Photography

Patterning

Some pictures from our 2009 trip to France.

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Claude shivers in a surprise snowstorm. We had to rush to get all the nets up because if the olives freeze then their oil is ruinedish.

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Philippe examines a rifle, one of the pillars of his spiritual life on Corsica. For a goatherd and cheese maker, he and his family live very comfortably.

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The neighbor watches the belts that roll the immense stone that crushes olives in the ancient stone mill. The gears used to be turned by water from a diverted stream, but they are now run by motor.

I was editing photos last night in preparation for a project and noticed the similarities among these three.

Mosquito Nets

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by Mike

These photos are from an old hotel that was operating as an art gallery and cafe or something. We drove in rural areas this morning and since it was Sunday people were dressed up in their Sunday finest for church. There’s definitely a colonial style to the clothing, to the buildings as well, and when I saw things like a dapper man with a cane, the effect of his bare feet was that I imagined we were driving through Southern plantations in the early 1800s.
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Men drive by a model home in Leogane

by Mike

Here are more photos from the walk around town today.

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Sign Painter

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by Mike

We went for a walk around the town today, we actually saw most of it in about an hour. The man above was designing a sign for a studio that he’ll paint directly onto the wall of the building. He was stenciling it very exactly with a pencil and ruler, I’m excited to go back and see what he finally did with it.

The Presentation of Haiti

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My view of Claude’s story.

by Mike

I’ve been reading up on how Haiti is presented in the media, and I thought I’d share some links about Haiti and storytelling.

This guy is a photojournalist who’s extremely sensitive to the power dynamics of storytelling:
“Please help me, who is not in Haiti, understand what is really going on. Please do not produce work that is a substitute for the beggar’s bowl. Please don’t demean me, the Haitians or yourself. Please let me hear and see an Haitian.”
He’s highly critical of his profession, and I find all his writing inspired.
To Hear or See an Haitian Once the Party Has Died Down at The Spinning Head

An article by Rebecca Solnit about the wording and emphasis of media coverage:
In Haiti, Words Can Kill

Eliza Gregory writes about being a white photographer objectifying non-white people:
Looking Back at a Picture I Wish I Hadn’t Taken

And finally, in a video from TED, Chimamanda Adichie talks about our tendency to reduce a group to a single story, and the problems that arise out of that act. Before seeing this video, I used to say that the most important thing I have learned from travel is that “Everyone has a story.” Now I realize that I got it a little wrong in a big way. It should read, “Everyone has stories.” The change is more than just pluralization, it’s the realization of multi-dimensionality, complexity.

My goal, going to Haiti, is to avoid taking pictures in a way that I deny the subjects their agency. This wouldn’t even be an issue (or a blog post) if I didn’t recognize in myself a tendency to do the opposite as a result of the media’s story arcs in my own thought patterns.

Love has a recipe

Stirring, Corsica, France

by Mike

Azure fell in love with a Corsican cheese, a cheese that doesn’t travel well. We were leaving in a couple days and she might never again see or taste the enchanting, goaty brocciu. Azure was sad, so I had to do something.

We asked a young man at the market if he knew a brocciu maker who might teach us to make the cheese. He told us to ask the widows who sit on the steps of the mayor’s office.

We rode our scooter to the mayor’s office and asked the old ladies where to find a brocciu maker. In the next village over, they said, lived a woman who made it for years.

We rode our scooter over the ridge and asked a man where Mme Albertini lived. She was his aunt, in fact, and she lived at the edge of town.

We found the woman, but she no longer made cheese – the process is too intense. Her cousin in the next village over, though, still made it.

We found the village and found his barn and Philippe was inside, milking the goats.

“Please,” we said, “Azure loves brocciu and needs to learn to make it herself.”

He looked at her and smiled: if we returned the next afternoon he would happily teach us everything. The next day, alongside his wife and daughter, he patiently taught us the generations-old recipe.

All we had to do was ask.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

Terrifying Old Dragon Man

Old dude, Bali, Indonesia

by Mike

Even a year later this man’s look strips my facade to its frame. Can you feel it too? His worker, a young man, made room in the shop for our flat-tired motorbike, and he went to work silently.

I wanted a picture of the old guy, I had to have a picture of those nails, but I made myself a rule to only take pictures of people I talk to. Damn principle. He didn’t speak English, so with my (very) limited Indonesian, I attempted to have a heart-to-heart with the old man, to get to know him, to have a meaningful, cross-cultural exchange.

“You work here?” I asked.
“Yes.”

“How many years?”
“27.”

Ah, the clumsy conversational dance where all you can reliably understand is “yes,” “no,” whole numbers and “chicken.”

“How old boy?”
“16”

“Your son?”
“No.”

“How many years you Bali?”
“[Unintelligible, but he didn’t say chicken].”

Someone else paid and he used his nails to flip though a wad of cash. I salivated for a photo. Enough chit-chat, time to go for the kill, but subtly of course.

“How many years?” I pointed to his hand.
“One.”

Hold up, only a one year commitment for those things? This is doable! We can do this!

“I photo you?”
“Yes.”

