When I began life as a photographer, it became clear that not every type of photography was for me. That was OK, all I really wanted to be was a “travel” photographer. As simple as that may sound, I soon realized that if I could gain expertise in other types of photography like portraiture, sports, journalistic, and landscape, to name a few, the better travel photographer I would be.
So I devoured the photo magazines like Popular Photography, American Photographer, and Modern Photography, and really nearly every other magazine I could lay my hands on, trying to figure out how the photos I liked were created. I studied a lot of pictures!
After a while, the work of several photographers really began to impress me, photographers such as Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, and George Holton.
You’ll notice there is no link to the last one’s website. And that’s a shame.
I was instantly attracted to the work of George Holton. I looked at his photos and said to myself “that’s what I want to do!” He became sort of a role model for me; he was the master whose work epitomized where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. And so I set out to absorb his way of seeing things and make it part of my own creative efforts.
I learned that he was staff photographer for Lindblad Expeditions during those years, a job that I could only dream of. Lindblad traveled the world, looking for the rarest and most unique destinations for those travelers who wanted to really experience the ultimate in travel.
Bamiléké dancers, Cameroon
There were other photographers during those days who also produced vivid, exciting images, especially Turner and Maisel, but Holton was the pure travel photographer and perhaps the last of his breed.
Alas, things were changing rapidly in the travel business and I took my shot at it just when the classic era of travel photography was winding down. The days when major airlines, navigation companies, and magazines kept photographers on staff were quickly receding into the past, but stubborn me persisted anyway.
I learned that Holton kept both a home in Manhattan (where the work was) and on the shores of Lake Atitlán, a fantastically beautiful place in the mountains of Guatemala. I was fortunate enough to visit Atitlán and its surrounding villages several times and two of those times I attempted to visit him at home but both times he was off traveling somewhere else. I never did get to meet him and it was a disappointment that has endured.
A family of Tzutuhil Maya near Holton’s home on Lake Atitlan
The part that really bothers me however is that so little of his work has made its way to the web and so few of today’s travel photographers have even heard of him. It’s not hard to see why: searching for his work on the web, indeed searching for any information about him, yields very little. The photos I did manage to find and include here are just the tip of a wonderfully huge body of work that still deserves to be seen.
A photo booth in Turkey
In my search for information about his life, I’ve tried to contact others from those days who might have known him. I discovered that his son, Thomas Holton, is also a very fine photographer and intends to someday go through his father’s work and publish it online. He was gracious enough to provide a few scanned images for my post.
I once heard that George Holton had photographed in every country of the world, including places that were really off limits in those days, such as Albania, the Soviet Union, and China. I don’t know how true that was and I guess I don’t really care. As far as I’m concerned, he was the most widely traveled photographer ever and, in my view, the best.
Three men and a net, Spain
Eskimo in camouflage hunting in Canada
Portrait of a Peruvian girl
Bull Elephant Seals
Portrait of a home owner in Kenya
A Mayan couple on an early postcard by Holton
Remember that in those days a photographer usually traveled with major quantities of film, at least 100 rolls at a time, and getting those rolls through the newly installed high powered X-ray machines was a constant battle of wits, bravado, and diplomacy. As well, we had to wait until we got home and have it processed before we even knew for sure what we had. Those of us who worked like that truly understand and appreciate the blessings of today’s digital environment!
I don’t recall ever having seen most of these photos posted here so they were a delightful discovery for me. Many are especially unique because the world has changed so that much of what existed then is just gone forever.
I don’t know if others can see his influence in my work, but I sure can. If you did, perhaps you might anticipate the re-discovery of Holton and his travel photography as much as I do!
(George Holton died in China of a heart attack in 1979.)
Now for some other travel photography from the olden days!