Cowbells clang. Drums boom. Fancy dancers whirl. Costumed dancers gyrate with coordinated, frenetic energy.
Five junkanoo groups from Eleuthera that rushed Governor's harbor were assembling their floats and costumes. The Savannah Sound Lucayans, Harbour Island's Barracks Hill Warriors, New Vision from Rock Sound, The Unity Builders, and the Harbour Boys from Governor's Harbor. Junkanoo is quintessentially Bahamian.
Travel is ephemeral and filled with singular experiences. I may only turn around this corner, at this time, in this place, just once. These inimitable moments are a singular combination of many alignments, perhaps like a number series that unlocks a safe. In these best moments, the "who, what, where, when and why" all come together in sync to open into a photograph.
ENGAGE WITH EMOTIVE EMPATHY
But here is the thing: we can Engage with Empathy. When we are open and confident, we greet other passersby. When we joyfully engage with another person, in that unique moment, making a photographic portrait seems a natural conclusion to our interaction. Nat. Geo. photographer Greg Kahn asked us to explore something unfamiliar, when "spontaneous adventures often lead to unexpected images." I believe we might go a bit deeper than exploring. We might practice emotive empathy.
What is Emotive Empathy? Simply, it's our abilities to recognize, share in, and guess our subject's emotional state. At a more complex level, we begin to guess what another person is thinking, how they feel about us taking their picture. We do this amazing feat, it seems, without thinking. Not so. There is lightning fast thinking going on, we are just not aware if it.
While, we are often sympathetic about someone's viewpoint, or believe we know the way they feel ("I feel you" "I know what you mean"), emotive empathy tries to go deeper. While it takes focus to maintain, emotive empathy is a worthwhile practice.
What does this mean for travel photography? It means, when we meet others at a Bahamian festival, or elsewhere, to attempt to share the emotions of another person by listening, smiling, being open and not judging, and perhaps reflecting back how I believe someone might feel before I frame and make their portrait. These are just a few of the roots of engaged emotional empathy.
What does engaging mean? It means being charismatic, and open to the unfamiliar. On the street at a chaotic event like Junkanoo, it means staying loose, smiling first at someone even if they don't look approachable, and making first contact to reach out. When I do these gestures, others see me as safer and more approachable, most of the time. As a result, the photography begins conversationally instead of in the way we often see the press aggressively photographing a notable person.
Photographing, I chose 50 and 20 mm lenses. The wide angle lens make me get closer. When the drums were a full volume, I gestured and smiled before moving in with a DSLR. Only one subject, a boy of 8 dressed in costume, refused to allow a portrait. I praised him to his uncle, saying that his saying "No" was good because it said he was the boss. The festival continued on into the Eleutheran night.
The dog sees with fresh eyes. Walking with her in the morning, three days after the winter solstice, the hues of Grand Bahama are softly ablaze. Green grass is under bare feet, and nearby a tiled swimming pool reflects teal-tinged clouds.
The texture of a conch shell, a hermit crab on the grass, small star-shaped flowers. . . these appear as I pass by, not seeking for things.
Pausing to breathe and gawk, each stride takes time, for short pauses between the steps call forth, occasionally, a photograph. Framing these images is a question, in mind for months now: "how can I see with fresh eyes?" A camera will not answer this, but becomes a transient, tiny window to explore in wonderment.
Walking around one side of house, wings flutter. Bird song floats by and the lack of any human made sounds conveys an inner experience of living "wild in the wild." Images flow.
WHAT IS SLOFO?
Slofo is slow photography, the attentive, deliberate creation of a photography. These photos were made on two Bahamas islands, framed with a mindset of SloFo.
Today photography is obsessed with speed and doing things faster. This compulsion for speed subverts creativity. We rush the process and the experience of photography is cheapened. Quality takes a dive. Instead, when we think carefully, and take our time, we get greater satisfaction from the process.
A way of thinking, slow photography is taking time to contemplate, be remindful and think as we make pictures. When we look up and about from our cameras, and are continually aware of the events around us, we can do slow photography anywhere with any gear. We do not need to be on an island. Slow Photography begins where we are standing.
