In the third week of the new year, I have crossed the Mississippi River from my home state of Arkansas and am passing slowly through little Mississippi towns like Rolling Fork and Cary under winter sunlight so pretty I wish it would never end. The Sunday streets are deserted, and the closer I get to the Louisiana border, it dawns on me that everyone is inside, glued to the Saint’s playoff game. Though not apt to follow sports closely, I appreciate high stakes and will always root for all things New Orleans, the great American city that she is. I am listening to the nail-biter on the radio and thinking of everyone I love in the Crescent City. On my approach into darkening Vicksburg: the crushing last-minute defeat just down river, a soon-to-be full moon emerging from a field in my rearview mirror. Evening is falling, and every direction I turn looks the way a Lucinda Williams song sounds.
As I close my eyes, I could still smell the aromatic chemical fumes from a typical photo development store. If you have ever walked pass one, think of it as a mixture of ammonia, noxious gases, and vinegar- like acid mixed together in a chemical lab. It is undeniable an unpleasant odor. But if you need to spend 8 hours in the store; the smell sort of becomes aromatic.
This is – The One Hour Photo, also known as my second home from the age of 11-14. As a child, growing up in Shanghai and Los Angeles, I would accompany my mom, a self-taught photographer, to her store on the weekends and spent my whole day there while completing my homework. I always looked forward to it because there was an El Pollo Loco next door, which means, my reward will be waiting for me once I have completed my homework.
We were running towards each other, we’ve been running for years, slowly becoming apart, further and further away from each other every minute. Children are screaming for their mothers, neighbors are calling “enough now, come inside” but I lay awake in the deepest of night dreading for an escape.
“Come on, wake up, you’ve been sleeping for so long” I keep repeating to myself, It’s been a few years since you’ve been stuck in that thought. “maybe you haven’t heard the message, you see, this thing you’re feeling happens to be wise and won’t leave until it’s message has been heard.” But I was stubborn and my ears had been shut for some time now, all I could hear was a voice inside my head telling me to give up, because finding myself was impossible, I was long gone.
We had a tremendous response to our essay contest and want to thank everyone who took the time to send us their essay!
All finalists will see their entries published here on the pages of Field Photographer now through the 28th, with the final selection and winner announced February 28th! Both Andrew Tonn and myself are going over all entries and selecting our favorites then comparing notes. As a bonus a special selection will be made by Gary Crickmore proprietor of World of photography in Columbus Ohio.
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”
Ernest Hemingway was talking about writing but I find the idea to be equally true of photography (or any form of art or craft). There are artists who seem to appear, sui generis, from nowhere, without precedent or antecedent though in the end this is a false narrative. There are, indeed, great and original talents, but everyone is influenced by something.
Travel in the 21stcentury doesn’t often feel much like exploring anymore. Just when you think you’ve had a real Indiana Jones type of experience hiking a wadi in central Oman, you run headfirst right into a Starbucks. A few years ago, my wife and I were living in and had explored much of India. We had just been to Everest Base Camp, had seen a lot of other parts of Asia, and were looking for new adventures. It was around that time that we heard of Bhutan, “the Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Everything about it called to us as travelers and explorers.
The Civil War photographer Mathew Brady had to travel with a mobile darkroom in a wagon. The wet plate process with which he worked produced amazing negatives and an irreplaceable record of that bloody conflict. But the process was so slow, so fragile, and the cameras so large, that actual combat pictures were impossible. It is fascinating to read about the lengths that early wildlife, documentary, and expedition photographers Martin and Osa Johnson went to in order to bring back never-before-seen images and films from the South Seas, Africa, Borneo, and elsewhere. That Frank Hurley’s sublime images of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1915 Antarctic expedition were even made, let alone survived, is nearly unbelievable. John Noel ‘s footage and photographs from the 1924 Everest attempt where Mallory and Irving lost their lives took a nearly inhuman effort to shoot and then develop in a high-altitude field darkroom. Taking photos with early cameras in what are still the most unforgiving, deadly, and difficult mountains, jungles, and ice fields of the world is scarcely believable. But the images exist to prove it was done and the more you learn about these feats of bravery, endurance, technical skill, and artistic genius the more you realize that as photographers and explorers we truly rest on the shoulders of giants.
MONTERREY — Most photographers have favorite subjects and preferred themes. Some are obvious and others less so. One person shoots flowers and selfies. Another also photographs flowers and themselves but, as with any art, the subject is not always just the subject. Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautiful black and white studies of calla lilies and tulips are far from ordinary photos of pretty flowers and Graciela Iturbide’s self-portraits are far more than another reflexive selfie.
Regardless of whether you are a seasoned professional, an avid amateur, or you just got your first camera last week, an excellent way to become a better photographer is to take photo-walks. Walking, of and by itself: exploring a new city, a faraway island, a familiar old trail or a nearby neighborhood is one of life’s great pleasures with or without a camera. But this story is about photo walks and one walk in particular I took with my friend, the inimitable Sebastian John, one hot day over a year ago in Mumbai, India. It was my last long walk in that city I called home for two years and similar to the first long walk I took by myself in Mumbai during the monsoon not long after we arrived. It was not quite as long as that watery hike, because Sebastian and I took our foray into Mumbai’s mad streets in the sweltering days just before the monsoon broke. The heat in that time of year is very nearly hallucinatory. The temperature, combined with the crowds, humidity, smoke and noise, can only be completely appreciated by someone who has been there. Neither a thousand words nor a thousand photos can describe the reality of the streets of Mumbai.
So you want to be an M photographer right? But it’s really expensive! And it just seems so far out of reach! Almost every M photographer has been there. We understand, and it’s not easy for anyone starting out to get into the Leica M system. And many times when you do manage to get ahold of that M body, you have to buy one that looks like it’s seen a war and sometimes… It has. Then you have to figure out how to get your hands on a lens, more often than not you won’t be buying a Leica lens as your first lens. But we have you covered. We’ve partnered with our friends at World of photography in Columbus Ohio to award one lucky young photographer a mint Leica M4-P and 50/ƒ2 Summicron lens!
We want to hear your stories. Not only hear them, but publish them as well.