I Am Going to Make You Famous
I took early retirement not only for the travel and adventure, but to pursue my passions of writing and photography. I have always liked telling stories and putting a light on other people’s lives by making environmental portraits. Photographing people in their usual surroundings is one of the best ways to illustrate the essence of people’s personality and I love the interaction and challenge of making these types of images.
The first place I chose to live after leaving the United States was the southern part of Mexico. This part of the world is filled with people who have an amazing culture and interesting stories to tell but it could be challenging. To me it was excruciatingly frustrating to casually observe what could be beautiful images and have them be just out of reach. You see, many people here believe that taking your picture will also take away your soul. Photography in many churches was not only prohibited, you sometimes risked being jailed for the offense of taking a photograph in a Mayan church. I did however find that after I got to know some people on a more familiar level that the inhibitions would fall and I could get some nice imagery. I was even once granted permission to photograph inside a Mayan Tzotzil Chamulan Church while a ceremony was happening. That was something unique and as far as I know, almost no one has imagery like that.
From Mexico I moved to Asia and I was stunned by the contrast. The problem here was not getting permission to shoot but that everyone wanted to pose for their photos. Let someone see a camera and it is very difficult to get a natural shot. I have literally had people stop me at random and ask if I wanted to take their picture. They would line up and pose, individually or with their families, just so I could remember them. In most places in Asia photography in temples is also not a problem. In fact, I have had monks in temples come up wanting me to take their picture. But, I thought I had seen it all until I went to Bhutan.
I was in Punakaha, just stocking up on a few things to take to my hotel after a long day of traveling, when I walked by a typical small mom and pop type grocery store. I took a quick peek inside and this guy walked up to me, pointed at my camera, smiled a huge grin and pointed at his face. We had no language in common but obviously he wanted me to take his picture. Of course I agreed. I tried to get him to act natural but that was impossible: This guy was clearly excited! After I took a few snapshots I showed him what I had done in the viewfinder and you would have thought I had given him pieces of gold. He then led me around the shop so I could show his friends his picture. After many more smiles and laughs about things neither of us understood, we shook hands, embraced, shook hands again, embraced again, shook hands again and finally I walked the short distance back to the car.
While I was climbing in I see this same guy running up to me with a nice bag of oranges. He wanted to GIVE ME a present because I took his picture. My guide Norbu from Yangphel Adventure Travel was there and I asked him to tell the guy I was going to make him famous and he got even more excited. This post is for him. Even though having your photo on my blog hardly makes anyone famous, I know he would love to know that his image is out here floating around the Internet. He also gave me another gift even bigger than oranges: This memory.