Naxos, September 22, 2013
There’s a Fleet Foxes song titled “Mykonos” which became a theme song for this trip to Greece in 2013. With its curiously nostalgic and mournful tone, it also expresses a certain hope and liberation accompanied by a sense of loss and acceptance of such. The song seems to be about a journey, about love and rejection and the need for connection, though one can only interpret this as best as possible from the sparse lyrics. It offers more of an impression than explicit clarity, which is perhaps the reason I love it so much. Around two minutes into the song, a change occurs where, in that heartrending harmony so typical of the Fleet Foxes, they sing: “Brother you don’t need to turn me away, I was waiting down at the ancient gate.” And, although this song is titled Mykonos, I’ve always associated this with the standing remains of the door to the temple of Apollo on Naxos.
Temple of Apollo, Naxos
I first saw this splendid ruin from a ferry in 2001, when travelling between islands on my way back from Santorini. I didn’t alight at Naxos on that occasion, though the ferry docked there and spent some time in the port and I spent the entire time staring at this temple ruin and thinking of all the many wonders across the islands. Years later, when I first heard this song and fell in love with it, all I could think about was this striking, standalone temple gate on Naxos. I suspect the reference is actually to the ruins on the island of Delos, which are most easily visited from Mykonos and a key reason for going to that more lively island, though this is just a guess. Either way, this is one of my favourite songs of all time. Something about the combination of “Mykonos” with the image of the temple, and the idea of perhaps travelling there with my brother in what would be a historic first trip to Europe together, work to create a powerful mood of yearning and nostalgia. When I dream of my ideal paradise, it is always a vision of travelling around the Aegean by ferry.
This may all seem irrelevant in combination with the image presented here, but this shot is in fact taken from that ancient gate, looking the other way towards the old town on the rugged and beautiful island of Naxos. We had been listening to the song repeatedly in preparation for and during our journey, and it was very stirring and emotionally satisfying to find myself standing beneath its giant lintel. It was a windy day and plumes of spray whipped up off the water on one side of the harbour wall, while on the other side, the sea was contrastingly calm. The foreground focus on V in this case and resulting haziness of the backdrop makes this image seem appropriately dream-like and evokes intense nostalgia every time I look at it. It is for these reasons, irrespective of technical and compositional qualities or lack thereof, that this photograph is one of my all-time favourites.
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Siem Reap Market, June 28, 2009
Food markets the world over are often very similar places. Outside of the more polished, and middle class inner-city farmers’ markets that have become so popular in western cities, the older-style markets can have a very familiar character. They are crowded and busy; practical rather than pretty; no-nonsense, down to earth, and often messy with food scraps littering the grimy floors. No amount of scrubbing and hosing can quite clear the stains nor remove the lingering smells of fish, fruit and vegetables. They are also often dimly-lit places, with bare globes hanging from high warehouse ceilings, or fluorescent lamps suspended over the stalls. And the people who work there are a special breed of trooper – hard-working, early-rising and more often than not, looking like they’ve been through the wars.
Before I was born my father used to work at Paddy’s Markets in Sydney, doing twelve-hour shifts after working as a journalist to earn extra money. His stories of how hard the work was seemed incredible to me at a young age – throwing fifty kilogram crates of pineapples from trucks, slogging it out all night without sleep – and visiting the markets was made more interesting by these accounts. Since then I’ve always felt a respect for market workers, who exuded an admirable roughness and toughness – broken toothed smiles, calloused hands, dirty clothes, pens and cigarettes behind ears. They were friendly and generous to me as a child and formed, in my young mind, a lasting working-class archetype. My dad, being an old-school socialist, always taught me to respect the workers.
This shot was taken in the covered market in Siem Reap, Cambodia and it reminds me of just how exhausting, demanding and tedious this kind of work is. One can hardly blame this lady for taking a well-earned nap in the uncomfortably heat under the sun-baked roof. As much as I enjoyed its colourful shabbiness, I found it difficult to spend much time in here on account of the smell of decomposing seafood which I can still recall with disquieting accuracy; a rich fug of putrescence; sickly sweet, like a warmed and suppurating aquatic durian. I did wonder how the workers could stand it, but in a town with such awful levels of inequality, with the disgusting decadence of the tourist streets right next to the crushing poverty of the less fortunate locals, marginalised by the riches of Angkor Wat, I guess at least these people were luckier than those left on the outside by the tourist economy.
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Evora, Portugal, August 27, 2007
Before going travelling, I always used to say to myself – “Beware Day One.” On the first day of a trip, I was prone to screwing up at least once. This might be something relatively minor, such as forgetting to grab my phone charger on the way out or a bigger inconvenience like messing up a transport connection. The first day was always a hard slog as I’d invariably had an early flight, almost no sleep, and was not yet “travel-fit”. By this I mean that instinctive, hyper-awareness about everything that is a great boon to the experienced traveller. My first and only visit to Evora was one such example of a first-day screw-up, when, after a very long day – flying on no sleep from chilly London into 38 degree Seville heat, wandering for hours, then catching a late afternoon bus to Evora – I didn’t get off at the right stop and sailed on into the next town. By the time I got on another bus going back the other way, an hour had passed and I arrived in Evora well after sunset.
