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9769 Chinese fishing net man 2

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.

9298 Chinese fishing nets

9021 Fishing net

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The Return

Too much time has passed since I lasted posted a collection of photographs – partly because an air of malaise and pointlessness has set in around blogging, but mostly because I haven’t been excited about recent shots. Ever since my son was born I’ve mostly taken photos of him. This is great in that I have some really lovely images, but not especially interesting for people outside family circles. It’s also true, as noted before, that my range of travel has been somewhat limited, and when we do go somewhere, I’m often too distracted by parenting to spend the time finding the best shots.

Yet, whereas one world might seem to have shrunk, another microcosmic world has expanded exponentially – fatherhood. I say microcosmic because so much of my time is spent with my son, around the house and in the local area. We go through very similar routines most days and visit very familiar places – yet within that I’ve been privileged to develop a whole new perspective on life through watching the development of a human child. Before the weightiness of that eternal, paternal instinct, everything else seems far less important or purposeful. And in that microcosmic universe of my new family I’ve been swallowed somewhat, not unlike the immersion I seek in games – a willing escapism where all is coloured by “I’m a father now.”

So this is a return of sorts. A return to the vanity and exposure of the internet, where I shall post once again my small contribution to human culture, a collection of photos from the first quarter of the twenty-first century, one day to be archived and then utterly lost in the rises and falls and format shifts of the history yet to be made.

4017 Dude upright

4410 Biplane 3

4920 Tree morning

2352 Lady in window B & W

2515 Rusty rail

3933 Happy sunshine

3594 Wedding ring

5569 Leading with the elbow

2377 House wall

1283 Young guys, city

1357 Towel rack

1124 Light thin

0701 Old industrial 2

5812 Making and breaking Guernica

5939 Carriageworks

9882 Parrot head

3000 Crossing infinity

5957 Walk home

2307 Modern times

4574 Blue gate

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Chiang Mai, Thailand, July 13, 2009

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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Prague, June 8, 2007

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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Varkala Beach, Kerala, December 24, 2012

Varkala Beach, Kerala, December 24, 2012

This choice is mostly on account of its seasonal spirit – the shot was taken on the morning of Christmas Eve in Varkala, Kerala, India in 2012. That morning the beach was full of people, promenading on the sand, enjoying the sea air, and partaking in various religious rites. A local priest had set up a small shrine on the beach, the altar built atop a mound of sand, and some smallish painted idols had been placed nearby. Kerala has a large Christian community, courtesy of Portuguese colonialism, and it was interesting to see how Christmas celebrations were blended with more traditional practises. Some locals made offerings of rice and flowers to the sea, wading in knee-deep, though very few, apart from the local canoe fishermen, went further into the water.

The early crowd can be seen in the background; the stretch of beach on which the man runs was tidally cut off by a cluster of rocks, out of shot, and was near deserted. At 0700 AM, it was already warm and the humid haze can be seen building in the greyish sky. The water was a bath-like 24-25 degrees and remained shallow for almost a hundred metres out to sea.

This young man seemed a rare sight – apart from playing cricket, or the all too common back-breaking physical labour, it isn’t that common to see Indian people exercising in public. He had a real spring in his step and seemed quite delighted with his morning run. Whether he was a local or one of the many tourists who had come to spend Christmas at the sea, I’m not sure, but he certainly offered a celebratory spirit on that jetlagged first morning in India.

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1050 Venice 2

Venice Fish Markets, March 8, 2007

1438 Venice (2)

Venice Fish Markets, March 8, 2007

The fish markets in Venice are a busy place in the mornings and offer great people-watching opportunities. Traditional markets nearly always make for potentially excellent subject matter as they not only contain such a variety of objects and colours, but they also often contain some real characters. The markets are open until around five in the afternoon, by which time things have wound down considerably and most of the vendors have either gone, or are busily in the process of packing up. Once the place has been cleared, the cleaners come in to hose it down. Fortunately, the space remains open to the public and one can still wander around after closing time.

The market building, a modestly-sized neo-gothic arcade, roughly five arches wide either side, sits on a bend in the Grand Canal, with another canal to one side, perpendicular to the main artery. It therefore offers quite a wide view from its edges, but the interior space also has a simple attractiveness to it. The red canvas awnings combine beautifully with the blue tarpaulins to create a colourful and vibrant luminosity which reflects in the wet flagstones. It is a very engaging place to visit, open or closed, and is located near to the Rialto. Indeed, it is referred to as the Rialto Market or the Campo della Pescheria.

These two shots constitute a before and after image of the markets. The chap with the cigarette certainly seemed an indomitable character with a lot of flair about him, evidenced through his choice of hat and cigarette holder. Then again, these could equally be seen as practical choices – keeping his hair off the fish and allowing him to hold his cigarette without wetting it, or covering it in squid ink, for that matter.

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Three young men, Shekhawati, Rajasthan, India, April 1, 2010

Three young men, Shekhawati, Rajasthan, India, April 1, 2010

This shot was one of many wonderful gifts given to me by Indian people during my first trip to India in 2010. Being generally pretty shy when it comes to strangers, I tend to photograph people furtively, from a distance, rather than shoving my camera in their face. This means that most of the time I get candid shots of people whose attention is elsewhere and not focussed on the camera. For the most part this is great, and I generally prefer candid shots of people doing whatever it is they are doing, yet sometimes the lack of eye-contact deprives the photo of the arresting intimacy that direct portraits can offer. Fortunately, in India, many people ask to have their photo taken, which makes it possible to get some lovely portraits, without any feelings of guilt or, at worst, exploitation.

These three young boys approached me in the  Rajasthani town of Shekhawati, famous for its gorgeously decorated old Havelis – a type of private mansion common in parts of India and Pakistan. They were curious as to where I was from and, as with so many Indians, wanted to know what I thought of India. After a brief exchange, they all requested that I take their photo and quickly arranged themselves in front of the camera. I remember how excited I was at the time, because they were such great subjects with their immaculate, wonderfully styled clothes and their friendly, expressive faces. I wanted nothing more than to take their photo, and yet would likely have been too shy to ask myself.

While all three make engaging subjects, I especially like the fact that the young man to the right of the frame chose to look away at the crucial moment, thus adding an unexpected dynamism to this triple portrait. His cocked leg and crossed arms give him an air of confident nonchalance, which matches his carefree smile. I only wish I had time to ask who their tailor was, in which case I’d have had enough shirts and trousers made to last me a life time. What clothes!

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