Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Chong Kneas Floating Village, Cambodia, June 26, 2009

Chong Kneas Floating Village, Cambodia, June 26, 2009

Chong Kneas Floating Village lies along a stretch of river feeding into Lake Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. It’s an extraordinary, but rather confronting place to visit, being on the one hand so mesmerising and curious, and on the other, dreadfully poor. The people largely subsist through fishing and farming and make extra money where possible from tourism – taking people on boat rides up and down the river, which usually terminate at the entrance to the lake itself.

The village is mostly built of floating, moored house-boats, tied to stakes which allow them to rise and fall with the seasonal swelling and shrinking of the river. The variation in height throughout the year can be considerable;  indeed, I was told that during certain times of year, when the river is too low to fish in, the boats move further out into the lake itself, where a network of much deeper mooring poles can be seen.

The people of Chong Knea seem almost saddeningly used to having their photos taken by curious visitors. They mostly get on with their lives and pay little attention to the passing voyeurs; sitting on their floating porches, mending nets, cleaning tools, fixing boats, doing their washing, brushing their hair, or just chilling and smoking cigarettes. The sound of televisions could often be heard coming from within, and it seemed that much of the time there was little work to do. Some eager and enterprising locals will ride alongside the boat offering soft-drinks, snacks and bottles of water. On three occasions, seemingly out of nowhere, a young boy boarded our boat with an icebox full of drinks. The child in this photograph, like so many around Chong Knea, was swimming about like an eel, a complete natural in the water. Everything revolves around the river and lake.

It’s worth mentioning the negative press Chong Knea has on Trip Advisor, which I found both astonishing and disappointingly petty. Yes, you will be overcharged for a tour and boat ride, but if you want to squabble about spending twenty US dollars to see something as unique as this, then you should stay at home. Yes, people will encourage you to buy books and pens for the school, and yes, they might not be completely honest about where this money is going – but does it really matter considering how poor everyone is here? And anyway, you can always say no. I’ve felt guilty ever since visiting this place because I tipped our boat drivers so little money, thinking they would be receiving a wage for their efforts from the twenty-dollar entry fee. They actually get nothing at all from that fee, something I found out much later to my shame – so don’t make the same mistake and make sure you tip them generously.

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1210 Bikaner

1211 Bikaner

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Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, March 31, 2010

Ok, so this is a sequence of photographs, rather than a single shot, taken in Bikaner, Rajasthan, during my first visit to India in 2010. I find it difficult to choose a favourite frame – though two or three stand out to me in the middle of the sequence – and anyway, think they belong together as a sequence. This was taken in the late afternoon on the only day I spent in Bikaner – a place, like so many in Rajasthan, famous for its palace – Lalgarh, built in the Indo-Saracenic style. Bikaner is also famous for its sweets and snacks, though I was still on meds after a bacterial infection and was eating like a sparrow.

I love this shot because it seems such an iconic Indian subject, almost to the point of cliché: a woman in traditional Rajasthani dress, negotiating a dirt road and carrying a tiffin, no doubt full of some spicy goodness. One of my favourite things is to shoot into the light, especially when there is water involved, as I’m very fond of the way figures are outlined against reflected light and glare. I would usually be inclined to shoot something like this in black and white, and did so for the first frame, but am pleased in the end that I flicked the switch to colour. In some ways the black and white seems more iconic, but the colours are distinctly Rajasthani and it seems appropriate to showcase those.

I have always like the way the main subject works with the background in this sequence. In the early shots, the cow does a good job of creating a background vignette until the woman enters the centre of the frame and takes over. After that, it’s all about her, and rightly so.

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Antwerp Central Station, Feb 4, 2007

Antwerp Central Station, Feb 4, 2007

For a while there I considered this photo to be the best I’d ever taken. Upon seeing this shot, some hours after taking it, I fell immediately in love with it and remember going so far as to e-mail myself the file in case of some unforeseen disaster, like being mugged and robbed, or flipping out on mushrooms.

This photo was taken on the 4th of February, 2007 at the central train station in Antwerp, Belgium on a freezing cold day. I had just arrived from The Netherlands, where I’d spent a couple of very strange days doing what was only natural in Holland – eating shrooms, smoking weed and visiting art galleries to stare in wonder at Dutch Masters like Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer.

The Lonely Planet made Antwerp sound fairly interesting, but I never made it very far into town. Indeed, inadequately clothed (I was on my way to Paris via Brussels to meet my then GF and, whilst carrying ample layers, had not, out of either blind hope or uncharacteristic ill-preparedness, brought a coat), I made it about two hundred metres down the road before feeling the pinch and turning back. I know only too well that very few cities look appealing around their central train station (are there any that do?) but on a cold, grey day, Antwerp seemed so large and inhospitable that I longed for the quaint intimacy I knew Bruges could offer. I still had, as my father used to say, “the wherewithal” to get seriously high, and figured this experience would be considerably more pleasurable when safely ensconced in a medieval town.

I took the next train to Bruges, where, sure enough, I flipped out on mushrooms, but not at the expense of my camera, or indeed, this photograph. I still treasure it, though the tiny, half-degree tilt in the uprights on the right side of the frame never ceases to bug me. Such is life.

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Hong Kong Butcher, July 2009

I stumbled upon this meat market whilst walking around Wan Chai, across the water on Hong Kong island. At least, I think that’s where it was in HK – part of the pleasure of wandering aimlessly looking for subject is not really knowing where you are. The area was full of interesting shops and market stalls on the street – or so I recall. I’ve always loved shooting in markets – especially when they’re down and dirty. The smells, the colours, the noise, the array of curiosities – and, of course, the people. Shooting wise, markets can be difficult subjects because there is often so much going on and so much stuff about that without a clear subject, the impact can be lost in the minutiae of the scene. The lighting in indoor markets can also be hard to work with – especially when they are dark and the subjects lack clear illumination.

In this case I got lucky on all counts, with a clean shot of a clearly illuminated subject and nice lighting all round. But it’s rarely for technical reasons that I like a photo, and in this case, it’s really all about the eye-contact, the appearance of the man in his apron, and the hanging lights. Great colours and a fortunate, if slightly asymmetrical arrangement of the elements. I remember feeling very much caught out after taking this (I have several of this fellow, actually, though this is my favourite) and being slightly worried that he might shake a cleaver at me and tell me to clear off. Instead I wheeled off pretty quickly and had that great and rare feeling of knowing I was going to like the photos I’d just taken.

All in all, this was a great visit to Hong Kong (July 2009) at the end of a six-week trip through Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I’d been feeling very low for a few days for various reasons, but clear skies over HK and awesome subject matter all round cheered me up no end. It was very satisfying that, after having taken thousands of photos throughout the trip to this point, my favourite ones should come right at the end.

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