Day 52 – November 30, 2010
I’m writing and recording less of my thoughts now that I’m here in the US. Not sure if it’s because I feel like the photography-centric part of this trip is over, or because I have less to say. Maybe it’s the falling drive to document everything and focus on only the really strong stuff that isn’t as forthcoming. Whatever the case, a few things have happened since the last entry in this log.
New York feels special. Much more than I had imagined it would. Not sure if it’s due to the scale of the buildings, density of people, the festival season or just plain imagination. I really pushed myself physically in the two days I was there, walking around for 8-10 hours on both days, and getting back to the hostel with both feet almost destroyed. Shot with the F100 but there’s no way to know whether the images are going to turn out good or bad till they get developed. There’s a lot to see and do in NY, and two days certainly isn’t enough time for even half of those things. I’d like to come back to the city and spend more time in it, exploring it more. Don’t know when that will happen, though.
Las Vegas in stark contrast is all glitz and pomp. Where NY is a truly big city, not only in terms of size and scale but also in terms of depth in culture, arts, commerce, etc., Vegas is unbelievably superficial about everything. Everything here is larger than life, and unabashedly materialistic. Gambling, cars, hotels, casinos, helicopters, imitation buildings – everything is surface pretty. If you’re not into those things then there is really nothing here that will hold you. Just look at the city from a good vantage point at night and that’s the most beauty you can get out of it.
Death Valley is absolutely nothing if not a grand show, only this time it is nature that is turning it on, not man. And what a show it is – reminiscent of two other places that leave you with the same feeling – Ladakh and the Australian outback. There could be others, but my experiences are confined to these two, hence the comparison. Common features include vast areas of barren land with no signs of greenery. Only thorny shrubbery scattered across the plains in a meek attempt to cover the dry, cracked soil that forms the surface of the valley’s base. On all sides, the valley is surrounded by mountain ranges that are largely responsible for keeping the heat inside, thus making it one of the hottest places on the planet each year.
There is a very strong sense of isolation here, even though cars and people crossing your path aren’t very infrequent. I guess it is the realization that even with all our possessions, this is the planet we live on. Just stepping out of our comfort zones – the cities and houses we live in, allows us to really get back in touch with where we stand in the ecosystem of life, and also makes us realize what a small part of it we really are. Transient and fragile, just like everything else. The sheer scale of the landscape in the valley is hard to fathom. Standing at many points in the valley, it is possible to simultaneously look at land at altitudes ranging from below sea level to over 11000 ft. Try and recall the altitude of the last hill station you went for your holiday, and then imagine looking at it while standing 282 ft. under the ocean. That’s Death valley.
I’m heading onwards to Yosemite now, with a brief stopover in Vegas and Orange where other matters must be attended to. I’ve been looking forward to Yosemite for some time, and I really hope it isn’t snowed in yet.
The last few days have been interesting in very unexpected ways.
I took my first flight in a small plane, handling it for a some time in the air, on my birthday. Going in I was more curious than excited. Curious to see whether it would turn out as exciting as I had always imagined it would. The surprising part was that it didn’t quite happen. I had always thought that the feeling of taking off while sitting in the pilot’s seat would be euphoric, but it wasn’t. I had imagined that flying in the air with the clouds, far above the reaches of branches and leaves, cars and houses would make me feel in perfect balance with everything, but it didn’t. Maybe it was just one of those things that has been in the pipeline for so long, that the experience doesn’t match up to the irrationally high expectations and fantasies that become associated with it over time.
That’s not to mean that I didn’t enjoy myself. The time spent trying to control the plane, flying and turning, and bringing it back on its intended flight path was probably the most challenging thing I’ve done in a very long time, and I am quite pleased and satisfied with the fact that I finally got to do it. There is also joy associated with it, but I feel the euphoric salvation that I thought it would be was probably misplaced since there was the element of learning something brand new, while it was happening. Maybe the euphoria arrives during the first solo flight, or possibly even later when one is familiar with the aircraft to an extent that it doesn’t involve having to concentrate on every tiny movement. So maybe I shouldn’t get disheartened by the fact that it wasn’t as awesome as I had made myself believe. After all, I remember being quite dissatisfied during the first days of learning my camera. This is no different. The more you practice, the more familiar you become with the tools being used, and the easier it then becomes to focus on the art, rather than the technical, of the craft.
