People, places, past and photography
Try to travel, otherwise
you may become racist,
and you may end up believing
that your skin is the only one
to be right,
that your language
is the most romantic
and that you were the first
to be the first.Gio Evan
The above is the opening verse, in translation, of the song Viaggiate by Gio Evan, poet and songwriter. A friend posted it on Facebook and for me it sums up everything that is wonderful and important about travelling.
I’ve described my enthusiasm for travelling in previous posts but when I came across these words I had to return to the topic and share them with you. And Amy has given me the perfect excuse to do so with her choice of topic for this week’s Lens Art challenge, ‘Travel has taught me’. I wish I had written those words as they sum up my response to that question so well. But as I didn’t, the next best thing I can do is try to illustrate them.
Travelling can teach us so much; it could be said that it is the main theme running through my whole blog. Here I want to concentrate on four ‘lessons’ from the travel curriculum, my four Ps: people, places, past and photography
When the British Member of Parliament Jo Cox was tragically murdered in 2016, her contention that, ‘We have more in common than that which divides us’ was widely quoted. It became a mantra for all of us who deplore those who try to sow the seeds of division in our country. I also found that it resonated with me when I reflected on my travels. If travelling teaches us anything I believe it is exactly that. Again from Viaggiate:
because if you don’t travel then
your thoughts won’t be strengthened,
won’t get filled with ideas.
Your dreams will be born with fragile legs and then you end up believing in tv-shows, and in those who invent enemies
that fit perfectly with your nightmares
to make you live in terror.
because travel teaches
to say good morning to everyone
regardless of which sun we come from.
From North Korea to Senegal, Oman to Cambodia, and in many other places, I have encountered people who are, beneath their many differences, pretty much like you and I. They strive for the same things from life: good health, positive relationships with others, enough food to put on the table and a roof over their heads. They love their families, they work hard (mostly!) and are welcoming to strangers such as ourselves.
Like most of you I learned geography at school, and like some of you no doubt, I enjoyed it. I became fascinated with maps (actually, I had always been fascinated by maps, ever since I learned to trace Milly Molly Mandy’s route from home to school on the endpapers of my favourite story books!) I was intrigued to see how contour lines marked the highest points. And I was enthralled by images of very different landscapes: deserts, forests, savannah.
Later I grew to love the wildlife documentaries for which the BBC is quite rightly acclaimed, especially the series by David Attenborough. Life on Earth shaped my understanding of the natural world.
But there’s nothing like travelling and seeing these places for yourself to generate a respect for the world’s wild places and the creatures, and people, who live in them.
Another thing I’ve learned through travelling is a lot of history. It wasn’t a subject that interested me much at school. Perhaps we studied the wrong periods; perhaps the focus was too much on world events and too little on the people who lived through them. Or maybe my teachers just weren’t inspiring enough! Whatever the reason it took travelling to spark my interest in how the past has shaped our present.
In North Korea I came to appreciate how the occupation by the Japanese, the events of WW2 and the years that followed it created the base on which the Kim regime built their power. In Japan I saw the impact that the dropping of the first nuclear bomb had not only on the city of Hiroshima where it fell but also on the Japan of today, where children are taught from an early age to value peace above war. And in Oman I learned how the country had rocketed from feudal system to modern society in just a few decades, fuelled by the passion of one sultan and his fight to depose his autocratic father.
Travel has taught me to be a better photographer. I see more and I see differently. Looking back at photos of long ago trips I can see how today I would frame a shot differently, take it from another angle. Or not take it at all!
And I would argue that photography has taught me to be a better traveller, or at least a more conscious one. I look at things more carefully than I might if I didn’t have a camera in my hands.
Of course it’s important sometimes to put the camera down and just be in the moment. But I would challenge the often-repeated statement that if you’re busy taking photos you are missing out on really seeing what’s in front of you. It’s because I’m busy taking photos that I take in so much. The little toddler running down the road in my feature photo, taken in a village in northern Laos. The man washing his clothes in the reservoir at Chittaurgarh, on the steps of the Shiva Temple. The man who looked up at me as I took photos from a bridge over the Taedong in Pyongyang, watching him and others dredging weeds from the river after a storm. The driver taking a rest in his tuk-tuk while waiting for passengers by the Terrace of the Leper King at Angkor Thom.
Sometimes at home I find myself noticing things I would have passed without a second glance had I not got so used to looking for photo opportunities on my travels. That’s been a huge source of pleasure during the pandemic when my travels have been severely curtailed. But now I’m ready to get back out there and carry on learning!
otherwise you end up believing
that you are made only for a panorama
and instead inside you
there are wonderful landscapes
still to visit.Geo Evan