Buddhist monks walking along Lamuyang Lake
A small group of monks from Ganden Sumtseling Gompa took a walk around Lamuyang Lake in the early evening. I was strolling along the wooden pathway and stopped to photograph them as they approached. The monastery sits on a hill above the lake a short distance from here and I was told monks often circle it before dusk. I did love photographing Sumtseling that evening but this was a good moment where I felt a connection with this place and her people.
(please click on an image to open a higher resolution version)
A friendly monk at the Sumtseling Monastery
I spent the morning and evening at the Songzanlin Monastery (also called Sumtseling Monastery and Ganden Sumtseling Gompa) yesterday. Sutra chanting, deep tones which carried around the upper complex, drew me to the Duke Khamtsen building. Prayers were ongoing in the hall behind this gentleman with roughly twenty monks intoning and drumming. This was marked by the occasional sounding of a long horn. I stayed there listening for a long time during which I spoke with this monk now and then. He was very friendly and when I asked whether photographing this outer entrance was allowed, as photographing the inner hall during prayers is not allowed, he said it was and offered to be in the picture. The photographs were infinitely better having him in them. When I showed him, he approved and pulled a couple of his friends over to show them too. It could not have worked out better. The photographs are one thing, but he best part was being able to be in this moment enjoying the prayers, the feeling of well being and a little time with my higher self.
2010 – My favourite photograph from last year
This is my favourite image that I made last year. Simple composition, interesting patterns, good colour and a great memory behind it.
These monks worked with our small group on and around the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura in Myanmar. We had gone to their monastery and spoke with the Abbott and then with these monks about the photographs that we wanted to make that afternoon. They were interested to see the end result and really cooperative through the whole time.
The footbridge runs 3/4 of a mile long and is made of teak columns salvaged in 1849 under the direction of the mayor at the time, U Bein. He got a bridge named after him and the people got a way to cross Lake Taungthaman from Amarapura to an island in the middle. The traffic is steady in both directions in the afternoon and into the evening with school children, workers, families and monks crossing on foot and bicycle.
Our guide, Win, used one of the boats that take tourists for a float along the bridge to ferry the monks to a small spit of land about halfway between either end of the bridge. At this time of the year, in February, the water is low enough that there are a couple of places that stay above the waterline around the bridge. In the dry season, I was told the lake can be almost empty. In the wet season, the water has been higher than the walkway! I hope to get back to see either of these extremes. From the little island there is a set of stairs that lead up to the bridge deck. The monks and our guide went up and our group of four photographers headed away from the bridge to frame the scene the way each of us were imagining. The sun was dropping slowly at that point and I was starting to get excited because the light was warming up and I was hopeful that we were heading towards something special.
The scene on the bridge was chaotic and our guide was busy explaining to the people lingering around what we were up to, why the monks were standing between the pylons and when we were hoping to get a break in the traffic. The crowd built up slowly but everyone was patient and seemed to enjoy watching us waving and shouting back and forth to get the men on the bridge in place.
Win was fantastic sharing what we were doing with the people as they waited, and they in turn were great, waiting for about 10 minutes on both sides while the sun fell in line with the monks and the bridge. It moved very quickly and as it did the gold colour in the sky gave way to blue and purple tones as the sunlight had to push through more atmosphere as well as the haze rising up from the water and the forest.
The photograph immediately before my favourite was fun because I had just changed lenses to a 300mm with a 1.4x extender to get as much reach as I could. This was the first image where I was able to isolate the blue and purple section of the sky away from the golds and oranges. That allowed these darker colours to really saturate. That’s when I knew I had the background that I had imagined to frame the monks against.
The last shots of this scene caught the sun as it went under the bridge and then disappeared into the hillside across the plain. From the moment where the sun was just above the umbrellas to where it is peeking under the bridge took just over three minutes. It seemed much less as I was photographing the scene – a flurry of shooting, checking histograms and adjusting settings and compositions. It was a very special opportunity so I was doing everything to make sure that I was getting the best that I could out of the moment. A great memory of a wonderful place.
2010 Favourite Photographs – People
Nuns at prayer in a convent in the Sagaing Hills in Mandalay, Myanmar in Southeast Asia.
In 2010, I made a goal that I wanted to photograph people more. My first love is nature photography (landscapes and wildlife) but the more portraiture, street and travel photography that I do, the more I enjoy it. To support this extension of my art, I have attended lighting workshops, read a wheelbarrow full of books, tried to spend more time photographing humans and shared some of the knowledge gained with other photographers in my ecosystem.
Much to learn and practice yet but 2010 was a good step forward. I’m excited to build on this momentum and see where the people I photograph in 2011 take me.
Here are some of my favourite images from last year.
