Travels with my camera

Taking photographs while travelling is something so apparently normal that most people probably don’t even think about it. I like to think I’ve got the balance just right between taking the time to take some good shots and not spending all my time with the thing glued to my face. I’ll always remember the couple we met up with in Jaisalmer, in north-west India. One woman obsessively videotaped every single thing they did, while the other couldn’t look at anything without snapping a photo of it (she said she’d rather go home with too many photos than too few). And this was back in the pre-digital days, so imagine her processing and printing bill… And obviously countries don’t come much more photogenic than India, where it’s very difficult to take a bad photo.  But I don’t want to experience a country only through my viewfinder. I want to be able to appreciate the visual aspects of a place without seeing everything as a potential photo.

For example, on first entering the souks of Marrakesh I felt like I could have spent all day shooting the stalls and the shafts of sunlight poking through the trellis roofs, but when I went back the next day I decided that I’d exhausted it as a subject, and it was actually a relief to be able to wander around with the camera stowed away in my bag (I even left it back at the hotel one day) and just look, without feeling the need to grab all those potential shots. They’re also so cluttered as to be visually overwhelming, and I was much more comfortable simply looking at them as a scene than trying to search them for something I wanted to buy.

Marrakesh was also the first holiday where I took along a video camera. Partly it was easier to manage as we were travelling without children, partly it was because, due to a couple of recent purchases my video camera is now smaller than my stills camera. The resulting footage is pretty rough, but I wanted to capture some of the atmosphere of the main square, Djema el Fna, and I felt that motion and, more importantly, sound would help with that.

But one of the main frustrations in Morocco was the locals’ attitude to cameras. Most of them are very sensitive about having their photos taken. I always asked permission (unless I was zooming in on someone from the other side of a crowded square), and most said no, although a couple of them accepted payment of one dirham (about 90 euro cents) in exchange for a few posed shots. It’s a shame, as the people’s faces were often the most interesting thing to see.

The ones I didn’t take photos of stay just as much in my mind as those I did, especially the young blind woman shuffling through the souk with no dog or cane, just holding her hands out in front of her at hip height.

The full set of Marrakesh photos can be seen here.

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5 thoughts on “Travels with my camera

  1. Erik R. January 10, 2009 / 2:04 am

    I’m conflicted on whether public merchants have any say in whether or not their picture is taken. Obviously I have the right to carry a camera in a public place, so if you’re in a public place, I can take a picture of you. But I, like you, I think, am too socially sensitive to actually shoot anyone point blank without their consent.

    Again, great video.

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  2. simonlitton January 10, 2009 / 1:52 pm

    I was never able to properly establish whether they objected due to religious beliefs, some kind of superstition, or what. They were quite adamant that it wasn’t the done thing, and yet several of those who refused me had press clippings up in their stores, so they’d been happy for professional photojournalists to take pictures which would get them publicity…

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  3. Peter January 10, 2009 / 2:16 pm

    Stunning shots Simon, and you were sensible enough not to allow your camera to become the focus of your trip.

    I was equally confused in Egypt, but our Egyptian guide claimed many locals would no longer object when they saw cash.

    Whenever I showed my camera and added “Euro?” hardly anyone objected to having their picture taken. Well, many women did (probably religious reasons) but most males just wanted cash.

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  4. CuriosityKiller January 13, 2009 / 6:38 pm

    Same thing for people here in Hong Kong. If you try to take pictures in a department store, the sales would literally tackle you down and block you from doing so…

    Weird.

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  5. simonlitton January 14, 2009 / 9:18 am

    CK: presumably in a department store it’s a security issue rather than cultural difference…?

    Like

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