Those of us from the States experience extreme crowding only at athletic events or rock concerts. The shot below was taken in Bangkok’s Chinatown, on a Saturday afternoon. There were probably two hundred thousand people in the markets, which occupy about a half a square mile. Routinely, someone would drive a motorcycle through the crowd. There is a beggar who I’ve seen twice during my visits, who crawls on his stomach through the crowd, pushing a tin cup in front of him. If you ever thought you might have an anxiety attack and simply lose consciousness in a seemingly endless crowd, this is the place to find out.
Up in the hills, wearing traditional dress from their ethnic group. I didn’t want to bother them and ask the name of their group. There are several. Most are refugees from Burma, who sort of shooed out anybody they didn’t want to deal with incorporating into their already multi-ethnic state, and sent them to live in refugee camps across the border, in Thailand.
It seems like Buddhist countries know something that Christian countries could benefit from, and vice-versa. Maybe we should all trade places at least once in a lifetime.
The joys of cultivating one-mindedness and of following the eight-fold path could greatly benefit most people I know back home, and if all the Buddhists came to America, we could teach them how to drive.
The hills around Chiang Mai are already crawling with Christian Missionaries trying to convert the animist Hill Tribe People, who are of mysterious origin, speak their own languages and worship their own gods. The missionaries are going hut to hut and generally doing their darndest to persuade the rest of this almost completely Buddhist nation to get saved.
Even in Oskaloosa, Iowa, bastion of Caucasian Christianity, I haven’t seen any Buddhists going door to door, peddling incense or lotus blossoms. So at this point, it’s obvious that we’re making all the effort. If this ecumenical plan of mine is going to work, they’re going to have to try a little harder to meet us halfway.
LOVE TO TAKE THOSE PICTURES
I’ve been in love with photography ever since I was about twelve. It was then that my father allowed me unlimited access to the family Argus, and I began to snap 35 mm shots of the usual things that present themselves as subjects to photographers of twelve: family, neighbors, squirrels in trees. Film cost forty-nine cents a roll and developing eighty-nine. Since my allowance was fifty cents a week, I had the resources to shoot a roll every third week and still buy a candy bar or two.
To this day I remember the smell of the camera…a heady brew of the leather on its back and its intricate metal interior. It had no light meter, so I was forced to guess at f-stop and shutter speed. Through trial and error I got quite good at approximating the right amount of light onto the film.
Today, I am quite content to let my new Sony digital camera sweat the exposure readings. I rarely photograph squirrels today, but more often than not, it’s people who interest me as subjects. I find that I spend a lot more time photographing people than I do sunsets. It takes more nerve to photograph a person than a landscape, and the rewards are sporadic, but as in all photography, if you take a lot of pictures, you vastly increase your chances of taking a good one.
The number of shots taken separates rank amateurs from serious amateurs and professionals. Serious photographers take lots and lots of pictures, planning to discard most of them in favor of keeping a few choice ones. When handed a camera, non-photographers take a couple of pictures and then expect to be disappointed.
I buy two cameras a year. Yes, it’s an addiction, but a manageable one, for I can sell the older cameras at a tolerable loss on eBay every time I want to buy a new one. The pace of development in digital photography equals that of computers. Who wants to be stuck with a four-year old gizmo? My latest camera, which I bought for less than two hundred dollars, defocuses the background for portraits, making it seem like a much pricier single lens reflex. The lens is sharp as a Sicilian razor, and the resolution is so high it burdens my two-year old computer to process the images.
So what do most people want to see in a portrait? The eyes. Those windows of the soul must be in sharp focus, and lit. If you want to take really sharp pictures, use a tripod. You can buy one at your local Goodwill for six dollars. Camera shake is the biggest cause of so-so photos. Put your camera between an open window and your subject and make sure the background behind the subject is as dark as possible. Zoom in a little. Nobody looks good in a wide angle lens. The light coming in the window should be indirect. Direct sunlight will cause your subject to squint and your photograph to be over-exposed in all the wrong places. Remember, we want to be able to see eyes.
Take twenty photos for every one you expect to come out. Remember, there’s no penalty for trying too hard and you’re certainly not “wasting” anything. Even camera batteries are almost all rechargeable nowadays, so at worst you’re guilty of squandering a few electrons.
The most impressive pictures I’ve taken have been candid portraits, usually done when I’m holding the camera chest or waist-high and snapping as rapidly as the camera will allow. In a way I’m stealing images, without taking the time to develop relationships, but, heck, Henri Cartier Bresson made a career of it and we’re all the better for it.
The commonplace becomes too ordinary. You can’t see it with fresh eyes. Then you travel across the world and everything seems interesting, at least for a while.
One of the reasons it’s more rewarding to take pictures in tropical countries than in America is because there are more people outside. In America, unless it’s a special event everybody’s tucked inside their car or their house. With the exception of Manhattan, an athletic event or the State Fair, there’s nobody to photograph. That’s why so many beginning photographers snap pictures of bums passed out on park benches.
I have developed a way of taking candid street and market shots, where I hold my little point and shoot camera at about chest level and pretend to be looking the other way. The camera is small and looks like nothing more than a cell phone, but it is quite an amazing little thing, with a great lens and plenty of resolution. Anyway, here’s a photo I snapped that way, walking through a market area, in Bangkok.
GOOD VERSUS GREAT
There are good photos and then there are great photos. I’ve taken a few very good photos, but never one that would stop people in their tracks. I’m buying a much better camera, so that might help me take the whole act of photography more seriously, pay more attention to detail, and work a little harder at justifying the expense of the new camera. I don’t expect the camera to turn good photos into great ones.
The photo I’ve attached here was taken by Steve McCurry, who has a WordPress (Google) blog. I guess it’s ethical to borrow each others photos as long as we admit we’re doing it. This picture actually makes you wonder if the guy is reading to the elephant, and the elephant is blissfully listening, or if the guy is just using a sleeping baby elephant as back support.
Great pictures rarely have no living creature in them. Sunsets, mountains, buildings…I never linger on a shot of them for longer than a second. But give me a picture of a creature conveying an emotion, and I’ll stare at it for minutes, sometimes hours.