February 6th, 2011
I don’t like most travel photos; they’re often too glossy, too perfect, as if trying to sell you on the idea of travel — safe, sanitized, idyllic, perfect backdrops for honeymoons or superficial culture-traipsing. Or they’re just overexposed shots of the same old goddamned statues, vistas, landmarks, cathedrals, icons, overtrafficked pickpocket havens that everyone’s seen a thousand times over. So I was happy to run into a wonderful cache of photos of China posted on “Sylvain et Camille au Japon”, a travel site located over at blowaway.over-blog.com which, in their creators’ words, and thanks to Google Translate, exists because: “After 2 years in Shanghai, China, under contract LIFE (Volunteers for International Experience), the narrative of the adventure continues across the South China Sea … Japan!”
In case any of you reading don’t know, my main method for finding the subjects of my (visual-art-based) Art of the Day posts is to troll Google Images or one of about fifteen art sites I frequent, entering random nouns or strings of characters into their search engines & seeing what kind of artworks/ imagery pops up. I then just write as quickly as possible on what I’ve chosen, trying not to spend more than fifteen minutes on anything I write. This method for finding material to write about can be pretty dodgy as you can imagine. But today was one of those days that I’m glad I use it, otherwise how in hell would I ever have run across something like this, a non-commercial personal-interest French travelogue/travel-photo site?
Notice I didn’t use “amateur” — since while many of the photos I found on “Sylvain et Camille au Japon” were simple straightforward travel mementos, perfectly successful as souvenirs (not that they should be anything other than that), a good chunk of them were striking to me as more than just souvenirs, being as they were distinguished by strong compositional flair, cropping, tone, & most important to me: playful, unusual & revealing subject matter.
I’ve chosen two. First is the second from the top, the butcher-shop shot. About this shot the authors have this to say: “Ambiance de folie avec les maxis promos au rayon boucherie de Qibao !” (which Google translates to something that can’t possibly be accurate, so I won’t bother including it). I just love this photo. The marbled meat slabs in the foreground, the spattered filth on the backwall, the incongruous seated young girl with her clean dress embroidered with cherries. The dozing butcher(?), the ladder and the bottles/tub on the left all serving to add in aggregate a dark compositional mass to balance out, by contrast, the girl’s lighter/ glowy focal point. But mostly it’s the girl’s easygoing, bemused smirk that fascinates, given her mottled setting & that carving knife at the ready.
As much as I love that butcher’s shop shot, I love the topmost photo the most, a snap of a rainy-day street in Zhongdian County captioned with “Ambiance sympa dans cette ville malgré la pluie.” This shot does it all for me, my lord. It flat out gets me ready to hop on the cheapest flight to China I can find. It just captures a mood, a moment, in such an authentic and perfectly imperfect way. I could go on and on listing details I love. For starters, how about the tone, the feeling: that of a village-street busyness just-curtailed by downpour: half-morose with drizzle sure, but also something else too: biding time, peacefully watching, vendors smoking & waiting, happy green things soaking up the rain. Speaking of plants, I love the profusion of damp greenness on the left foreground — you can practically see the droplets hanging from the leaves. I love to the sheen on the old village stones. The odd pig-flag advertisement/sign on the top right. The crouching smoker, hiding out from the rain on the bottom right. The clutter of planks and boards in front of him, all creating diagonals that lead up the staircase to the right and create a tidy diagonal for the smoker to hide in. Prayer flags and banners on the left offering color (however muted by the light-lack) counterpoint to the smoker’s dark corner. The left roof’s diagonal at right angle’s to the staircase’s, further crossed by the more distant roof’s vector. All this liveliness of cross-cutting compositional lines drawing the eye down the stone road, toward the cloudy white glow further on, toward that man with his cart whose wheels you can hear along the wet stone.
Check out blowaway.over-blog.com for more travel photos.
All writing © copyright C. Way / Snailcrow.com 2011