The other topic of curious revelations has been photographic education. I had decided that while in the US I would visit the different photography schools I am considering for pursuing a course next year. It had seemed to me as if visiting the school and seeing the facilities and infrastructure, meeting with the faculty, staff, and students at the school might give me a better idea of the place, thereby assisting me in my decision-making process. That may still be the case, but having visited CDIA (Boston) and Hallmark, I’ve come away with the queer feeling that nothing much has changed insofar as my opinion of each of them is concerned. Hallmark has great facilities and equipment which are a couple of steps above what CDIA offers, but on the flip side it’s more than twice as expensive while also being situated in a very remote and isolated area. Admittedly it is located in the middle of the arts scene in New England, and is well situated from some of the major cities such as Boston and New York. That said I’m not quite sure how easy it will be to live there. A car or at least a bicycle will definitely be needed to move around.
I spent a couple of hours in the Museum of Fine Arts looking around various artifacts from a multitude of people. It’s simultaneously inspiring and humbling to see such work. On one hand you stand in awe of the sheer talent, commitment and perseverance of these people who, without the aid of any kind of modern instruments or technology, created such magnificent pieces of art. On the other it makes you realize that even with all of today’s crutches it would probably take a really long time to achieve anything that could be remotely considered as significant as these guys. The stuff belonging to tribes and minority communities – articles of religious and ceremonial use, now serve as educational tools to give us a brief glimpse into life as it was for everyone back then. Then of course there are paintings by many artists who lived in the centuries gone by. Portraits of royalty, scenes of religious epochs, of significant and insignificant details, which caught the imaginations of the artist, displayed in all their glory. A fitting tribute to the craft of these people and their art.
Spent the rest of my day just walking around the city centre, parts of Chinatown and the Boston Public Gardens next to Park Street and Tremont Street.
Boston, as heard from various others, is known as a walk-able city and today I found that out. Didn’t go to downtown Boston, but quite close. It’s wide, open, and I thought Newbury Street was chic. Easy to get around and clean in layout, I think I like what I saw, which I know isn’t all of Boston, but then the bigger picture is made up of smaller snippets.
Being here in the US is the second time in this trip that I’ve felt strange while being in a new place. I’d read that travelling for an extended period of time helps people find out more about themselves, but it’s only now that I’ve started to understand how that works. It’s sometimes a little surprising to find out things about yourself that you never earlier considered. It’s interesting to realize and understand how you respond, either by natural instinct or by habit, to a particular situation in a particular manner, and is something that becomes readily apparent if you experience it more than once. Being in new places on a very regular basis in the last few weeks has given me that opportunity, and I think it’s going to be helpful to me further in my travels to know that. Now that I know how I react habitually, I think I’ll be able to make better judgments about places I visit and stay in.
I’m back in London for the last two days of my stay in the UK. It’s mostly been about family, meeting old cousins and an aunt whom I last saw 20 years ago. It was a good blast into the past while also reminding me about how time changes us all. My most vivid memory of my cousins 20 years ago is waking up to see three pairs of eyes peering down upon me, waiting for me to wake up and come out of bed to play with them. Of all the things I must’ve done in London back then this is the only incident that I remember as if it was yesterday. Today, the same cousins of mine are all grown up, just like me, and have become individuals with their own distinct personalities. Seeing them and talking to them makes me realize just how much I’ve grown up too. From being a child travelling across a different country with my parents to now visiting the same country while treading my own path, it’s been a long journey and the story has only just begun.
Spent the day visiting Birmingham. Not many words to do the talking today, just some photographs.
Lacock is a tiny village near Chippensham in North Wiltshire. It is located off the main motorway and the countryside views en-route are as interesting as the village itself. My drive took me through many narrow B-roads in England, passing many towns and a few hamlets. The weather being what it is in England, the sun never appeared during the day. Rain was intermittent but never caused a hindrance.
The village, as you walk through it, seems a little familiar at times. It’s not too difficult to ascertain after a while that you’ve seen something from here, somewhere. Sure enough, after I came back home in the evening Wikipedia confirmed that BBC’s Pride and Prejudice was filmed here, along with some scenes from the Harry Potter movies, episodes of Robin of Sherwood, and various other movies and television series.
