I met Miguel Angel while I was strolling around the cobblestone streets of Antigua, Guatemala. I had a leisurely morning to myself before I began teaching workshops and photographing for a non-profit for the week. I enjoyed some breakfast at a small cafe with my journal in hand, sipping coffee as I wrote, and I continued exploring and meandering with my camera for a couple of hours.
But what I really wanted to do…what I was trying to be brave enough to do…was to photograph people. I didn’t want to do it with a sniper lens, or an in-your-face-drive-by where I take your photograph simply because I’m a tourist and you look different and I don’t think you’ll notice.
No, I wanted to meet some strangers–the beautiful people who make this place unique–and take their portraits. I wanted to know their names and let them know I valued them as fellow human beings. I wanted authentic exchanges of humanity and dignity.
So as the streets began filling with life, and as I dodged motorcycles and tuk-tuk taxis that weaved and bounced their way through the jagged roads, I watched and observed. The tourists, the shop owners, the Mayan girls in small groups looking for the next customer to purchase their jewelry.
And then I saw a man, crouched on the sidewalk, quietly and patiently painting. Next to him sat dozens of paintings he had created–beautiful scenes from all over Guatemala. I so very much wanted to take his photograph, but I kept walking. I walked a block or two, and then I pretended to stop and look at something nearby while I argued with myself about whether I would be brave. I finally turned back.
I stopped and perused his artwork and chatted with him for a minute or two. Miguel Angel, he said his name was. I purchased some note cards, and then I finally worked up the courage to tell him I was a photographer…and…would it be okay if I took his photograph?
He kindly obliged, and I nervously snapped a few frames, rushing myself so as not to take up too much of his time. He smiled shyly, probably wondering why this crazy girl wanted to take his photo, but he was kind enough to say yes.
Throughout my week’s stay in Antigua, I ran into Miguel several other times, and we chatted each time for a few minutes. I asked him how business was going, and he asked me about how my project was going. I looked for him when I returned the following year–I had photographs to give him–but I didn’t find him. But I know I’ll be back, and I’ll walk down the street with the arch and look for my friend once again.
This experience was not just about taking a small step to get over my fears. It represented a monumental shift in how I approached photographing people as I travel, one that had been building and changing for some time as I admired the work and words of photographers like David DuChemin (I loved his book Within the Frame and wrote a review here).
This philosophy of my photography is still evolving as I grow and change and learn. But for now, what I know is this: I want to always come from a place of dignity and deep respect for the people I photograph, and even better–relationship.
Wandering, meeting people, and photographing them sometimes–these are things that make my heart smile as I travel.
What are some of your favorite travel experiences? Even if you didn’t photograph them, have you had the chance to meet people that you remember?
Linking up today with A Harvest of Blessing!
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