Hot! Lives, Examined: Beer, Beans, & Bethany

I hope that you all enjoy this interview with Bethany of Beers & Beans, one of my favourite travel blogs. Bethany is an extremely talented photographer and writer, and her posts are always interesting and informative. If you haven’t already added her to your must-read list, I highly suggest doing so! If you are interested in WWOOFing or other volunteer-type travel work, I doubly suggest checking out her site!

Travelers Talk is a new interview series that I will be hosting on this blog, featuring interviews with travelers and folks in the travel industry. If you would like to be interviewed, shoot me an email and we’ll talk.

And now for the interview!

1. What is your focus within your blog’s genre? What do you feel makes it unique?

Beers & Beans is a photography travel blog with a focus on making the most out of a small budget. But the true heart of the blog is based in the photographs. I’m trying to change the face of travel photography by making it more emotionally based. I do think it’s extremely important to have eye-candy location photos and some goofy, fun photos, but I think the emotions we feel when we travel are largely ignored in travel photography.

In my opinion, a good photograph is one that elicits some type of emotion and travel photography is no different. It should trigger some type of response within the viewer, maybe even a memory–be it happy, sad, frustrated, etc. To me the most powerful photos are the ones that show the little snippets of time that can’t be repeated–moments that existed even if they were utterly brief. They all have their own importance in the larger scheme of things, and even without a common language, these moments are something that everyone understands.

Travel photography can make the world look very vast but feel very small, because fundamentally everyone in the world wants the same thing even if they go about it in completely different ways. The small yet significant moments that happen throughout the world are a part of the golden thread that tie us all together. There is something very special & significant about being a witness, especially to someone else’s moment. In my eyes, being a witness is a large part of any photographers job. We live the light but we die for the moments. When a moment pops up to say hi, I feel a real kinship with it, almost as if I was put in that exact moment just to witness it’s existence. It sounds crazy, but I feel most connected to the world at that time. I’m constantly striving to do them justice and trying to capture the moments of life in a way that other people can relate to them and that’s what keeps me going. I try really hard to portray this on the blog, and I think that is what makes it unique from a lot of other travel blogs.

2. How would you describe yourself as a traveler?

Curious. I like to wander. I think I am much more mellow and easy going when I travel than I am in my non-travel life. I’m pretty good at entertaining myself too, which I think makes me a good travel partner. I am much happier on the road and a lot less stressed.

3. What is your earliest travel memory?

Cape Cod. We spent every summer vacation there when I was growing up. My very first travel memory is when I found a little rock on a Cape Cod beach when I was just a few years old. It looked just like an egg. My father and my Uncle Tom told me it was an egg and if I sat on it and kept it warm it would hatch. So I took it everywhere with me for days, sat on it during dinner, put it under my pillow, etc. etc. I remember at dinner one night I asked when it would finally hatch. They decided to come clean and tell me it was a rock, not an egg. What a bummer! But they had a good laugh and they created my first travel memory for me. :)

4. What’s your favourite place that you’ve been? Why?

Well my favorite place is Lacedonia, Italy. It’s my favorite because it was a life long dream to visit there and see where my grandparents came from. To top it off, I met a ton of long lost family members and I was able to connect my U.S. family to the Italian family by Skype which was pretty amazing. I was the first American family visitor there in 19 years. Meeting everyone and walking the streets where my grandparents lived was indescribable. It’s a very small village, other places (like Paris) have more going on, but in my mind the journey in Lacedonia will never be topped.

5. Describe your packing strategy. Last minute or compulsive planner? Minimalist or maximalist?

Definitely last minute. So last minute I didn’t realize that the jeans I bought before I left for Europe still had the plastic security tag on them. I discovered that when I went to wear them in Iceland. Believe it or not in Europe they use a different security device so no one at any of the stores could remove it. I had to walk around for four weeks and three countries with it still attached! On the farm in Italy we were finally able to hack it off with a sledgehammer.

I’m not really a minimalist but definitely not a maximalist; I’m somewhere in between. I don’t bring a lot but I like to have some choices. I did only bring one pair of jeans, which is why I was forced to walk around everywhere with the plastic security tag; though, I managed to fill my bag with other stuff so I don’t think I can be labeled a minimalist.

6. What’s one tip you would give for people traveling to your favourite destination?

Well if someone actually went to Lacedonia for any other reason besides family it would be probably a bit boring to them. My greatest tip would be to see if you can get a local to give you a tour. The town is very small but has a tremendous history. You can even see part of a Pagan church that dates from 2,000 BC. It’s actually a pretty neat little place but you need some insider knowledge to learn the stories. Other than that, try to go on a Sunday. The entire village comes alive on Sunday with kids playing soccer in the square and little old men playing chess. It’s very cute & quaint.

