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India. Nagaland. Aoleang Monyu festival. Wakching Village. Naga tribe. Young boys in front of Murong. 2008
- Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II Canon IS 24-105 mm (58mm)
- Camera Setting: 1/125 sec. f/10 ISO 400
I have the good fortune of traveling to a myriad of remarkable places in the world. And, India certainly has its share of remarkable places and cultures!.
I have been to Nagaland in the far northeast, near the Myanmar border, a number of times. In 2008 I visited the northern area of the Mon Nagas during their festival period. In addition to visiting the communal tribal festival gathering in town of Mon, of course, I traveled to the villages.
At Wakching I spied two boys in their traditional festival garb wearing Spiderman masks. I beckoned to them to stand up near the traditional Naga murong (meeting place for the men of the tribe) that is decorated with carved wooden creatures.
I always ask myself before clicking the shutter. “What is the problem?” There is always a problem that might require removing a piece of trash, or adjusting my position to eliminate a disruptive element in the background, or … oh there are so many possibilities. In this case, the light was even because of a subtle fog but that meant the sky was bright white. Since the eye is attracted to the lightest thing in an image it was important to incorporate the white sky as an effective design element.
I motioned for the two boys to move slightly over so that the left most boy was fully in the white sky helping to tone down its predominance. I wanted the right boy to maintain a presence in the murong so that they were bodily connected.
I was acutely aware of the pattern that the wood and sky were creating. It was clear to me that the composition had to be impeccable. Obviously the boy’s facial expressions were not important, it was their total body language that had to convey impact. I noted that their legs were separated and arm positions were natural. They were definitely confident and willing to be photographed. But one always has to work fast with young boys; they can bolt at any moment! So all of this happened very quickly in my mind.
But it had to right in the frame because I do not crop or change any content in my images!
This photograph became part of an exhibit/book work-in-progress called Outer India. I had a showing of its first phrase at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe NM in 2010 (I have another show coming up at the Zia Gallery in Chicago this coming September 7 – October 13, 2012.) I decided when I began printing for the show that some of the Northeast images would be selectively de-saturated. This is a gritty, tribal area and a more muted look suited the area. I did a mockup in Lightroom as a guideline then started from scratch in Photoshop—layer by adjustment layer (sometimes over 40 layers), to sculpt the image. It was a painstaking process but I am very pleased with the prints for the series. And, I especially love this one.
Printed in my studio with the HP Z3200 printer on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta paper.
Good idea Candance!
Here’s the color image with a minimal of work in Lightroom.
Even though I travel to so-called exotic locations it doesn’t mean that great images will automatically appear. There are the same creative challenges as photographing in your hometown (although there are very different social challenges). The main difference is that we are usually very jazzed and ready to photograph whenever we travel into our own terra incognito. Yet, this is often when the joy of travel overcomes artistic insight. Exoticism should not carry an image; it should stand by its own photographic gravity.
I have often said that there are four possibilities in a color image – the possibility of intense color, great light, strong action or gesture, and compelling pattern or composition (CLAP). There has to be at least two of these if an image is to have impact. And, sometimes one of these elements adds strong punch, zing, woo-hoo, or punctuation. Like putting an exclamation at the end of a sentence. One takes notice. The punctuation is the zing to an already commendable image.
Recently I was in Nagaland of northeastern India right on the India/Myanmar border. Literally, I was standing on the border; it ran through the middle of the headman’s house. There was serious opium imbibing in extremely dark rooms. I blessed the high ISO capabilities of my Canon 5D Mark II since using a tripod was not an option. However, I didn’t want to photograph the usual “person in front of a fire” tribal image. BTDT. Then I noticed the serrated light falling on the face of one of men. I balanced my camera on my knees, framed him on the right side, waited for the right moment, took a deep breath and let it out, then ripped off five frames. (Even at ISO 1600 with a 28mm f/1.8 lens I was down to 1/5 sec at f/1.8). As I hoped, the middle frame was sharp. And the punctuation of the light makes the image. Zing!!
© nevada wier 2009 India. Nagaland State. Longwa Village.
DETAIL OF FACE
Here is another example from an older image taken in Ladakh, India. I don’t know how long the shutter speed was (film days) but it was long enough to “ghost” out the image of the head monk crossing the room (no, it is not a curtain). I was on a tripod (no way to hand hold an image like this one) using Kodachrome 200. The punctuation is in the face peering through the ghosting, it is the only frame that worked.
© nevada wier Ladakh, India. Rizong Monastery.
DETAIL, IN GHOSTING, OF A PILGRIM’S FACE
I have increasingly becoming less interested in photographing a literal moment in time — a portrait, a moment when someone is working, an expression, a stunning landscape, and such. Oh yes, I still photograph these, but, while editing they do not interest me as much as before. I am more intrigued with the moments that a casual glance cannot see. Only a virtuoso of seeing can notice them, and only a master of a camera can express them. These images exist in shadows, fleeting expressions, and wiry juxtapositions.
I think travel (or should I say “destination”) photographers go through certain phases; I know I did:
First: Figuring out how to use a camera and just pointing the lens wherever.
Second: Clicking when you see a moment you like.
Third: Deciphering more of the camera and then clicking more deliberately.
Fourth: Feeling confident about your photographic skill and so photographing with enthusiasm but not intent.
Fifth: Starting to understand that the combination of a camera, lens, and sensor (or film) has a creative potential of its own.
Sixth: Traveling further afield with a camera, feeling confident, and then the emotion of the travel smothers creative photographic expression. (An amazing travel experience doesn’t necessarily translate to amazing images.)
Seventh: The technical level excellerates and expectations rise, images become technically lovely (perhaps like a photographer you admire) yet they are soulless.
Eighth: The photographic journey eventually begins… and expressive levels become very personal.
Ninth: You hate everything you have ever done and see all the imperfections.
Ten: Photography becomes more than a record or documentation of a journey; it becomes an expression of self, place, and beyond. And it is more challenging than ever before.
© nevada wier 2009 Assam, Manjuli Island. Rass Dance.
I was recently in the northeastern region of India, close to the Chinese/Burmese border. During a Naga festival and I had the opportunity to make a portrait of a young Naga prince (related to the royal family in the region). I loved the juxtaposition of the wall of the royal homestead and royal adornments with the contemporary fashion and pose. I am not looking to mythologize the world. So when I find a confluence of the modern world with tribal tradition, especially in a positive way, I am quick to record the moment.
Here are the RAW adjustments in Adobe Lightroom
Then I created a “Virtual Copy” so I could try a different set of RAW conversions:
Then I exported it as a .psd to Adobe Photoshop CS4 for a few extra adjustments in order to bring out more color in the necklace, using the colors in the original RAW conversion.
NOTE: THIS PHOTOSHOP WORKSHOP WAS UPDATED SEPTEMBER 13, 2009
© nevada wier 2008 Nagaland, India