Whether it’s through the pages of a travel magazine, gigantic tourism board hoardings or those countless Reels, coming by dreamy, far-off locations often gets us daydreaming about being there ourselves.
But can we ignore the chiselled white models upholding unrealistic body standards dominating such travel visuals? We see them everywhere: surfboarding confidently with their tanned six-packs in focus, slender women sporting bikinis subtly pushing the problematic idea of what a “beach body” looks like, women with blonde hair and red lips sipping on mimosas by the pool, heterosexual couples with a child in tow happily exploring a new country.
A new initiative titled The All-Inclusive Photo Project aims to bridge this deficit, calling on travel companies to help address the lack of diversity in travel marketing imagery. The project, launched by the cruise company Celebrity Cruises, has work by some of the most renowned photographers in the world – like Annie Leibovitz and Giles Duley – to create the world’s first diversity-focused open-source image library. Anyone can use these images for free, especially travel companies, media, and advertising agencies looking to make their marketing materials more inclusive.
“Leisure is not monopolised by whiteness,” photographer Naima Green, who is involved in this initiative, told VICE. “So, we have to reframe and show different depictions of everyone enjoying these trips. And [the project’s] settings and images are also luxurious, decadent, and top quality because there is also the assumption that quality equals whiteness.”
The idea of showing a diverse group of people just having a good time, without any overtly political messaging, has always been central to Green’s work. In her 2013 photography series “Jewels from the Hinterland,” she simply captured Black artists, writers, and creatives in urban green spaces.
Green also said that the way we look “doesn’t have to perform” to our identity. “You could be very high femme and still identify as genderqueer,” she said. However, Green does not discount the more politically conscious photography surrounding queer folks and people of colour. “The [more luxurious pictures] are not limiting other ways of existing. They are also not in denial of how Black people live in inner cities or how our neighbourhoods are underfunded. But the other thing is also true: that we also like hanging out in the park and going to the beach or the spa and might not always be trapped in concrete spaces of neglect.”
The idea of portraying people across the spectrum basking in leisure is also central to Australian photographer Jarrad Seng’s images. One of his most striking pictures is that of a wheelchair user casually encountering a kangaroo with his wife and son, framed by the turquoise waters of the sea behind him.
“That was the dream photo,” Seng said. “The area was actually quite cloudy when we arrived. But as soon as I took my camera out, the clouds immediately parted, the sun came out, and some kangaroos hopped on over.”
For Seng, who is of Malaysian-Chinese descent, the need to see people that looked like him on screen became apparent only when he was auditioning for the Australian edition of the long-running American game show, Survivor, in 2017.
“When the host asked me to name some of my favourite contestants from the American edition, I ended up remembering the only two Asians I’d seen on that show growing up.”
Seng eventually did end up getting cast in the show, but that was the first time he realised that it was no coincidence that his two favourite past participants were Asian. “Often, when you find a male Asian character on TV, they are computer hackers and nerds. But now, working in the travel industry, I’ve gradually noticed that all the people in these [travel] pictures look the same, and there was no one I could relate to.”
The power of images and their indelible impact was revealed in a rather dramatic way for Giles Duley. For the longest time, Duley was the go-to photographer for publications such as GQ, Esquire and Arena. He’s shot the likes of Mariah Carey, Marilyn Manson, and Lenny Kravitz, to name a few.
Then came a decisively defining moment in 2000 that would change his life.
“In the middle of a particular shoot, an argument started with regards to an actress’ dress,” Duley told VICE. “The editor was screaming and the actress was crying. I just sat there thinking this is not the world I want to be a part of. I threw my camera out of the window and realised I was using the incredibly powerful tool of photography to only perpetuate stereotypes.”
Duley then went on hiatus to contemplate what he was using his talent and skill for.
“When I came back to photography, I wanted to use that very power of manipulation to tell people’s stories,” he said. “There is talk about giving people a voice. I don’t give anyone a voice, people have their own voice. I wanted to take my ego away from it and just use my privilege as a white man to be a mirror that reflected their stories.”
Duley lost three of his limbs while documenting the Afghanistan war in the early 2000s, after stepping on a landmine. His works since then have only reflected more profound truths.
“They say that adversity helps grow compassion, and Giles’ art certainly seems to bear that out,” Angelina Jolie had once said of his photographs.
With the All-Inclusive Photo Project, one of Duley’s photographs has Monique Dior Jarrett – a model and international wheelchair dance champion – unwinding with a drink and some friends on a cruise.
Duley added that these images do not claim to represent the complete truth of any community – Black, queer, or disabled – just one of the many truths.
“As soon as I take a photograph, I point my camera in a certain direction. You don’t know what’s behind me or by my side. I’m only choosing a fraction of a second of a day, I can’t tell you that’s the truth,” he said. “But I can assure you honesty. Photography comes with great responsibility, now more than ever, and we all need to see a wider vision of the world.”
Check out more photos from the initiative below:
Follow Arman Khan on Instagram.