Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vietnam: Photography and Egotism

A photographic eye

Blue door, Hoi An

New day, new place, new sights - another several dozen photographs. Digital makes it even easier to snap at whim - why not take several versions of each shot? It costs nothing, except my sanity later when I spend hours, days, weeks downloading and trawling through the plethora of pixels.

What for? Mementos, snaps for the album? Of course. And for manipulating into my creative life, into a meaningful composition? Yes, a few will be selected for that glorious end. But the real importance of travelling with a photographic eye is how it transforms how I see a place, a face, a landscape, a detail - it is always seeking meaningful juxtaposition, pleasing proportion, colourful character and tantalising texture. To actively seek aesthetic stimulation, rather than float through as passive recipient. To be an agent, not mere observer, of revelation, hunting and revealing  the lovely and the surprising.

To experience more intensely - that is the purpose of a photographic eye - the photographs are almost incidental.

Egotism (Nha  Trang)

Barber, Nha Trang
We drive for hours through mountains and vegetation ever-changing with the altitude; pines and birches give way to rainforest and creepers of the tropical coast. A quick dip in a turbulent sea, then head towards the markets for food. It is beginning to drizzle.

Along an old wall mirrors are hung, and tarpaulins stretched above - it is a barber shop. Chris needs a haircut so we approach to ask the price - 50,000 dong ($2.50). We all huddle under the tarp as Chris settles into the chair. Five minutes of deft snipping and he is neatly shorn. I ask for a photograph, and the barber and Chris line up, grinning. The barber will not look into the camera.

It's clear when I walk around the market, compulsively lifting the camera to record every fascinating sight, that many local people prefer not to be photographed. As I raise the camera, they melt away; even if I ask to photograph their stall, and they agree, they often walk away and leave the stall empty.

The Vietnamese traditionally live much more publicly than we do in the west, carrying out mundane activities - eating, sleeping, even washing and pissing, in the street. At the end of the day they are not cocooned and cloistered as we tend to be, but throng in cafes, parks and streets, laying down mats on the footpath to define their 'private' space. Confucian tradition emphasises community and family, and individualism is thought to be self-indulgent. They seem to lack the painfully engorged self- consciousness that we suffer from, so how can they comprehend our compulsive need for self-documentation? And why should we feel entitled to thrust self- consciousness upon them?

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