Thursday, May 14, 2009
I'm wading through the thousands of images taken while I was gone. I'm more or less recovered from jet lag but no less disappointed at the real world I've returned to, though I have no right to be disappointed. It will never change, only I will change and I knew that being away for three weeks wasn't going to accomplish the kind of change that would make a difference in my life here immediately.
Anyway, thinking back to when Jesse and I went to Abu Simbel and what those brief moments felt like in retrospect. I am struck by the contrast in the experience of seeing these monumental and magnificent sculptures and the crowds of western tourists of which I am one milling around at seven on a blistering morning in the desert. I am struck by the intensity of awe I feel contemplating works such as these and the near impossibility of being undistracted by those feelings while in the presence due to circumstances.
Last night I was reviewing some images taken the night before at a Nubian village we went to for dinner. As we approached a line of camels and riders passed across our view in front and I snapped off a group of pictures. At the time I suspected several things that did not add up in my mind to what I wanted the images to be. One was that the village appeared painted to some extent to appeal to western and English speaking tourists, hence the word "crocodile" spelled out on a building otherwise sporting Arabic script. Also the some of the pictures smacked of pandering as they did not feel like they originated for any reason other than what it was thought a tourist might respond to. Lastly the caravan of camels which when I was taking the pictures was rather distant was, as I suspected, ridden by at least two tourists in bermuda shorts and sun hats.
How to reconcile to the fact that one is there with the hordes? At Abu Simbel after not enough sleep and a three hour drive across the desert one is thrown in with the dozens of bus loads of tourist arriving at the same time, which to our western biological clock would breakfast time.
There is no chance to savor the feeling of serenity or power in the presence of the sculptures themselves for me. I need more space, more sense of the sacred, perhaps it is the scale that impresses? I think it's much more.
I feel when I look at these kinds of works, that I am rightly put in my place in the world and in the context of history. That I am as important and significant as a single sigh in a long life in terms of what these antiquities present to me.
An image of Jesse at the Temple of Philae caught my feeling very well, a feeling I immerse my self too deeply in photography to savor as much as I wish when in the presence of the works them selves.
It is disturbing to my own desire to be able to experience these places, and times with the kind of peace one wants from a refreshing visit to ocean or countryside. I ask myself what makes me so special and I have no answer, other than what ever others conclude for themselves, I am too wrapped up in my own neurosis and self centered delusions to have a grounded perspective. If I grant myself any credit at all it is that I truly passionately love to share what it is that I love so much and want others to have at least a chance at the pleasure and enrichment that I gain.
That said, I am also aware that anything we experience is appreciated or not half based at least on what it is we bring with us to the experience. The same is true for any art, music, film what ever. Thus it is always frustrating to feel at times that one shows what one perceives as magnificence to others only to receive back the feeling of incomprehension or even indifference.
When I am traveling I want to be invisible and of course that is a conceit of my own as I am anything but invisible to most, but I try to minimize my sense of intrusion as much as possible.
Then there is the complaint that we are using the rest of the worlds for our museum, to gawk at "primitive" ways of life and revel in the difference from our own technology and information saturated world.
What arrogance it is to wander around in these peoples world, their lives, to hand them money from a life that to them appears to be of unparalleled luxury compared to theirs.
I can't help but wonder when traveling, especially out of the city, where that man with the donkey and the goats sleeps at night, how his food is preserved or prepared. I think I know the answer in part which is that he sleeps in a dwelling that would make most of the people I know squirm if confronted with the realities of it. Possible lack of running water or minimal and same for electricity. Same for access to so much that is part of the fabric of our lives, access to public education of a significant quality, libraries, airwaves filled with information, music and advertising.
That brings me to why I don't feel so arrogant in front of these people. I am not so sure that what I know of daily life is always superior to what they know. Like them, I pay a price for my "freedom". Their world is proscribed by at least a degree of religious devotion and tradition that we scorn mostly in our predominantly secular world. Their world has rules for behavior of what is expected of the genders and their world is filled with family and extended community I suspect largely unimaginable to many of us any more.
I envy them that sense of security and knowing how the balance of life is defined. They do not necessarily question the world beyond the boundaries of their own culture. They also might if they had a greater access to education and if public health services were stronger, but who am I to look down on them? They don't live in a world of sex and material goods saturated advertising bombarding me from every direction, they don't live in a world so secular and without reverence that money is the common denominator and not community. relationships, feelings and family.
Perhaps this is only a reflection of my own mangled background. I feel like a child in front of some of these people and there are many who probably think just that of me. I am in awe of those whose world makes sense and they are confident that their place in it is secure. Sometimes I am not so sure.