I don’t know why I take photos. Blake Bergen, photographer, photojournalist, and scattered blogger (he has, like, 8 blogs), declares photography his passion because it “highlights the little details of life that often go unnoticed”. Or something along that line. It’s been a while since we discussed it, walking lackadaisically along some rural Chinese path in Little Likeng. Pretty much everything in that village was photogenic, especially its tiny peculiarities. If they weren’t, Blake found a way to make them so. The kid has an eye.
So he’s named a reason behind his passion. It’s a simple one but it’s fair. Simple beauties are overlooked and photography gives anyone a chance to be a true Romantic, a modern William Wordsworth. But replace the quill with Instagram. You can take a photo of the veins in a leaf, enlarge it, stand back, and murmur with an appreciative, mesmerized, pensive gaze. If it’s well done, others will do the same.
I, however, remain reasonless. I can’t name any succinct specific as to why I like photography, why I dedicate so much of my finances towards it, why I walk onto the street camera-less and feel as though I’m missing some vital appendage. It’s become more than a hobby but slightly less than an obsession. Squeezing life and all its opacity into two-dimensionality is exhilarating to me. You can make anything of your frames. You can portray any place, any vagary, any thing in any light you want. With a photo can come a feeling or thought that words fail to aptly describe, sometimes making that feeling all the more accessible. These may sound like perfectly good reasons to like photography, but I remain unsatisfied. These words don’t capture my deepest sentiments, I’m afraid.
If you could stray your eyes to the pink album in the photo, the one with the eyes of Bodhnath, you’d be viewing my latest mini-project. I bought the paper album in Kathmandu and I decided to print all my favorite photos from that summer alone, glue them to its dusty pages, then write the date or location underneath in silver ink. I’ve finally gotten around to it. The glue-stick doesn’t like functioning as a stick of glue and the silver marker has exploded on me twice. If your hobby is scrapbooking, I admire you for your fortitude and patience. But going through my photos again, many of them on this blog, many of them not, is refreshing and it feels good. I like to view them and smile. I like the smiles of the people whom I gift these photos to. Sitting in silence, I look at a photo from the Gobi desert and I can feel myself back there. I can feel the wind on my back, the way the air smells of earth and smoke, the bugs in my pants, the unconditional hospitality of the desert’s weathered inhabitants, and the dirt under my fingernails. Maybe that’s it, then. Photography is a rich vita of mine, and a cheap escape to times that have been had and gone. Beautiful memories immortalized forever as I know it.
But perhaps hobbies don’t need justifications. Maybe this is an instance where we can return to our kindergarten selves if we like: when someone asks you why you assemble model airplanes, collect stamps, or fashion manly furniture out of humongous trees, you should be able to say “just because”. Then you promptly return to your designated activity, as happy as ever.