recall the frustration I felt when my wife and I began discussing all the limitations we were experiencing in trying to travel while we still had three school-age children. We felt hog-tied by the fact that we could only travel during the summer months when our children were on vacation. During those months, we knew everyone else would also be traveling. We would have to battle for reservations with large crowds and pay peak season prices, endure long lines for any attractions, as well as sweltering summer heat in some locations we wanted to visit. We wondered aloud how we could get around those obstacles, but we seemed to run into dead-ends with each new idea. Except for one. And it happened to be the most daring and adventurous one of all — take our three kids out of school for a year and travel around the world with them. Fill up our bucket list to the brim, and then spend a year emptying that bucket until we traveled more in 12 months than most people do in a lifetime. It seemed like a gargantuan undertaking. How would we homeschool our children? Were we even capable of homeschooling them? Would they be held back by the school district when we returned? Would they be so far behind their classmates academically that they might never catch up? How would we even begin to make all the reservations for planes, trains, boats, hotels, lodges, hostels, excursions? Not to mention, “How much would this cost?!” When we thought about it, the whole idea seemed overwhelming. But we didn’t let that stop us. As my wife, Anne, put it: “Let’s just take baby steps.”
Sometimes when you put out a call of distress, the universe answers. In our case, my wife’s niece, who had just finished her master’s degree in education in California, had heard about our plans for extensive travel and said she wanted to join us. That was the first major hurdle we managed to leap. On the financial front we sold off some assets, dipped into savings and rented our home. The next hurdle was cleared when our school district gave its blessing to our journey with our children. They would not be penalized in any way for taking off a year, but they would be held responsible for knowing the material they needed to enter the next grade. The trip took over a year to plan and arrange. I personally read Lonely Planet books for each of the 23 countries we visited. We had the good fortune of discovering a company called Zicasso, a San Francisco travel company that put us in touch with travel agents that have boots on the ground in each of the countries we wanted to travel to. We gave those travel agents an itinerary of things we wanted to do and places we wanted to see in their country and they arranged guides, lodging, shuttles, rental cars, excursions, etc. That really made the trip possible.
The first time I tried going out to Angkor Wat temple near Siem Reap, Cambodia, I based my arrival time on the sunrise. Little did I know that the temple opens to the public well before sunrise, and by the time I got to this reflecting pond, all the strategically good spots for photographing the temple with the reflecting pond in the foreground were taken with close to 1,000 assembled for the sunrise spectacle. The next morning, I timed my arrival based on when the temple doors open. In fact, I got there so early that when I went through the main entrance, there was a security guard soundly sleeping in a hammock who was totally startled awake by my arrival. He practically fell out of the hammock, straightened his uniform and put on his hat. Yes, he had been sleeping in his clothes at his post. I was first to arrive at the reflecting pond and got to pick my spot. By the time the sun was lighting the sky, there was a gigantic crowd of people packed in behind me, jostling me to try to get up closer. I was able to stand my ground and get this beautiful image with my camera steadied on a tripod, a must in low light such as this, But I was not able to move my feet for an hour as there were so many people around me. I couldn’t even remove my camera bag because it was so crowded and there was no room. Well worth the short early morning drive to the temple.
EAS: What words of encouragement can you provide to other people who are considering going on an epic adventure?
SGP: Two pieces of advice: be organized and do your research. Also, be very clear in your own mind about why you want to travel extensively, that makes the daily grind of planning for a trip like this easier to endure. Planning this trip reminded me of stacking dominoes — when you changed one thing in the itinerary it affected everything else around it, setting off a cascade of changes. Here’s another tip: no one knows where the beautiful places of the world are located better than leaders of photography workshops. Check out in a magazine devoted to photography where the photo tours go in the country you’d like to visit and you can bet it’ll be worth visiting with you and your family, whether or not you’re an avid photographer. One final thought….it was always the excitement of seeing new places that motivated and energized us to pack our bags and move on to the next destination. Without that enthusiasm for experiencing the “next unknown,” unpacking and repacking our bags, dragging them in and out of taxis, buses, airports, vans, boats and trains, and eating out at countless restaurants would have been one tiresome drudge. It was the mystery and inspiration of the next unknown encounter that drove us on and made traveling a pleasure rather than a chore.
To learn more about Stuart Gordon Photography, visit Chasing the Light!