Northern Ethiopia, January 2006
I’m tempted to tell you this photograph has nearly nothing to do with me. It was shot, one of three frames, from the window of our beat-up Land Cruiser without slowing down. I saw the scene, knew there was no way I could get it, but tried all the same because I’m sometimes stubborn that way. Rightly, a great many of my images ought to be credited to a fast shutter and serendipity. In fact, I’d probably have a good deal more shots like this if I just got out of the way more often.
Trouble is, I think too much. I can give you twenty reasons a shot won’t work before I get the camera to my eye, and in so doing I lose out on moments like this that “would never work.” Often my thinking is a help – it works hand-in-hand with my intuition and complements the touch-feely or artsy-fartsy side. It’s helpful when dealing with technical things, like removing the lenscap. But give it a little room to move, give it too much license to control the process and suddenly there’s a hundred un-shot frames and my inspiration never gets a word in edge-wise. Think too much and the decisive moment is gone before you can react. And then the analytical side and the emotional side (the geek and the artist) are both unhappy with you and they take off for a bar and some single malt scotch to try to forget about you for a while.
I think as we grow up as photographers, as we “mature,” we lose a childlike willingness to experiment, to fail wildly, to try something for the sake of seeing what happens. I used to lie on my tummy with my old Pentax Spotmatic and a bellows unit and shoot out-of-focus raindrops on grass just to see what it looked like. And that was back when I paid for every precious frame of film.
Still, I’m glad it turned out as it did. We spent so much time in that Land Cruiser, saw so many children smiling, waving, running after us yelling “You, You, You, Youyouyouyouyou…” that this scene is as much about Ethiopia to me as some of the images I worked much harder for. More so because the two figures are children, and girls at that. Dotted all over the countryside you’ll see them carrying their jerry cans of water, large loads of twigs and firewood making them ant-like in proportion. More than 50% of the population of Ethiopia, like most sub-Saharan countries in Africa, are children. Many of them orphans. Still they smile, still they wave.
God, I miss Ethiopia.
Exif: Canon 20D, 17-40/4.0L @17mm, 1/1600 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400. Probably needs me to open it again in Lightroom and re-process it for better midtones.