Argentina, and Travel Photography Versus Home


I’m sitting on a sleepless 11-hour flight back from Argentina in the middle of the night. Clearly, the most fun 10 days I’ve had, especially when considering sharing it with my 5-Year-Old, but also one of the most exhausting stretches of my life.

We spent 4 days touring Patagonia with a bus of 14 family members from 4 generations, and the rest in Buenos Aires, culminating in an exuberant 8-hour bat mitzvah.

It was basically what you’d expect, stunningly beautiful, urban planning in the neighborhoods I saw that blew NYC out of the water, wonderful steak most nights, Malbec, late dinners, keeping Avery up at family events till 1:30 in the morning, stacks of inflated cash, the peso going down in value 7% in the week that we were there and seeing the harm it was causing as fancy meals basically cost $25 a person.

Inspired by Lee Friedlander Landscapes (must view).

The plan is to make a family book of the trip for the family and Avery and his one-year-old cousin Niko to look at when they get older, written from their perspective.

But, I’ll be honest, I always internally cringe when people tell me to take amazing photos when traveling, or how excited I must be to photograph. And the cringing is not on purpose, I love the sentiment, but that feeling is just not for me, at this point in my life. 

Some get so inspired by photography when they travel and spend time in a place, but I can’t do work that I enjoy on an artistic level when I’m not home, at least when considering the brainpower and opportunity that I have now.

Home is where I get lost in my mind and can think creatively. Probably if I were able to travel solo and spend a lot of time getting to know a place, I’d feel completely different. But I often have to remind myself to take photos when traveling because I’m trying to stay in the moment, to use my memory instead of the camera and to slow the week down, if that makes sense.

A few times, Sara asked me to take out the camera to take a photo, and while most of the time I said yes, occasionally I would ask her to do it because I wanted to experience the place without a camera.

Tree preserve on Isla Victoria, Patagonia.

Similarly at home, I use photography to stay in the moment and slow life down. On one hand, they’re opposites, but philosophically, it’s the same idea.

And, with the exception of a few Friedlander-inspired tree photographs, even though these photos seem pretty, and they are interesting and meaningful for my family, they’re the opposite of the photography that I try to share here.

Photography, in the sense that I’m describing, is something that I do for clarity of mind, and to focus attention. And I just didn’t have the time or mental space to be able to create photographs in this environment that live up to that feeling. 

I’m still sharing them in this piece because they’re beautiful and fun to share with the story, and a big part of why photography is wonderful.

Or maybe let’s think about this a different way. Photography is a way to describe stories and ideas, and there is a story here.

The heart of the story of the trip was the family, it is the family photos. It’s about a Jewish family that was split up during the war, half getting into NYC and half into Buenos Aires, and losing touch for 30 years until one Argentinean family member traveled to NY and contacted every Abe Lerner in the phone book.

And the Irish/Italian mutt (me) with two (great) psychiatrist parents, one bipolar and one on the spectrum of something, whose religion and culture and larger family (in later years) had dwindled. And so he subconsciously searched for someone with a strong family culture. And on the upper west side of NY, that was the Jewish culture. 

My first girlfriend married a rabbi, if that tells you a bit about me.

And now both families are great friends. Sara lived in Argentina for over a month one trip and we hope to host their kids for similar amounts of time in the future. Her first big memories were from her first trip to Argentina when she was 4.5 and I can imagine it will be the same for Avery.

It’s family, it’s blood, it’s making up for the horrors of the war and giving a big fucking middle finger to all the atrocities with fun and dancing and singing and love, with excessiveness in the face of difficulty. Her family there made me feel like I had known them forever. And it’s a key for us all to spend these experiences together.

It’s the phone photos that I will value and love the most over the photos with my camera. But on the wall, I will put one of the beautiful tree photographs, and I will remember that moment where I took a deep breath in the middle of a forest on a lake in the middle of Patagonia.

Right before Avery pulled my hand for attention.

“This goddamn tree, man. It’s a real eye-sore, a monstrosity of mundanity. It’s like staring into the abyss of banality and realizing that nothingness is staring right back at you. But, somehow, that’s what makes it so goddamn fascinating, so damn powerful. It’s like a symbol of the everyday drudgery we all have to endure, a reminder that life is full of inescapable boredom and routine. And yet, there’s a strange beauty to it, a haunting quality that grips you like a vice and won’t let go. You can’t help but feel drawn into the abyss, seduced by the sheer banality of it all. It’s like staring into the void and finding a kind of solace in the emptiness, a strange kind of comfort in the absence of meaning. This tree, man. It’s a real mind-fuck.”

One spot is left for the NYC 3-Day Photo Workshop, May 5th-7th (Cinco de Mayo).

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