Published: December 9th 2011December 9th 2011
Inle lake is probably the most touristic part of Myanmar and at Inle lake, I probably did the most touristic thing that one can do, which is take a boat tour to all the so called 'sights'. Now, don't think touristic as in Thailand touristic, no it is nothing like that, but for Myanmar there are a lot of tourists, especially tour-groups. And they all take the boat tour, you can see them zipping around the lake in numbered boats umbrella's or parasols up in the air, depending on the weather.
And so I found myself on one of those sleek boats jetting through the water and looking at the folks that call the shores of this lake their home, and somewhere along the line I started thinking how strange this all was. Because I found myself looking through the view-finder of my camera more than anything else. Looking at people as subject or objects for a photo, looking at the stilt houses, the floating gardens and the markets and thinking about how they would best be represented in a photo. I was viewing life through the little glass hole in my camera, creating a distance between me and whatever
Sun rays piercing the clouds
was on the other side. It is almost like you are watching some documentary on TV. You are on one side of the camera, the subject or object on the other.
And the more I thought about it, the more weird it became. If I look back at the times I take photo's, I notice that I hardly ever take photo's of the people I actually interact with. The people shots that you see on my blog are taken when I am in tourist mode and either walking around some temple, market or village, or alternatively I am on a bus, boat or train and shooting from a safe distance using my zoom. I don't talk with them, in fact I don't know anything about them. As soon as I talk to somebody I put my camera away and I find it extremely awkward to take a photo of the person. It is as if by taking that photo the moment is lost, a distance is instantly created. Or so I feel it might be, so I don't take out my camera and I just talk with them, sometimes thinking while talking to them that I would love to
have a photo of them, but that this just isn't the time, but most of the time I don't think about the camera at all anymore because I am engrossed in my conversation.
There are cultures where they view the taking of photo's as stealing somebody's soul, or so you read in some book. And I can actually imagine the rationale behind it. Don't I actually feel the same? Once I know and interact with a person during my travels I don't dare to take a photo of him or her, because the taking of the photo not only interrupts that interaction, but it turns the person I am talking to into an subject. The problem is that of course pictures of people are very often the most interesting photo's, and for sheer memory sake it would be nice to have a photo of such and such monk I talked to. So there is this dilemma, I want a memento,or I like the way the person looks, but I don't want to create this distance and turn that person into an object. My solution more often than not is just not to take a photo, or sometimes to take
Famous one-legged rowing
is at the very end, but even then I feel that as soon as I have taken the photo something has changed.
Now even stranger is of course the fact that I don't have this with my friends or family. I mean I take photo's of them without feeling that they are objects or that I have created some barrier. So what is the difference? It is probably the fact that they are not strangers, and that I really know them, and that I am not taking those photo's for esthetical purposes, but really as a memory of the moment for myself or for them to enjoy later on. Maybe there is a difference for me between knowing somebody really well, like friends and family and knowing that they know that when I take a photo it is not for touristic purposes, and meeting some local on the road and not knowing them well enough and feeling that they might think that I am taking the photo of them merely from a touristic point of view and not as a memory.
Perhaps it is that which bugs me, the fact that I don't want the person I have
Hauling up mud from the lake bottom for the floating gardens
talked to, to think of me as a tourist (which of course I am, even if I don't want them to think of me that way... it's a catch 22!), but as somebody he or she had a good conversation with and who didn't just talk to them to be able to take a good mug-shot of them. Since I don't know what they will think if I take that photo, I prefer not to take it and be on the safe side.
So taking us back to Inle lake, here I was looking at all those folk in their boats, and tending their gardens, or fishing or doing whatever other things they were doing, and all this looking was done through my view-finder. Because I knew that I would not talk to them, and that being in that most touristic of boats, there was no way they would ever think of me as nothing more then a tourist. So on this tour I could happily snap away and take mug-shots without feeling too awkward, I was a tourist after all and that is what we do.
Yes, life through the view-finder is very different for me, it
Birds flocking over a boat
is a far away world, which I can't touch, but just look at. There is no interaction possible, and sometimes that is just the way I like it. After all, I do want to have those photo's, and I am a tourist, however much I sometimes want the locals not to see me that way. If I have the time, I sometimes divide my stay in a place between me the tourist and taking all the photo's of the sights and the people on one day, and me the person who just wants to sit down and talk to the people or watch life go by, and I leave my camera at home for that day. It is probably the best solution for my dilemma.
For now I leave you with life as seen through my view-finder, an ideal world often, not showing the rubbish, the concrete blocks or whatever else I deem unworthy of my photo's. Ah yes, the view-finder world, the closest we come to Shangri-La. Enjoy!
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