Readers' Submissions

Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 309

  • Written by Dana
  • January 7th, 2012
  • 9 min read


HE'S A PHOTOGRAPHER

Hello photographers with sepia colored memories and dreams of a career as a glamour photographer that will never come true:
Here is a photography story. Enjoy. But hey, where are the rest of you on Stickmanbangkok.com who carry cameras around? Ever lost a whole string of pack mules while transporting your equipment to a canyon rim for a sunrise shot? Feel it is finally a good time to release your Area 51 starship burn mark exposures? Your neighbor dresses up white lab rats in Bolivian traditional costumes and puts on shows in his basement? You are the official photographer during the shows? Well, let's hear about it. Write it up and send it in to this wonderful website. In the meantime, here is an essay titled He's a Photographer. We start with the AND–YOU–THINK–YOU'VE–HAD–A–BAD–DAY Dept. as in:

"He (Frederich) died in November 1931, possibly as a consequence of an air crash he was involved in when flying with the German fighter pilot ace of the First World War Udet, on a film safari. They descended for a close shot of a pride of lions sitting on top of a termite hill in the crater, and the male leader of the pride took exception to this maneuver, reared up, and tore off the landing wheels, forcing it to crash-land. Both Udet and Frederich were injured in the crash-landing. " — from The Ngorongoro Story by Lithgow & von Lawick.

Propeller plane of painted cloth and bits of wood? No landing gear? The crash would have been spectacular. Good for the male lion is what I say. It's nice to see someone doing their job and attaining excellence through total commitment. One lion to another lion:

"What did you do today?"
"Tore a plane out of the sky."

The accompanying illustration for this in the book The Ngorongoro Story is wonderful. It shows a male lion leaping up, biting the bottom of one of the wheels of the plane, wrapping his front paws around the top of the wheel, and then his body weight tearing the whole two wheel front landing gear assembly off of the plane. It's an illustration because there was no photo. Think of all the fabulous photos we have missed because either there was no one around to take the picture, or the people who were there did not have cameras.

Imagine what we missed that went on in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Anyway, I think that this whole commitment to excellence issue may be one of the reasons I found it hard to fully engage in photography in my life.

What am I talking about? I am talking about the desire for excellence as exampled by the lion on top of the termite hill who made a complete commitment. When is the last time you attacked a plane? I don't want to do something unless I can do it well. I don't think you can do photography well unless you are fully engaged, and to be fully engaged you have to have a camera (plus bag plus lenses plus film plus plus plus) with you at all times. AT ALL TIMES. You can't negotiate this. To be an excellent photographer you have to be ready for a photographic opportunity at all times.

What do you suppose the exact number of seconds were of the drama between the lion on the top of the termite hill and the plane? Three seconds? You have to be ready if you are going to acquire excellence. It is part of the challenge. And by ready I mean the equipment has to be around your neck. It can't be in the closet like an Israeli reservist's weapon. It can't be on the car seat next to you. It can't be in a backpack. Around your neck. Naturally, after about twenty-five years the weight of the camera and accessories will cause posture, neck, and shoulder problems. But if you are not willing to suffer for your art get out of the camera stores.

Admit it, big boy; the reason you got involved with photography in the first place, especially if you were an American, was that you had a young man's dream of being a glamour photographer like Bob Cummings on the TV show The Bob Cummings Show (1961-1964, American TV). Now you settle for a telephoto shot of some tick bird on an elephant's rear end.

"Notice I combined French foreground techniques with negative space image cropping."

"Notice how the dipping horizon line directs the eye to the bird."

"Notice how I managed to match the grey of the elephant's hide with the grey of elephant poop in the foreground. I did that in post production wearing a Dudgeons & Dragons game virtual helmet and a paint chip sample card from the hardware store."

"Notice how . . . blah blah blah."

Earth to camera nerd. It isn't glamour photography. It's a tick bird on an elephant's ass. And if I had been there I might have noticed all the great shots that you missed because you were not ready. You got so involved talking to the young German woman in the Land Rover that you missed the two warthogs tearing a snake to pieces.