7. What is your favourite method of travel? Plane? Boat? Camel?

Definitely train. I love traveling by train. There is nothing as romantic or as mindful as traveling by train. It’s a great time to think, watch the landscape pass you by, take photos & watch people interact.

8. What has been your biggest challenge in travel?

Stressing about money. Justifying the costs of certain things vs. maximizing the budget is my own personal hell. Whenever I decide to skip a certain activity for budget reasons, I just tell myself that I have to save something to do for the next time I return. :)

9. You’re traveling and it’s an average evening. Where are you and what are you doing?

Hmm…..If I get my way most likely wandering around taking photos. I love taking photos at night. Or I’m skyping with my family. If Randy gets his way, then most likely checking out a local cafe with live music.

10. What has been your most transformative travel experience?

Oooh tough one. Meeting family members in Lacedonia definitely marked a personal transformation for me. It was a lifetime in the making and on a personal level it was unbeatable.

Photographically I would say the most transformative travel experience I had was photographing the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexcio. Walking through the graveyards and witnessing the emotions of the people was a real gift, but my interactions in the graveyards changed my views as a photographer. One issue with photography is that the male/female ratio is WAY out of whack. On most paid photo assignments I am usually surrounded by a bunch of dudes with cameras. Most of the time there are no other girls. Even last year at the X-Games, there was only 1 other female photographer that I saw–one. Out of all the people on assignment there that was pretty sad.

When I worked as a commercial photographer in Boston I had a boss who was a real jerk. – Top of the line, grade A ass. He disliked me in part because I was a girl and he told me and the other girl that we were hired to fill the female quota but that if he had his way he would only hire male photographers. He also told me that he disliked me because I was short. Among many other horrible things he said to me, he told me that I would never be a great photographer because I was too short – I wasn’t tall enough to see over crowds, stand out, etc. This guy was a real douche. Of course, I never believed any of the crap that spouted out of his mouth but the photo business has long been considered an old boys club. Even though women have played a huge role in the history of photography, it still is dominated mostly by men.

Oaxaca wasn’t too different – there were a ton of pro guys running around taking photos. But in the middle of a graveyard something happened, local women started coming up to me and asking me to photograph their family plots. Women actually started seeking me out. I saw some of them walk right past male photographers, who had much more professional set ups, just to talk to me. I was really taken aback and honored that they were asking me for these very intimate photos.

I always knew being a female photographer was a plus but the experiences I had in the Oaxacan graveyards made me realize it on an entirely different level. I started to recognize that being a woman wasn’t just a blessing–it was quite possibly my greatest asset. This isn’t a knock on any of the fantastic male photographers out there, these are just my thoughts on my own personal photo journey. Women around the world relate to other women in ways that don’t even need words. Photographing those family plots in Oaxaca signified a huge transformation for me. I changed during that trip and my shooting style changed as well.

11. What is your proudest accomplishment? Travel or otherwise.

I had to think about this one for a while, but then I realized I am most proud of the fact that I actually gave myself permission to live the life I wanted. I bucked the office system, created new income for myself and started traveling. I’m pretty proud that I made all the changes in my life in order to make it happen, because it wasn’t an easy road, but it was definitely worth it! I would like to give a shout out to Brooke from Brooke Vs. the World because she helped me tremendously through this time, and if it wasn’t for her, Beers & Beans wouldn’t be where it is today. Thanks Brooke!

I also ran the Honolulu marathon a few years back and amazingly I finished it! I’m a horrible runner so I’m really proud of that too. :)

12. If you could live in luxury for free in the location of your choosing but could never leave that country again, where would you live and would you do it?

No way! I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t even consider it. The entire reason I changed my life was so that I could see the world. I wouldn’t want to get stuck in one part of it.

13. You’ve been given the opportunity to have coffee with anyone from anywhere and from any time. Who’s in the seat across from you?

My Nonna. There are a lot of things I would like to know about her now that I am an adult.

14. What are some unusual skills, interests, or knowledge sets you have?

Tough one. Hmmm… Animals really like me and I’m good with plants?? I really suck at these type of questions so I decided to ask my mom. She said – “You’re a good listener, good with a camera, good at organizing, a minimalist and you have good life coach abilities, although most people don’t want your coaching.” Yes, she said all this. hahaha

15. You seem to really enjoy WWOOFing. What would be your ideal location to WWOOF?

WWOOFing was awesome! As for an idea location, Tuscany was pretty darn close–beautiful countryside, great city life in Florence, out of this world food & wine, and warm & loving people. There are a ton of other places that I think would be fun to WWOOF – Iceland, Australia, Thailand, Alaska, Japan, Uganda. It’s a great way to travel and really participate in the local lifestyle.

[All photographs in this post are by Bethany Salvon.]

