Just put it down. Or not?
My camera was making me growl. Even though I knew better. Everyone knows that taking a photo from a moving vehicle is bound to fail. So just sit back and enjoy. But Cambodia wasn’t cooperating.
A monk in brilliant orange robes stood in front of a humble house, waiting for the bus, and I wanted the image. Women in colorful skirts stirred steaming pots of soup while egrets posed, poised, in the background, and I wanted to record it. Children laughed as they rode bicycles far too large for their sapling legs, then turned around to do it again, and I knew the photo would make me smile for years…if I could just get it.
But the monk was a blur, the woman was too small, and the children fell half out of the frame. So I was growling. Lydia was patient, and helpful. “Or, you could put the camera away and just enjoy it,” she offered.
I knew she was right. I remembered all the commuters I’d marvelled at, faces in phones, ignoring gorgeous sunsets out the window. And backpackers by the kiloton, iFaces in iMacs while the irlWorld went on outside.
I could remember these images just fine in my mind. I counted them on my fingers as we went, to make sure I wouldn’t lose one. Eight fingers. There was the monk, the woman, the kids, the….um….
My mental memory card has a leakage problem. Or rather, it’s working perfectly, since remembering everything would be a useless skill, once you went insane after a week. That’s why god invented kodak.
How could I let these moments slip away? Perhaps my soul’s memory is better, and even if the images are forgotten, their calming beauty remains. I could live with that. I would live with that. In gratitude and satisfaction.
We rode along one of Angkor Wat’s massive reservoirs, which stood for the world’s oceans in the physical portrayal of Hindu cosmology that Angkor Wat represents, and allowed Angkor Wat to become the largest pre-industrial city on Earth, roughly eight times as large as its closest rival, Tikal in Guatemala.
And what do they do now, besides serve as marvelous photographic elements for zigajillions of tourist photos? The afternoon had reached a fine, calm old age of softer sunlight and gentler warmth, when skin felt embraced instead of assaulted, and the reservoirs were hosting groups, cliques, and packs of Cambodians, who lounged on the walls, nibbled snacks in the shade, and laughed above ancient waterways.
It was the sort of communal public space that I envy in countless places around the world, where the population is not willingly confined in their separate bubbles, captives to their flickering blue screens and “social” media. It felt like a privilege to see, and a gift to my spirit.
And I wanted to take its picture! But no, I had put the camera away, I could just enjoy it. Breathe it in. Witness and appreciate. Screw that, I want a reminder to hang on my wall. I ripped the camera out of its bag, flicked it on, lifted it to my face-
And the road curved and we headed into town. Growl.
Do you try to take photos from cars/vans/buses/trains/tuktuks? Or better to put the camera away and just enjoy?
I can’t even open your photos to see them as my internet connection is so slow. But they sound just wonderful. Full of memories to savour. Blurry and all. Great post. Can’t wait to get there myself someday.
I can’t recommend Cambodia enough, I loved that country. And if you go, let me know, I have a guide I can recommend.
Your photos are beautiful, blurry or clear. I can relate to your experience, though. I rarely take photos from a moving vehicle. There’s something spiritual in sitting back and absorbing scenes through my other senses that I love to process and write about later.
Thank you! I like that experience too, sitting back and absorbing. I think, for me, the best approach is to do both, since both my notes and the camera are capable of noting things that the other misses. Happy travels!
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I’m often torn–do I put down the camera and just soak up every bit of the experience, or take photos, which can be shared and often reveal things that you didn’t see with your naked eye? I try to mix it up, but it can be hard to put the camera away, even in the car.
I find I’ll put it away, be taunted by three beautiful images I miss, then spend ten minutes with the camera sitting uselessly on my lap. Then repeat. What a delightful torture. I suppose the lesson would be to either keep it out or put it away, and not resist whichever one you’re doing at the moment.
Yes, exactly. It is a delightful torture–two different forms of perception battling it out. And, since this is a Cambodia post, I can’t help but thinking what fortunate beings we are to have delightful tortures.
Very, very true. I’ll take that First World Problem with a dose of chagrin and a truckload of gratitude.
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Perhaps you could use these photo’s one day in a book, dedicated entirely to pictures taken from moving vehicles? Seems to me Cambodia was speaking to you, by giving you these images…I like the just missed cyclist!
I’m glad to hear that, since I was dubious about including that one. (I have one that’s mostly-in-the-frame of two boys on a bike that I was going to use instead.) A collection of imperfect, almost torturous, photos from moving vehicles sounds pretty interesting… Good idea!
It depends on the circumstance, what I’m seeing, and even just how I feel during the day. Some moments feel like they can’t be captured; even something as simple as the border of the picture frame would destroy the context. Some moments feel like they can be preserved — and note the difference in verb there — even if the picture is technically lousy because it can show off an emotionally significant moment.
Of course every time I think about photographing what I’m doing, I think back to the Kinks’ “People Take Pictures Of Each Other” (from Village Green Preservation Society), which is probably the definitive word on the subject. (Though there’s much to be said for The Buggles’ “I Am A Camera” and its alternate-universe version, Yes’s “Into The Lens”.)
I figure just crank up the ISO and use f11, take what you want, a little noise is OK in my book and I can shoot at 60 mph (or 100 kph) if pointed to the side as the relative distance changes more slowly than looking ahead or back
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