What's it like to be a writer AND photographer? ReaderViews sat down with author Vicki Landes to talk about her new book, Europe for the Senses.
ReaderViews: Thanks for talking with us today Vicki. We are interested to hear more about you, and your beautiful photography book “Europe for the Senses: A Photographic Journal.” Would your start off by telling us what your book is about, and what you are trying to convey through the photos?
Vicki: “Europe for the Senses – A Photographic Journal” is a travel/photography book meant to do more than just display European destinations. It’s a collection of photography and creative writing meant to transport the reader to each respective destination with stimulating sensory imagery. Experience the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touch that make Europe a remarkable compilation of uniquely beautiful countries. Whether a novice or a seasoned traveler, EFTS hopes to invoke a craving for Europe – not only for the major attractions that attract so many but the small, much overlooked details waiting to be discovered.
RV: Vicki, where were you born, and where are you living now?
Vicki: I was born in St. Charles, Missouri and stayed there until I left for college. My family hardly traveled so I never considered exploring other places. My husband and I had been living in Kansas City, Missouri for a couple years when he received military orders to Stuttgart, Germany. I was livid – I’d just graduated college, we’d just bought a house and I’d just had a baby so I went to Germany literally kicking and screaming. After about six months, though, I really got into seeing new places and we’ve been living in Stuttgart for seven years now! Since my husband is active duty Army, he had to extend a couple of times (tours are normally three years) and he did so only because I loved it here so much.
RV: Since living in Stuttgart, Germany, you have traveled to 45 countries. Would you comment on your obvious love for travel? And, have these destinations been predominately for your photography pursuits?
Vicki: When I moved over here, I was shocked at how rich the European history was. In the states, we can visit something ‘historic’ which only ends up being a couple hundred years old at the most. In Europe, though you can visit places that are literally a thousand years old…sometimes even older! This is absolutely amazing to me and I can’t seem to get enough of this. I’ve been to thousand-year-old monasteries where you can walk up to the ancient stone columns that are supporting the massive roof and wrap your arms around them to feel the cold stone on your cheek (you couldn’t get away with this in the states without an alarm going off and getting tackled by security). I’ve explored the inside of mines that predate the time of Christ. ‘Newer’ destinations can include gothic cathedrals, baroque palaces, or World War I monuments. There’s no end to what is out there to discover. Europeans really understand the importance of their history and the need to preserve it. No, the photography has not driven the destinations – it’s actually the opposite. I’ll visit something I’m truly interested in and I just always keep a camera in tow.
RV: What inspired you to write “Europe for the Senses”?
Vicki: I didn’t even consider writing a book until my grandparents suggested it. After every trip I take, I send an email with attached pictures out to friends and family describing the places I’d just been. I didn’t just want to share the pictures, I wanted them to feel what I’d felt when I was standing there. I wanted them to get a sense of what that particular place stood for – whether it was a famous place or something nobody had heard of. Europe is chock full of unforgettable things and viewing Big Ben can be just as profound as being the lone soul exploring castle ruins on a mountaintop. I also came to realize that many people are afraid to travel to new places – even other military families abroad. It can be difficult to step outside of our comfort zones, especially in the uncertain times we live in today. I didn’t want to just write a book with travel information – there are plenty of those out there (which I use religiously!). Instead, I wanted to convey Europe in such a way that might make taking that first travel step a bit easier. If you develop a yearning for something, it’s not as scary to do.
RV: Which countries do your spotlight in “Europe for the Senses” and are these your favorite places in Europe? Why do you think Europe lends itself so well to photography?
Vicki: I have 15 different countries spotlighted in “Europe for the Senses”. Germany and Italy are concentrated on heavily because they seem to be the most popular among tourists (and they are my two favorites!). The other countries include: Switzerland, Austria, England, The Netherlands, Iceland, The Vatican (it’s a country all to itself!), Hungary, The Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Romania, as well as a couple from Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Republic of Georgia.
I think there are a couple reasons why Europe lends itself so well to photography. First, Europe is vastly different as you travel from place to place. You don’t have to go far to shoot snow-capped mountains or flourishing vineyards. There can be an entire spectrum of environments and cultures within a short flight or drive just waiting to be captured on film (or on your memory stick J ). Second, as you travel you can visit sites that have survived some of the most destructive forces of nature and man – photographing these places feels like you are preserving a bit of history. No matter what happens, they will live forever in your photographs.
