As a Martha’s Vineyard based photographer my summers are absolute madness–juggling multiple shoots a day, delivering client proofs, running a business, meeting up with seasonal friends, and taking in all the Island action we wait for all year. At RBP, wedding season is also a blur, which usually takes place over the spring and fall months. That leaves the winter time to finally reflect, catch up, and get inspired for the new season ahead. Fortunately, this quiet time on Martha’s Vineyard affords me the flexibility to travel, experience new places, meet new people and discover unexpected inspiration–this is my mission every time that I travel.
As a photographer I am obviously drawn to the aesthetic of a new place, often struck by its landscape and the differences or similarities it may share with home. More than that though, I am captivated by its people, its culture, its constant or emerging struggles and its rich history. I always make time to explore the roads less traveled, interact with the locals, and appreciate a new location for its true essence, not the postcard version that it’s come to be known for. Living on Martha’s Vineyard, with its own idyllic perceptions, has made me especially aware of how important it is to take the time to truly understand a new place.
I recently returned from a trip to Portugal that both inspired and intrigued me. Our visit included some time in Lisbon, the capital city, both charismatic and energetic, and a city that effortlessly blends cultural heritage with modern thinking. We also visited Nazaré in the Silver Coast, a sleepy village that has recently become a mecca for big wave surfing, and is now faced with its shifting identities as a result. Both locations, unique in their own right, offered a snapshot at the types of lives that have been lived there and the conditions that have informed the country’s collective past.
Portugal is a southern European country on the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain. Its location on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture, similar to Martha’s Vineyard. In Portugal, grilled sardines are a national dish–something you expect to find everywhere. It’s ubiquitous with the place, much like the lobster roll is to Martha’s Vineyard. Imagine my concern when I learned that there was a recent moratorium on sardine harvesting, meaning that those coveted sardines could not be caught in the place known most for its sardines.
Apparently their stocks in the nearby waters have plummeted in recent years, and the moratorium is an attempt to help replenish the supply. I witnessed the scarcity first hand during my visit, when a trip to the fish market offered only one vendor selling sardines, and they were from Spain. Here I was, in a place known for its seafood, unable to enjoy the native fish and furthermore curious as to what it means for the country, for the local fishing industry and for the men and women who rely on these fish for a living.
Particularly, as a resident of a seaside place, in an ever changing world that is rapidly depleting its natural resources, I have become deeply fascinated with how communities will be forced to evolve with these changing seas. While the sardine moratorium in Portugal has since been lifted, 2018 marks the fourth consecutive year that there has been a restriction, and the threat of the species is not going away. What does that mean for the industry and the fishermen? And the locals and tourists who rely on finding sardines on their plates as has been customary throughout the country’s history?
Many coastal communities like Portugal are now facing hard realities as a result of overfishing, changes in water temperature and global ocean circulation cycles. Unfortunately, these concerns are mounting and they will require the work of many to be thoughtfully addressed. I’m curious what innovations are taking place, or being considered in efforts to thwart the demise of these species we are so reliant on? What new methods of farming are happening to help offset some of the decline? What creative measures are taking place to ensure the sustainability of our oceans and our seafood? And what will people be forced to do when it’s too late to be thinking out of the box?
As an advocate for the environment and food security these are the types of questions I want to explore, and these are the types of issues I concern myself when I visit such places. What can we be learning from the Portuguese, and vice versa, as we encounter our own issues here?
Looking ahead I have plans to visit West Africa and Central America in the coming months. I’ll be in Senegal, another coastal community being affected by overfishing and changing conditions of the sea, and I look forward to learning about how these issues are being addressed there. I’ll also spend time in Nicoya, Costa Rica, a Blue Zone region, which refers to a part of the world where people commonly live past the age of 100 years, and a phenomenon I’ve become fascinated by. I’m hoping to continue to explore other Blue Zones and gather learnings I can apply to my own life. What is the secret to longevity and how does the place that you live and the resources you consume contribute to happiness and a life well lived. Wouldn’t you like to know? I know I would.
If you’re planning any travel this year please take the time to think about the issues that affect the part of the world that you’re visiting and find out what’s being done about it. You’ll find your experience far more meaningful when you thoughtfully immerse yourself in the culture and become part of the conversation. After all, travel should change you. Anthony Bourdain once said “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”