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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trouble in Tibet

With all my photographs I have a mission. It's quite a simple one really - I want to engage the viewer in such a way that I encourage them to want to know more about the subject of the photo. To want to visit a landscape , to see for themselves how an animal fits within its environment, and to discover personally how certain people live. Call me idealistic but I really do believe that travel photographers and writers can play a small part in breaking down cultural barriers between people and opening up doors to dialogue and understanding.

Which brings me to my first post. I'm a pretty opinionated bastard as most of my friends will happily attest to, but my opinions rarely make it into my photography. My glass is always half full and I like to show the happy side of life. Which makes this image a bit unusual for me but perhaps timely in the current climate.

My wife and I were in Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj) in northern India. A unique part of the world, McLeod Ganj is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-In-Exile and attracts Tibet-freaks, Hollywood actors and genuinely concerned activists from all over the world. It really is an amazing place.

During our visit a number of Free Tibet protestors were staging a hunger strike in New Delhi. As the police moved in to break up the demonstration one elderly Tibetan man by the name of Thubten Ngodup made the sacrificial decision to douse his body in petrol and set himself alight. Graphic images and videos made headline news around the world.

What didn't make the news were the memorials held by those who knew him back home. In Buddhist tradition a candelight vigil is held for someone who has passed away, every seven days for forty nine days. We were in town for 3 weeks and had the honour of visiting three vigils.

In this image I used a technique known as slow-shutter flash. Many cameras now call this 'night portrait mode' but basically what it does is tell the camera to use the proper shutter speed (a slow one) for the ambient light and fire the flash at the same time. Instead of getting a gaping black background and a subject caught like a deer in flash headlights, you get a properly exposed background and a combination blurred (where the subject has moved) and static (where the flash has hit them) person.

In this particular image I feel that it makes the monks look almost ghost-like and adds to the atmosphere of the procession. If I hadn't used the flash everything would have been totally blurred. If I had used normal flash (without the slow shutter speed) you would have just seen the central monk and everything around him would have been black.

The trick with this technique is to shoot a lot of pictures because you never know what you're going to get. Digital makes it a lot easier but you don't want to spend all your time looking at the LCD and missing out on pictures.


Gaye said...

Hey Paul
This is a truely compelling image. At first I didn't like it but on a second glance the eyes from the monk really captured my attention making me want to look at the picture a bit more. I believe the slow shutter and flash technique has certainly helped with the story. I feel compelled to look deeper into the image, look at the expressions on the monks faces, look at the pain in the eyes etc...I probably wouldn't have done that on a 'normal' exposed photo.

Paul Dymond said...

Hi Gaye,

That's what I mean about never quite knowing what you're going to get. If that central monk had been looking the other way it would have been in the rubbish bin but the look on is face just adds so much gravity to the image. Things like that you just can't plan for. You just have to hope Mother Serendipity is on your side that day.