Travel and Photography

The only thing I miss about my days of being single is the freedom it gave me to travel when I wanted. Nowadays, with a small family it is not so easy to decide on a whim to head off to visit new places. Still though, I am very fortunate that I do get to see new places, albeit with less frequency.

Being married with kids has also changed my perspective on travel. Now, the prime concern is to keep the kids entertained and happy. Once that is achieved, then we can enjoy ourselves too. My secondary concern is to get out and shoot. To see what can be seen and how to see it. And travelling to Asia there is just so much to see. It is an assault on the senses and at times it is just overwhelming.

On our recent trip to Asia, which took in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, I took thousands of photographs using both my Nikon and iPhone. Before going I was so excited. Five weeks in Asia. Five weeks to shoot street photography. Five weeks! Did I have a plan, vision, a project in mind of what I wanted to shoot, to document? Not really. I prefer to allow these things to take their own form; for me to react to what I encounter and not to be restricted by trying to find certain things.

In saying that, there were things I knew I wanted to see and shoot. I wanted to continue with the abstract blur series of people in motion, with both of my cameras. But besides that I was open. I told myself I would be brave and if that shot appeared I would not allow my timidity to get in the way of me getting it. This sometimes worked out and other times didn’t. In later posts, I will have some good stories to tell about situations like this.

However, this approach can result in a lot of clicks, a lot of snapping. I remember the day I arrived in Tokyo, exhausted after an early morning start and little sleep, leaving the hotel and getting out on to the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Now, as my stay went on I came to feel electrified here, but the first time I stepped out on that sunny Saturday afternoon, I knew I should be feeling something and I was, but I was not able to identify what. With the Nikon around my neck and the iPhone in my hand, I was obliged to start shooting. So I did, but with no real purpose or understanding of what it was I seeing or how it could be seen. After about an hour or so I returned to the hotel frustrated. Here I was in one of the most amazing cities in the world, a street photographer’s paradise, a place I had been dreaming about and I did not know what to do or how to do it.

The next day, I met up with one of my favourite photographers – Michael Kistler – who lives in Tokyo and we spoke a little about this. I didn’t make a big deal of it and neither did he. I guess both of us knew this would pass. We spent the day together on a photo walk around Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and back again to Shibuya. Now, I am a big fan of Michael’s work. It is inspirational. Being with him, seeing how he shoots, seeing what gets his attention amongst the frenetic momentum of Tokyo is fascinating. I guess living there he has a greater feel and understanding of the city and its people. I was a visitor, a tourist. He was part of it all. There appeared a logic to his photographing. I was on the outside of it and the shots I was taking were disjointed. Later that evening, I headed back to the hotel, I was not quite as frustrated as the previous day, but still.

Now that I am back and I see the thousands of photographs I have taken over the five weeks and as I look through them I begin to see what I wanted to see. I am beginning to understand it, to see its patterns emerge. And if, by magic, I could walk out my door and step back into it all, I would know how to shoot it. I would know how to connect those dots to create something cohesive and expressive. But, I am a believer in things are as they are. What I shot was what I saw at that time. If I went back now, I would have a different sensitivity and quite possibly miss or ignore the things I saw then. I was a tourist. I was an outsider. And that is OK. The images I made will present that. Perhaps the next time I get to travel I will have more of a focus about what I want to see and what I want to shoot.

It gets me thinking. When I was in Hong Kong, one of my friends asked me why I take photographs. Without hesitation I replied that I took them because I it helps me to understand what I see. And to add to that now, I realise we cannot predict what we will see. So maybe, not having a plan, being free and open to what I encounter is OK.

Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your own thoughts on travel and photography. Do you set out with a plan? Do you feel frustrated when you get back and see patterns emerge that make you feel you missed out; that you need to go back and see and shoot it again?

Asia: Spring 2014