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On the road in Madeira with Marion Vicenta Payr

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr sits on the hood of the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white.
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She’s Mercedes joined travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr on a road trip through Madeira in the CLA.

Marion Vicenta Payr is a renowned Austrian photographer and blogger, who travels around the globe with her camera on a regular basis. A member of the Bell Collective, Marion is one of the great examples of professional women, aiming to change the gender stereotypes on social media and beyond. She’s Mercedes travelled with her around the blooming Portuguese island of Madeira in the new CLA to have a glimpse into a photographer’s life and photographic routine.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr steps out of the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white.

When did you realise that you wanted to be a photographer?

Becoming a photographer was actually a slow process for me. I always thought of myself as an uncreative person – until I discovered Instagram in 2011 and hence my passion for photography evolved. Until today, I struggle to call myself a photographer, because I never went through any proper training or education, but I do make a living off photography today – thus I should finally own up to it by now.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Did you have a “normal job” before you went freelance? What made you quit?

Before becoming a full-time photographer, I had a job as a marketing manager in a TV company. It took me a while to make that transition between jobs. After a couple of years of freelancing next to my full-time job I decided to scale my employment down to part-time in 2016. Just 6 months later I realised that this was not working, because I was not focused on any of the two things properly. That is when I decided to quit and try self-employment – and now, 3 years later, I am really happy with my choice.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr walks along a beach on the Portuguese island of Madeira in a white dress.

You have a blog and you write a lot about your travels. What do you like more – taking pictures or writing about the trips you’ve had?

When it comes to blogging, taking pictures is definitely my favourite part of the process. I always have many ideas about what I want to write as well, but it doesn’t come as easy and naturally to me as taking the photos while travelling. The writing process is always a bit more challenging for me and I have to be in the right mindset when I do it. The photography part lets me go more with the flow.

Flowers on the Portuguese island Madeira, photographed by travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr.

What is more important in travel blogging – a beautiful image or the behind-the-scenes truth? Do you try to always show the pretty side of travelling or do you prefer to stay objective?

In my opinion, travel blogging relies mostly on a personal point of view, so it should not per se be objective, but rather subjective. My readers rely on my opinion and my curation. They identify with the way I travel and relate to my personal experience. Yet it still does not only have to be just “pretty”, it can also be controversial, political, critical – or simply honest. That is the most important part about it – I want to earn the trust of my readers.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr drives the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white above the clouds.

You are a photographer and your husband is a fashion blogger – rather unconventional. Do you feel that breaking such gender stereotypes, prevalent on social media, is an important message?

Breaking gender and other stereotypes is absolutely necessary. In our case it just was always like this, it came naturally. My husband went to fashion school as a teenager, so it was always his passion, while I never paid too much attention to my looks. So it is not like we set out to break gender stereotypes – it just happened that he became the fashion blogger and I went on to become his “Instagram wife”. Nowadays we both see that not fitting the norm does not always “work” as well on social media – we would probably be more successful if we fit into the normative boxes. Therefore, it is even more important for me to push that message, that you can be different and do what makes you happy and still make it “work”.

Do you prefer travelling alone or together with someone?

Since I travel with my husband 90% of the time – he also produces our travel videos for the blog – I have to be careful answering this question (smiles). It is wonderful to share the experiences together, being able to discuss the day’s findings at night among us is a luxury. Yet I sometimes believe it is easier for me when I travel alone, as I can rely on my instincts completely, immerse myself more and take more time for my pace in photography – which is a rather slow pace naturally. So I guess the answer is that a good balance is ideal.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr looks at her camera among flowers on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Which equipment do you use?

Since this year, I shoot on a mirror-less full-frame camera. My most used lens is the 24-70 mm – it is extremely versatile and ideal for travelling. This is my basic setup – sometimes I also carry other lenses like the 200-500 mm tele lens on my recent Safari trip or a drone, but most of the time I keep it simple.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr drives the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white on a country road on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

You often travel to non-touristy destinations. What are the major challenges you meet when travelling to places with little infrastructure?

When travelling to the places off the beaten path, communication with the locals is one major challenge. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t learn more languages when I was still in school. Other than that, I rely on power and the internet for my job a lot, which is not available all the time. While the “regular tourists” might enjoy their offline time, or digital detox like they call it today, I do get stressed out if I cannot connect for a couple of days. In the end I am travelling for work, so I cannot simply unplug.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr stands on a bridge on the Portuguese island of Madeira with the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white.

What is your perfect road trip idea?

My perfect road trip is driving in a car, windows down, wind blowing in my hair, a playlist with my favourite tracks and just a few loose pins in a map, but no strict timeline or plan. Going with the flow is the key element for a perfect road trip.

If you are travelling by car, do you prefer to be the driver or the passenger?

I love driving myself. I can choose my own pace, stop any time I want to take a picture or enjoy the scenery for a moment.

How important do you think is the female gaze in photography? Why?

We learn the world through our senses. So, if our main input of information comes from a uniformed – male/white/privileged – perspective, we get a normative sense of the world, which does not reflect all the unique points of view from different people. I believe it is important to show female perspectives, but also many more. The more perspectives we try to make visible and understand, the more our world can grow together in empathy.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr sits on the bonnet of the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Why do you think stereotypes about professional women still exist? What can we do about it?

It takes a while to change perceptions and prejudices. As a teenager I always thought that feminism was an outdated concept and that we did not need to fight for women’s rights anymore, because I felt completely equal at that time. In school the girls would actually always outshine the boys in their achievements. But then I entered the “real” world and learned quickly what it meant to be the only female in a meeting of executives, where you would be cut short or mansplained – I hate that word, but it fits so accurately. We need to be patient and keep on reiterating the message – that women are not less eloquent, less accomplished, less ambitious or less professional than men. And that women are also allowed to be fierce, angry, bossy or anything else they want to be.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white is parked on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

What are your favourite things to photograph?

I love photographing nature, wildlife, landscapes, sunrises – but especially when something magic happens, the little moments that make something unique.

What were your favourite moments in Madeira?

Driving through the foggy forest to end up above the clouds at the mountain top to witness the sunrise was one of those magical moments in Madeira. I also loved our time in the fairy forest (“Posto Florestal Fanal”) – walking around all those crooked, bending trees surrounded by wild fern was kind of magical.

Name 3 spots to visit in Madeira.

Fairy forest “Posto Florestal Fanal”.

Beach at “Ribeira da Janela”.

Viewpoint “Miradouro da Ponta do Rosto”.

Travel photographer Marion Vicenta Payr holds the key to the Mercedes-Benz CLA (C 118) in polar white.

Name 3 tips for beginning photographers.

Go out and shoot your hometown. Try and find new perspectives and vantage points, train your eyes and take many, many photos. This is how I started in photography, for years I would only shoot my hometown in every spare minute.

Learn about light. Go to the same spot at different times during the day to learn how light changes the scenery and the photo. I still do this while travelling and revisit places during different times of the day to see how they change.

Take your time. When you feel like your photos are perfect, keep on going. Later you will find out that there is always a space for improvement. (If you’ve heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect, you’ll know why.) Go even further and keep on learning and improving your skills. YouTube can help with learning about camera settings and editing techniques, but I would recommend to not get caught up in technical details too much. The camera is only a tool – your eyes, your emotions and your perspective are the most important part about photography.

This interview was conducted as a collaborative effort by Bell Collective and She’s Mercedes.