Friday, December 31, 2010
This isn't a photo I'll be adding to my portfolio or entering into this years contests, but it holds a special memory for me. It was my second or third day in the Sunderbans forest in Southern Bangladesh. Its the most beautiful place I've ever been.
We came to this village to photograph and interview an older "tiger widow", a woman whose husband was attacked an killed by a tiger while he was fishing in the forest. I was trying to shoot her in the road in nice sunset light and the entire village came out to watch. Any light skinned westerner who has traveled around South Asia has experienced this staring phenomenon. Adults and children follow you around, mesmerized. This makes life for a photographer especially difficult.
So there I was in the middle of the road trying to take pictures of this tiny woman with a crowd of 30 behind me spilling into the peripheral of the photo. Rajib and Nicol were trying to perform crowd control but the children just weren't having it. I was biting my tongue, getting really frustrated because we were losing light but finally yelled out one of the few Bangla phrases I know "aak ta ta por dibo!!!" (I'm going to slap you!) Which only amused the kids more. I finished with the woman and started wandering the small village to make some photos while Rajib and Nicol interviewed her. To my annoyance, this wasn't possible. The children trailed me everywhere, getting in all my frames, peeking from behind the huts then running away laughing 10 paces ahead to hide again. They were having the time of their lives but I was ready to throw up my hands in frustration. Our project was not going as planned, my visa was set to expire in ten days, I just burned my leg on the motorcycle and dammit, I can't even set foot in a village here to shoot without being the center of attention!
Then it started to rain.
And all at once I found the whole thing incredibly funny. I was in the middle of this tiny village, surrounded by jungle and UNHCR huts worrying about boyfriend drama and story woes. My bourgeois problems seemed so ridiculous at that moment. So I threw down my bag and one of my cameras and ran after the kids, playing tag, chasing them through the village. More and more showed up and one of them brought a ball. By that time the rain had turned the field into a small muddy lake but we ran right through it playing soccer, chasing each other and laughing for a good hour. By the time my friends found me I was having a blast, soaking wet, covered in mud from head to toe and praying my 5D hadn't drowned. As we headed down the road back to the hotel the kids followed us a good half mile chanting the two English words I taught them; "hello!" and "starbucks!". It was my favorite day in South Asia.
Right now I couldn't feel further away from Bangladesh. I'm sitting in my newspaper office in New York City, loading up on coffee and hand warmers, about to head down to photograph Times Square and ring out what has been without a doubt, the best year of my life.
Happy new year everyone.