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  • by Jamie Foley

Taylor Roades: The culture of tourism

Travel photography has long provided a view of elusive cultures and landscapes around the world. Though we might not have stood outside the busy gates of Angkor Wat in Cambodia or walked the sandy beaches of Bali, photos allow us to appreciate these sites. However, while the locations may appear desirably exotic and enticing, travel photography comes with a unique and diverse set of challenges.

Seeking out awe-inspiring vistas, surreal ruins where even the dark corners whisper of their epic history, or local mouth-watering specialties take time and effort. Besides the anxiety a photographer may face being in a foreign location, language barriers and customs can also prove challenging. Travel photography is in fact a combination of any number of different types of photography: landscape, portrait, food, fashion, etc. It often requires documentation of the site or events leading up to the moment captured, and while a landscape may set the scene, the portraits of the people within the landscape often bring that scene to life. Imagine you’re in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, where every breath of air smells just a little exotic. Imagine a golden bottle of whiskey. At the bottle’s base, a snake is coiled as though ready to strike, but a bartender is nonchalantly using it to pour you a drink. You lift your camera and take a shot that will later bring your friends and family into that moment, even if they have never traveled to Asia. That’s travel photography.

Taylor Roades has made a career out of “exploring the world with a purpose.” She is a travel photographer based out of Guelph, Ontario. Roades travelled as a child; however, it was while she was volunteering in Uganda that her hobby turned into a passion. Her time there was eye-opening, confirming stories she’d heard about the poverty and health care challenges facing the people of that small African nation, and proving for her that moments experienced first-hand can add depth not otherwise understood from a distance.

Roades found her calling as a photographer in university a short time later. While sitting at her laptop doing research, she came across a picture of a photographer taking a photo of a whale. “It was incredible,” she recalls, “and I remember sitting at my desk thinking about how I was going to tell my mom I wanted to be a photographer.”

Since then, Roades has combined her love of travel with a passion for seeking out that perfect shot. Projects have brought her to remote corners of the planet, some questionable at best, but she’s found that it’s when she’s truly off the beaten track that the most fantastic opportunities arise. In such situations she has often used photography as a way to connect across a language barrier both with locals and with other photographers she has met along the way. Her career had most recently culminated into an exhibition, titled The Culture of Tourism. The Culture of Tourism is an evocative examination of the impact tourism has on communities around the world. Examples are taken from Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, the United States, Canada, and the Dominican Republic. The inspiration for the project originated while Roades was traveling in Thailand near the Myanmar border. While there, Roades learned tourists could pay to see tribal women who have stretched their necks using a series of metal rings. While this was done historically, the practice is no longer part of modern-day customs.

However, because of demands driven by tourism in the region, the practice has been reintroduced. Girls are forced from a very young age to wear the rings, thus helping bring money into the community. This practice poses significant risks to the girls themselves, who cannot later remove the rings that now act in place of their vertebrae to support their heads. “It was like a human zoo,” Roades recalls. “I was stunned. There are both good and bad things that come with tourism, so it is really important to be aware of the ethics of traveling.” This thought planted the seed that grew into The Culture of Tourism. The project focuses on a collection of scenes that demonstrate the impact tourism has had globally. In an image from Bali, vendors sell racks of knock-off Ray-Bans to motorcyclists riding cheap rental bikes; while a photograph from Vietnam shows tourists tossing litter into a concrete crocodile pen in an effort to make the scaly amphibians move.

One of the most striking shots is of a man holding a dozen diamond wedding rings strung together on a roll of black cloth. “I came across this man while walking along a beach in the Dominican Republic,” Roades says. “Every day he goes swimming along the beach with his metal detector, searching for rings tourists have lost. I was blown away when he pulled out his findings. Standing before me was a real-life treasure hunter, his job and his remuneration the direct result of the tourism industry.”

Each image in the collection speaks to a different way in which the world has been changed by tourism. The exhibition challenges viewers to be more aware of the impact they have on the communities they visit.

For aspiring travel photographers or travel addicts looking for that next perfect shot, Roades observed that, “having the best gear or a certain lens is not going to make or break your shot.” Instead, she recommends taking the gear you’re familiar with and spending the extra money on traveling longer. She says, “My best experiences involved taking the time to step out of my comfort zone, befriend locals, try new foods, wander into more remote areas, all while leaving my expectations behind.”

Roades’ The Culture of Tourism exhibition appeared on display at several venues in Guelph, Ontario, and can now be found on her website.

This article previously appeared in our Winter Issue in 2013. Get it in PRINT - HERE

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