This blog post was partially inspired by a conversation I recently had with a colleague. As frequently happens we were talking about work and I was sharing a story of something that had just occurred to me.

There is a phenomena in the professional photography world I call Photo-Grafting. Most photojournalists have experienced it as have most travel photographers.

I am the type of photographer that will climb walls, get on the roofs of buildings, wriggle under fences, jump up into trucks, lay in the mud, climb trees, and go to all sorts of contortions to get what I think is the best perspective for the shot. Invariably I will avoid the pack of clickers, all waiting for the ‘photo op’, and will have found a more interesting angle to shoot from. Then, one or two of the pack of clickers will notice my vantage point and rush over to shoot from there as well. Photo-Grafted!

Waiting for a VIP to arrive, instead of jostling for the close up, I will see if I can get on the roof of a nearby bus, use a longer lens and tell the story from a fresh perspective. Next thing i know the bus’ roof is starting to cave in from the Photo-Grafters. It happens most frequently when I am working a high profile event, a temple, shrine or ruin. Any place that tends to have a lot of tourists with cameras.

So it was that recently I was working a temple, leading a small class of photography students, when the Photo-Grafting started. I would walk away from “the view” to some corner or other and before I knew it, there were several tourists standing right next to me clicking way. After a few hours it got to be comical. I must confess that I started to play with it a little. I’d line up a shot of some faucet or door knob and the Shudder (that is what a group of photographers is called, isn’t it?) of camera wielding tourists would click away ferociously.

Images of golden temples and dramatic buildings or exiting explosions and angry mobs are in a way both easy and yet somewhat empty. They do tell a story. One that is sadly told over and over, but stepping away from the bunch, the Shudder, and looking beyond the dramatic attractions can yield many more intriguing and fascinating images. To look down the street, at some old truck, the little street market, or a young boy learning to drive a camel will, in so many ways, open the door for many more rich and wonderful images.

As funny or annoying as Photo-Grafting may be, it does illustrate the need to develop one’s own eye. That day’s Shudder showed, very graphically, how important one’s own perspective is in expressing her or his own vision. Your story cannot be told by copying someone else’s perspective. Though the Photo-Grafter may get a good shot once in a while (a post card?) they rarely see much. These Photo-Grafters provided the perfect lesson for my students this day.

And this brings me back to this blog post. I encourage the trust and confidence to wander away and look. To experience the joy and wonderment that comes from the discovery of the seldom explored and frequently unseen. To look at what others may dismiss as boring, ugly or repugnant.

These are a few images of something we encounter almost everywhere we go. In lands exotic and in our own back yard.

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I look forward to seeing you out there.

Julian Ray

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