Just Like Starting Over
I was talking recently with a writer who asked me what my favorite place to photograph in all the world was. I answered without hesitation. "Asia," I said. But when he asked why, I said, "You know, I'm not sure."
My first thought was that there were two reasons: I'm comfortable in Asia, and I get great pictures there--both of which are important factors, the latter especially so because I make my living selling my travel photographs. But I'm comfortable in Europe, too, and I always return from my European trips with good pictures.
Then I realized that "comfortable" was not really the right word. In a sense, I'm not really comfortable in Asia, and that's why it's my favorite place.
It's not that I'm ever worried about my safety--just the opposite. It's that no matter where I might be in Asia--Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, China, Bangkok--I feel a little insecure, a little off-balance. And, somehow, no matter how many times I go there, Asia never fails to be somewhat unfamiliar. It never fails to surprise me and keep me off-balance. Simply, every time I go there it's like the first time, and I feel like I'm starting over in my discovery of this wonderful place.
I realized that I like putting myself into situations like this. When I'm a little uneasy, a little insecure, I have a tendency to look a little harder for pictures. And Asia always rewards my efforts. Everything is different there, and that's part of the allure. It's a spiritual place, where beliefs are part of everyday life. There are elements of mystery there, and there is serenity, too.
I realized, too, what the difference between Asia and Europe is for me. There are places in Europe where I have to play the "pretend I've never been here before" game--and there are places where the game no longer works. In Asia I never have to do that. It's new every time, and whenever I get there, no matter what city on the continent, it's step one all over again.
Unfamiliarity Breeds Strength
Then from behind me I heard
a voice say, "I hope you're getting paid a lot of money for that shot."
I turned around and there was a man I knew--a travel photographer from
my hometown. He'd been on assignment in Taipei and was now making a
stopover visit to China. But he was standing there without a camera!
"A lot of people have made this shot before," he said, meaning that
he felt he couldn't make any money from a stock image of the scene.
And all the while I'm thinking, man, if you don't need to take a picture
of this for yourself, then you've just stopped seeing.
Thinking back on it, I realized
that for some unknown reason, I'd been primed for the Asian continent
even before my first visit. I knew I wanted to go and I knew I'd love
it. The first city I visited was Hong Kong, and I've been there a dozen
times since and it's still my favorite city to visit and each visit it
is like the first.