RV: Are the photographs in “Europe for the Senses” of the major tourist attractions? How did you narrow down the ones that you feature in your book?
Vicki: I’ve mixed a bit of world-famous sites with little-known ones. I don’t think you should come to Europe just to see the Big Bens and the Leaning Towers. Even the smallest detail of a little-known place can be ‘the one’ that stays in your heart long after the trip is over.
Picking which destinations would be in the book was very difficult – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of the places I’ve been to. I poured through hundreds and hundreds of shots in my collection and found the ones that seemed to sing out. There were a few that I ended up cutting out before we got to the final layouts. I wanted to ensure that there were places that people would definitely associate with vacations (such as Germany and Italy) but a few that would make people stop and say, “Wow, I can vacation there? I’ve never considered this place before!”
RV: When did you discover you had a talent for photography?
Vicki: I started taking photography classes in 4-H when I was in elementary school. My dad was the instructor and a few years into it, I won my first photography contest (much to my surprise). I’ve been taking pictures for most of my life but never considered sharing them until my grandparents suggested the book – that’s probably when I realized I actually had a talent for it J
RV: Your narrative that accompanies the photographs is a significant part of the full-sensory experience of your book. Would you give us an idea of your writing style, and your thoughts about using writing to bring life to your photographs?
Vicki: There are many photography books out there that have a ‘forward’ at the beginning and then use only captions to identify the shots. I wanted my book to be different – vivid descriptions of each section would truly put the reader into the pictures. I wanted people to really feel what it would be like to stand in the middle of an endless tulip field in Holland – touching the soft petals and gazing at the spectrum of colors or savoring the breathtaking Tuscan countryside with all of your senses – not just your eyes. Each of these places can leave you with such a deep, multifaceted memory if you don’t rush through them.
RV: Did you have professional training in photography or creative writing?
Vicki: About 5 years worth of 4-H photography classes and regular coaching and practice from my dad over the years. We had a dark room in the basement so he taught me how to develop film and reduce/enlarge from negatives. I’ve had no formal creative writing training other than through school over the years. I’m currently working on my Masters degree so I’ve taken plenty of writing classes.
RV: Vicki, the senses are a predominate theme for your book. Would you comment on the importance of enlisting all the senses when traveling, and how you’ve personally come to this conclusion?
Vicki: When I first started traveling, I wanted to just see as much as possible – that meant rushing through to cram it all in. The weekends ended up being a blur and my memory of the trip not only included the destination, but the feeling of rushing around, lack of sleep, and a cranky husband and son. I soon realized that although I was seeing quite a bit, I wasn’t left with a profound memory of the destination. When I started slowing down and becoming aware of what I was smelling, how the warm sun felt (or the chilly rain), or how I lost my breath at the sight, the trip became an experience. I don’t just remember what something looked like now – my nose remembers, my skin remembers, and my heart remembers.
RV: Would you explain to us your own personal vision of taking photography that awakens the senses?
Vicki: When I’m viewing a potential site, I see lighting and symmetry as most important. It’s amazing how a tiny step to one side or another can completely change how the light strikes and where the balance lies. I’ll take several shots from several different angles and the LCD screen on my camera lets me check the picture immediately. I’ve been known to sprawl on the floor of a cathedral (I’ve gotten pretty good at a ‘respectful sprawl’ in these places J ) or stand in the middle of a road to get the right shot.
RV: Why do you think a photograph can leave such a powerful imprint on someone’s memory?
Vicki: A photograph is like a piece of the real thing. Those that long to visit a certain destination only need to view a picture to get that heartache. They say that ‘eyes are the windows to the soul’ – if you can see someone’s soul by looking into their eyes, the soul can see out and experience that photograph – that piece of the real place – and be left with an emotional impression.
RV: Which countries would you still like to visit?
Vicki: Plenty! I haven’t been to Ireland yet and I’ve got family roots there (apparently, we come from a line of Irish grave robbers). I also haven’t been to Spain or Portugal yet. I don’t limit myself to Europe, either…I’ve visited 12 African countries so far and I want to see several more!
RV: How can readers find out more about you and your book?
Vicki: Visit my website at www.EuropeForTheSenses.com – it’s got book information, reviews, press spots (including my press release and coverage from TV, radio, magazine, and newspapers), and more. I’ve got links to my blog and my online photography galleries where you can view and purchase every single print from the book. I also offer a free newsletter that features a different destination each week! Readers can email me with questions – I get plenty of questions that range from asking about a specific place to how I got published.