October 11, 2011

Who needs a lottery when you have a camera…

With a camera in hand, it is easier to stop and notice things. To slow down and explore alleyways otherwise rushed through. But for me, all of that is secondary to the people I meet. Pearls of human dignity. Strung together they keep alive my trust in humanity. While the camera acts as an icebreaker, it is secondary to the experience that follows. It could be 5 seconds, or it could become an afternoon, or sometimes even several days spent in someone’s shop, home or village.

One of these pearls is Parvati. We met a year ago, in Nepal. She was sitting in a shop in an alleyway of the Boudha stupa. Something about her was so graceful, and I asked her if it was OK to make a photo. She smiled, shyly, and nodded yes. I gestured if another one was ok. We laughed and giggled as we played with the light. Each time I showed her the result on the back of the screen. She was mesmerized by the last one. Her portrait. I wanted to give something back for the time and patience she had shown me. I wanted to give her that picture. I knew how to say tomorrow in Nepali. So I pointed at the photo, then at me, then at her. I said tomorrow and again pointed from the photo to her. I then asked her where she’d be, pointing at her and said again tomorrow, questioning. She smiled and pointed to the shop. And her books. She gestured something which I took to mean she was there every morning. Studying and tending to her father’s shop.
So the next day I asked around and found a photo shop near the stupa. I rushed to Parvati with the prints. Her smile made me feel like the 10 rupee I spent was worth a million…

So much in the language of photography is based on ‘taking’:  to shoot, to capture, to snap. While it should be about giving. Some cultures believe a person’s image holds a piece of their soul. Literally. While I don’t want to take away a piece of someone, I do love the idea behind it. Figuratively speaking, I hope my photographs do show some of a person’s essence. And Parvati taught me the least I can do in exchange is give back that image to them.

Wherever I go, I try as much as possible to print photos on the spot. No matter how shoddy the quality. Of course, in a village without electricity or printers, your options are limited. Either you take a mobile printing solution with you, e.g. the polaroid POGO printer. Or you can jot down the nearest city and the name of a contact. And hope the post pigeons get there somehow!

Today I go back to Burma. And one of the most important items in my luggage will be the prints below. At the same time I also finished and shipped prints to Mexico. Hope the cards and photos will bring a smile to their face! Really, who needs a lottery when you have a camera…

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