Photos not taken
After almost three years of partly self-imposed confinement, I have started to travel long distance again. I had been both uneasy and greatly excited about venturing out into the world once more. The unease was not so much because I feared something might go wrong but rather that I’d be disappointed that the places I enjoyed so much on previous trips had changed for the worse.
I needn’t have worried; it was an exhilarating reacquaintance. I was captivated by the atmosphere in Sharjah, Dubai’s less glamorous neighbor. Singapore was far more bustling and dynamic then I remembered, I was still mesmerized by the serenity of Luang Prabang, the colonial houses on the treelined streets in Hanoi seemed in better shape than during my previous visit and Saigon was buzzing with young people in cafes and restaurants. New buildings had sprouted up everywhere I visited.
I just couldn’t stop taking photos, but where people were concerned, I felt a certain reticence. Asking if I could take a photo often felt like an intrusion, so I preferred not to.
Oddly enough, now that I’m back home, I see the images I didn't capture much more clearly in my mind’s eye.
A young monk in his orange robe reading a book on the steps of a temple in Luang Prabang. A lady selling roses in the market in Hanoi. The perfectly made-up young Emirati woman who wore bright pink trainers under her black abaya. The Pakistani man dressed in a brown shalwar kameez leisurely standing in front of a brick wall with flaking blue paint near the corniche in Sharjah. I see them sharply while I can hardly remember the photos I did take. It’s as though by transferring these images onto the screen of my camara I erased them from my memory.
Taking photos when I travel is a way of sharing my experiences with friends, but it’s also an effort to hold on to moments that are by nature short-lived. I would have thought that not registering those moments with my camara would make them fade so much quicker, but the opposite is true.
Does this mean that if I want to remember I should not peer through a lens and click but just observe? Even if that were true, I wouldn’t be able to resist taking a photo of the red lanterns by a pond in a Vietnamese temple or the enormous LED screens with advertisements in Singapore that gave me the impression I had arrived in the future.
Making the fleeting tangible is my way of resisting the impermanent nature of life. I know this resistance is futile, but I cannot help myself.