Social Media presents a dilemma to creative professionals. You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. – via My name is Tim, I’m a Facebook-aholic
I gave up smoking in the early 90s. I decided that changes of scene and routine would be the best circumstances in which to make the break, and my companion, now my wife, also reckoned this would be a good plan. So we decided that a trip to Singapore and Bali would be a good time to kick the habit. We had been upgraded to Business Class (those were the days) so we sat in the Lounge at Helsinki Airport waiting for our flight to Singapore to start boarding. We had bought one last ceremonious pack of cigarettes (yes, kids, you could smoke in airport lounges in those days) and sat puffing away over our gins and tonics.
The time to board arrived. There were maybe a dozen cigarettes left in the packet. Solemnly, we crumpled up the pack, making its contents unsmokeable, and gathered our bags to make our way to the plane. This was the allotted time at which we had decided to quit. Then came the announcement: a delay of 40 minutes. Damn. We could have smoked at least four more cigarettes each in that time.
I haven’t smoked another cigarette since. It was actually quite easy. I had tried many times before, aware that I was getting a reputation for smoking that special brand known as OP’s – Other People’s. This time I realized that I really wanted to give up and it wasn’t difficult. Sometimes I still lift a cigarette to my nose and inhale the scent of dry tobacco, finding it strangely pleasant. But I’m never tempted to light it. Sometimes I dream that I’m smoking too, but I never wake up reaching for a packet at my bedside.
So I don’t think I have an addictive personality. I can go a whole week without a drink. Like most people of my age and circumstances, I dabbled with drugs in my youth, but I never tipped into the abyss, although I might have looked into it a couple of times. Until now tobacco was the most addictive drug I’ve ever sampled, and I managed to kick that instantly. But now I find myself facing a much deadlier addictive beast: Social Media.
If you share my addiction you’ll understand. The urge to look at my phone in the morning – before I have my breakfast, before I shower – to gorge on the Facebook ‘likes’ being offered to me, or to feel a deadly slump at their absence, must be familiar to many of you. Likewise the thrill at that throbbing red heart in my Instagram account.
Largely, I blame Brexit and Trump. Both of them make me so angry that I need a way of venting my fury and receiving confirmation that my fury is shared. But I also blame my work, not because of the pressure it incurs, but because Social Media (or ‘Some’ as it’s now being called – oh dear) is the canal de choix for anyone involved in media production, especially if you’re freelance. A large part of my work is as a travel writer and photographer. So I get to boast about all the cool places I’m lucky enough to visit. It’s actually desirable for me to do this, so that people know that I ‘walk the talk’ in terms of travel. You’re not much of a travel writer/photographer if you never go anywhere, are you?
The conventional wisdom is that a presence on Social Media, whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Sprinkle or LumpedUp – OK, I invented the last two – is essential if you want to build and maintain the kind of visibility that converts to financial income. You don’t even exist without a presence on SM. Only a few brave souls are prepared to challenge this idea.
The knowledge that I am addicted means that I have a love-hate relationship with Social Media, especially with Facebook. It doesn’t stop me living an active and interesting life (and lets me brag about its best moments), but it’s like speaking in a parallel voice that I don’t always recognize. I find myself getting sucked into outraged political arguments with people I haven’t even met, for example, afterwards suffering from the kind of guilt that you feel after a night in a pub making a lot of noise and with the vague sense that you misbehaved in some way. Or am I the only one who knows what that’s like?
Meanwhile, my dependence continues. And I am relying on yours to spread the word. So please feel more than free to share, tweet, re-tweet, post, re-post and like this blog to your (and my) heart’s content.
If you follow this blog you won’t have to keep looking at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/timbirdphoto) to see when I’ve published a new one. And like a barman at happy hour, let me tempt you to visit my Instagram account at @tim_bird_photo
Varanasi on the Ganges is one of India’s oldest and holiest cities. It’s also about as intense as it gets in India. If you survive the Varanasi test, you’re ready for anything! via Not counting the days or the deities
In my last blog I told you why coming to India is the ultimate way of getting out of one’s comfort zone and encourages Creative Stress. It feels like I arrived in India a month ago but in fact I’ve only been here less than a week. I just had to get off the plane at Delhi and sit in a cafe while waiting for a connecting flight to sense that I had landed on a different planet or shifted to an alternative dimension.
This was the headline that jumped off the page of The Times of India. I mean, can you imagine reading a headline like that in Europe? How does somebody swallow that many nails – how does someone swallow a single nail – without serious consequences, by which I mean, fairly imminent death? Even if you were schizophrenic? Not to make light of a serious psychiatric condition, but did he think he was a lump of wood? Finger nails, OK, but 2-inch metal nails? The patient was said to have had a plasma-and-albumin imbalance, but presumably not an iron deficiency.
