Photo: Tekla Evelina Severin
Photography, Community, Adventure
On the road with the new pioneers of travel photography
Alina Rudya from Bell Collective on stereotypes in female travel and her post-Covid plans
Gertrude Bell was a British writer, traveler, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist with a thirst for adventure and an unwillingness to subordinate herself to female stereotypes – in the late 19th century! All these characteristics make her the ideal eponym for a very special collective of female travel-loving photographers – the Bell Collective. We talked to Alina Rudya, a Ukrainian-born photographer, currently living and working in Berlin, Germany, and founder of the collective, about her latest projects and her wanderlust in times of Covid-19.
Can you give us a short introduction on what Bell Collective is actually doing and who is part of it?
Bell Collective is a collective of female professional photographers, whose aim is to change the stereotype surrounding female travel and creative choices, which is mostly being pushed on social media.
When you state that you wish to “change the stereotypes surrounding female travel what exactly do you mean by that?
When you scroll through Instagram, you often are faced by the same pictures, portraying female travelers – over and over again. Beautiful women are posing in beautiful dresses in front of some beautiful buildings or landscapes. Photographed by someone else (very often male photographers).
Our goal as photographers is to show, that you don’t need to be on your own picture to be successful. Neither do you need to always photograph the same places with a popular filter over it. Women travel to different places and take different pictures, which not always have to fall into a particular standard. Travel photography can be about documentation, reportage, architecture, nature and landscape as well as concentrate on people and cultures. So many options to show this world we live in. There are many professional photographers who are women and they want their pictures to be seen and their voices to be heard. We want to inspire the young generation as well – so that more girls are inspired by role models, whose success is not based on their looks and social approval.
Can you give us an example of a stereotype that really annoys and how you would like people to rather look at female travelers?
There are obvious stereotypical pictures, where women are portrait as passive models, muses, and tender flowers, which need to be taken care of. I don’t mind these kinds of pictures per se. We all sometimes want just a cute picture of ourselves being taken by our boyfriend or a friend. But we at Bell Collective don’t want this kind of visual to become the only representation of a female traveler.
Most recently you have launched a podcast in which you discuss gender stereotypes, traveling, photography and female empowerment with women from the field of visual arts. Who would you really enjoy interviewing for this format?
I just started with a podcast and for now I’ve been mostly interviewing photographers whom I personally know and admire. But in the future I would love to talk to a broader range of visual artists from all kind of ethnical and cultural backgrounds, countries and continents. We as women are underrepresented as professionals in basically every country in the world, but we mustn’t forget that some women are still more privileged and have more power to speak out than others. This is why stories from those, who struggle more with gender inequality, racism, ageism, body shaming etc are so important.
You published a book last year, held your first exhibition in Berlin in March this year, now your Podcast. What is the next thing you would like to accomplish with the Bell Collective?
Personally, I would love to create a documentary travel series for Netflix, where women adventurers and women-centered stories from around the world will be in focus. Maybe it sounds very ambitious, but I’ve learned to dream big.
In times of Corona, we were all doomed to staying at home. What did you do to cure your wanderlust? Did you manage to stay somehow inspired or were you struggling a lot personally?
I almost feel ashamed for admitting this, but for me the stay-home time felt like a well-deserved holiday. I finally had time to work on my archives, portfolio and self-care. I was traveling way too much in the few years prior and felt physically and psychologically exhausted. Thus staying at home with my husband was a really nice change. I understand that not everyone had the same experience, many struggled and still struggle financially and for many, this time of a lock-down was a period of mental breakdown and even depression. I felt very lucky to be on the safe side this time. But I of course started missing traveling very very fast. Since the lock-down in Berlin wasn’t strict, I ended up discovering the city. I’ve managed to see places which I never visited in the past 10 years of me living here.
Do you think Covid 19 will have a long lasting impact on the way we travel? And in this context, what would be the best case scenario in your personal opinion?
Honestly I think that the whole travel industry will bounce back very soon. On the other hand, I have a feeling that lots of people started looking closer to home while planning a holiday. Regional travel is way more ecological – especially when taking the train and many, including myself, were surprised to discover, that Germany has so many hidden secrets, worthy of discovering. I personally feel like in the future I’d love to see more of Germany and travel by train more than by plane.
For your daily dose of Bell Collective make sure to follow them on Instagram. If you want to know more about the creatives, creators and adventurers behind the lens, you should get a copy of their book (only available in German for now). Not only will you see breathtakingly beautiful pictures in there, but the publication is also full of insights and helpful tips on (travel) photography.