It was late morning when my trekking group left the village of Ghandruk in the Middle Hills of Nepal. Our route out of town just happened to cross in front of a small brick house with a crude stone porch. A young girl was waving enthusiastically as we approached. She hopped down the stairs and started running toward us, stopping abruptly in front of me at what must have felt like a safe distance. For a few seconds, the two of us just looked at each other, neither exactly sure what to do next. It was a chance encounter between two very different people who had lived very different lives. The only thing we had in common was a curiosity about the other.
After the first awkward moments passed, I pointed to the camera I was holding. She smiled and offered a gentle nod of permission. As I raised the camera to my eye, she steepled her hands in front of her face and said quietly, “Namaste.” As soon as I lowered my camera, she turned and scampered back into her house, peeking from the doorway as I continued down the trail. For one brief moment in time, our paths had crossed and our lives had intersected.
As travelers we can choose certain types of experiences, but we have no control over the element of chance. Our lives are almost continuously shaped and affected by unexpected and unplanned experiences. Just about everyone has tried to take pictures of people they meet on their journeys. Often they are shot quickly, candidly, and from a distance to avoid the uncomfortable feelings we get when approaching someone we don’t know.
The problem facing a tourist photographer is how to find and capture authenticity that is hidden below the staged event, the humanity that is revealed in a fleeting glance, a genuine smile, or a moment of quiet reflection. A camera can very easily be a barrier between people, or something for a tourist to hide behind. But it can also be used as a tool to enrich your travel experiences and as a bridge across cultures that can change the way you interact with people.
There is nothing more difficult for a tourist photographer than approaching a stranger and asking to take their picture. Often the answer is no, but when someone says yes, you have been given a gift, a chance to connect with another human being in a very personal way. If you have the courage to go beyond simply sightseeing or passively looking and embrace your chance encounters, you will be creating travel memories, potentially more valuable than any of the resulting images.
As a travel writer and photographer, David Noyes has been fortunate to visit some of the world's great places and has been touched by both the beauty and tragedy of the human condition. He has received numerous awards for his photography and travel writing including the (NATJA) Travel Photographer of the Year, three consecutive years, and two prestigious Lowell Thomas Awards for excellence in travel journalism. His award-winning first book, The Photographing Tourist: A Storyteller’s Guide to Travel and Photography takes you on a journey to remote corners of our fascinating world. It is available through Amazon.com, or order directly from David at: noyestravels.com/tourist.
April 29, 2016