So here I am in Varanasi which is one of the oldest and holiest cities in India, on the banks of the revered Ganges and a place of joyous pilgrimage for Hindus. To take a dip in the river is to cleanse the soul. The cynical Western view would be to point out the irony of bathing in what is, in a material sense, and putting it mildly, some fairly unpure water. To reach its banks one needs to tread carefully, too, partly because of the sheer volume of humanity heading in the same direction and partly because the city’s pitted pavements bear plenty of evidence of its significant cow population.
But Hindus rejoice just to be here and although I’m an atheist their faith fascinates me greatly, even if I could never share it. Their devotion and the mythical complexities of Hinduism are, in any case, another example of how coming to India feels like being plunged into a parallel universe. I mean, there are reckoned to be 330 million Hindu deities. 330 million! Who has counted them, I’d like to know? Wikipedia tells me: No one has a list of the 330 million goddesses and gods, but scholars state all deities are typically viewed in Hinduism as “emanations or manifestation of genderless principle called Brahman, representing the many facets of Ultimate Reality”. OK, fair enough.
I’ve seen this river in many spots, including the Himalayan foothills near Rishikesh where the water has a healthy shade of glacial blue. The burdens placed on Mother Ganges downstream include heavy metals from factories, added to by the ashes and, it must be said, sometimes only partially incinerated remains of human bodies. Because of its especially holy status, Varanasi’s burning ghats, where bodies are ceremoniously ignited on huge pyres of logs, add to this load. Although the river has the power to clean itself of such an organic deposit, it finds it harder to deal with those heavy metals. Including any undigested 2-inch nails.
The soul of anyone so cremated is believed to be purified, first by actually leaving the body at this location and secondly by virtue of the cremation taking place on the river banks with the ashes deposited into the water. It’s a humbling spectacle.
I came here now to see a big festival, Dev Diwali, on the banks of the river, more expressions of devotion to the mighty Mother Ganges. I was so excited about it I smothered myself in foot cream thinking it was mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes will have nice soft feet at least.
For the festival, the ghats – the platforms and steps lining the river bank – are dazzlingly decorated with candles and lanterns, and there’ll be a lot of banging of drums, ringing of bells and chanting. I’ll be watching it from a boat, along with countless blissful pilgrims. You can’t really relax at an event like this. The boats will be barging each other in the same way as the traffic in the narrow streets, edging into the best vantage points. The noise will be cacophonous. I can’t wait!
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I go to India to get out of my comfort zone and relish the culture shock that comes from a surprise round every corner – and the take masses of photos. Take a look at some of the funnier (as opposed to simply jaw-dropping) surprises I’ve encountered: Yearning for Creative Stress© in Incredbial India
What would you shoot if you could only take one picture? What have you always wanted to photograph?
There are certain things you simply have to get shots of. As a travel photographer you can never exhaust the photographic possibilities of the world around you, whether it’s the people or the places or the natural phenomena. I know I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to tick off quite a few items on my photo bucket list. On the other hand, if you don’t go looking for those opportunities they’re not going to fall into your lap. So luck is only part of the story. You need to be at least a little bit adventurous and resourceful.
Here are six images of things I really wanted to photograph and managed to. Some of them, like the Northern Lights, I could happily photograph daily – or nightly – if I had the chance. But then I wouldn’t have time to shoot all the other amazing people and things I see on my travels.
Walking on water: I live in Finland and large parts of the Baltic Sea freeze every winter, although climate change is affecting the extent to which ice forms. But it’s still possible to walk on water – an enthralling experience. I shot this during a cruise on the Sampo icebreaker, converted to tourist use from the north-west port of Kemi.
2. An erupting volcano: Shooting an active volcano has always been an ambition. I went through a period of travelling throughout Central America peering into dramatically smoking craters, even glimpsing red hot lava just a few metres away. But I didn’t see a properly erupting volcano until I went to Sicily and the island of Stromboli, probably the most frequently and visibly active volcano in Europe. When I was there the lava spewed out every 20 minutes or so. This was shot from a ledge about half a kilometre from the eruption. Less intrepid volcano-watchers have the option of viewing more distantly but very comfortably from the terrace of a pizzeria further down! Or like my even more intrepid companion, trek for several hours almost right to the rim of the thing, where shooting has to be done at far greater speed.
3. Wild tigers in India: The first time I tried this, I got one shot of a tiger’s head emerging from the bush and another of its tail disappearing into the undergrowth on the opposite side of the track! My second visit to the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh was much more fruitful. This little family (minus Dad) came strolling along the track towards our jeep and passed within a few feet of us. A breath-holding moment.
Thanks to my hosts at http://junglemantrasafaris.com/ for helping me on this one.
