I ran across the photography above while doing a history "string" search. This is what I call it when I find something interesting and begin searching for more information than is readily available. This takes me from one person or event to another, as I trace back the "strings" that link all events and people together.
In this particular case, I was searching for the "Ross Sisters" and act of three very talented sisters that became popular in the late 1940's. This is one of the sisters after her performance life had ended with her husband. This picture really struck me because it is a perfect travel portrait of the 1950's as we see the airliner in the background, the couple is dressed up and all smiles.
This got me thinking about today's travel portraits, so I went on Unsplash to see how modern photographers interpret the concept of travel.
So how has travel and travel portraits changed over the years? This seems to be a topic fit for a dissertation and something that could never be properly covered in a blog post. But I still believe it is worth looking into, however superficially it might be.
Travel photography has changed, because our notions of travel has changed. In the 1940's the world was at war. People were focused on helping the war effort, or surviving it. As the 1940's came to a close, a booming economy developed as the world rebuilt itself. As the 1950's came, people had money and wanted to travel to see the world. Aviation had gained considerable ground during and after the war so people took to the skies.
Airliners competed to offer a more opulent experience, catering to upper class people by promising luxury. Flight attendants and pilots were viewed as people embracing the modern era. These were the jobs of the future. People, focused more on the travel and less on the destination.
We see this approach to travel throughout the 1950's, 60's and into the 70's and then things begin to change. In the 1980's the goal was to bring travel to the mass population. Competition from rival airline companies was making it impossible to only focus on the upper class. If they wanted to grow, they had to find a way to make it affordable.
Cheaper fares meant putting more people on board the airplanes, this meant less room and less time for service. Airports needed to find faster ways to move people around, tarmac boarding of planes took too long. Skybridges were created, separating you from the mode of transport you were using.
As we enter the 1990's we see the transformation accelerate and as airplane flights became more economical it lost the social status it once had. Airplane safety became a concern with hijackings and accidents. Entering airports became less of a runway to show off new fashion and became a security process. In short, people began to hate travel. And so we focused on the destination.
And so our notion of travel changed and we began reconsidering the destination and reason for travel. A concept began being perpetuated that travel means personal growth. Young people finishing high school began traveling before university. This began extending to young people looking for ways to continually travel.
YouTube today is filled with "van life" concepts or "making money while traveling". The goal of travel is no longer about a destination it has become a way of life. The social pressure is not about buying a house, having kids or even getting a good job. Social pressures are about how to avoid all of those things for as long as possible.
As travel changed, so too has our approach to travel and our images of it as well. So the next time you look at an image of a young person living out of a van, or finding themselves in some small isolated town, hut or mountain, you know the history of how they got there. My only question is where will they go next?
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.