Justin Fox – A History of Postcards from the Road

“I was given my first Nikon at the age of 12, just before a family trip to Europe. Since then, photography has always been associated with travel for me. Photographing and writing became ways of capturing my journeys. This developed into a passion that has grown over the years. When I joined Getaway magazine 13 years ago, it also became my job.

Initially my photography was simply about recording as much as possible in the short time available on an assignment. The style was that of the ‘wish you were here’ postcard. Over time my vision started to change. I planned to spend much longer periods in places where the photography would be fruitful. Rather than shoot continually, I now sought just  few images that would capture the genius loci, the spirit of place. This trajectory has led me away from pure photojournalism towards creating images that will say something more about a space, that will convey my feelings about the place … and that will last.

My subject matter has tended to be primarily landscapes and seascapes. Although, in the quest to find the essence of an environment, my subject matter is often very diverse. The photographic project that first propelled me into a new way of working and looking, was an assignment to Mozambique in 1999. That trip awakened me to the light, texture and colours of East Africa. I’ve returned every year since then to photograph in that remarkable country. Driving down the escarpment off South Africa’s bleak highveld in winter I’m always struck by the rich, saturated colours. The light has a luminescent quality and the intense hues of capulanas (sarongs), brightly coloured dhows, shops filled with tropical fruit and garish Chinese goods heighten the colour overload. Pictures from these Mozambican trips were collected in a book, Under the Sway (Umuzi, 2007).

There have been many other journeys and photographic projects around Africa. I have found Mali and Ethiopia particularly creative spaces, so too Namibia for its breathtaking landscapes. In each environment I try to capture only one or two images that will convey a timeless moment, that will give the viewer something of the essence of that place. My underlying motivation is to inspire an ethic of conservation. It’s about celebrating the diversity of the continent, as opposed to the homogenising influences of globalisation. In seeking the essence of an older Africa, my pictures are an implicit warning against the losses that global warming, unchecked development, corruption and human greed can wreak.

Because I am a travel writer as much as a photographer, I see my words and pictures as being integrally linked. Most of my photographs are accompanied by text and I use the two mediums interchangeably. I will often ‘take notes’ with my camera or ‘capture images’ with my pen. I don’t see a strong distinction between the two when working. Thus I like my photographs to be viewed in conjunction with my words, as the two feed off and complement each other.

Much of my photography was originally done on film. Mine was a very late and reluctant conversion to digital. I love the warm, soft, incandescent glow that Fuji Velvia film provided. In switching to digital, I have tried to recreate the qualities of Velvia in my photographs. As my images are a form of nostalgia, warmth and rich textures are important to me. Having said that, there are times when a harsher, more brutal treatment of light and contrast is appropriate to the mood I’m trying to convey.”

Justin Fox is currently editor-at-large for Getaway travel magazine. Over more than a decade he has travelled the length and breadth of Africa writing and photographing for the magazine. Assignments have seen him crossing the Sahara by camel, exploring the highlands of Ethiopia, sailing the coast of East Africa by dhow and ballooning over the wildebeest migration in Kenya. His photographs have appeared in dozens of cover stories and portfolios, and he has taken more than 35 cover shots.

Justin was a Rhodes Scholar and received a doctorate in English literature from Oxford University (1995) after which he was a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, where he now teaches part time. His articles have appeared internationally in a number of publications and on a wide range of topics including literary criticism, history, yachting and architecture, while his short stories and poems have appeared in various anthologies. He has written scripts and directed award-winning documentaries and is a two-time Mondi journalism award winner (1999 and 2004).

Some recent books include With Both Hands Waving (Kwela Books, 2002), Just Add Dust (Kwela, 2004), Cape Town Calling (Tafelberg, 2007), Under the Sway (Umuzi, 2007) and Africa Lens (Jacana, 2009). His latest book, The Marginal Safari: Scouting the Edge of South Africa, is due out towards the end of 2010.

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