“When we travel, we actually take three trips. There is the first trip of preparation and anticipation, packing and daydreaming. There’s the trip you’re actually on. And then, there’s the trip you remember. The key is to try to keep all three as separate as possible. The key is to be present wherever you are right now.” From “Between Two Kingdoms” by Suleika Jaouad
“The nectar of life is sweet only when shared with others.” Adam Mickiewicz
The Power of the Mobile Phone Camera
Nowadays, not more or less than anyone else with a mobile phone. Our differences, or what makes each one of us unique, is not the equipment we use but our point of view, what we choose to photograph, how we frame the object, and how we present our final image; the possibilities are endless. Of course, none of it would have been possible if it wasn’t for the digital revolution, a true paradigm shift that is only twenty years old. The big question is: where are we heading? How will photography evolve in the next twenty years and beyond?
I made many trips, especially during my business carrier, to China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Poland. I often had to take long train rides or road trips to remote manufacturing sites, away from the big cities, to places where the land and labor were cheap. Often the journeys were magnificent in their beauty. On a few occasions, I joined a hike to the top of some holy mountain, like Mount Taishan near Qian in China. I also took a road trip to the Treblinka concentration camp in eastern Poland. At the time, regretfully, I did not photograph. Thus memories are fragmented and disjointed as if somewhere in a foggy cloud. I wonder if it was because my mind focused on other things, like a business transaction, or simply because I did not have the kind of mobile phone I carry today.
The first time I extensively used a mobile phone camera was on a trip in 2013. I was sitting at the back of a motorcycle in northern Vietnam, an area called Dong Van Karst Global Geopark. The landscape was magnificently breathtaking – bizarre karst mountain formations peeked through a mist of clouds and fog. It’s one of the few designated by UNESCO as a site of geological and cultural heritage importance. It means to say: “This is a rare and unequaled geographical area that needs to be recognized and preserved.” I tapped my driver’s shoulder many times to stop for a photo moment, but when I returned home and looked at images on a bigger screen, I felt disappointed; something was missing. Shortly after that trip, I learned of the camera’s panoramic option, which was a game-changer. I also learned a few of Lightroom’s tricks, such as adjusting a tilted horizon line and tweaking the colors.
I am especially partial to sceneries that feature wide and open spaces. I focus more on the landscape’s hues, tones, and shades than the forms. In most of my landscape photographs, against experts’ advice, there is no object to anchor the scenery and give it a focal point and a sense of proportion. My “eye” is drawn to color field compositions more than to the object’s contour. The uninterrupted horizon line, often found in desert areas like Death Valley, always draws me in. It fills me with calm and peaceful energy and gives me a sense of slowing down and connecting with the mighty oneness.
My other photographic interest is still-life composition, such as a fabric’s fold on a woman’s body, like the ones I found in Bac Ha market, or a mound of spices, like the one in Istanbul’s Grand Bazar. In my mind, these compositions conjure up an abstract image like a painting by a great master, wholly detached from what they actually are. I don’t set up or compose the object; usually, I stumble upon it and hear a call saying, “photograph me, please.”
The travel stories accompanying the photographs are either an encounter, an opinion, a reflection, or a piece of information. I read books related to my travel destination, from fiction to non-fiction (I say read, but it’s listening because I am a big Audible listener). Remarkably, some countries, like India, have endless book offerings; others, like Bolivia, have only a few. The process helps me prepare, but even more, it allows me to “see” layers that I otherwise would not. It arouses my sensibilities to the particular culture, customs, and history. It allows me to make my own stories about the motivations and desires of the people I encounter. To some degree, it enables me to stay out of judgment, remain an observer, and be more compassionate.
The Future of Recording Our Lives
I always thought that either you have a talent for writing or you don’t, but recently I realized that it’s not true. One can learn techniques and methods to become a better writer, even if English is not your first language. The most helpful thing is regular writing practice. Whether it is a paragraph, one page, or a few, it’s the constant practice that makes it better. As I assembled this website over the last few years, I wrote more than ever, and I can see my progress. Sometimes I re-write an older piece, incorporating newly learned techniques, and it’s becoming fun. My goal is to keep you, the reader, engaged, make you feel you are there with me, and make you read through the entire piece.
As to what’s going to happen in the next twenty years? It’s not a far-fetched idea that we will walk around with a surgically implanted chip connected to our visual and auditory sensors. It will record every minute of our lives, 24/7. Then, in moments of rumination, we will be able to re-live a road trip in Bolivia’s Southwest Circuit or a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem on a big screen TV in the comfort of our living rooms. Some devices like Go-Pro and virtual reality can do it today, but the future will take us way beyond that.