My trip to Myanmar in February was a really wonderful experience. Photographically, this land is fantastic for the variety of people, cultures, landscapes and other opportunities. Here I wandered through Yangon’s Chinatown and was able to have a few good conversations with the residents as they spoke Mandarin as a first language instead of Burmese.
I was fascinated by these young men who ran blocks of ice from trucks, up the cobblestone street to these ice crushers and then back down to the dock for the fish to be packed in. Very hard work done barefoot without any breaks through the morning while the fish are being shipped out around the city and beyond.
This marble carver in Amarapura works in his family’s yard along a street filled with stonemasons. These craftspeople create incredible statues from the alabaster mined from the hills in the surrounding Mandalay area. Again, very hard work.
The monks of Southeast Asia are magnets for many photographers, and I was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with many of these men that I met and loved photographing them in their surroundings.
A very kind man who I gestured and chatted with briefly in Old Bagan after he motioned me over to have a look at my camera. He was happy to let me photograph him and gave this picture a nod when I showed him the screenshot.
Probably the coolest guy I met in Myanmar. This gentleman had a group of younger monks and lay people circling him and they were having an animated conversation which I enjoyed watching as much as I enjoyed making this photo.
The younger monks line up to receive offerings from the community, grateful for the dedication of these boys and men to the faith they all share. The food collected is distributed among the monks and eaten in silence. A large portion is distributed outside the brotherhood to the less fortunate who wait patiently for the monks to hand it out. There is a dignity among even the poorest which can be glimpsed in the photograph of the man below but I was not able to wholly present here.
The monks showered using metal bowls. A fast shutter speed froze the droplets and the motion of this simple action.
In Amarapura while walking through a monastery, I looked in on this monk as he swept the courtyard seemingly lost in the repetition.
My children always figure prominently in what I’m up to and here are just a couple of what could be a near infinite series of photos of them through the year.
A couple of black and white portraits to complete this set.
Thank you for scrolling through a few of the highpoints of the year with me.
Saturday Morning Monks
Up early with the kids this morning and I had a little time to revisit some photographs I made of some monks inside a weathered temple in Bagan.
I like how the monotone changes neutralize the dominance of the colourful robes and put different emphasis on part of the image.
(as always, click on the photograph to see a larger version)
I remember it was about 38° C outside but with the thick stone walls of the building, inside it was much cooler aided by a soft breeze (which you can “see” if you look at the blur in the robes of the rightmost monk).
These files were converted into a duotone of silver and dark grey using Adobe Lightroom’s split toning feature.
Shortlisted Images for the Travel Photographer of the Year Competition
The Travel Photographer of the Year awards have announced their shortlist and I have images in the hunt across three categories. The TPOTY is a major competition out of the UK so it is pretty exciting to have some of my work recognized to this stage.
The image of the monks on the bridge at sunset in Amarapura in Myanmar is one of three images that are in the running for the single shot category. The nuns at prayer and the lone fisherman are the other images that have been shortlisted in this category.
The following four images are finalists for the World in Motion portfolio category.
The last set is a really fun category to be shortlisted in. It is the New Talent category. The portfolio I entered was for Bagan in central Myanmar. The objective was to sell a location, a journey or an idea. From the TPOTY website: “Tell the story of a place, a destination, an experience, a journey, even a travel commodity, but sell it to us. Make us want to experience it. This category is for photographers looking to start a career in photography. Your images should give the judges a real sense of the place or travel experience and entice them too. This is your travel advert.” I tried to share the wonder of Bagan across the four images. It was an interesting exercise to cull through all of the photographs I made in Bagan and select four that provided a window into the people and the land.
With this competition’s international profile, there are many very high quality entries so it is exciting to have a range of work reach the final round. The winning images will be announced in the next couple of weeks so we’ll see what happens.
Full Moon Festival at Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Myanmar
The Shwe Dagon pagoda in Yangon is central to the people of Myanmar and their faith. It is a major place of worship for Buddhists in Myanmar as it enshrines relics of four Buddhas. The history of and details about this golden pagoda are incredible and the Wikipedia entry is an interesting read.
My last evening in Myanmar coincided with the full moon of Tabaung Festival. The festival is celebrated on this full moon in the lunar calendar and it is one of Myanmar’s largest celebrations. Within the grounds surrounding the pagoda there are Buddhist rituals, family gatherings, water and fire offerings and many other celebrations that I was not able to learn more about. I walked around from early evening, through sunset and into the night and the crowds continued to grow. Incredible scenes of chanting, prayer and offering were everywhere all held together with a feeling of a shared experience with city people, monks, nuns, children and others from every stripe of life.
Here then are a few of the images that I made under a full moon in the Far East…
Thank you for taking a quick walk around Shwe Dagon with me.