Friday, July 1, 2011

Which Travel Photos Should I Submit?


(Please click on the photos to see them whole)

I was looking through the new (August) issue of  Smithsonian Magazine when I saw the winners of their 8th annual photo contest.   The Grand Prize winner, by Prakash Hatvalne, showed two dancers in Bhopal, India preparing for their performance.  If you want to see the fifty finalists that the judges chose out of  52,000 entries, click here.

I immediately decided to enter some of my own travel photos in the 9th annual contest, which  is open until December 1, 2011.This is more than a little presumptuous, since most of this year’s 50 finalists seem to be professional- quality photographers, and their work is amazing.  You can enter up to seven photographs in each of five categories:  Americana, The Natural World, People, Altered Images and Travel.

Almost all my own favorite photographs are in the  “people” category – most often children and sometimes old people. That’s true of my paintings as well. Here is my all-time favorite photograph.  It’s a little girl begging on the street in Jodhpur, India.  She’s made up to look like a Hindu goddess, because the religion emphasizes giving money and food to holy persons (and sacred cows), which wins you good karma.

My photographer friends generally spend a lot of time setting up a photograph but this one happened so fast I didn’t even know what I had until afterwards.  It was sheer luck. We were riding in the back of an auto rickshaw in a street crowded with people, cows, vehicles, and beggars.  The rickshaw driver paused, this child popped up beside me looking beautiful and forlorn, and the rickshaw started up again before I could reach for some coins to put in her bowl. But I reflexively got the shot of a lifetime.  I posted it with other photos while discussing “Child Beggars in India” on Jan. 23, 2009, and I think this photo is the reason that essay is a perennial in the stats listing the top ten posts on “A Rolling Crone.”


Here is my next favorite photo—also of a little girl who is trying to scrounge some money for her family while cheerfully carrying her little brother on her back.  When I was walking around San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico in 2009, I encountered her and lots of her friends, all selling cheap jewelry. The first day I ran into her, she was unencumbered by her sibling, but she was always smiling. And yes, I bought some of her bracelets.


Back to India—this “desert dancer”, as I call her, found us in the Thar Desert outside of Jaiselmar, Rajasthan, India, close to Pakistan.  We had just dismounted from camels and were surrounded by nothing but sand dunes as far as the eye could see.  This girl and her younger sidekick appeared out of nowhere, determined to dance for us.  They would not take no for an answer. I still don’t know why the shadows on the dunes came out this beautiful pinky purple color. Which one of these two photos do you like better?   Maybe the one on the right?

The younger girl did not have the chutzpah and persistence of the older one, but she was watching and learning.

All of the photos above would be entered in the “People” category.  Here are a couple more that I’m considering:

A crone from San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.

A blind trumpeter in Puebla, Mexico.


The unexpected and sophisticated juxtaposition of saturated colors that you find everywhere in Mexico is a constant delight.  Like the green and yellow walls behind the crone above, and the amazing colors in this photograph of a woman selling nuts and sweets in Puebla. This one would probably belong in the “travel” category.

Repetitive patterns always attract my camera’s lens, which is why I like this photo of boats and people sitting on one of the “ghats” on the edge of the Ganges in the holy city of Varanasi, India.

And the pattern of the tiles on the wall behind the identically dressed graduates in the square in Puebla, Mexico also beguiled me. (Puebla is a dream for anyone who likes to photograph angels and tiles.)

Finally, I suppose in the “travel” category, I’m considering this photo of lovers under a protective angel, gazing at one of the snow-covered volcanoes in Cholula, outside Puebla.

Even if none of these photos makes it into the Smithsonian’s 50 finalists, the contest has given me a chance to re-visit some of my favorite people and places from past trips.  And on Monday I’m off to Greece to hunt for some more. 

2 comments:

warresisters said...

Hi Joan, I found your blog through your write-up of the DeLaurie house in NOLA. Thanks for that--what a crazy, tragic story!

As for the photos, I just wanted to put out there that I hope that you got the permission of the people you photographed before putting those pictures up online. I know I would hate to have a picture of myself up as someone's artwork without knowing about it, and I would frankly hate for someone to take a picture of my small child without asking for permission from me as their parent first.

I'm sure you did get permission from some people, but, during my travels as a white person from the US to Mexico and Guatemala, I noticed many tourist photographers, most of them white folks, who were taking pictures without asking and it seemed so violating to me as an onlooker, especially with small children who aren't yet able to articulate their consent for things like that.

Thanks for your blog! I've enjoyed it.

by Joan Gage said...

You're absolutely right--The Smithsonian requires a model release and for children, a release signed by their parents--so that certainly limits the photos I can use, as it's hard to get a model release for a beggar child glimpsed for a moment on the street in India. I have noticed in the past that in Mexico parents do not want their children photographed--I think it has to do with the Evil Eye, as in Greece--and of course in Muslim countries no one wants to be photographed, but in places like India and Morocco, if you promise to send photos to the subject, they are delighted to be photographed, as this is often the only image of themselves they will ever have. (When we gave photos to a bracelet seller in the marketplace in Jodhpur, India she made us promise to come back the next day to photograph all her relatives.)