Choice

Varanasi, India.

     One of the three men I met on the streets in Varanasi, just waiting there to die, from the story posted here. Maybe they couldn’t choose how rich or how poor they were in life, or how they were going to die, but they could, and did, choose where they would die. That’s a lot better than most in my opinion, and they were quite happy for the choice.

     When I was looking at the pictures of this particular man, after talking to him and sitting with him on the street, I couldn’t help but think …the body may be saying die, but those eyes, they say live. He is probably gone, for a while now really, but who knows. He may still be sitting there on a street, above a ghat, waiting, watching, smiling, still happy for the choice of where. Who knows…

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The Great Cornholio

Somewhere along the Niger River, one and a half days cruise, by pinasse, from Mopti, headed towards Timbuktu, Mali.

…sorry, had to do it.
…of Beavis and Butthead fame for those who don’t know. See here.    

     I mean, just imagine, sailing for a day and a half through some of the least inhabited parts of the
world known to man (in my mind at least), through the desert with nary a soul in sight. Barely seeing a sign of life. No electricity, no cars, no TV’s. Hardly a smidgen, yes a smidgen, of anything to remind you of the western world. Hell, to remind you of the Industrial Revolution for that matter. Then you stop at a village on the side of the river, in the middle of nowhere, and there’s this kid running around, with her shirt over her head
and arms in the air, yelling things in a high pitch voice like she just ate a copious amount of M&M’s…

Portrait Photography – Rule #1 – Have Fun

     After writing an almost four hundred worder on what I think is the single most important aspect of producing a good photo, focal point, I trashed it and started over. Started another article, almost reaching five hundred words, on focal point again, with some points on the differences between focal point and subject matter infused throughout. Ended up trashing that. Thought about it for a while and the article just didn’t seem right. Sure, focal point is very important, but the fact of the matter is, there are more important factors in producing good photos. Focal point is important, as is subject matter, sharpness, composition, etc, etc, but over and over again, while writing the article, I almost had to “force” the subject. Well, you know what, after I sat back for a while, it finally came to me what is the most important single aspect in producing a good image. For me, it is just plain having fun.

     Think about it, and I’m not talking a paying job photo type shoot. If you’re out all miserable, taking shots here and there, how many photos do you actually like when looking back at them. If photos are about memories, who wants to be reminded of a bad day out. If you’re not enjoying taking the photos, why even bother. The answer to that is, for me, there really is no reason.

          Being an avid “people photography” kind of person, not having fun can really show through in the photos you are taking also. I often find myself in “poorer” (monetarily that is) parts of the world where you don’t see happiness all the time. In my experience though, happiness is always there, in some form or way. You just need to get it to show. This is where having fun can really shine through in your photos.

     When I am having fun, it always seems to come through in the photos. Big, happy smiles on my subjects faces. Bright colors, happy people, laughter. The trick for me is to not only have fun but try to include your subject in the fun. Talk, joke, laugh… Make your subject forget about their situation, and worry maybe just a bit less, for at least a few minutes. Show them the pictures on your LCD. Make them smile. Don’t just run up and take a shot. Sit, communicate and share a little. …and if you haven’t tried, no matter what language you speak, a smile is universal, and goes a long way in communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. If you have a mad tone of voice and a frown on your face, how do think your subject will react to that? Doesn’t work for me, and it usually doesn’t work for people who have not met that particular person, but are just looking at the photograph.

     I have never had a problem with communication with my subject for some reason, whether I’m in India, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nepal, China or anywhere else on earth. No, maybe I can’t have a conversation with them on world issues or the political state of their country, but I can communicate that I want to take a picture of them, I mean no harm, and I am just trying to have fun.

     So, I’ll talk about focal point, subject matter, communication and whatever else another time. If you’re looking for a more technical type of insight to photography, there are plenty of articles out there written everyday. There are also plenty of people who will argue that sharpness, color, contrast, focal length, and the like are the most important aspects in obtaining a good portrait. It is all opinion, and everyone’s is different, but my opinion is that these people will never truly realize why their portraits aren’t any good, or hold any real connection between the subject and viewer. Sure, they may be sharp, with great color, but there is more to a great photograph than that. Again, not talking about a studio shoot here, but more about “out and about” photography.

     For now, my best advice would be to just have fun, and I would almost bet that your photos will be better and hold dearer memories for you, as well as being a bit more interesting for people looking at those photos. It works for me, so I say go out have some fun. See what happens. Maybe you’ll like the results!!! Sure, there is more to a great photo than just having fun, but it is a great place to start, and you have to start somewhere.

     …and, of course, a few examples of what I’m talking about. A picture is worth a thousand, happy, words. Up above, to the left, a young girl from Chong Kneas in Cambodia, subject of a previous post that can be seen here. That one was easy, as she was looking to have fun and smile. Above, to the right, a girl selling peanuts at one of the temples of Bagan, Myanmar. If you’ve never been, and are saying to yourself “What is she wearing on her face?” …It is thanaka, sometimes called tanaka. Natures sunscreen, made of bark mashed into a paste. Seen on women’s faces throughout Myanmar, spread into any and every design imaginable.

     What do you do with a girl from Debark, Ethiopia, homeless and living on the street, both parents gone…???… Make her forget all that. Make her laugh!!! Have fun.

    Below, a homeless woman on the steps of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur, India. I like to call her Joy. You could tell she wasn’t very well off, and it looked like she could use a laugh. I spent some time sitting on those steps, amid the sadhus, holy men, holy women, the more unfortunate of the town.

      I didn’t just run up, take a shot, and run away. I sat and saw what the people there saw. She made fun of me. I made fun of her. I showed her some pictures I had taken. She showed me her bruises and cuts. I took a shot, she didn’t smile. I smiled as I yelled at her to smile. Showed her what she looked like on my LCD. She fixed her hair, laughed, smiled and forgot about life for a minute or two. Great woman. Both of us had fun. Great memories, not only of Joy herself, and the happiness that some have to just be alive, but of Udaipur and the Indian people themselves. Thinking about it, I could probably write a whole article on Joy herself. Hmmm …maybe I will.


Why are You Complaining?

Somewhere along the Niger River, Mali.

What? Why are you complaining? You really think your life is so bad…

The day I started to travel is the day I realized how lucky I really am.

If this little guy can get by with just a tattered shirt and a wooden bowl, than I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

A sharing village to fill his bowl and he does not complain. It is how it is, and he gets by as well as he can.

Want the cure for complainers. Tell them to take a trip through the Sahara. If they come back complaining, their condition is incurable…

Note: Not really sure where this was taken exactly. It was a small nameless village about a day and a half down the Niger River (by pinasse), coming from Mopti, headed towards Timbuktu. A few hours past Niafunké. If you see the graveyard in the sand, you are there. The village may be gone by now…

 March 6, 2008