Whenever I spend time people watching, I always like to imagine what their lives are like. What are they doing? Where are they going? Do they have many friends? Are they lonely? In certain situations, I inevitably end up feeling sad. Not because I feel like my life is so much more grand than theirs, but because I understand that everybody exists living with some degree of hopelessness, and I feel theirs, just as I sometimes feel mine. Their lives, or whatever story I create in my mind, unfold before me, and they disappear from my life just as quickly as they’ve entered it. I think it’s an inevitable outcome for anyone who enjoys photographing strangers, but it seems necessary to me.
Split, Croatia - A young man walks by a school, plastered with graffiti. The sound of children fluttering around classes echo down onto the streets below, filling the surrounding area with an unrecognizable hum. I had parked across the street earlier in the day before I set off wandering around town. After a couple hours, I returned to my car and started packing up, but noticed this giant blank canvas in front of me. I walked back a bit and sat on a knee high retaining wall, patiently waiting for the right person to walk by. Sometimes I would see someone walking, and I would get excited, but a car would pass in front of me just as they moved into position. It took a bit; maybe 30 minutes before Mr. Fannypack found his way into my frame.
Split, Croatia - On a narrow road lined with tiny vehicles, two women's lives meet for a brief moment.
I like the little things that make up a photo; laundry hanging to dry, air conditioners, satellite dishes, rows of cars. It’s an opportunity to look into how other people live their lives. And when we look at this overall picture, we see that they’re really not that much different than us. They might live halfway around the world in an unpronounceable country, but their needs are the same as ours, and that’s pretty humbling.
Beautiful eastern european architecture dots the shore of the Mediterranean near the town of Split, Croatia. Down by the waterfront the fisherman load their boats in the early morning light, while bells clang back and forth, making their presence known to all. The smell of fish was thick as I worked my way down the shoreline. After a while I ventured into a part of town that was less glamorous, a blight on the land. Large unfinished hotels lined the road. Their concrete pillars conflicting against the calming seascape behind them. The angles, sharp; The colors, drab. No life existed except for the few plants that had broken through the foundation on their quest for sunlight.
I crawled through a hole in the fence and wandered deeper into the structure. walking down dark hallways, passing dark rooms. Visions of me being stabbed flashed through my head. I picked my pace up a bit, while simultaneously rehearsed how I would choke out my attacker. As I exited the corridor, I entered a larger room, and all thoughts passed from my mind. It was amazing. Sunlight burst through small circular holes near the ceiling. The roof itself emanated light down toward me, cautiously lighting the surrounding area. I paused for a moment to take in the scene. After a while, the foreboding feeling returned and I left in search of sunlight.
Despite all the political turmoil, Ukraine is an enchanting place to visit. Down on the coast of the Black Sea is a little resort town called Foros. Its cat-filled narrow alleys give way to sandy beaches, filled with people from all over the Eastern Bloc. The smell of borscht carries out from the eateries lining the coast, tempting people as they pass by. The water, a mixture of cold and warm, makes it pleasant on hot days, but chilly when the weather turns south. Early in the morning, it’s quiet, but as the day moves on, the beaches fill with children running around while their parents lay out, basking in the sun.
Ukraine was a lot of things, but this is how I choose to remember it.
Simferopol, Ukraine - If you’ve ever sat in a park or a cafe and just observed what’s going on, you’ll notice that almost every person is on their cellphone. If they’re not directly interacting with someone in the vicinity, they’re glued to their screens. Why is this? What sort of habit has this become? It seems that more than ever before, we’ve become disconnected with our surroundings, never looking up to enjoy ourselves. I’m guilty of this just like the next person, but every once in a while, I’ll step out and just watch. This is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. Observing my surroundings and taking everything in. Often times, I don’t ever see anything I want, and it just becomes a practice in patience, but every once in a while, the stars align and a scene slowly moves together.
In this shot, I watched as subject after subject walked by. I photographed a few other people, but it wasn’t until this kid came by on his phone that I felt like I got something that I really liked. I’m not 100% sure what it is I like about it. It could have been his positioning, or because he was on his phone, but after I photographed him, I felt like I could move on.
Kunming, China- One thing that I love and hate about shooting voyeuristically is that I don't know what's going on in the situation. I can sit there and watch for hours and make my own assumptions, but at the end of the day, they're my assumptions, which aren't always correct. This is both a blessing and curse. There is a part of me that really wants to know what those men are talking about, what their lives are like at home, are they happy, sad, who their friends are, etc…, but the other part of me loves that I don't know, nor will I ever know. I've captured a scene that has endless beginnings and endings, but within the infinite there is this one moment, and to me, that one moment speaks volumes.
Hoi An, Vietnam - The markets in Vietnam are like nothing i’ve ever seen. Huge tent cities filled with miles of narrow paths, snaking out in every direction. They have everything; watches, pig heads, bicycles, you name it.
