The Accidental Photographer

an essay by Dana Thomas

Uruapan Man & Leonardo

Over twenty-two years ago, Dan Lopez, a principal of Novelle, at that time my boss, walked into my office, asked if I owned a passport and if not, suggested I get hold of one as soon as possible.  Since Danny’s visit to my office, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively to visit customers and suppliers around the world.  When Dan asked me if I would write a short essay for the Novelle website about business travelling, I was happy to say yes.  When he suggested that the essay cover my photography during business trips, I was even more excited about sharing my experiences.

That thirty-two year old novice that Dan asked about a passport had only once been out of the country and that was weekend trip to the beaches of Baja.  When I got on the airplane for my first trip to Chile, I was excited and a little scared.  I had in my briefcase, however, a bit of a security blanket, my old film camera that I had been shooting since high school.  My thought was to record in pictures Chilean avocado orchards and packinghouses, so I could communicate my experiences and the business potential to my superiors back home.  That first trip, I asked my hosts question after question and shot roll after roll of film, trying to record accurately what I saw and learned.  As one trip led to the next, that camera helped me to better see and understand the avocado business.

Kelp – Santiago Terminal Market    

At first, as I struggled to get my arms around the produce industries in Chile and Mexico, the camera served as a way to take visual notes.  As I became more comfortable with the orchards and packinghouses, I began to stray from strictly business photos and my camera began to help me take a closer look at the countries and the cultures themselves.  Initially, I would steal photos while doing business.  Apologizing to my companions, I would stop the car and shoot a landscape from the roadside.  Many times, I have stepped back from a group touring an orchard and pointed my camera at the orchard foreman, a harvesting crew or a rustic adobe barn. 

After my children left home, it became possible to take weekends before or after the business portion of a trip, specifically to shoot photos.  Graduating from film to digital, I began to take more than just a camera and a lens in my briefcase.  I began to pack multiple lenses, filters and a tripod and planned a couple of days by myself to explore and shoot photos.  I was able to spend time in areas where tight schedules had always prevented more than a cursory look and I discovered new villages and ranches that captured my imagination and provided strong images.

Needlerock September 2009

Perhaps the best part of traveling with my camera has been the people I have met.  I have had the good fortune to develop many friends in the produce business during my travels, but I have also seen another world as I randomly met and photographed people, their homes and countryside.  The Chilean lady who insisted upon adopting serious demeanor when I tried to capture her smiling face, the laughing girl selling soda along the roadside in Peru and the weathered man standing in front of a poster of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” in Mexico, have all helped me better appreciate their cultures and enjoy their countries.
I look forward to many more trips chasing avocados around the world with a camera in my backpack and with an eye on the angle and quality of the light always in search of a memorable photograph.

My photographs may be viewed at:

(Dana Thomas is President of Index Fresh, Inc., a leading avocado packer-shipper headquartered in Bloomington, CA. He has pioneered avocado importation from Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and Peru. An avid photographer, he has traveled and photographed places in North and Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.)