August 12, 2008 § Leave a comment
I spent part of my summer traveling and photographing. It is always bitter sweet returning home, to an unspoken familiarity. Once I arrive, automatically retreating to my darkroom, a place of refuge and quiet–a place where I spend many hours printing my black and white musings, as once described by a friend, who has long passed–I begin my work. We use to spend hours pouring over photographs; the variations of the prints, the intimacy of our stories, and what we went through to capture our images. The inherent act of being by one’s self, traveling, and upon the return, processing the film, printing the images all in solitaire, and the unspoken loneliness. Prior to leaving for my trip, I met Larry Fink. A long time photojournalist, who said in his commentary, “Photographers / Photojournalists are so fucking boring. All they do these days is take their pictures with their digital cameras, go back to their hotel rooms, download, tone, and email their images to their editors, then go to sleep.” He continued to explain the difference, “In my day, photojournalists were fucking crazy, they photograph, get drunk, go back to their hotel rooms, process their film, and Fed-X or wire our images to their papers. Some of them never wanted to miss the action, so we never slept.” I can relate to this in some respects–not sleeping or missing anything due to the mystery of a place. Two films that give you a universally different perspective about being in the field is the documentary film, “War Photographer,” about James Nacthwey. the other film, “Salvadore,” (directed by Oliver Stone, 1986) is based on a true story about a photojournalist, who is photographing the war in El Salvadore during the 1980’s. Although, my experiences are far more peaceful, they relate idea of what you go through in the process of capturing images, the emotions, the solitude, the physical extremes of your environment, and the nervousness of your film being damaged, destroyed, or confiscated by officials. Or in today’s world the images being deleted by some official.
When I am printing my images, many different thoughts go through my mind. Sometimes it is nothing more than the buzzing of the electricity, only to be muffled by what ever song you’re listening to, or figuring all the possible variations of how to print an image. Other times it is about the memory of capturing the image and everything transpired before and after the image was made. This images was taken in Tibet at Namtso Lake during the summer of 2004. I remember the months of preparation prior to this trip. Organizing the itinerary and the Visas. I first applied to for my Visas into China. Once there I spent eight days photographing in Shanghai and the surrounding area. From there, I traveled to Beijing, which I found to be a difficult place to photograph. However, I wondered onto an artist colony, where I photographed, we drank, and conversed about art and politics. The days were short there, and on my to Chengdu. Fortunately, at the time, I had a friend living in the city, who expedited the Visa process into Tibet. It is highly controlled region of China, The Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), in fear of foreigners inciting riots or passing out photographs of the Dalai Lama. If it weren’t for my friend, I would have had to spend another four or five days waiting for my Visa to be approved to Lhasa. Once we arrived, I had to apply for more permits in order to travel anywhere outside of Lhasa. I had to indicate a specific and detailed itinerary that I was not allowed to stray from. It was difficult trying to decide where to go, or what would be the most interesting place to visit. I had a small lonely planet guide book, and only minutes to decide. It took four days before I would receive my permits and permission to travel to Eastern Tibet to an exotic lake and the magical Tsodzong Monastery. The guide book warned, “Eastern Tibet is officially forbidden to foreigners without a guide, private transport (normally a Land Cruiser) and a fistful of permits, including an Alien Travel Permit and a military permit. These can only be attained by the travel agency arranging your trip.” Due to the complexity of traveling there I figure I would give it a shot. It is a beautiful yet a strange place to be. During this time we decided to travel to Namtso lake, since it was one of the few places foreigners could travel without permits. The experience driving there was unnerving due to the poor conditions of the road, and the overall weather. We arrived later in the day, and were scheduled to depart the next morning, yet because of the amount of time and energy it took to drive there, we decided to stay one extra day. The sun was setting, dark fell upon us quickly, and conditions grew harsh. The temperature dropped below 0 degrees fahrenheit or 32 degrees Celsius. We were confined to our camp due to the weather, the onset of snow in the middle of summer, and the pack mentality of the stray dogs. The night was spent with my head spinning, nausea, fever, and barking dogs. I slept well into the next morning, waking up in the early afternoon. I finally decided to explore the area with my camera. Photographing most of the day, the image that is shown in the image above, was taken as the sun was setting, after I had photographed a monk standing graciously in front of a shrine. This image was finally printed four years later, after another journey to the Caribbean–another place of harsh environments, physical extremes, the emotion of not wanting to return, and the dog days of summer–the emotion of everything that has transpired in past four years, and the events that transpired that evening prior to printing this image.
This image was printed at the same time as the image above, but taken a year later (2005), on an island off the caribbean coast. It was the morning after a festival, as the sun was rising. We were wondering around, hungry and tired, they saw a vendor on the street, selling leftover pieces from a roasted pig. The sun was bright and burning, the air was humid and unbearable. Our only sanctuary was our broken down rental car, being torn apart in pieces with each kilometer we drove, yet the air conditioner relieved much of our suffering. I was not sure what to make of this moment, the serendipity of the dog positioning itself between Wilson and the vendor. I photographed this image over several frames waiting for everyone to move into position. I was concerned about the intensity of the light, and photographing into the sun. This was the only the image that I made that day. The rest of the time was spent driving to another town, six hours east. We were stopped half there, and detained by officials for a good portion of the day. Searching through our stuff, hoping that they would not confiscate my film, a small bribe of Kentucky’s finest, finally secured our release. A strange moment.
My darkroom, my refuge.