travel

Image of the Day - 5th November

Shooting stock in New York a couple of years ago I ended up (as does everyone) at the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbour.  One of my favorite images from the trip was the one above - with the visitor in his 'Russia' jacket, hands in pockets, looking up at the statue and all it represents.

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The entire 5 day trip was shot on one single lens - a tilt shift 24mm which gave a slightly different perspective to the images and hopefully makes them stand out at least slightly from the billions of other images shot around the city.

Accumulated wealth, filthy lucre or the smell of money?

Over the years I've accumulated a pretty good assortment of fairly tatty banknotes from overseas trips. Arriving home there's generally the odd coin or note remaining that was either lurking in a pocket or too small to spend at the airport or perhaps even too torn or disheveled to be accepted.  There are stories in these notes - memories of adventures or encounters, some good and some bad.  Unlike the UK, where currency is taken out of circulation by the banks when it becomes worn, many countries keep notes in circulation until they literally disintegrate.  In remote areas I've been given change for purchases in notes so disgustingly falling apart it's almost impossible to tell what they are.  Passing through so many hands and stored in so many pockets - banknotes frequently become filthy objects, no doubt a vector for disease and infection in impoverished countries.  Despite all this they are fascinating objects frequently portraying something telling of the country they which they originate.

An unorthodox Easter at Lalibela

Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of those places that once you've seen pictures of it you will always want to go there..  For years I've seen articles and images of the amazing monolithic churches carved out of the rock and thought that one day I'd have the chance to get there and see it for myself.  Fortunately that chance came a few years ago on a photo/research trip through northern Ethiopia with a writer/photographer friend of mine.  Not only did we get to spend a few days at Lalibela but we also chose to visit at one of the best times of year - during the Ethiopian Orthodox Easter celebrations when thousands of pilgrims come from all over the country to pray.

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The 11 rock hewn churches at Lalibela are thought to have been built during the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century.  Biete Giyorgis (above) is probably the best preserved and most finely executed and iconic of all the churches and is carved out of the top of a sandstone hill.

Over the Orthodox Easter period people flocked into Lalibela in their thousands, coming from all over Ethiopia as well as abroad to pray and attend the numerous services and processions that were taking place around the churches at all times of day and night.  The devotion of the visitors was incredible - sleeping in and around the churches, praying and studying the Holy scriptures seemingly their entire waking hours.

After dark the place took on an altogether different atmosphere.  Wandering around the churches in the near pitch black was an intense experience, at times you would be on your own trying to find your way down rock carved alleys from one church to another and the next moment you'd be surrounded by pilgrims walking in endless circles round one of the churches.  One particular moment I will never forget was hearing the distant drone of many people chanting and the sound of the brass rattles (sistrum) used throughout the churches in Ethiopia - following the resonating sound down the passages it led to a small carved out where I witnessed a scene that can barely have changed since the days when the churches were first chiseled from the sandstone.  A group of Deacons lit only by waxed tapers and clad in simple white robes rocked rhythmically back and forward in unison to the sound of drums and sistrum.  Off the main chamber another priest swung a glowing censer that permeated the air with the intoxicating smell of incense, the roof blackened with the waxy soot of nearly a millenium of prayer.

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Outside in the main areas surrounding the sunken churches, dozens of pilgrims wrapped in simple shawls curled up in whatever space they could find to try and snatch an hour or two of chilly sleep whilst those around carried on their prayers by the dim flickering light of a taper.

I shot everything during this trip on the Canon 5d mkll, my main camera at the time.  The cameras low light performance never fails to amaze - the 5dlll I now use is amazingly even better.  The ability to shoot in seemingly near darkness without having to resort to lighting is fantastic.

These images and many others from this and other assignments are available direct from me or through the various agencies I'm represented by, including: Axiom Photographic, Getty Images and DesignPics

The Box set

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One thing I become slightly obsessed with from time to time is the power and impact of sets of images  Mundane objects that if individually photographed and presented as a lone image may have no impact - when shown as a set however the objects may take on a sense of importance and relevance in relation to the others in the group.  The recent post "Boys Toys" is another example of this.

For example: Take a single picture of a teacup or a kettle and it's probably just a dull image of a teacup or a kettle - take a set of pictures of teacups whilst traveling around Kenya though and you might show something more than just a set of cups - it might display poverty or a sense of pride, it might show fashion, it might be a reflection of taste or at worst it will just be an interesting bunch of images.

This set came from the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  I loved the way there were bright red post boxes located in what seemed like the remotest of locations - all obviously situated carefully to most effectively serve the local community.  But in an area where there are so few houses there is frequently no central village location in which to place the box so they end up in beautiful remote locations seemingly miles from the nearest croft.  Driving around the island we came across many of these and it soon became an obsession to photograph each one that was passed.

Shot on Iphone using the Hipstamatic app.

