Genius loci

[Genius Loci] May 2023

1 May 2023


Last month, I all but ignored the narrative section of The Hill of the Skull (which I’ll refer to as THOTS below) and turned my attention to image editing and sequencing.

In photobookland, image editing doesn’t refer “image processing” using software like Photoshop and Lightroom. Image editing is the tougher job of selecting images.

I came back from the Andes with over five thousand images. Three thousand of those photos were taken in Quillacollo during the time period that corresponds with THOTS. I took so many in Quillacollo because I used continuous high speed shooting during the parades to freeze the action.

After I reviewed all the images last September, I had a longlist of about 300 photos.

And after a few more culling sessions, I settled on about 125 images in the “shortlist.”

I made small prints of the shortlisted photos (about the size of standard index cards) and stuck them to my wall.

For the next few months, I studied and rearranged the images.

Eventually, I got a working set of about 80 images.

But producing a photobook with words is a complicated thing.

When at the beginning of this year I deleted half of the narrative section, I had to edit the images again.

The back-and-forth between the text and the images was difficult, but now I have a tight narrative and a tight set of images.

I’m still trying to sequence the images in a coherent way and I think I’ve landed on an interesting arrangement.

Later today (Monday, May 1), I’m speaking with a photographer on Zoom to get feedback on the latest arrangement. I’ve Zoomed with him several times already, and his feedback has been helpful in the evolution of the project.

Apart from that, I’ve been getting production quotes from printers around the world.

And I’ve been working on the book’s design — the book’s title font will be the handwriting of Huamán Poma, a 16th-century Quechua nobleman famous for chronicling the poor treatment of the native Andean peoples by the Spanish.

I cannot wait to share more with you.

Shattering illusions

As a result of this project, I have been forced to confront a harsh reality: producing quality work takes time.

The process has shattered some of my illusions and given me a newfound appreciation for the effort required to create something valuable.

I could have finished the project at the end of last year. But I chose to sit with it, to keep working at it.

I wanted to aim high, to try my hand at producing something worthwhile and interesting.

Some of us carry the illusion that the work of a travel writer and travel photographer is mostly travel; that the art and craft of writing or photography are afterthoughts.

But the opposite is true.

To understand the real work of a travel writer or travel photographer, one must look past the adjective.

The job (if we can call it that) requires a creative energy and a high level of curiosity most people don’t have.

It requires more time in an office chair than in the seat of an airplane.

This is a job that demands not only technical skill, but also a certain level of creativity and artistry.

I’m convinced that good work requires time. But good work requires a special kind of time: downtime.

Downtime is essential for creative restoration and gaining perspective. It affords the mind rest. It helps us make new connections and see our work in new light.

Time away from our work is important. Schedule rest. Schedule recharge.

Now, onto what you came for:

My work

I interviewed Leon McCarron about his new book Wounded Tigris on the Travel Writing World podcast. Listen here or in your favorite podcasting app.

Cory Mortensen, the author of The Buddha and the Bee: Biking Through America’s Forgotten Roadways, answers a few questions about his career and his work on Travel Writing World.

I wrote about a ceremony on the shores of Lake Titicaca in my other newsletter Drifting.


Jen Rose Smith writes about climate change and oral histories in her latest for Sierra.

The journal Panorama has been resurrected. More info here.

The Nan Shepherd Prize announced via Twitter that the awards will return this year. Submissions announcement forthcoming.

The Folio Society has published a new edition of The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux. It includes 24 full-color photographs and a new introduction by Theroux.


Have you seen these stunning images of earth taken by the crew of the International Space Station?

Sophy Roberts interviews British photojournalist (and octogenarian) Don McCullin in her podcast Gone to Timbuktu.

Audio & miscellanea

Explore the world through field recordings. The Cities and Memory website has a database of world sounds pinpointed on a map. They also have an “obsolete sounds” section that includes the sound of… a melting glacier.

Ryan Murdock discusses Eastern Europe and its history with Jacob Mikanowski, author of the new book Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land.

Back matter

That’s it for this month.

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