This might all seem rather trivial, but considering I only had time to stay in Evora for one night, I was gutted that I would not be able to photograph the Roman temple and other ruins at sunset. Still, Evora by night was a splendid place. Quiet and empty, except round its elevated centre where people sat at restaurant tables or drank in the piazza. The cobbled streets were clean and warm, radiating all the day’s heat which seemed to come from the dim orange light. The marble columns of the temple were perhaps even more evocative by the light of the full moon which shone so brightly in the clear night sky.
This shot was taken the following morning, when clouds briefly blocked the sun. The lady in this image walked slowly and quietly, looking as a silhouette like some timeless Mediterranean figure. Even as the morning grew, the little town never really seemed to wake up, and this image always reminds me of the calm and ancient nature of the place. As does that beautiful piece of music by Loreena McKennitt Tango to Evora – which, sure, enough, I listened to while walking the streets.
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Modern woman, Sydney, June 29, 2012
Banana seller, Parharganj, New Delhi, May 5, 2010
Damnoen Saduak market, Bangkok, July 8, 2009
Ferry to Naxos, September 22, 2013
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand, July 14, 2009
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Bali, March 20, 2009
Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India, April 8, 2010 – “Charlton Heston”
Most of the portraits I take are of people with their eyes elsewhere. Reluctant to intrude or make them feel self-conscious, I try to catch them when they are looking away. Sometimes they are already pre-occupied and make attractive subjects because of their contemplative mood, other times something might have just caught their eye and they are conveniently distracted.
This selection of portraits may have a wide distribution geographically and socio-economically, but all the subjects have one thing in common – their very personal subjectivity. Who can even begin to imagine what thoughts they are thinking? We may attribute some mundane generalities based on context, but whether their minds are on the metaphysical or the sublunary, whether they are in the here and now, or else, in some daydreaming fantasy, only they can know. As wondrous a talent as human empathy might be, we suffer from the flaw of projection wherein our own responses shape our imaginings of the thoughts of others. We are prisoners of our own minds; of the limitations of having only ever been one person.
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Fort Kochi, Kerala, December 28, 2012
This shot is taken in Fort Kochi, actually a distinct region of the city of Kochi, characterised by its Portuguese colonial past. The city and locale combine many traditions, brought through both conquest and trade.
The man in this image is walking on the boom of a “Chinese fishing net” as they are referred to locally. The structures are very curious things, rigged like a ship, long and spindly like a crayfish, they tilt over the brine of the Keralan backwaters, dangling and dipping wide nets. The shots below illustrate their insect-like appearance and hand-crafted elegance.
At times I look at this shot and feel it is one of the best I’ve ever taken. Then, at other times, it leaves me with a strange feeling of hollowness. Perhaps it is the industrial backdrop and the staunch and grim look on the man’s face. It contains humanity, but doesn’t feel like a celebration of humanity. Though, in a way, that is what it is intended to be.
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Chiang Mai, Thailand, July 13, 2009
This photo of a young Hmong girl in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has always given me mixed feelings. At first glance it seems like a gift to any travel photographer – the colourful traditional clothing, the curiously critical look of the subject, the exotic backdrop and setting, and, in truth, I took it without much thought, excited in the moment by the location and keen to capture it all as best as possible. It soon became quite clear, and really, should have been clear from the start, that these children are, rather sadly, paraded about for photographic opportunities in order to make a bit of money. By photographing her I felt complicit in all this and had to ask myself those age old questions about the impact of tourists and tourism, particularly on minority communities. Sure, it brings in dollars, but it’s obviously destructive and warps culture to the point that it becomes some commodified parody of itself.
When travelling, I’m often reminded of a line from Pulp’s Common People: “’Cos everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.” It’s fair to say that I do take an interest in local concerns and don’t think it’s all such a laugh, but, whatever the case, “the chip stains and grease will come out in the bath” so to speak. Whether I’m helping or hindering people as a tourist, it will always be the case that shortly after arriving I’ll be moving on to the next place and, ultimately, returning home to the decadent cocoon that is Australia.
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Posted in Favourite Shots on February 12, 2016|
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Prague, June 8, 2007
The elderly gent in this shot seemed to be pausing to pull out a cigarette. I’m not sure whether he did or not – this was the last shot of the sequence – though perhaps I have remembered him doing so and the idea is now fixed. This was taken in Prague on a fine June day in 2007, during my first, only, and rather belated visit to the place. I had long wanted to go to Prague after finding it to be the most talked about city in Europe amongst other backpackers during my inaugural trip around the continent in 1996-7. That was only a few years after the Velvet Revolution and Prague was still opening up to the world – a sexy, dirty and dirt-cheap cultural powerhouse.
By the time I arrived in Prague in 2007, the place had been significantly gentrified. It was striking how clean and well-groomed many of the old buildings were – fresh paint, sandblasted stone-work, clean streets around them. I heard some people – other tourists – complaining about this; as though Prague had lost its edginess and become just another city in Mitteleuropa. For all I know many Czechs may well have felt the same, yet all I could think was how nice it was that this beautiful old city was being looked after properly. Unfortunately part and parcel of this transformation was also a steep rise in the cost of living for locals, partly due to its attractiveness to people like me – tourists. Dammit.
I draw no relation between Prague’s sprucing up and the work this man is doing on the rooftop, which seemed merely a private residence. Yet there was a noticeable amount of construction activity going on – mostly in the way of restoration. It lent the town a sort of spring-clean zeitgeist; an air of getting ready for something, of applying the finishing touches. Clearly my visit was not the focus of all their activity, and I just marched about for a few long, hot days; shooting all the beauty.
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