In this photo, I saw a woman who was filling an order a customer had placed. she reached across several boxes filled with grain and grabbed the one she was looking for. Pulling it close, the woman carefully measured out the correct amount for the customer. She was quick and efficient with her time, like she’d done it a million times, and yet there was a sense of calm surrounding her, as if she wasn’t in a hurry. It was a good reminder to slow down and be more conscious of the tasks at hand.
Back in 2004, I spent about three months teaching english at a school in Bhaktapur, Nepal. I was 20 and it was my first time traveling outside the U.S. I grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and while I consider it to be a really beautiful area, it isn’t necessarily the epicenter of culture. Because of this, my first experience abroad was quite overwhelming. As I walked down the steps of the plane at Kathmandu International Airport, I was overcome by humidity and was instantly covered in sweat. I nervously followed people that looked like they knew what they were doing and figured out my way through customs. For someone that had done absolutely no research about traveling, I felt pretty good about it.
Apart from being my first time abroad, this was also the first time that I had thought about photography as more than just a hobby. After wading through the sea of taxi drivers, I walked around the city with my camera, marveling at every narrow alley, every temple. Watching people come and go with a sense of wonder. Looking back, it seems kind of ridiculous, but I also realize that’s the reason why I love photography. Being able to capture a moment that is very personal to you, and then having the opportunity to show other people, attempting to evoke the same emotions that you felt when you initially took the photograph. To me, this is why photography exists.
Vientiane, Laos- Somebody told a joke. Two of them liked it, but the rest did not. I wish I could have known what joke they told because I bet it was funny.
Split, Croatia- Two men stand in the afternoon light, their wisdom and experience combine to the tale of youth. After moments of hesitation, they trail off into silence, fading like the memories behind them. Wrinkled faces share more about their lives than any story ever could. Looking into their eyes, one can only help but feel the past. A life filled with happiness and regret, misery and hope. It’s a story played out by billions and yet no story is alike. 7 billion individual stories, with 7 billion individual outcomes. It’s amazing.
Banja Luka, Bosnia- On an unnaturally warm summer's evening, I walked down the main road, heading north toward the outskirts of the city. The sun was approaching the horizon and the shadows were growing long, but the city was still buzzing. As I walked by a park, I noticed a giant chessboard, complete with giant chess pieces, surrounded by a group of spectators. It appeared as if a chess match was beginning. I approached cautiously, as I didn't want to disturb the spectators and planted myself on a bench. For about 40 minutes, the two opponents battled it out. Everyone was riveted, watching their expressions change from frustration, to confusion, and inevitably to joy, as each opponent maneuvered the pieces around the board. During what I perceived to be a lull in the match, I backed off a bit to shoot some photos of the entire scene. Nobody even glanced in my direction. After the win, the board was reset, and I wandered off in search of more exciting adventures, but nothing will ever top the greatest chess match of all time.
Walking beside the wall that guards the old city of Xi’an, one notices a certain rhythm. Leaves litter the ground in anticipation for the cooler temperatures of fall. Coats and jackets are pulled from the closet. Young children scramble by, oblivious to their surroundings. The elderly, however, are veterans of the changing seasons. Years pass by unannounced. Fleeting moments turn to distant memories, and the cycle continues.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Buenos Aires, Argentina - Walking around the streets of Buenos Aires is like visiting the Louvre, but without all the French people. Around every corner is someone's creative prowess splattered all over a wall. Some of the art it is really beautiful, while other pieces leave much to be desired. Regardless of quality, it's great to see people expressing themselves in a creative manner.
Siem Reap, Cambodia- Leaving town early in the morning, I pedaled swiftly along the road, inhaling fumes as cars whizzed dangerously close by. For some reason, I thought that riding a bike was a good idea, despite almost hitting a cyclist on the bus ride into town the day before. The sun wasn't up yet, but the traffic was already dense. Thousands of people were vying to get the best seats for watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, and I was one of them. The sweat poured from my body, soaking my shirt in the morning heat. I passed through the compound gates and continued, feverishly pedaling toward the temple. After locking my bike to a rack, I joined the throngs of people heading toward the temple, its towering pinnacles stretching to the sky. As the sun rose, I remember being somewhat disappointed with the event. Whether it was the thousands of people surrounding me or the cloudless sky, I don't know, but it didn't feel special.
While people started walking back to their cars, looking forward to getting back to their hotels for breakfast, I continued my exploration around the giant stone structure. On the west side of the complex, shaded from the sun, a staircase rose sharply from the ground, extending up toward a giant doorway. An old woman sat on the giant steps in silence. This was the special moment that I was looking for. I stood back through a couple doorways so as not to disturb, and fired off a few photos. Feeling somewhat euphoric, I continued my walk around the ruins, but I never shot anything else that made me as happy.
I find it a little funny that the old woman will never know that she played an integral role in shaping my future, but I like it that way. It makes me realize how easy it is to effect those around us and how sometimes we help others when we're not even expecting to.