My Journeys of Faith

Earlier this week, Craig had a post showing some of his images of faith in Asia.  Craig’s post was in response to Steve McCurry’s A Matter of Faith posting, which was followed in return by David Sanger, who posted Images of Faith.  David called for other photographers to make similar blog posts; this is my contribution.

Prayers at Night
Bagan, Myanmar

I have to admit, I was quite enthused to start up this post; Faith has been a pretty constant subject in my photography and religious faith is something that I find inherently beautiful.  Finding images was not the issue, even a very cursory run through my photo library came up with way, way too many photos to post here.  Even as I write this post, I really don’t know how many photos I will include.  Doubtless it will be too many; editing things down is difficult.

Smoke Gets in Her Eyes
Longshan Temple, Taipei

For some photos, I will simply give titles, for others, I will offer some details or an opinion.  I hope you will wade through all that I post and I do hope you will enjoy. Thanks for your indulgences in what will be an overlong post.

Outside the Jama Masjid Mosque
Fatehpur Sikri, India

To my mind, one of the greatest things about houses of worship in the East is how they are not simply places to pray, but they serve as community centers.  People visit, eat, play chess and just generally live in and around the temples and mosques in Asia; I am much more drawn to the community center feeling of these places than I am to the more single use churches in the west. Here at Jama Masjid, the men spend hours socializing between prayers.

Taipei, Taiwan

Similarly, I don’t believe that you would find someone both washing his shoes, then laying them out to dry on a church’s steps, as I found at this small temple in Taipei.

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Shooting People Part 7: Get Moving

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part FourPart Five & Part Six

There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept. – Ansel Adams

While I certainly am not qualified to debate photography with Saint Ansel, I actually think he could have shuffled things around a bit and come up with a more accurate assessment.   My take would be more along the lines of “There is nothing better than a fuzzy image of a brilliant concept.” Far too often, photographers worry more about sharpness than content in their images.  I most certainly am guilty of this myself.  I have long ranted about an overemphasis on sharpness when it comes to lenses, but it is even more true when it comes to actual photographs.  The sharpness of a photo is rarely directly related to the quality of that photo.

What I am talking about is not blurred photos due to bad technique, or inappropriate shutter speeds, but of photos that are at least partially blurred because of movement in the photo (and sometimes from the camera as well).

What blur does very effectively is to infuse movement into what can’t help but be a still photo.  Once you are capturing movement, you are catching something that is happening, an event, not just a static scene.

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A Shot and a Thought: Torture

This shot came to mind while I was on a bit of a photo walk in Taichung yesterday with David Reid, Mark Forman and Todd Alperovitz.  Both the photo and the thoughts are from a few years ago.

You see these paths in many of the parks here in Taipei. They are some rounded, smooth, blackish rock set into concrete. I believe the idea boils down to accupressure; when you walk on them, you stimulate certain nerves and it will cure what ails ya.

In theory, this is all very nice and good, healthy too. In practice, this amounts to a self induced torture. The stones are smooth, but they are sparse enough that they don’t support much of your foot, so when you step down, they put quite a lot of pressure on a small area. Being rocks, they are tough buggers too, nothing soft about their caress. It just hurts like bloody hell, I have never managed much more than about 10 meters before having to bail out. As an insult to my pride, I feel very awkward when walking on this little mounts of hell too. Even though they are laid out in an even height, once you get on them, balance seems to be out of the question. Hence, not only am I in pain, I embarass myself, staggering as though I have downed dozens of beers.

The oddest thing about these areas of torture is that there are actually people who seem to enjoy it. I watched this guy cover hundreds of meters, with far more grace and far less grimacing than I will ever be able to accomplish. I guess my western tootsies are just too tender.

A Shot and a Thought: Shop Dogs

Auto repair shops are quite different here in Taiwan than what I was used to in Canada.  They are much smaller and most importantly, most are centered around around motorcycle and scooter work, as opposed to cars and trucks.  Given the traffic make up of Taiwan, it makes perfect sense.

One shop is pretty much the same as the next.  In front will be a big drum for recycling oil, in and around the shop are enough petrochemicals to soil the environment for years to come.  They are staffed with mechanics with blackened hands and betel stains and there are tools strewn about.  What they all also seem to have in common is they are home to a shop dog.  These dogs are remarkably consistent as well.  Always large of mixed breed, they are, like their owners, covered in a film of lubricants.  Unlike most of though, these dogs are fat and lazy.  You will never see one which is fighting trim and you will rarely see one who will even give a visitor a passing glance; it is just too much work.  Certainly, they are not there for security, as that would require effort on the dogs part.  Mostly they are there for company I guess and to provide a bit of a mascot for the shop.  Being a bit big and lazy my own self, I have always felt a certain affinity to these passive mutts.

Here, I was lucky enough to catch one in action.  When walking past the shop, this fellow actually ambled over to give me a once over sniff.  He seemed curious enough about my camera as well and immediately after the shot was taken, his nose hit my lens, leaving a big smear of dog mucous.  This shot was taken years ago, when I lived in another neighbourhood; the dog was always there, usually sleeping.  Makes me think of making a trip to the old haunts to see if he is still around.

A Shot and a Thought: Thailand

Praying to the Reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya

I know this post is coming too late, things in Bangkok have settled down for the time being and for that I am thankful.  Hopefully calm will prevail, though I have my doubts.

Like many, the city of Bangkok has been on my mind for the past while. I know that I am by no means alone in my feelings, but like many expats living in Asia, Thailand has a special significance for me. Like millions of others, Bangkok was my first ever stop in Asia and other than countries in which I have held residence, I have spent more time in the Kingdom than any other. There is no doubt at all that without first visiting Thailand in 2000, my life would be very different than it is today. Most obviously, I doubt very highly that I would be living in Taiwan had it not been for my first Asian adventure. I felt at home there; more so now that I have been through a dozen or so times.

My feelings are different now; and I am not doing well at sorting them out. It would be easier to sort things out if I better understood the politics and sociology in Thailand; but the fact that I don’t doesn’t lessen my feelings. Violence always saddens me, but this case has been even worse. Usually when there are clashes, I feel pretty comfortable in at least siding with one side who I view to be in the “right”. Two years ago, when people took to the streets of Yangon, I had no problems at all siding with the monks and against the government. During the protests in Iran, I was clearly on the Green side. In the past month or so in Bangkok, I am really ambivalent. I don’t like the Red Shirts methods; they seemed to step past civil disobedience towards purposefully violent chaos. I don’t like that they seemed to be manipulated by Thaksin, whom I have very mixed feelings about. On the other side of the coin though, I can’t help but feel the government and army didn’t diffuse things as well as they might have and I realize that the government is backed by the wealthy vs. the rural poor of the Red Shirts. Finally, I feel very saddened that the King, whom I once quite respected as far as monarchs go, was ineffectual at best. All of these things just leave me cold and sad. I know this has been some time in coming and I realize that I had been looking at things through rose colored glasses, but somehow I feel that my innocence has somehow been lost. That makes me feel sad and not very hopeful.

Most importantly, I hope for better times in Thailand ahead. Not important to anyone but myself, I hope that I can soon have the same warm feelings for Thailand that I had not so very long ago. I hate to feel so cynical about a city I once considered my favourite spot to spend time in.

Here’s to better times in the Kingdom.