Heat, humidity, crowds and traffic- obviously. Smiling faces- hope so. Colour- everywhere, but I really like shooting black and white. All these preconceptions and much more: would I need to ask for permission to take somebody’s photo, or would a smile and raising a camera to my eye suffice? Before we left I’d considered taping phonetic phrases to the back of my cameras in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese to say, “Can I take your photograph?” I knew that taking pictures of military installations would be a no- no, and that areas within temples needed respect. I thought you would be able to shoot people going about their day to day business without becoming conscious of the camera or affected in any way. It doesn’t easily happen like that though as at the first sign of a camera people tended to pull a goofy smile and then make the peace sign with their fingers. That’s OK, I don’t mind, that’s what they do, that’s normal.
I almost think there is an acceptance of tourists wanting to take photographs as a fact of life- it just happens, so just get on with it. The patience that people have though is unbelievable, the amount of times that either Debbie or myself got angry with the rudeness of tourists, desperate for that winning travel shot of a market trader or a street vendor engaged in their day to day living is damn near uncountable. Shoving cameras in people’s faces is rude, wherever you are. Certainly then, snapping away, looking at the back of your camera and seeing if the “capture” was good, then walking to the next scene without interacting or acknowledging the person is beyond belief.
I’ve never considered myself a travel photographer (although I like both things), it’s often too trite, everybody is after that bit of ethnicity, realism or jaw dropping sunset/ viewpoint/ slice of life. I also don’t consider myself a landscape photographer. It has too many repetitive “from the tips of your feet, to the ends of the world” or “isolated close up of nature” memes and self-congratulatory, equipment- heavy connotations for me. I consider myself simply a photographer, reacting to what I see and feel, through a filter of the last 43 years of living, talking and meeting people.
Why film? Always liked the look of it, but more importantly I like the process it requires. You only have 36 shots on a roll and once you start it, you pretty much have to shoot it at your original setting (it’s hard to shoot at ISO 3200 at night, then carry on shooting the same roll in daylight). I like the fact that you are limited in number of shots. I like the fact that you cannot see what you have taken – it makes me really remember when I think I have taken a good shot, how and why, that I find hard to replicate with digital. I like films flexibility. I like the fact that people don’t expect it any more- it can start some interesting conversations. I like shooting rangefinders with fixed focal lengths, and I don’t like zoom lenses. I like looking through a viewfinder and I like seeing space around the frame lines- it connects you with the world, where a big SLR and looking through the lens isolates you from it.
I won’t tell a lie, if I could afford a digital Leica I would use one (I’m pretty sure that I’m not totally sure about that statement), but I can’t, so a workaround is my Fuji X100- fixed lens, small, discrete, no dust issues on the sensor, pretty tough and fairly non- threatening. When I do shoot digitally I turn off the preview screen, and only briefly look at the images when I occasionally download a card to our laptop. I then don’t look at them again until we get home, so it’s similar to a film workflow.
Was digital necessary? Not sure, it was there as a back up in case film was fogged, or my M6 broke down or worse, got stolen.