I could never be a travel photographer. I have neither the eye nor the patience. My philosophy when taking photos on a trip is: point, shoot and keep moving. Don’t be obnoxious, don’t get in anyone’s way and don’t annoy the locals.
I’ve travelled with professional photographers who almost started international incidents, barging their way into religious ceremonies and important events, to “get the shot”. Even as they were yelled at and told to leave these so-called “professionals” kept snapping away.
I never want to be that person, so my travel pictures tend to be snapshots not art. Once in a while though, I get lucky. That doesn’t mean the image is perfectly composed or framed, it just looks good to me and it recalls a particular memory.
The image below was taken at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, 100 km outside Bangkok.
It’s hard to believe this somewhat serene image was taken there, because this is what the place actually looks like:
Back in the 1800s, when Bangkok was a canal city nicknamed by European visitors as “The Venice of Asia”, all trade and commerce took place on these canals, or khlongs. Today though, the business of Bangkok happens inside air conditioned high-rises, and shopping is done in themed malls.
As a result, most floating markets are little more than tourist traps. A place where coach loads of visitors scoff mango rice and drink fresh coconut water while deciding which elephant doodad, or I Heart Bangkok t-shirt to take home as a souvenir. Something they can do on foot or in a water taxi.
I’m not knocking it by the way. I love markets and I am a sucker for souvenir shopping.
The day we visited Damnoen Saduak floating markets though, I just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it’s because it happened on the last day of a 10 day trip.
Although it was only a short trip, our group of 9 had bonded quickly. I genuinely enjoyed their company, so I wasn’t looking forward to saying goodbye later in the day. Although we had discussed meeting up in our respective countries at some point, I knew that this was unlikely. What was more likely was that we’d never see each other again.
This knowledge, along with the relentless heat of the day, the crowds, and the photo touts who wandered the markets holding giant iguanas, pythons and slow loris (shy nocturnal primates whose large, round eyes make them look perpetually surprised) made my visit to the markets something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
It was a relief then, when our tour leader steered us away from the bustle and into a quiet corner. We lingered in what I think was someone’s front doorway, catching our breath and mopping the sweat from our faces and necks.
Our leader, meanwhile, signalled to a passing coconut vendor. He paddled over and a few minutes later we were sipping fresh coconut water like the tourists we were.
And that’s what my snapshots from the markets remind me of – that moment.
I’ve definitely had negative, frightening and disappointing travel experiences, but when I cast an eye over my travel photos, I’m don’t remember them. Instead, I’m reminded of the good stuff. Which, for me at least, is the whole point of travel photography.
That, and not annoying the locals.