The View From Behind the Lens

In many ways, Bali is a wonderful place for photography. I’ve already gotten the chance to shoot part of an interesting and visually awesome ritual (if only I’d had my battery charged all the way). The markets are a flood of images, from produce to flowers to street food to people carrying impossible-looking loads on their heads and motorbikes. Around every corner is an exotic shrine or temple, often covered in small offerings of flowers and food. And I’m definitely looking forward to shooting the beautiful landscapes of the beaches and mountains, as well as the temples and palaces scattered around the island!

But the best part is that people seem to love the presence of my camera, at least here in Denpasar, where tourists are fewer and farther between. People are flattered when I ask to take a picture of their market stall (and often, nearby stall owners call me over to take one of theirs too). Kids flock to the camera, and adults who see it grin, or wave, or just act genuinely happy. I have yet to ask to take a picture and have someone seem unhappy. It’s wonderful!

At the same time, it’s all a bit overwhelming. I often can’t figure out where to start when confronted with a market teeming with people and goods, or I get overwhelmed by the fact that there are just so many cool shrines and temples and offerings. The light is often harsh and difficult to deal with. Interesting people and things race by on motorbikes before I even have time to react. And the sidewalks are such a mess that it’s a major effort not to fall in a hole while I’m taking pictures.

A warung (small restaurant) where we ate several times. We had chicken soup, satay, and rice with various meat and vegetable side dishes (a common dish called nasi champur).

I started our 2009 trip to Central America with the goal of taking more photographs of people. (I loved the pictures from our Europe trip, but they were awfully heavy on landscapes.) Thanks in part to the beauty of Guatemalan dress, I did pretty well with that goal.

But now, looking back at all the pictures from those trips, one thing that I’d like more of is pictures of everyday sights. I’m sad that I don’t have a photo of the kinds of buses we rode daily around Belize and Guatemala, or of a house with rebar sticking out the top in case they find the money to build another level later, or a scary-looking Honduran shower head covered in electrical wires. Things we saw so often that it didn’t occur to me to take a picture of them, or things that weren’t “photogenic” and didn’t appeal to me as real “photographs.”

But I’ve started to realize that, in their own way, little everyday snapshots are as important as lovely artistic images. We want reminders of the non-lovely parts of travel as well as the photogenic ones. And it’ll give our friends a better idea of life on the road.

So that’s my goal this time around—keep taking lovely landscapes, keep being brave enough (and fast enough) to photograph people, but also include more shots of everyday life, obviously photogenic or not. We’ll see how that works!

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