How am I doing? The Danaman? Me? Well, I've only got one camera and it's not hanging around my sixty-one year old neck. It's a Polaroid Land Camera and it mostly sits on the dresser in my sixth floor ocean facing suite in the A.A. Hotel in Pattaya, Thailand. I rarely use it. It's heavy and awkward and noisy and clumsy. I can't conceive of having it with me at all times so naturally I almost never get any interesting pictures. Like I said, I know what excellence in photography requires; I just can not make the commitment.

So, one of the reasons I did not fully commit myself to photography when I was younger was because I could not fully commit to being 'locked and loaded' at all times. But my posture hasn't been ruined, and I haven't needed neck or back surgery. Maybe I'm even on points. Maybe not. Art rules and I have not created or captured any art in my life. To thine self be true and I know of my shortcomings. That is why whenever I see a great photo I also try to think of the photographer. Someone, just like the male lion on the termite hill in Africa, knew what they were doing.

Jimi Hendrix, the late great 20th century guitarist never put his guitar down. It was always hanging around his neck in case inspiration struck. If a series of guitar chords were needed to highlight an African lion pulling a plane out of the sky, Jimi and his guitar was ready. He even slept with his guitar around his neck. Jimi would have had some great guitar riffs to add to whatever was happening in the Garden of Eden because he was ready. He had turned himself over to his art.

How 'bout you Mr. Wannabe Matthew Brady: are you sleeping with your cameras and lenses and bags and film with black leather straps around your neck? It is a test question. Your desire for excellence and your commitment are being tested. No? Well, why not? When are you going to take the final step? Anybody can stay up until 3 a.m. reading old photography magazines. When are you going to take the final step and sleep with your cameras? Time to make a choice.

I have a friend of startling aspect who has strap cuts on the bridge of his nose, miscellaneous hematomas to the face and neck, fractured occipital bones, a detached retina in his left eye, a bulging carotid artery because a stent had to be implanted, and minor cuts to the face and neck from lens rims. He is everything I could never be as a young photography enthusiast. He accepted the challenge. He embraced the idea of excellence only being achieved through sacrifice. His public staggering from damaged neck vertebrate and lower back problems proclaims him an alpha and he has slide boxes and albums and framed pics and computer files of fantastic pictures. He is everything I could never be. He's a photographer.

So if you see one of these alpha photographers staggering down Soi 13/0 in Pattaya heading for the boardwalk try and show a little respect. You are witnessing commitment. If you were on Soi 6 and a girl stabbed you with a knife this guy would get the picture. A baht bus driver is beating up a tourist over a fare dispute? Captain Nerd with the cameras will get the picture. The only pictures I ever get in the Kingdom are record pictures of girls in my hotel room. When I fall in love with a wonderful Thai lady I move the furniture aside and have her stand against the wall. I then take her picture. After she leaves, her name and a plus (+) or a minus (-) goes on the front. The plus sign means she is a repeater. The minus sign means 'please, oh God please' do not make that mistake again.

Hint: do not ever ever ever ever ever ever ever let your current Thai girlfriend find this bunch of pictures. I'm speaking from experience. If she does find these pics just give her a lot of money and hold the door for her. It is over. Of course this just shows what a photography amateur I am. A professional or an amateur who had made the final commitment to his photo art and had the facial damage, nerve tics, and bad posture to prove it would never make an error like this.

Anyway, because of turnover amongst Thai angels of the commercial kind I never need to make a trip to the Kingdom with more than about twenty-five of these pictures. So my camera is never going to be a part of art. Just a part of my life. But I often say to myself 'boy, this would make a great picture' in my wanderings around Thailand. Boat pictures (I love boats), faces (the bird guy in Pattaya on South Rd.), the mountainside temple on Ko Larn, women's clothing at the Night Market in Chiang Mai, architectural details, food stands, the Kite festival in Bangkok, etc. There is a wonderful website on the Internet that features stray dogs of Bangkok. There is another wonderful website that chronicles a Thai girl from birth to age eight. I like theme photography. There is another wonderful website that features the doors and signs of Bangkok bars.

So if you see one of these equipment festooned photographers lining up a shot with a camera on a tripod while his assistant named Ping, or Ling, or Ming, or Fing, or Ying, or Zing, or Ding, or Dong hands him things; be happy. You are witnessing art and commitment, two things the world can never have too much of.

Stickman's thoughts:

If your photography was as colourful as your writing, it would be truly amazing!