I have to confess to being slightly jaded about the occasional celebrity that I encounter with my camera. It has been my experience that the public persona is often distinctly different from the one I see behind the scenes. Occasionally a public personality surprises me and pushes back on my cynical expectations.
I recently was providing photographic coverage of and public relations support for the New Hampshire Tourism Council 2011 Governor’s Conference. The keynote address of the gathering of travel and tourism professionals was television host Samantha Brown. Brown, a New Hampshire native, has been the presenter on several TRAVEL CHANNEL series and great match for the conference program.
As I photographed her speaking from the stage I really got caught up in her talk. Her transformation from actress and novice traveler to the very confident globetrotter she has become was delightful. What I really appreciated about her speech was her openness to the power of the experience of travel, how who you encounter on the road matters most. Her sincerity and enthusiasm for the experience is what rings true in her shows and makes her a great host.
For more than thirty years I have had what I consider a supreme privilege, the chance to travel to dozens of counties and to photograph people of many cultures. As I listened to Samantha relay her evolution as a traveler she revealed that same sense of privilege. She talked about her methods for visiting a culture and connecting before the cameras start rolling. Quiet walks into neighborhoods where people live are essential for the discovery process. She also presented her essential travel supplies including the all important jar of peanut butter.
Peanut butter is a handy snack that travels well but as I learned it can be a powerful tool of diplomacy. Brown often shares her stash with the locals, constructing sandwiches with local bread and jellies and revealing the primacy of the food in the American diet. Although the flavor is not often well received, the gesture works magically as an ice breaker. Good old PB & J can build bridges across the miles and cultural divides with the very human experience of a shared meal. I vow to never travel again without the jar of brown goo and the insight of Samantha Brown. Count me as one of her fans.