Sunday, August 12, 2012

Travel Photographer of the Year Exhibition

Image: Poras Choudhary, Travel Photographer of the Year, from

Yesterday I travelled the world - without leaving London. I saw an orangutan emerging from the early morning mists in a Borneo rainforest. Mysterious masked figures stalking the streets of a Mexican town celebrating the Day of the Dead. A group of wrinkled husbands basking outside their houses in the Tuscan afternoon sun, as they have done since they were boys. A tent in Canada aglow underneath the Northern Lights. And a lone adventurer making a jaw-dropping descent as he abseiled a thundering 225m high waterfall.

Image: Thomas Kokta, Travel Photographer of the Year, from
In one of those moments that reminds me why I love London, a friend and I had stumbled across the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition on our way home from a sunny afternoon watching the big Olympic screens in Hyde Park. With no urgent plans, we wandered in.

Just hours earlier, sitting in the crowds watching the games, we had commented that it seemed like all the world was in London right now. And that could never be more true than at the perfectly timed Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Based at the Royal Geographical Society and nestled against a backdrop of the Albert Hall, all corners of the world are brought together for this exhibition, through the eyes of photographers ranging from children to professionals. The displays are spread across the indoor space, the terrace and the lawn - and helpfully there are umbrellas on hand should these be required.

Image: Louis Montrose (overall winner), Travel Photographer of the Year, from
Unlike the better known and doubtlessly amazing Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, this free exhibition was surprisingly quiet and felt more undiscovered - adding to that intrepid traveller feeling.

From the moment we were welcomed by friendly Kiwis on the door, offering us fairy cakes and tea for a suggested donation, we knew we had walked into a simple and unpretentious exhibition which requires no technical or artistic expertise to appreciate its beauty. Like any great travelling experience, it simply reminds you of the joy of the incredible world around us.

Image: Jonathan Munshi, from
We were then taken on a panoramic, all-encompassing journey through epic landscapes, intimate moments and unnoticed details from across the globe.

Each photo is a window into a parallel life. I was struck by how different our lives and landscapes are - and yet there are common themes that bond people wherever they live: daydreaming at work, the exhuberance of childhood, fleeting moments of loneliness in the busiest of places. In fact I think that's what has struck me most about the Olympics - all of humanity united in one place, and the tears, pride and emotions that are felt by all, regardless of where they are from.

Image: GMB Akash, from
It is impossible to choose a highlight from the Travel Photographer of the Year collection. After a lengthy short-listing process, I managed to whittle my postcard selection down to a lean seven images, so that should give you an indication of quite how many times you will say 'Wow!' during this exhibition.

But probably the most surprising was the Polish winner of the Exotic category, whose portfolio of images was taken in none other than our own night-time Soho; a faceless woman with an umbrella against a stark wall. A silhouetted man against the red glow of a sex shop.

Image: Malgorzato Piolo, Travel Photographer of the Year, from
It's a reminder that 'exotic' is in the eye of the beholder. We too live in a city that, for millions (particularly over the last two weeks), is a fascinating, crazy, other-worldly experience. So next time I'm mocked for looking like a tourist as I take a picture on my phone of some pretty little street or window display, I won't mind at all. Anyone and everyone can be a travel photographer, even me.

(Travel Photographer of the Year is currently showing at the Royal Geographical Society on Kensington Gore. Free entry. The exhibition has now been extended until 2 September due to popular demand.)


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