Tuesday, 20 October 2009

POV: WTF! This Is My Photo Shoot!

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

I don't know if it's the bottled water in Bhutan, the crisp Himalayan air, the scent of the pine trees or the excitement of the festivals...but some tourists lose their sense of civility when faced with opportunities to photograph. And I mean tourists, not serious and experienced photographers.

Having arrived at the Chimi Lakhang monastery in Bumthang, I was glad to find two young novices lighting candle lamps, and asked them to pose in a certain way to take advantage of the light coming through the rather grimy window. It took quite a while to have them just right where I wanted, but as I was giving hand signals for minor adjustments in the novices' stance, a bunch of European tourists had entered the room. Without a glance at my direction, or asking for permission, or even a smile of acknowledgment, out came a motley collection of cameras, ranging from DSLRs to compacts, and a paparazzi frenzy ensued with hundreds of flashes bathing the room in an ethereal light.

Naturally, there was nothing for me to do but to hold my breath and wait for them to leave, which they did taking their own sweet time. Seeing there were more tourists about to enter the room, I rushed to the door and locked it...ignoring their loud protestations. Although I managed to photograph the novices as I intended, the mood had evaporated, and the light had changed.

During the festival preparations at the Thangbi Mani Lakhang, the courtyard was suddenly filled with a group of elderly Japanese tourists with heavy DSLRs hanging from their necks, who eagerly photographed everything in sight. They were so excited that they intruded on many of my friends' photography. You lifted your camera to photograph a smiling Bhutanese youngster, and one of the Japanese tourists would be literally shoving you to take his or her turn at photographing the same subject. It got so bad that one of them shoved his lens hard unto the back of Carlos Amores' head.

It was then that I had a "conversation" with the guide working for the Japanese tourists, and carefully explained what would happen if that rowdy and thuggish behavior didn't stop. He tried to make light of the situation, so I had to repeat my 'advice', using shorter and better chosen words. Within 10 minutes, the Japanese were nowhere to be seen.

We had many more instances of rude and uncivil behavior, but these were generally from tourists who were not serious photographers. Photographers realize how difficult it is to photograph in similar circumstances, and are usually very sensitive to each others' space. In my experience, the worst offenders are the French and German tourists, and the Japanese (but only when in the safety of a group).