31 Comments

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  1. Fascinating interview with Bethany. As a fellow (fellowess?) photographer, I really resonated with what she said about it being a male dominated field, but I’ve also long known that being a woman is very advantageous in this field. A male friend and photographer told me he was so jealous of my ability to take photos of children unimpeded, adding that if he tried to do so he would likely be arrested as a pedophile. Bethany’s work is stunning and I so appreciate the fact that she’s devoted to a particular genre and developing a signature.

    • As yet another female photographer, I agree with both of you. It is definitely a male dominated field, though it’s becoming less so these days. And yes, I think one of the keys to success as a female photographer is making use of your strengths (your example of being able to take photographs of children without seeming creepy is great).

  2. I’m a huge fan of this blog, Bethany has convinced me i need to try WWOFing

  3. Funny that I have a photo of you on that same street in Montmartre when you were 14!

  4. wow! GREAT & GREAT! love the questions and the answers! i’m a huge fan of beth’s photography, and their blog, and if her goal is to bring emotion to travel photography, when then i’d say she’s already hugely successful. so great to hear more of her thoughts here. great one kelsey! :)

  5. I love this interview – there’s emotion and honesty running all through it that you don’t always get in other interviews.
    I’ve watched the Beer and Beans blog take off over the past year; I am so impressed with the way they run the blog. I think the photography is getting better & better too – and it started off at a very high level.

    Yesterday I interviewed a male professional photographer for a post I’ll run in a few weeks time – and by no means is he a jerk in any way,shape or form. He has photographed many of the world’s notable people in the past 50 years – Castro, Elvis Presley, Desmond Tutu… and now I think I need to go back and ask him about male/female roles over the last 50-60 years & see what he has to say. I hadn’t appreciated until reading this that the ratio was so out of whack.

    • Yes, she is definitely always improving!

      For some reason, most people don’t know that photography is a pretty male-dominated profession. Unlike other artistic and creative fields, photography was often seen as a male industry because it required long hours in small, dark rooms full of stinky chemicals and the gear was heavy. Being a good photographer also requires being very forward and proactive, both traits of which were discouraged in women until recently. I’m interested to see what your photographer friend says!

    • I feel I should clarify too. The guy I worked for many years ago was not a photographer. He was an older man who inherited the biz from his father. The guy couldn’t even take a photo which made him more unbearable. He was a very mean & shrewd business man. He was old school and felt men made better photographers and didn’t mind telling you in the meanest of ways. I wasn’t trying to imply that male photogs are jerks- it’s just the contrary- All the guy photographers I have worked with over the years ( and at that studio) have always been down to earth and really cool people. I was just trying to point out that it is typically male dominated and how Oaxaca helped me get over some of the issues I had carried w me after my time in that hell hole of a job. There are a lot of amazing male photographers out there it’s just that professionally, in the field, there are a lot less women.

      • I agree – most of the male photographers I’ve met are actually quite nice. The issue is with the distorted demographic, not the photographers themselves.

    • Like you I’ve been watching this blog for awhile, and it has definitely improved very quickly! I’m excited to see where Bethany takes it in the future – I’m sure it will continue to be great!

  6. Wow, the same street? That’s crazy! Guess there’s something special about that street! Thanks for interviewing me Kelsey and thanks for all the great comments ladies!! :)

  7. Excellent interview, and may I say, beautifully laid out. I’m a big fan of Bethany’s photography. I really enjoy her more artistic work – e.g. the swans and the fun one of the people milling about at the Louvre above – yet what she says about capturing emotions when travelling absolutely resonated.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! It took me quite awhile to lay out, but I think it was worth it. I’ll be keeping the structure relatively the same throughout future interviews.

  8. This is such an insightful interview! I agree with Lorna – great questions and articulate and interesting answers. Bethany’s photography is awesome and I think she is definitely succeeding at what she’s setting out to do with her photos.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the questions and the interview. I will be keeping the questions mostly the same throughout the interviews, to give a good comparison between various travelers.

  9. So much eye-candy and great reading here, love it!

  10. Kelsey – you did a fantastic interview! The pictures you picked are some of my favs that Bethany has done. I’m always trying to learn from her, along with the fact that the poor woman gets harassed by me with questions all the time. <3

    Bethany - I'm so glad to have another person on the team trying to take on male dominated fields. I still need to bother you about how to take pictures of people. I'm always a doof when going up to people and pressing the shutter.

  11. Excellent interview. I always enjoy reading interviews that provoke the interviewee to go “Tough one…”
    Fantastic questions and answers. We are huge fans of Bethany’s photos and hey we may even have to give Wwoofing a try.
    Thanks for a great interview!!

  12. I love Bethany! Great interview :)

  13. Love this interview. I really enjoy reading Beer and Beans and apart from being sickeningly jealous of your travels it’s a great inspiration. I feel like I know you!

    • Glad that you enjoyed the interview. I try to have my questions give a good feel for who the person really is, rather than just a series of new facts.

  14. What a great and thorough interview! I love how it’s laid out and all the little bits in between that give us an interesting look at Beth. :)