A Grand Day Out

As a photographer who spends several months of the year shooting on location in remote areas one of the things that always astounds me is the amount of time one can seem to waste in the back of a 4WD vehicle getting around in country.  Almost inevitably the best parts of the day (the morning and evening) are spent bumping along dirt roads while you can frequently be tasked with getting your story or images in the heat and intense light of the midday sun.  There is also the frustration of being on route to a particular location with a time schedule to keep to and passing countless good photo opportunities as you go - all highly annoying.

On some rare days though, when you have a little more time on your hands, you have the chance to stop and take advantage of the the location and the journey and get the images that normally pass you by.

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AGDO-3

On this particular day we had been photographing in the village of Longwa that straddles the border of Nagaland and Myanmar.  The people of the village are of the Konyak tribe and were extremely hospitable despite their not too distant past history of head hunting.  Facial tattoos are pretty common among the older men of the area and this along with the beauty and remoteness of the region is what draws in the few visitors who make it here.

Village headman - Longwa, Nagaland/Myanmar border
Village headman - Longwa, Nagaland/Myanmar border

I shot a few portraits including the one above of the new village Headman (lit with a speedlight and shoot through brolly held at full extension in my left hand - my 'go to' quick and dirty lighting in these sort of situations).

Leaving the village in the early afternoon we were faced with the usual long drive to get back to the only guest house in the area but this time had a few hours to kill and spend on the journey.  The first stop was for this guy who was standing beside the road on the edge of a scruffy little village. Come on......, how could you pass up the opportunity to go and chat to a man with horns?

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After the usual pleasantries we broached the subject of shooting a few pictures and as typical in this region it was met with a smile and a nod of the head.  We were then ushered into the mans nearby house and invited to sit in the near darkness whilst the fire was re kindled and the tea made.  With a sweet brew in hand it began to dawn that we were in fact sat in a smokey little opium den with a few other quietly staring reclining figures tucked away in the shadows.

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The man with the horns began to prepare his next pipe, explaining as he did so how he got the opium from the Myanmar side of the border and how he could afford little else other than his habit.  Things then took a peculiar twist.  Our host put both feet behind his head - resting on the dirt floor on just his bottom.  He then stuck his opium pipe in his mouth and took a burning branch from the fire to light it - but then rather than throwing it back on the fire he rubbed the flaming branch up one arm after another explaining as he did that the continued use of opium had completely de-sensitized his skin.  It seemed to have no effect on him at all.  Looking back at the images now I realize I missed capturing the moment concentrating more on shooting portraits rather than documentary images - maybe the smoke had clouded my judgment?

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Leaving the smoke and drugs behind we soon picked up a character we'd given a lift to earlier in the day.  With his bright red waistcoat and blue beads around his legs this was a local village chief who we'd picked up in the morning.  With nothing more than a live chicken in a basket he was on his way by foot to a funeral in a village some 30km away.  Luckily for him it was a day with time in hand so we'd stopped and offered a lift.  It was now the chiefs opportunity to reciprocate and invited us back to his village for tea.  Having accepted we suspected there might have been an ulterior motive as this then took us miles out of our way down dirt paths to deliver him home - again without the time in hand we would never have gone.

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Leaving the chief and by this stage late in the afternoon we passed several hunters on their way into the forest - needless to say it was another encounter too good to pass up.  Young guys with guns - hunters or insurgents?  Nagaland has several insurgent factions demanding regional independence but also involved in kidnapping, extortion, smuggling and inter-factional clashes.  Maybe stopping and shooting the breeze with these guys was not a good idea but again encounters like this are for me what make travel interesting.

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AGDO-9

As is so often the case these young guys were flattered to be stopped and have the attention - 2 minutes of chat and then we had the all clear for as many photographs as wanted.  As is so often the case if you just have the time to stop and chat and make time for people you soon realize that there are interesting encounters to be had had even when you are driving along dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.

Hunter, Nagaland, India
Hunter, Nagaland, India

Tawang Monastery video

https://vimeo.com/32462131

Whilst looking for new content for the adamson visuals website I came across this short film shot and edited very quickly a couple of years ago and thought it was worth sharing again. I was traveling through the region with writer and photographer Stuart Butler who was researching the Lonely Planet guidebook for the region. Unfortunately as is always the case on these type of trips we were very pushed for time and only spent a couple of nights in Tawang but this gave me enough of an opportunity to visit the stunning monastery starting in the dark and cold with early morning prayers at about 0430.

Shot on Canon 5d mk2

Tawang lies at just over 3000 metres in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh in an area bordering Tibet and Bhutan and is home to the largest buddhist Monastery outside Tibet. The 12 hour drive from Tezpur in Assam is pretty arduous and is at times spectacular taking in the steep and heavily forested Himalayan foothills and passing over the 4176m Sela pass where from where you get fantastic views to the high snow covered peaks of the Himalaya beyond.

The Tawang monsatery was founded in 1681 in accordance to the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama and is a major holy site for Tibetan Buddhists as it was also the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama.