I had a lot of beginner's luck in the club competitions I entered after I joined. Most of that I ascribe to the subject matter of my work. My New Guinea witchdoctor or mudmen and Peruvian llama herders were just such wonderful things to photograph, it was hard not to get a decent picture wherever you pointed the camera. I began to think if myself as a decent photographer as I delved more deeply into the technical aspects of camera work. Yet I think it has always been the interesting subjects who surround me on my adventures who account for whatever succcess I have had. I have never sought out high quality lenses or professional camera equipment of any kind. On my trips, I carry a bag with an additional lens, a separate flash, a small tripod and a few extra batteries. Most of the accomplished photographers I know are likely to add another camera body and lot more sophisticated equipment but my focus has always been on the travel so I do not burden myself carrying a big, accessory bag the way some others do.
Another difference between me and my competitors at the camera club are the number of photos I take and the amount of work I do with them afterwards. I have learned some Photoshop but I use it to get my shots clearer and sharper and brighter, not to rearrange parts of the photos or seek perfection in the quality of what I photograph. It was only after a trip to tribal India, however, that I came upon the major distinction between me and certain dedicated camera addicts. I met a man about my age who proclaimed that he had won many prizes and whose wife lauded him as a very superior and widely published portrait photographer. Since that is my favorite kind of photo I was immediately interested in his work. And it was good. He invited me to join him in touring the red light district and another area in Mumbai where we met on our way to a tribal tour. I went along with him. I found it quite disconcerting and intrusive when he occasionally leapt out of our cab to point his camera right at the women, something I might term "zoo photography." His subjects were not happy to have such attention nor were some folks at our next stop who were sitting along the street and begging alms from strangers. He did not ask for permission for his photos nor did he show any sensitivity to the privacy of his subjects. That is not the way I photograph nor is it a courteous or respectful way to deal with people. I lost my interest in his photography quite rapidly and quickly understood how he came to take such good portraits. He was insulting and rude. Not for me.
I have seen others behave the same way and wanted no part of that whatsoever. The same man asked me to take a walk with him along the street of the next town we stopped in. I had not yet learned my lesson so I acceded to his invitation. What followed was his practically pushing his camera right into the face of passers-by without even an acknowledgement that normal behavior would have required at least a request for permission to take a photo. Embarrassed and insulted Indians walked past us rapidly, unquestionably feeling on display for the pleasure of a very rude traveler. We his prize winners worth that price? Absolutely not. My lack of willingness to do "rude" photography has not prevented me from winning some prizes and using my photos for many travel lectures with success.
I will settle for that.
I cannot think of a single photo I took before or after that experience without clearly obtaining permission from the person whose face I wanted to capture or whom I failed to engage in some conversation to bring us closer. I make it a point to avoid scenes of poverty, illness, desperation and other circumstances which most people take no pride in and prefer not to share with others. I will just have to settle for second prize, I imagine. That is a price I am willing to pay. For me, the tourist footprint is more important than his pleasure.
Kuna Indian Woman,
San Blas Islands, Panama