What do photographers do on vacation? Take pictures of course. Looking through a lens becomes a way of seeing things that just don’t look the same in regular vision. The feel of what is in front of you becomes more intense and focused. All of this was brought back to my attention over the last three weeks, during a sixteen day trek across the equator in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru including Machu Picchu. Several lessons were relearned on this voyage, beginning in the Galapagos. We were aboard the “Nemo” a 60 foot catamaran along with eight other guest and five crew members. Leading us on our voyage was a naturalist, “Ruly” who’s passion for this particular corner of the world was infectious.He has spent most of his life on the islands, some by himself for as long as eight months studying the endemic marine iguana. His teaching started out with giving us the lay of the land, rules of the boat and what we were to embark on in the next four days. Respect for nature poured out of this guy in every sentence, totally dedicated to his mission of preserving the beauty and integrity of this water wonderland. Ruly’s lesson for me came the second day on a hike of Santa Cruz Island, home of the blue and red footed boobies, a bird much like a large seagull with amazing color. One mile into our four mile trek we came upon our first “Boobie” on a nest with the male close by watching over. All the hikers, including myself, scampered to get in position to take pictures. It sounded like a photo shootout with ten cameras going off at the same time. The bird immediately thought it’s world had been invaded and showed itsrestlessness. Ruly belted out “Wait”, then his voice lowered as everyone turned toward him, “Stop…slowdown… back off.. find a spot.. sit-down and just watch. Respect the animals space, let him get comfortable with you then honor him with a picture”. It hit me like a brick, for in every-day news life, a lot of times, is fast-paced, you shoot and move on to the next one. Respect for my subjects time was what had faded from my own work. Lesson one, learned.
The second half of our journey was spent trekking across Peru including Cusco, Machu Picchu, Puno and Lima. I would say my second reawakening realization came from myself, as my wife and I would walk through the various cities looking at all the massive cathedrals and watching the people interact in their own world. I would steal shots of natives from the area, shoot the stone pathways and landscape shots but was feeling something lacking, just another tourist with a camera. My inhibition to interact with my subject was largely due to the language barrier which always creates some distrust from foreigners, and without that trust you don’t get the real deal of wherever you are. Just as this feeling had climaxed one evening, I met Victor in a back alley of Puno, something snapped back into place as we made eye contact. Victor was a seventyish Peruvian gentleman with the native look and a great charisma.
t He was standing against a pastel of old crumbling stucco walls, surrounded by three younger kids, one with a old typewriter,typing as Victor dictated, the other two kinda framing the ends. I was drawn in, I had to know more, this was not a grab shot. In my best broken Spanish and his best broken English we struck a happy medium, interacted about fifteen minutes, I walked away not only with a image that he was happy to give but the story and a true feel for the people for the first time since our arrival. .I think Victor trusted me with his time because I had given him mine and a non-verbalized barter was struck. My confidence was back just that quick. I continued the rest of the trip interacting with the same advice for the people as Ruly had given me for the bird’s lesson>>> Photographers don’t just take pictures, they create images by feeling what’s in front of the lens.
More life lessons to come from South America
My third large epiphany from the trip had nothing really to do with the ‘how’ of photography in any way, but it served as the tool to see the wisdom.
Our last excursion was to go out and visit the people that live on the Uros, floating Islands, and then Taquile Island, a remote place, two hours from shore in Puno, Peru on Lake Titicaca.
There are 87 islands made of straw, which last around 35 years before they start to decompose and need rebuilding. The people lived a very primitive lifestyle, at least to me. The people would make their wares and goods to sell to the visitors and tourists, it was their way of life. Interacting with the people was simple, they had no fear or inhibitions of the outside world, this made them very trusting and friendly.
After leaving the floating islands we headed to the Taquile Island, a boat ride of another 1 1/2 hours. I had time to gather my thoughts and could see it leaning towards “ man, these people have it rough, but why are they so happy all the time”? We reached the last island a hour and a half later and we began disembarking immediately, for promise of lunch lay at the top of the mountain. We walked up a long cobblestone path, pausing only when we couldn’t breathe, or to take a photo. Then we reached the restaurant. It was an old house with four picnic benches out front with canvas over-head.but the best part was the view.
Fresh caught Trout from the morning was our main course, not sure if the Trout was as good as it tasted or was it just the ambience of the natural beauty. As we ate and talked with the rest of the visitors over lunch, live entertainment of ritual dances were performed by the locals.
Completing lunch, our guide said he would meet us at the top of the mountain at the town square, and the hike began. much like the first part of the hike, feeling like it was straight up (on a full belly), we forged on. I had envisioned a shot of the winding path going down to the sea, with human content to show scale then boom… just like that… the shot appeared. This old woman, mid-seventies, was huffing up the hill with goods piled on her back in a brightly colored blanket. Head down, leaning forward, she was on a mission to the top of the hill. We reached a small outcrop where I pulled over to the slow lane and to my surprise, she stopped as abruptly as she had passed me. Resting her knapsack on a half ledge, she turned gasping for air as we made eye contact. She smiled as if to say ‘I win’. She continued to smile as I took her picture, giving me the okay gesture. Not a word was spoken but we communicated on some level of body language and expressions for a few minutes, then she was off again.
I was thinking to myself before the smile that I wish there was something I could do for these people, then it hit me, these people didn’t need help in their simplified lifestyle, no rushing, pushing or stressing. Maybe it was us that needed help. After all, we go to visit them. Most of these people will never leave the island, let alone come visit us in our hustle and bustle world.
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