We’ve all heard it before… Change is good.
That can mean many things to many people and one of the things I regret the least in life, is taking chances to make some big changes. I also seem to be rewarded quite often when I take small steps to make positive changes or even try something new. Sometimes, as in this case, doing something new is like doing something familiar, but with a distinct twist.
If you’ve followed my blog or social media accounts over the last several years, you will notice that my images tend to be all about the location and not about the people in the places I visit. This is where the change I’m talking about comes in.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
When I began my career in photography, I was mainly photographing people. Fashion and lifestyle photography was my main focus and I did that type of work for well over a decade. When I first got into shooting travel images, I broke away from having people in my shots. In fact, I tried my best to exclude people from my images as much as possible. All of this changed in Myanmar once I saw the people. I don’t know how to describe this in words, so I hope the images do these lovely people justice. In this series I’m sharing, I’m only showing you photos of some of the beautiful children and it’s just a sampling of what I was able to capture. I know that I have to return to Myanmar to continue this journey and I will. You’re bound to catch me leading a photo tour in Myanmar with my company Discovery Photo Tours.
Earlier this year Viking River Cruises contacted me with an offer to photograph and write about by experience in Myanmar on their Memories of Mandalay tour. Myanmar has long been at the top of my wish list of places to visit and I was happy to make the trip with my good friend Patrick DiFruscia, who specializes in landscape photography. Together, we were about to step out of our comfort zone in terms of what we are used to photographing. Little did we know just how amazing an experience this was going to be or how touched we would be by the kindness of the Burmese people.
The trip started in the best possible way when Cathay Pacific Airlines upgraded us to business class on our flights from Toronto to Hong Kong to Bangkok. These trans-Pacific long haul flights can be brutal on the system and when I’m fortunate enough to fly on business class of the top airline in the world on a long haul flight, I feel double lucky. Arriving in Bangkok well rested allowed me to get to work with a clear head instead of the regular jet lagged stupor I’m used to after flying for 26 hours. This was a good omen for how special the rest of the trip was going to be and a continuation of a life well travelled for me :-)
There is magic in the faces of these children and a glint in their eyes that warmed my soul. When they looked at me and smiled that most sincere of smiles, I absolutely melted. It makes me wonder why in some places the people can be so genuine, so kind, so welcoming and in other places people can be distant, cold, and suspicious. Let’s face it, Myanmar has faced difficult times over many decades and the people have few luxuries (if any). In fact, life can be hard there but yet the people carry themselves with grace and dignity that I honestly have not experienced anywhere else. This is reflected in the children and how they interact with visitors such as myself.
No, you won’t necessarily see wide beaming smiles pasted across the faces of these kids. It’s deeper than that, and it makes me think that many of these little people are ancient souls living in tiny bodies. Myanmar has been quite closed to the west for a long time and it’s only been in the last five years or less that we have been able to visit more freely. I’m not sure who was more curious as east met west when I engaged the locals. The older people were polite and respectful but somewhat bashful too. The children, on the other hand, seemed like they knew just how to pose for the camera and loved doing do. In fact, many of them would follow us as we explored their villages, cameras in hand. In some instances, they would actually jostle with each other for position in front of my lens as I was photographing their friends.
“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Those eyes… Oh, those eyes. There is a mystery in the eyes of these children, a depth, and yet a forlorn regard as well. It is an enigma to me as I honestly remember more the smiles and laughter but yet the images I captured and liked the most were the ones that had this mystifying feel to them. These children were not looking at me it seems, they were looking into my soul. It’s rare for me to look at a child and wonder what they are thinking. Probably because most of the time I imagine they are thinking of their X-box or iPad. These creature comforts that kids in the west take for granted are not even a fleeting thought for children in Myanmar. From our Viking ship, I spent several hours watching kids playing on the shore and swimming in the water of the Irrawaddy river. Not even a single toy was in evidence. This was just pure childish fun and camaraderie. That made me want to be a kid all over again and I certainly never feel like that when I see kids playing video games or watching television.
It was a highlight of the year for me to have this opportunity to discover a unique country like Myanmar. What made photographing the people even easier for me was working with my Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera. The smaller size and lighter weight of the Fujifilm camera and lenses made it a perfect choice for shooting from the hip without a tripod. 99% of my recent travel work has all been done with the aid of a tripod, so this too was a pleasant change. Walking around with a smaller kit and no tripod was liberating. If you didn’t already know, this year I was honoured to be named one of only two Fujifilm Global Ambassadors and I could not be prouder. Getting to work with so many people at Fujifilm who are passionate about making innovative quality cameras and lenses inspires me to strive for excellence.
Photographing people again was a wonderfully liberating experience and I could not have been given better subject matter to photograph. I’ll forever be grateful to the people of Myanmar for inspiring me to change the focus of my photography on this trip. I’m now looking forward to several other destinations in upcoming travel where I’ll once again be able to do more cultural and people photography. I’m heading to Vietnam for the first time in September, Jordan in November, and Cambodia in December. I should have ample opportunity to continue with my rekindled enthusiasm for photographing people on these trips.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was travelling purely for pleasure and not for work. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the travel I do and get excited each time I’m about to head on a new adventure. But it is work and often times, exhausting work. On this trip, I was treated to luxurious accommodations and flights and attentive staff from both Cathay Pacific and Viking. I had never taken any type of cruise in the past and I wasn’t sure that this was going to be for me. It was nice to be proven wrong in my trepidation. After an extensive amount of travel in 2014 and a very harsh winter in Montreal, I welcomed the relaxing nature of this trip. The journey concluded in Bangkok where I spent my birthday at a Japanese Rastafarian pub that got raided by the police (another story, for another time), before heading to Rome to run my annual Italy Photo Tour.
Not only did this journey to Myanmar remind me of how much I used to enjoy photographing people but it made me fall in love with travel all over again. If I may be so bold as to share some of the wisdom I garnered from this experience… Don’t be afraid to try something new or revisit something old. Some of the best experiences in life will come from doing the unexpected, stepping out of your comfort zone, and embracing uncertainty. Remember that even if you stumble or fail, you can be proud that you tried. I never want to look back and think that I ‘should have’ or ‘could have’. I’d rather have a life of ‘oh wells’ rather than a life of ‘what ifs’.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.”