Among locals and residents of Japan, few can claim they’ve made it from the bottom to the top of Mount Fuji. Victor Gonzalez has not only climbed the symbolic volcano once; he climbed from sea level to the summit more than 10 times. Intertwined in his adventurous pursuits is another kind of spirit: to capture experiences through photo, video and even in the live stream format. We catch up with Gonzalez to hear more about his platform and ethos, plus the mindset required to embark on high-endurance travel.
Gonzalez’s content creator roots date back to early 2009 videos on YouTube. These took the form of skits and daily life anecdotes. He soon realized the challenges of trying to create video content on his own and without a team to participate or help edit. It was then that he turned to photography and bought his first Canon 7D. Shortly after, he moved to Japan and began to document his time here through a blog. It wasn’t until Gonzalez was formally hired by a travel company that he began to learn the ropes of what commercial travel photography should look like.
How Gonzalez Found His Frame of Travel
“Commercial” is not a word you’d associate with how Gonzalez’s photography looks today. Clicking through to his Instagram account is like dropping right into some of the most majestic scenes of Japan. You’re just as likely to find cyberpunk Shinjuku alongside a flurry of golden gingko leaves or a lonesome snow-blue winter night in Sapporo. Each image is treated as its own work of art and carefully curated.
Don’t believe me? Catch him on his Twitch streams, where Gonzalez edits his photos in real-time alongside commentary about his journey to capture the shot plus photography tips and tricks. The effect is not unlike a modern-day Bob Ross with Lightroom and cursor acting as the canvas and brush. Gonzalez’s warm voice with a smattering of light-hearted humor provides a calming presence.
The name ‘Frame of Travel’ comes from Gonzalez’s own realization that the way he sees Japan is very different to how others see it. Borrowed from the phrase “frame of mind” he coined it for himself to mark his own way of thinking.
Using Social Media to Grow and Share Art
“In 2015 I started getting into my own groove. I got into night photography and was messing around with editing pictures on my phone with an app called Snapseed. From there I’d post it onto Instagram and just see where things went,” says Gonzalez.
Like most photographers, Gonzalez thinks social media sites such as Instagram can be useful as they provide a platform where people can be discovered. However, he feels the golden age on Instagram for photographers was about three years ago. These days, playing to the algorithm could be just as important as the actual photo you’ve been shooting and editing.
“You’re creating works of art so of course you want it to be shared and be seen, that’s why you post it,” says Gonzalez. “But there’s a real give and take on making work for your own sake and making work for the sake of likes and shares. Some photographers might specifically look at search trends on the internet to determine what they shoot. But you could also be much more strategic by looking at the time of the year or upcoming occasions and spin a story around the shots you already have.”
It can’t be overstated how much work goes unnoticed behind-the-scenes. Comments on Instagram often get unread and Twitter’s character limit is not enough to tell stories. A single photo of Ginzan Onsen technically costs upwards of $700, including months of planning, a three-day, two-night stay in a small town and staying up all night for several nights in the hope of catching that elusive snowfall. Gonzalez hopes to share this and more on his new YouTube series where he documents these content trips.
But as we ooh and ahh over his endurance-laced challenges, he’s quick to let us know it’s not something that came naturally to him.
The Challenges of High-Endurance Travel Photography
“Honestly, I am someone who is very comfortable being at home and playing video games,” Gonzalez confesses. “But when I first thought of climbing Mount Fuji, I realized that I wanted to begin at the very bottom. I found a trail that started from the ocean and ended up doing it completely alone. This route takes anywhere from 26 hours (non-stop mode) to three days to complete. It’s really rough, I made so many mistakes and learned a lot. But seeing that first view from the summit felt like I had carried the ring to Mordor.”
Aside from Mount Fuji, one other formidable feat Gonzalez has accomplished is the Tokaido route, a 15-day, 575km walk from Nihonbashi in Tokyo to Koraibashi in Osaka.
“It was exhausting,” he says. “I definitely wanted to quit within the first four days because it was extremely painful, I kept getting blisters. But on the fourth day, you could finally start to see some decent progress on the map and that motivated me to keep going.”
When it comes to adventure photography, Gonzalez is quick to dismiss the carrying of heavy camera equipment. There’s no shame, he says, in relying on a phone camera, especially as the quality these days is comparable so long as there’s plenty of light. He adds that as convenient as public transport is in metro locations throughout Japan, a car and a license go a long way when traveling into the heart of the countryside for special shots.
Ultimately a lot of this comes down to practice, patience and luck as you never know if you’ll get the shooting conditions you want until you arrive.
Gonzalez’s last bit of advice is a cautionary tale about sharing travel content during a pandemic.
“People will be quick to police anyone who is doing any form of travel,” says Gonzalez. “But only you can know what kind of precautions you are taking. When I’ve traveled in these past two years, I’ve done it either by walking the entire way or renting my own car. We stay away from people on our trips and try to stick only to eating at convenience stores. Do your best to stay safe and just be mindful of what you share on social media.”