4. The Taj Mahal: This extraordinary building has a lot of hype to live up to as India’s most famous tourist destination – but it succeeds. It really is magnificent. It also is really crowded during the daytime, so get up early (getting up early is an essential thing for photographers to do if they want to get the most interesting light) and head across to the other side of the river just before sunrise. When I did this I was rewarded with this wonderful view of the marble domes wrapped in mist. The night before I had seen it in moonlight. Go out at different times, see the same places in a different light…
5. The Northern Lights: The aurora borealis is without question – in my view at least – the most magical, transfixing and addictive spectacle on the planet. It reduces me to blubbering infancy every time. You can’t just see the Northern Lights once, you have to keep trying to see it again once you’ve seen it. It casts a spell. I still haven’t got what I think is the perfect shot and the alerts I have on my phone frustratingly let me know that activity is sometimes strong – even when the sky is covered in cloud! This shot was from a lakeside near Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, almost bang on the Arctic Circle. Note the reflections on the water – this was taken in September before the lake was frozen and snow-covered. So you don’t need freezing temperatures but you do need clear skies.
6. The Himalayan Mountains: This dawn shot of Kanchenjunga, the summit of which is in Nepal, was from Darjeeling in India. I love mountains, all the more for their rarity in Finland where I live! I remember waking in a village in Nepal on the Annapurna trail and parting the shutters on my guesthouse window and seeing the Annapurna range in this kind of light, shaking my room mate awake and telling him: “Juha, you have to see this!” Is there anyone who cannot be humbled and awestruck by a view of mountains?
That is my bucket list shortlist. If you have enjoyed this visit (and thanks for dropping by), do come again, and feel free to share, but contact me if you have something commercial in mind – copyright for all photos is mine, all mine. If you’d like to find out more about me and my photography, visit my website at www.timbirdphotography.com
I am also in Instagram at @tim_bird_photo
and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/timbirdtravelphoto/
New blog introduces my multimedia documentary about a village in India: Source: Six images: Outcastes revisited – a village in India
A couple of years ago, with the help of my friend Finnish photographer and expert on all-things-multimedia Kari Kuukka I published Outcastes – a Village in Odisha, India, an experimental multimedia documentary about a Dalit community – or rather Kari did, on his innovative multimedia site DocImages.fi. The village in question is the target of work, especially for organising women artisans, carried out by Tikau Share, a Finnish NGO of which I am a member. I’m still really proud of the documentary, even if it is a bit rough round the edges. So every now and then I bring it back to life. You can download and view it here – please do!
Pictures below are some of the stills in the package which also includes video, some less-than-slick time-lapses, some amazing 360 panoramas showing the village and house interiors, and narrative text.
Where the world ends on the horizon
The distant low rumble of a train drifts across the flat rice fields, its horn scaring away the occasional cow and dispersing the women using the railway line as a short cut back from market. The sun has risen to a punishing height and most of the villagers are huddled in the shaded porches of their mud and straw houses, breathing life into their fires or stirring rice.
The boys take a break from their cricket game and a group of girls are giggling by the water pump. At the back of the village, just-washed saris flap in the breeze, vivid flags of mauve and orange. A cow saunters into view, flicking its tail at a spiral of flies, oblivious to the stacks of its own dung left drying in the sun for fuel. A chicken pecks fussily at the ground and a baby starts to cry inside one of the windowless houses.
Out on the flat plains of northern Odisha, the world ends on the horizon. The soaring tower blocks of Delhi, the call centres and high-tech offices of Bangalore and the glitter and honking taxis of Mumbai might as well be on another planet.
The village architecture of mud walls on mud platforms, crowned with tussled roofs of straw that gets washed away with each torrential monsoon, has not changed for decades, perhaps even centuries. Nor have the daily concerns, of earning enough to buy rice for the next meal, of weaving baskets for the market, of heading out to the fields to defecate.
Isolated economically and socially, this Dalit village is not unique. Odisha, like other Indian states, remains home to the impoverished and the underprivileged. The Dalits, at the bottom of the caste system, still suffer discrimination and a social stigma from other sectors of India’s vast and complex society.
I can call these people my friends. Tim Sir is the man with the camera, which no longer makes them scared or nervous. I observe their lives, they laugh at the photos I produce of them. I sit on their mud floors and listen to their stories. During my visits I am briefly humbled by their lifestyle. And I return to the comforts of my western existence, the petty stresses of which are unknown to them.
If you like what you have seen, do come back and browse my back pages, and look out for future posts. Feedback and comments also welcome!
Did you miss World Animals day?
Who knew it? October 4 is World Animals’ Day! Time to feel the beast in you.
The official World Animal Day website states its aim as “To raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe. Building the celebration of World Animals’ Day unites the animal welfare movement, mobilising it into a global force to make the world a better place for all animals. It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology. Through increased awareness and education we can create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.”
It seems like an event worth marking in photo form, so here are six photos from some of the unforgettable close encounters I’ve had with various wildlife in recent years. I’m not a wildlife photographer as such –…
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