I’ve been the Director of Photography at the travel publication AFAR Magazine since its inception in 2008. And before joining AFAR in its San Francisco office, I was a photo editor in New York City for publications like BlackBook, Talk, InStyle, and Lucky. As part of my job, I collaborate with photographers and research new talent. Over the years, I've found several photographers who excel at telling stories with their imagery. Here are three of them.
Dina Litovsky's Point of View
In every issue of AFAR, we publish an article called "Spin the Globe." It came from the idea of sending someone to a destination almost blindly. They're told where and when at the last minute by the editor who pulls a city name out of a thinly sliced opening of a classroom globe. There's very little to no preparation, just a reliance on whatever story develops after the flight lands.
In June 2017, after almost eight years of AFAR sending only writers for "Spin the Globe," we decided to send a photographer. I looked for someone who could hit the ground with little research and no focus, just a hired guide and a hasty logistical prep. The photographer would have to lay out a visual narrative as it was being experienced. The photographer I thought well-suited for the task was Dina Litovsky.
Dina Litovsky uses subtle manipulation of light as a storytelling tool.
Dina is an impressive storyteller. Her dynamic work is found throughout the pages of The New York Times' T Magazine, New York Magazine, and National Geographic (to list a few). While considering her for AFAR’s assignment, I dove into her personal projects, which mostly focused on women in public spaces and on the street. I was inspired by both her strong compositions and fascinating subjects. They tended to be pulled from very specific subcultures: twenty-something club hoppers in New York’s Meat Packing District or Amish and Mennonite vacationers in a small neighborhood in Sarasota, Florida. Both felt honest and the subjects in them appeared to comfortably exist in their natural state. Dina, however, might tell you otherwise; subtle manipulation is a part of her storytelling. In the British Journal of Photography, she said, “Reality can be manipulated in many ways; my current weapon of choice is light. I use an off-camera flash to transform moments into photographic fiction; it is my judgment on the scene and subject.”
Chance sent Dina to Tel Aviv, a city she had a deep curiosity about but had never visited. I was excited by the fact that a female Ukrainian-born New York artist would randomly explore the hectic Mediterranean streets of Tel Aviv.
However, putting a photographer on the road with no direction, call sheet, or mission can be challenging and quite stressful. What is the story that needs to be told there? What is her point of view? Anyone could just shoot snapshots of the surroundings, but Dina needed a narrative, a complete thought, and she basically had hours to come up with one.
“One day, my guide explained that a tel in Hebrew is an archaeological site—a hill made up of layers of civilizations built on top of one another," Dina remembers. “And I thought, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ That’s what I wanted to capture, layers of people with the city as the background. I used photography to make sense of the chaos.”
Rose Marie Cromwell: No Clichés Allowed
As the Director of Photography at a travel magazine, I come across the visual clichés far too often, and that's true of no place on this planet more than the country of Cuba. Photographer Rose Marie Cromwell’s book El Libro Supremo de la Suerte is a body of work that is completely devoid of the expected. The artful nuances she captures stand out from contemporaries, and I bookmarked her website the moment I laid eyes on it.
El Libro Supremo de la Suerte stems from an eight-year personal project focused on the country. The work appears both political and autobiographical and extremely intimate. There are none of those expected classic cars honking around Havana, no old men sucking on a Montecristo or local teenage boys hurling themselves off the Malecon. Instead, she focused on the fleeting, emotional, and private moments that seem to happen in a magical world, just for her.
Rose has shot two assignments for AFAR, and for both she told her story completely devoid of stereotypical travel clichés. The first was shot in Key West and the second, Puerto Rico. They focus on the tiny, intimate moments she has become known for.
Piero Percoco: Telling Personal Stories
In the last 10 years, Instagram has had an undeniable influence on contemporary photography. Some might say it has completely changed the way stories are told; for photo editors like myself, it has in the very least opened doors to a vast wealth of talented individuals who may never have been known to us without the platform. One of those photographers is Piero Percoco. Like so many amazing feeds I’ve come across, I don’t remember what rabbit-hole I fell into to reach his account. but I recall being captivated instantly by Piero’s little corner of the world, and by his style, which is whimsical yet incredibly bold, colorful, and compositionally graphic.
Piero lives in Sannicandro di Bari, a small village in the Puglia region of Italy. Back in 2013 he opened an Instagram account under the handle The Rainbow is Underestimated. As you scroll through the years of The Rainbow is Underestimated, you encounter quirky and unexpected depictions of his family, his neighbors, the old people on the local beach, and these human elements are juxtaposed with simple everyday objects like a watermelon cut down the center, the plant on the edge of a table, or a fly-swatter.
Together, all of these photos over so many years tell a clear story of the town and the artist who lives there. With each image on his feed, Piero sends a personalized postcard to the thousands of people eagerly awaiting the next installment of life in the village.
Tara Guertin is quite a traveler herself. You can see some of her journeys on her Instagram, @lostluggage.