Five years ago this spring, I was tiptoeing onto what turned out to be the trailhead of a path I’m still on as a traveler and photographer. At the risk of waxing nostalgic: it was clear to me immediately following the 10-week “roadtrip” that the program would have a profound impact on the direction of my studies and interests. With five years of hindsight, I’ve realized that I simply would not be where I am today without this formative study-abroad experience.
In reflecting on this milestone, I looked back on some of the 10,000 photos I captured during time I spent lost and found in New York City, Rome, around Austria, Prague and the Czech Republic. Firstly, I will note that 10,000 is more than twice the number of images I took during a similar time frame for Walking Walls. Secondly, although most of these photos are terrible, the improvements between 0 and 10,000 were impressively gigantic, which came as a nice surprise. I also “rediscovered” a number of previously unedited images that I really liked. It was fun to unearth these from the depths of my hard drive, but the real excitement came from reflecting on the moment of capture, appreciating the forces that brought me to that point, and what small wisdom has followed me since.
I’m hoping my fellow roadtrippers might share some of their hindsights and hard drive discoveries over the next two months as well. Here’s a small sampling of mine:
I was recently in Minnesota for the holidays and took a roundabout route between Rochester and the Twin Cities to add to the collection of prairie nightscapes I started last winter. Working on this project has been a deeply refreshing means through which I have been able to partially reforge my belonging to this wide and empty landscape. The solitude and silence and crunching snow is impossibly peaceful.
I started my day with a bleary-eyed trip to the cafe below my apartment and hopped on a crowded bus before the sky was light. Sunrise found me on the Cambridge Street bridge overlooking the Mass Pike and a sprawling railyard. The sun kissed downtown buildings when it finally appeared on the horizon.
I’m shooting for a new project and it’s really exciting! More to come.
One of the main reasons that I am obsessed with political partition is because it is incredibly visual. Walls are extremely simple, easy to communicate, and read well as images. One of the challenges of Walking Walls was trying to make barriers look interesting and different after photographing them for 3 months straight. I remember thinking that I was grasping for ideas when I lay down in the wet grass to take this picture in Portadown one year ago today.
One of the wildest and most distinguishing features of the Buffer Zone is the gradual, yet definitive slide into the overgrown weeds that separate the two sides. It’s not hard to guess why the homes and businesses around the BZ are in disrepair; no one wants to own property on the front lines of an unsettled war. But its important to note that the Buffer Zone is not a clean cut through a swath of Cyprus, it’s more like a disease that taints everything it touches and then some. Cities and neighborhoods can go on with an amputation, but not a festering wound.
Last year on this day, 25 people were given a choice on the side of a highway in the West Bank: get back on the bus or be arrested. One of those choices was mine to make and with little hesitation, I climbed onto the bus and watched as many of my companions were taken into custody.
A half an hour before that, I had been talking to a Palestinian girl on our way to the weekly protest in Bil’in. She told me how her parents did not like her going to the protests for fear she would be arrested or injured. When our bus was pulled over at the flying checkpoint, I described what was happening outside and when they collected our IDs, she passed me her papers and I handed them over along with my American passport. I guided her into the aisle when they ordered us off the bus. I did all of these things because she was blind.
When we were given the ultimatum at the guardrail, she stayed, I left. I felt a bit like I had abandoned her, but I stand by my choice today. There was a great distance between us in that moment. It is even greater now.
A year ago at this time, I again enlisted the help of a Palestinian taxi driver during a foray in the West Bank. This time, I had a more clear destination (Walajeh), but not a very clear purpose or vision for my visit. The taxi driver had no problem stopping whenever I asked him to so that I could clamber out and take photos, but I found it hard to direct him. I was very used to wandering on my own, thinking, exploring any area of my choosing with my feet and camera.
It’s a nice way to work. But I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile this with the fact that you can sometimes accomplish more with a teammate, be it a taxi driver or a tour guide. In short, I was discovering that my workflow, and in some ways, the very nature of the project was incompatible with another person in the picture.
Admittedly, my perception that documentary photography is more of an individual pursuit than film-making was one of the reasons I was drawn to the field, after spending the latter portion of my teenage years agonizing over the fact that my friends never seemed to share my grand visions for movies we made for schoolwork or our own amusement. For the first year or two of focusing on still photography, I did feel more free, and it was great.
But I think that as my photography projects get more ambitious and demand greater insight and detailed planning, and as I find myself, ironically, working full-time at a company that produces documentary films (and other media), it’s definitely time to give this teamwork thing another go in my personal projects.