Photography Abroad

Taking pictures can serve a multitude of purposes: an external record of a sight or place, capturing a moment, creating something visually beautiful or interesting. I started taking pictures with disposable point-and-shoot film cameras, before tackling the artistic (and scientific) challenges of first pinhole and later 35mm film cameras, before moving on to digital point-and-shoot and eventually interchangeable lens cameras. Through this process I have encountered many frustrations – mostly trying to make technology do things the technology was not designed to accomplish – and learned a lot.

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Rhesus Macaque; 2012; Mussoorie, India.

I learned, taking the above photo, that monkeys do not distinguish between intentional staring of a dominance contest and the studied look of a photographer trying to focus perfectly. I captured that image, and the next was slightly blurred as the monkey charged down the branch it was sitting on and hissed at me. I’ll blame “camera shake” for that.

I learned (painfully slowly) about how to reduce and limit noise in an image, and just because the thing you want to capture in an image is in the middle of your frame, it doesn’t mean you have framed it properly (both issues exemplified in the Taj image below).

And I learned that just because something is impressive to see, it does not necessarily translate into an impressive image, as Ramses the Great demonstrates here.

Perhaps the most striking are the images I captured that have an element of excellence, but now looking back at them I can see how to do something with that potential – if only I were standing there again. I’ll never forget these places, but without these images I would certainly have lost some of the details to the fog of time and age.

Yet every now and then, I’ll find an image that is sharp and clear and shows me a sight that brings back all of the memories – the adrenaline of nearly dropping a camera because of a terrifying, tiny monkey; the sweltering Indian heat and pressing crowds giving way to awe at the first glimpse of the building known as a monument to love; the burning skies of Egypt and the gaze of a king dead for three thousand years.

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Ramses; 2013; Abu Simbel, Egypt

Now I can look at those older images – some going back a decade or more – and see what mistakes I made. And sometimes I wish I was back there – with my new gear, and my new knowledge, and my new skills – to retake those old photographs. Because I know I can do better, and make better art from what I saw.

All I can do is move forwards, and plan for the next place I will visit, and the next pictures I will take. And while I wait, I will look back at these images, and remember the adventures hidden in the light I once captured.

Taj Mahal; 2011; Agra, India

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