A Photo Made Me Do It

Candice Gaukel Andrews September 2, 2009 9

I don’t believe we have this time of day in Wisconsin. ©Eric Rock

I once traveled 5,500 miles from home because of a photograph.

I saw it by chance one late fall afternoon, while skimming through a tour-company catalog that had just arrived in my mailbox. Walking back down the road from getting my post—I live in a semirural area—I thumbed through the publication’s colorful and glossy pages. While the images they held were all beautiful in their own way—mostly depicting azure oceans, grass-green jungles and coffee-colored bears—one particular photo stopped me in my tracks.

The photo was predominantly red in color and showed the sharpest, jaggiest mountain peaks I had ever seen. It had been taken at the time of day when the light was sultry and soft; a time of day I don’t believe we have in Wisconsin or, if we do, I’ve never seen it. These ragged points in the Andes Mountains looked as if they were enveloped in a warm, comforting fire that burned somewhere off the page, but with flames that didn’t destroy.

Looking up to the headline, I saw that the photo was illustrating a trip to Patagonia. Until that afternoon, I had never dreamed of traveling to Patagonia; never even had it on my radar screen. But that day, when I saw that photo, I knew that Patagonia was where I had to go.

The catalog was the 2006-2007 edition from Natural Habitat Adventures. (At the time, like most of you, I was on NatHab’s mailing list since I had taken a few of their other trips.) The photo was the creation of one of NatHab’s naturalist guides, Eric Rock. Why it touched some part of me so deeply is something I’ve been trying to figure out ever since.

Was it the rich color, the particular perspective, or the exact cropping that so moved me? Was it something that had nothing to do with what was inherent in the photo itself—could it just have been that with the leaves beginning to turn crimson and scarlet all around me, I happened to be in tune with that hue that fall day? Was it a random glitch in the catalog’s binding that made the book naturally open to that page and cause my eye to linger a bit too long, sparking a connection?

I knew that Patagonia was where I had to go. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

As a writer, I admit that I am sometimes jealous of photographers. No matter how compelling I think the magazine, book or ad copy I’ve written is or how enticing the headline, what makes people want to stop to read the words is almost always the image. Conduct your own experiment; just glance at any brochure or article and notice what catches your attention first.

Last month in this column, we talked about why you choose to travel. I travel to understand my home a little bit better. Joan Campbell, in a comment, wrote about her reason. Joan’s mother had told her that travel was a good investment because “once you’ve taken a trip, it can’t be stolen or lost, and you can’t be taxed out of it.”

But once we’ve decided that we want to travel, what is it inside us that makes us want to go there? For me, it once was a photograph. But can a phrase, a book, a poem, a film or a simple recommendation from a friend do the same thing? When it comes to travel, does anything touch us as much as an image?

How do you select which part of the world you need to travel to? Please post your answer below.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. John Thomas September 5, 2009 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I while back, my wife was toying with the idea of taking a trip to Churchill to see polar bears. We usually travel together, but this trip took place at a time that I couldn’t really get away. One evening when I came home from work and found a photograph taped to the door, showing a polar bear lying in the sun with her cub sleeping on her back, I knew someone was taking a trip! Later, I was able to experience some of what she had seen through the pictures she had taken. Those pictures were worth many thousand words.

  2. Nine Quiet Lessons September 4, 2009 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    I often find a story set in a real-world location makes me want to travel there. For example, I never really thought about going to the Antarctic before I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.”

  3. Paula September 4, 2009 at 8:08 am - Reply

    We (my husband, daughter [in high school] and son [in college]) went to France in June. My husband and I had both been there, but the kids had not traveled internationally except to Canada. So, why France? I was a French major (among other things); I love Paris, and our daughter thought she would, too; the kids have studied French since they were in grade school, so we figured they would have the best shot there at speaking the language; my husband really wanted to see Provence because he had been to Paris several times but not other places; and, we’d been meaning to do this for years and figured this would be the last realistic chance we’d have to take our son with us before he got too far afield in his college pursuits. Plus, he had just completed a college French class and had all kinds of current knowledge about cultural issues and such.

    I really longed to go back to Paris, and it was great!

  4. Christy O'Brien September 3, 2009 at 9:52 am - Reply

    While images, films and music can certainly spark my interest in a place, my real inspiration comes most often from the people around me – the look in their eyes as they return in their minds to the places they have loved. Seeing a person’s enthusiasm about a place and knowing that the beauty of their experience still bubbles up within them…that sparks my interest.

  5. Megan September 3, 2009 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Like you said, Candy: “The photo was predominantly red in color and showed the sharpest, jaggiest mountain peaks I had ever seen. It had been taken at the time of day when the light was sultry and soft — a time of day I don’t believe we have in Wisconsin; or if we do, I’ve never seen it.”

    I think that’s the key. A photograph of another place usually calls to me because of some element that exists in the photo but DOESN’T exist in my own day-to-day environment. It’s intriguing and it makes you want to go there and see it for yourself, to see if it does in fact exist!

  6. Travis September 2, 2009 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Film hits me. I still want to go to Peru because of Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo.

  7. John Howard Gaukel September 2, 2009 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    A picture or pictures, I think, are probably the most influential determining factor in making a decision to vist a certain destination or ” I wouldn’t go there on a bet”. A beautiful picture in a brochure surely is worth a thousand words and those words speak in all languages. They can invoke thoughts of romance, adventure, relaxation, or just wonderment. I known a picture or pictures have influeneced my desire and destination to travel. John Howard

  8. kit Nordeen September 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Many of your suggestions have made me and , I know, others in our group, think about a particular trip. And we all had fun and learned a lot from them. What great memories! Thanks to you, my travel partner, Helen, Eric Rock, and our travel group. Kit

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