I love travel, don’t you? You can never predict what you’ll come across when you leave the beaten path. There are interesting old dudes out there, around the world, willing to take a second to chit chat with a foreigner.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

Recording a Place

Pink Street, Bogota, Colombia
The Candelaria in Bogota, Colombia

by Mike

To accompany this photo I searched my journal for a piece of writing that might radiate a sense of place in Bogota, but in the two weeks we spent there I only filled ten pages and little of it describes the texture of the city. Some say, “Put away the camera and enjoy the place!” but the two acts aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, if measuring by regret (which is the only way to measure anything ever), I rarely regret taking the time to capture something but more often regret losing the first-person insight during a unique experience. With this in mind, sometimes I’ll simply list everything I’m noticing at a particular moment – sounds, smells, physical feelings, words, etc.

At the beginning of my first trip in 2001 I had to ask (our friend) Amy, “So, why does a person keep a journal?” I was on my way to Europe for the summer and had gotten a gorgeous hand-made journal from my then-girlfriend (I still count it as one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve received). Amy thought it was hilarious that I was asking for advice on what to write about in my own personal journal, but she ended up giving a pretty good rule of thumb: Write about stuff you don’t want to forget. It’s amazing, ten years later, to read back and say, “Oh yeah! I’d completely forgotten about that!” It makes me wonder what else I’ve experienced that might interest me, but I guess that can’t be easily mined.

Anyway, this picture is from a scenic little neighborhood in Bogota called The Candelaria. I think the photo captures the sense of place, even if my writing didn’t.

A Paddle on the Irawaddy

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by Mike

Wandering around the dusty roads of Bagan, we took a turn toward the river and discovered a thriving little shoreline where women washed clothes, kids splashed and others bathed modestly. As we strolled past gardens that hugged the sandy bank, we met a little boat pulling to shore, letting passengers off. Three kids paddled people across the river to what must have been a small village on the other side (though, as you can see in some of the pictures, it doesn’t look like there’s anything there. I suspect the town was far back from the shore, out of the way of floodwater).

We waved the kids over and asked if they’d take us on a little tour down to the gold-covered pagoda that commands the river’s bend.

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Man Made Mountains

Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan, Myanmar.

by Mike

What’s intriguing about this picture is the question, “Where is that plane going to and coming from?” If you look at a world map you’ll see there’s almost no other cities on that longitude, from pole to pole in that hemisphere. The only possibility I can see for a direct north-south flight might be Lhasa to Yangon. If it’s actually going at a more southwestly trajectory, then the origin might be Kathmandu or New Delhi with destinations like Yangon, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

Aging Beauties in Yangon

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by Mike

Sometimes a city feels so different that you don’t even know what to take a picture of, so you snap shots of the biggest things around: buildings.

Many buildings in Yangon were decaying, rotting or defiantly holding their ground against the heat and humidity.

(More Pictures Inside)

The Gift of Fish in Alaska

Proud Fighter, Yakutat, Alaska
King.

by Mike

My dad got hold of an enormous king salmon, the largest he’s ever caught. They fought for 20 minutes as the salmon repeatedly ran for its life, but the hook was well-set. It was a monster, weighing almost 50 pounds (42)!

(Here are a bunch of pictures of my dad in his heaven)

A Waste of Gold

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by Mike

Can I be honest with you? (Who am I kidding, we’re all the imagination of ourselves, we hardly exist enough that you can object. So I’ll be honest.) We didn’t like Shwedegon Paya very much. It’s the top tourist draw in all of Myanmar, and apparently the pinnacle of Myanmar pride. The LP guidebook writer appeared to have had an orgasmic experience that lead to them devoting more pages to the temple than to any other attraction I’ve seen in their books. There are probably more pages on the Shwedegon Paya than there are on non-Bali Indonesia.

But you know what? It was just a big temple, from the outsiders’ perspective. Another misguided human attempt to honor the supernatural with material goods. Eh.

Oh, 100% of our entry fee was turned into gold leaf, which they reapply every year, while their people beg and starve. I suppose they mine vanity from the same source as Americans who buy luxury cars here at home, but none of this excuses our five-dollar contribution to it, so let me say this: If you’re going to Myanmar and you don’t have any connection to Buddhism or architecture, maybe skip this place. Give your five dollars to someone selling their own food on the street. Pictures!

Buddhist Nuns in Yangon, Myanmar

Buddhist Nuns, Yangon, Myanmar

by Mike

While Azure and I sat at a tea shop in Yangon we were approached by a young monk with his collection bucket. He held it out to us. I was happy to offer some food, so we held up a pastry, “Do you want this?” He shook his head no. I held up another pastry and he shook his head again, “No.” Click to Read More

The beautiful Burmese script

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Now, when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, “I will go there.”

– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

by Mike

When Kate and I were kids we had this book that celebrated the diversity of people in the world – black, white, different kinds of Asian, people who ate fish and others who ate rice, some were Jewish and some didn’t have religion, etc. On the pages where they showed samples of different kinds of writing, I was mesmerized by the circular Burmese writing. How confusing and gorgeous! The people who used this writing, how would they talk? How did their minds work differently than mine? What was in the corners of their country? (more pictures of writing)