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just telling it as I see it...

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Travel broadens the eye


Shan tribe children in the north of Myanmar

Once you have walked down the central reservation of the Jl. Gajah Mada in central Jakarta, you will never look at a city street in the same way. You can read about it, but if you have never done much travelling in Asia, you can never imagine it. You really have to experience it. Of course, you can look at images and if the photographer is skilled, you can be transported there & gain a good insight. However, this is not the subject I want to explore. What effect does travelling & photographing have on the photographer & other images he or she may take afterwards?


I think that the experience of different cultures && environments informs the observer & alters their perception of what they see "at home". If your knowledge of dogs is gained solely from pets you've had or seen & the worst behaviour has been on the News when the SPCA have stepped in, then you haven't got a clear perspective on what treatment humans are capable of meting out to their canine 'friends'. If you are alarmed by the degenerating condition of inner city streets, then you have not stepped out in downtown Dhaka (Dacca) to witness utterly different priorities in urban planning. Thus, your vision & even imagination is restricted because it does not have enough material to reference. As the old (and oh so true) saying goes, "there's nought queerer than folk..." There are things that people do that could never be imagined by other people, sometimes in their own country, let alone across the globe. Travel = more exposure to strange and different = more brain food.&


There is an argument that by hiding behind a camera, photographers never really 'experience' what they are seeing. They are observers behind a glass wall, literally. That's for another time, but does travel to different places and witness of differing cultures and events alter a person's perception of everyday reality when they return home. & Absolutely. Once you've visited live creature food stalls in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon),you can never go to a Farmer's Market & see it in the same way again. Once you've met real people in the Shan tribes fighting for independence in the north of Myanmar (Burma) you can never look at a politician the same way. But is this a good thing? Yes, because it forces us to question the status quo. Why things are the way they are & why can't they change. Photographers can, and do sometimes without realising it, put a different slant on an image simply because they 'see' things in a different way.


'Seeing' is the essence of photography, and it stems from the photographer's own life experience. That is not to say that if a photographer does not travel, they cannot be a good photographer. Far from it. Sometimes, the more choice we have, the more experiences to draw from, the more confused we get. Clarity of vision is entirely different from breadth of experience & both have their strengths and weaknesses. I was told by a mentor many years ago that he didn't like travelling because it 'confused' him. He had developed a singular style & vision (he was a food photographer) & felt threatened by anything that undermined it.


If you embrace new & different experiences, really living them & absorbing them, your perspective shifts, your imagination delves into totally new territory, you see everything through a different set of filters, and finally, the photographs you take will be indelibly altered. It should be said that travelling through the modern, streamlined corridors of today's tourist brochures will not dramatically shift anyone's axis. In this world, most things are the same with different backdrops. It is in the outback, the off-road, the in-country trips to the out-of-the-way places that you can see the real world & there, maybe, your eyes will be opened slightly to the & world you actually inhabit.

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