Walking the streets of Locock is a great way to get transported back in time after the bustle of urban England. The empty lanes and stone houses may not speak, but a little imagination (and even a mild dose of experience with English literature) is enough to conjure images from fictitious worlds, and times long past. I have harbored particular fascination for medieval English history, and creating scenes of life during such times was something that came readily to my brain. J As it turns out, most of the houses in the village are of 18th century construction, or earlier.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to explore the village, being as small as it is, but take interest in the details and you’ll soon find yourself running through two-three hours without breaking a sweat. The Fox Talbot Museum of Photography was of particular interest to me but it was closed while I was there, as was Lacock Abbey whose interior was featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Moving east, Avebury is another tiny village that happens to be famous, but for reasons unrelated to movies. The UK appears to have a large number of places where stone formations exist, and Avebury is one of them. Not only are the stones found here in a standing state, there are three circles that the henge at Avebury contains, one of which is the largest in Europe, 427m (1401ft) in diameter. Reading about the history of these circles, and Avebury, is an adventure in itself. Two good sources of information about these circles are –
The rain kept me in today, again. This seems like some sort of conspiracy to keep me from shooting. I’m not sure what’s more depressing though – the fact that I can’t get outside to salvage something after the death of the D50, or this persistent feeling of inaction, not just because of not being able to shoot, but also the gnawing realization that I’m shortly about to finish the first third of this three-month journey. It’s the same kind of feeling I suffer from when I realize that Saturday is half-over and I’ll need to go back to office the following Monday. Not as strong, but very similar. The weirdest thing, though, is it doesn’t seem to make any sense. I’ve been having a great time so far, and don’t see why my stay in the USA won’t be good. Scotland was great, and I hope I’ve learned stuff through the workshop that will help me become more focused in my shooting.
The thought of planning my stay in the USA has occurred to me a few times, and having worked though an unplanned trip (in the UK) I’m not sure doing the same across the pond will be equally beneficial. It’s possible to travel across the UK in a relatively small amount of time, but I’m fairly certain it won’t work the same way in the USA where distances are large, and the places to be visited are numerous. The idea of visiting various photography institutes across the country to figure out whether or not doing a course in any of them is a good idea, as an idea in itself, is starting to fall out of favour with me. I can’t really put my finger on why and how that change in mindset is coming about, but I can feel it getting stronger. It’s not like I’m considering dumping photography as a career option completely, but the thought has got more airtime in my head over the last few days. Maybe it’s because after the workshop I find that commercial photography is not really what rocks my boat, but I already knew that.
Oh well, no point spending too much time thinking about all this stuff now. There’s more or less no way to really find out what’s going to happen before it does, and I think I’m going to let things take me wherever they want to and then figure out where to go from there.
Drove down to an area close to Birmingham called the Stepping Stones today. It’s in a national park in England, a couple of hours from Solihull. It’s not much in terms of adventure, but is a good way to spend some time walking around rural England, allowing yourself to be regaled by not just the geography of the area, but also by the weather that keeps you guessing.
All I did was walk up and down a small hill in the glorious sun, which had decided to make an appearance after all these days of rain and an impermeable cloud cover. There were many families who also seemed to be making the best of the weather. Unhurried and completely relaxed is how I’d describe the day. No real sightseeing done, but the journey across various country-roads on the way from, and back to Solihull more than made up for the slow pace.
Another uneventful day today as I stayed indoors for most of the time. The weather has been quite uncooperative along with the dead camera, so the number of images I’ve been making has dwindled drastically over the last few days, and I really can’t see that changing in the next week either. In a way I’m relieved that the camera made it through the most important part of my UK visit, in Scotland. It would’ve been better if it had kept working, as that would’ve allowed me to make more of my time here. As things are now I’m not very keen to send it in for repair here, not knowing how long it could take. Moreover there’s only about a week remaining till I get to Boston, and it might be better to get it done there.
Additionally, I find that not having a camera with me seems to have slowed everything down, though it’s hard to explain. I seem to have more time for everything, including going to the market, or just doing pending edits to the images I shot in Scotland. I guess I needed this time too, and it might end up being useful for my upcoming tour of some photography schools I’ve been looking to visit while I’m in the US.
All the same, I’m starting to wonder whether my this trip will give me any useful output at all, in terms of my career. Having started off almost a month ago, I had hoped for a pattern to emerge, thinking that maybe I’d realize something is more apt for me, but I’m presently no better off than I was back then. It’s not scary. Not yet. I know I have a lot more time remaining, but the thought does keep creeping back in to my head – what if I get back to India and I haven’t managed to figure out anything at all? Does that mean I go back to my horrible job? Would it mean I’ve wasted three months and gobs of money to achieve absolutely nothing? That can’t be good. I then catch myself thinking of all this and more, and tell myself to try to take it easy. I have some time to go before this hypothetical tragedy befalls me and my life goes down the gutter. Fate might have something else in store for me that I’m still unaware of. Give it the time it needs; the time that had been promised. Things have a way of something falling into place in the most unexpected ways and in the most unexpected places imaginable.