Without The Frame, XI

In Travel, Without The Frame by David5 Comments


Some photographs you just love for the stories that surround them and not merely for the ones within the frame. This is one of those. It was taken in Douz, Tunisia, on the northern edge of the Sahara.

It was taken in the midst of some frustration; my expectations had once again got in the way of my seeing things clearly and I wasn’t shooting with a clear mind or eye.

When I shot this I had no idea that the following night would be spent shivering in a French military-issue sleeping bag from WW2 while listening to the snoring and farting of my traveling companion and the camels outside the tent. I had lost my Moleskine notebook the day before, and the following morning I would be tossed unceremoniously off my camel.

I had no idea that two days later I would spend an evening searching out a hammam in Sfax only to be massaged and scrubbed so vigorously I would emerge with the turkish-bath equivalent of rug burn so bad it later scabbed over, and some emotional scarring from the incident.

Nor did I know that I would shrug off a helpful local’s warnings about “les maisons de tolerance” and wander into a one-way alley that comprised Sfax’s decidedly down-market red-light district. I discovered it was one-way only after walking the length of it and fending off the advances of the old, the ugly, and the cross-dressed, only to turn the corner, walk into a wall and have to turn around and run the gauntlet again. I can still feel a finger, wet with what I desperately hoped was saliva, being run across the back of my neck by a woman (I think it was a woman) with twice my age, weight, and facial hair. After a shower the whole thing become much funnier. Kind of.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? We just never know. And while the photographs I take mean a great deal to me, they won’t ever be a replacement for the experiences that wrap around them and give them so much meaning for me. Don’t mistake photographing life for experiencing it.


  1. Very nice post, David. Funny and sad, it casts the photo in a different light; a little bit darker I’d say. Liked the photo too. Thanks for offering the deeper perspective.

  2. You know, that image of the one-way alley is a haunting one. What a perfect metaphor: prostitutes lining a dead-end street. Reminds me of a wrong turn I once took onto a Parisian street, just a few blocks from the Opera House. I didn’t have a camera with me, but I can still see it. The women were women, young and without facial hair, but it was the same dead end street you saw in Tunisia.

  3. PS, I thought I’d better clarify — I’m not being sarcastic. (I am often enough that a distinction might be called for.) I do sincerely appreciate you sharing this. Though this is once again something I’m glad I can experience by proxy. 🙂

  4. Do you travel to take pictures or do you take pictures to travel? Sometimes it seems like the best thing about a camera is that it gives one an easy pretext to visit places and engage with people that would otherwise be hard to come by. As an amateur, I’m starting to see it that way more and more. Maybe the camera doesn’t yet give me a reason to go, but it gives me a means to observe and notice and interact while I’m there. Still, what I’m really after is the experience more than the photographic image.

    I like the universal injection molded plastic chair and table in the otherwise rustic scene. In fact, the same chairs are sitting in my apartment courtyard in Los Angeles. Seeing them in such a different place makes me think that the design will in time be considered a classic, as it exemplifies a particular moment in the world the way other cherished antiques now evoke the spirit of their age.

Leave a Comment