ON ISLAND TIME
Creating photographs slowly in the Bahamas was a pleasure; the abundance of sunlight and clear, shallow water created sparkling highlights in the water. Sailing a catamaran, we set out northwest from Nassau to explore three island groups: the Berry Islands, Eleuthera and Long Island.
About 120 miles east of Miami Florida, the Berry Islands rise from the shallow waters of the Bahama banks. They get few visitors. About 30 large cays (pronounced keys) and hundreds of smaller ones make up the region. Carved by receding glaciers, rainfall, runoff and erosion, these islands are set like teal gems in the blue Atlantic Ocean.
Instead of just shooting the mesmerizing colors of the water itself, I found leading lines at the water's edge to create depth in the frame. The shapes of the shoreline and its marine life created compelling seascapes. We looked for textures in close up views of marine life. Textures were everywhere: from the rough limestone iron shore to the studded surface of one foot wide red starfish.
ALONG THE BEACH
Just off the beach and below the water, a forest of sea fans bent over in the current. On land, colored shells were strewn along the pink-sand beach. Sea grape and an occasional coconut palm grew on the shore. These trees gave shelter to birds including banaquits, osprey and herons.
Where there are necter-bearing flowers or cactus birds appear; the Bahama Woodstar Hummingbird and the Cuban Emerald Hummingbird are common. Bright sunny conditions in December and January allowed for shutter speeds fast enough to freeze American oystercatchers on the iron shore.
White waves pounded the open ocean side of the Berry islands. Along the shore chitons, limpets and sea urchins held tightly to the volcanic rock. Bleeding-gum narite snails commuted along the sand and left winding trails. With small colorful snails everywhere you look, macro photography with the camera on a tripod could take place at a leisurely snail's pace.
ABANDONED PLACES ON LONG ISLAND and ELEUTHERA
On Long Island, while hiking near the beach, we found the wreck of a tugboat named Carmen. She was beached during a hurricane. Hiking light with a small tripod, I loaded Fuji 400 in the Konica AutoReflex T. Further South, on the island of Eleuthera, I photographed the ruins of the WP Stewart mansion with a Nikon n90s and Fuji 400 film.
FOUR PROVEN SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY CONCEPTS
1. Take more time. If you can, use a tripod. Pace your film, or dial in Single Frame shooting on your digital camera. Breath and walk around between frames. Practice taking just one image of each composition.
Good photographs need not be busy. To simplify the elements, ask " What is the most important detail or thing in this image?"
Reducing the number of visual elements in each picture makes them more vivid. When the light itself is so scintillating, an image can work with just sky and water alone to convey a sense of place. Using your tripod and film will help you make more thoughtful deliberate compositions, in part because film changes your capture rate, and tripods help you relax and slow down.
2. Dial it Down. Use a low ISO. Since there was abundant light, its easy to use your ISO 6 or 12 film. For digital, I used Nikon's new ISO 32 setting.
3. Remember your Camera's Sunglasses. Take your circular polarizing filter. It cuts sun's glare on the water for film and digital photographs. A circular polarizer also brings out the color of plants and intimate landscapes. I keep one permanently mounted to my 28 mm f/3.5 PC – Nikkor shift lens,
4. Keep it dry. Because of salt moisture near the waves, carry gear and lenses in your choice of Pelican case, Ziploc bag, or other protection. Use silica gel packs. When a rogue wave drenched my SLR as I was photographing tide pools, a product called Salt-X came in handy ( saltx.com ). I rescued my old Nikon by wiping the salted gear with diluted Salt-X, then rinsing it off carefully and drying it in the sun.
FOR THESE PHOTOGRAPHS, I took 3 old cameras, used Kodak Portra film, Fuji 400 film, and some expired Wal Mart Polaroid 35 mm cartridges. I took along a trusty 1968 Konica AutoReflex T with a 57 mm Hexanon 1.4 lens, an old Nikon N90S SLR, a Nikonos 4a underwater camera. I also used a late model Nikon DSLR.
Bottom Line: Slow photography is a process of pondering to think. SlowFO emphasizes design, mindful vision, and the happiness that comes from continual effort with our craft.
For "Blue Hole Adventures", a video on Slow Photography Tips, shot on location in the Bahamas, play the video or click https://youtu.be/C8xpnx33EZo
Sitting in a church. Light pouring through stained glass. I made a photograph, including the reflection on the church floor. After awhile, I read sad news about a gunman shooting worshippers in a church. I retrieved the image of the stained glass. I dreamed about it.
Pierced by my feelings about those who died, I made this work above. It is called "Bullet of Faith."
Making a photograph, we want to share an important experience. Here, I want a viewer to feel emotions. The camera used, where the photo was taken, and whether or not it was manipulated do not matter. Subjects matter. Emotional truth matters.
We want to feel the truth in a way we've not quite felt it before.
After debates about gear, sharpness and aesthetics fade away, the only image that lasts is the one that rings true to our emotional truth, our memory, associations and experiences. The photos that are true for you are the lasting ones.
Like most, I want to improve my craft. Yet, if I insist upon new gear, or on comparing my style with the images others make, I am delusional. Seeking to be a more compelling visual creator, I must begin to first become a more interesting person.
How can we become interesting? Read about the world. Our knowledge, dreams and experiences, not camera stuff, will make our subjects matter.
Do you experience PTSD, Photo-Taking Snap Disorder? It's main symptom is not remembering that you took the shot.
Looking back over my photos from a couple years ago, there are many I do not recall taking. Why do we recollect certain images and forget others? Before we explore this question, here is the bottom line solution...
We have to pay attention, think about, re-collect, and deliberately slow down to make a photograph. To experience, and remember what we photograph, we act. Photography is what we do with it, and to remember it we have to act upon a photograph before and after taking it.
In Fairfield, Connecticut, researcher Linda Henkel coined the phrase "photo-taking impairment effect" which I called PTSD, above. Her team carried out an experiment in a museum, to see if taking pictures of the art objects there messed up photographer's abilities to remember what they had seen.
She took a bunch of students on a tour of Bellarmine Museum of Art and had them: a) photograph the exhibits, or b) try and remember the displayed objects because they'd be asked about them later. Then she tested their memories, and results suggested that taking pictures prevents memories from solidifying.
But here is the plot twist.
The researchers discovered that taking a photo of a specific detail ‒ by zooming in on it ‒ helped each photographer remember not just the detail but the entire object, even when most of the art object was out of the photographers' framed shot. What does this mean? The camera's eye, and the mind's eye, are totally different when it comes to memory.
To remember objects and events, we have to make time to review them. If we just amass thousands of images, with no organization, we will not reminisce, and we will forget. Photographs not only are what we make of them, we have to dive into them, and keep them active in memory, remindfully.
This might explain why I do not even remember taking older photos I see in my files. I did not review, or make time to solidify them in memory. Reminiscing and reviewing photographs that helps us remember. Context lets us get their gist.
THE NUMB TOTAL
Not only can I photograph a scene and later have no memory of what happened, I can look at a series of photographs of horrible brutality that should be shocking and yet feel only numbness.
Recently I was recently given the anesthetic Versed for a medical procedure. I had memory loss "under" anesthesia. For 45 minutes after I "woke up" and regained consciousness, I had no memory of getting dressed, answering questions, working on my website, or walking outside to the car. Retrograde amnesia is a common Versed side effect, and it is typical for people to be unaware that their memory is impaired.
The experience made me wonder about anesthesia, the drug, and how photographs can anesthetize us. From a literary perspective, the language of anesthesia, like that of the photographic arts, is a metaphorical one. "Under anesthesia" is a metaphor that suggests anesthesia is "down" with an up-down orientation. It is structural because it says that a person can be "under" a thing we call anesthesia. In general, things that are "up" are good. Health and life are up. Down things are bad: death and sickness are down. Somewhere in the middle of up and down, getting anesthetized by photographs, and by drugs, suspends us between life and death.
"Images anesthetize," said writer and critic Susan Sontag in her thoughts about photography. Taking photographs with partial attention may, like an anesthetic, make our memories fuzzy and indistinct. Paradoxically, photographs can be both an aide to memory, and yet anesthetize our brain's recall ability.
The anesthesia going into my arm and up to my brain caused me to lose time, muscle control and memory. The loss of memory I experienced from the anesthesia was what stayed with me, as it brought to mind the parallel experience of looking at photos from the past with no memories of purpose or place.
Unlike memories, photographs do not sustain meaning.
The still photograph preserves only instant appearances. Meaning takes time. A photograph has only an instant, and only records time symbolically. There are two people completing a photograph - the taker and the viewer. As viewers, when we comment on a photograph, by writing descriptive text in a caption, or by talking, this coating of words is not even close to the photographers' experience or what was intended. You can demonstrate this by showing someone one of your photos. Invariably, looking at it, people will talk about their own experiences.
We bring meaning to photographs. Until we do, certain images anesthetize us. Images of the horrors of war anesthetize us. Many war photographs seem outside of time, disconnected from politics, and like eulogy. Looking over them, if anything, we feel sadness and loss, but they also make us numb to the pain and suffering of others. We respond more to photographs that show events we've remembered from the news and to those that came about while we were alive. We seldom are arrested by images for which we lack a personal or experiential context. We distance from them: "that's unreal", "like a movie". Sontag noted: “Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow.”
Campany, David. Safety in Numbness. http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbness.
Sontag, Susan. On Photography https://www.amazon.com/Photography-Susan-Sontag/dp/0312420099
Henkel, Linda. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Linda_Henkel/publication/259207719_Point-and Shoot_Memories_The_Influence_of_Taking_Photos_on_Memory_for_a_Museum_Tour/links/5579f17708aeb6d8c0205b18.pdf
Berger, John. Uses of Photography. https://sites.uni.edu/fabos/seminar/readings/berger.pdf1. reviving memory of something; reminiscent.
2. retaining memory of something; mindful.
Strolling Boston's Freedom Trail, I wondered "Is everyone here a tourist." I thought I heard Chinese, Spanish, and Dutch, all spoken quickly as sightseers and I passed each other on the trail. Perhaps folks who work in downtown Boston already know their city so well, they have no need to walk the Trail's thin granite line along the city's red brick lanes.
However, I was interested in the Trail, for two reasons. First, I wanted to see where Benjamin Franklin was born. Second, it was a trip down memory lane.
Franklin was born between the Old South Meeting House and the Old Corner Bookstore. That location echoed his reputation as a publisher. There's a landmark to him, just steps off the Freedom Trail. It's wasy to miss. Franklin's birthplace is marked by a small white bust of him, and that's the only thing surviving. The original building where Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was born burned down in 1810.
I walked on. Strolling the Trail, A distant memory of my brother and I at the Kings Chapel Burial Ground entered my mind, as we'd walked the Trail twenty years ago. Many notable folks are buried there, such as John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts. However, the person I recognized, reading the plaque, was Mary Chilton. Here headstone inspired the grave of Esther Prim in The Scarlet Letter: Mary Chilton Winslow. At 13, she crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower. She was so excited to see land, legend has it, she leaped out of the landing boat onto Plymouth Rock. My middle name is Winslow, and I recall my brother saying I was named for her.
Strolling up State, to Court, ahead of me the Boston Common beckoned.
On my way to the Public Garden, in the Boston Common, I stopped in the Central Burying Ground off Boylston Street, founded in 1756. There, I searched in vain for Gilbert Stuart's grave, and instead happened on a headstone marking the mass grave burial of people whose bodies were uncovered when the Tremont Street subway was constructed in 1895. I walked on.
"I'm hungry," said the whale.
"It's lunchtime," said the whale.
"Don't get too close, you'll scare the fish," said the whale.
We listened. We watched. The whale leaped skyward. She closed her mouth. Gulp!
She sank back into the blue. Minutes were hours.
Gulls flew. We watched.
Suddenly, an explosion. Millions of little silver fish jumped. The water boiled with fish. She lunged up to gulp down her favorite krill.
Yummy, said the whale !
We cut back the boat engine and pointed away from her. We used a long lens, as not to disturb her, and eased past her, unseen. She rested on top of the ocean. Then, she dove, and with her massive jaws open, lunged up to gulp down more food.
Said the Whale: "The moral of the story is listen to Mother Nature and you will hear and see magical things."