Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; Steve Hague and his Russian bride at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Kazan, Russia, on their wedding day. The ceremony was followed by a reception where the happy couple danced, ate, laughed, toasted, and kissed—every time the guests shouted “Gorko, Gorko, Gorko!” (Kiss the bride!).
Writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King is back with his ever-popular “A picture says…” column. Born in England, James is now semi-retired in Thailand. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.
My February guest is 58-year-old American national Steve Hague, who a few years ago left everything behind to start up a new life in Kazan, Russia.
Steve says that although he is American in the mind he is Russian in the heart. He keeps a fascinating blog, Life in Russia, which is aptly subtitled “The bridge between two countries”. Steve has put a lot of time, research and energy into bringing us information, both written and visual, about his adopted homeland, in an enthusiastic way.
He also belongs to the ranks of what the Displaced Nation calls “international creatives.” Besides being an avid photographer, he is currently writing a novelette called Under the Blood Moon.
Today I hope he will convey some of the enthusiasm he has about his new life and pursuits, along with sharing a selection of his photos.
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Hi, Steve. We have been following each other’s blogs for a while now, and I am very pleased that we have the opportunity to meet in this interview. Let’s start with some background on you, shall we—beginning with where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling.
Well, the hospital where I was born almost refused my mother admittance because she had high cheek bones and dark skin, like a Native American Indian. My father managed to convince the staff she was white, and my arrival into the world occurred in Grand Junction Hospital, Colorado. Because my father worked for the government, my family moved every four years or so. I think we moved back and forth between Colorado and Maryland six times. Eventually, my mother put her foot down and we all graduated from high school in Boulder City, Nevada. But my father had itchy feet, and I appear to have followed in his footsteps, so to speak.
And in your adulthood you’ve become quite an experienced traveller. Tell me more.
I’d love to say I’ve traveled the world but it just isn’t so. I’ve traveled a lot within the United States. Thanks to my family, I’ve seen nearly every major national park in the United States, and in my early adulthood I did a lot of traveling on the West Coast. This stone finally stopped rolling in Portland, Oregon. Exploring the great Northwest was a wonderful experience.
But you didn’t venture outside the country?
Like every brave American I visited Canada several times. My best trip was to Prince George in British Columbia in the dead of winter. I guess I was preparing for exploits outside of the States without knowing it. And there were a couple of forays into Mexico when I was younger, before it became Gangland Я Us.
What about your working life—how did that evolve?
I started my career as an architect, back in the 1970s. That evolved into studying naturopathic medicine, which lasted approximately ten years until I founded the precious metals business, which I turned over to my partners before coming to Russia. Here in Kazan I found my niche in teaching English. Honestly, I never thought there was much value to being a native speaker; that only came after escaping America. Today along with teaching I write, which has been in my heart since childhood. It find it adds balance to my life.
Что ни город, то и норов (Another city—another temper). —Russian proverb
So Russia was your first time out of the United States? That was quite a leap! What led you there, and how did you cope with the cultural and language differences?
Yes, I met my wife through a dating website, and now Russia is my home (until I get itchy feet again). Some people may have thought I was crazy but with her by my side I felt more secure about living somewhere else. And what an experience it’s been! It’s truly opened my eyes to what it means to be a global citizen. In fact, where we live we resembles any major city in America minus one thing: the sidewalks are terrible here. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same—malls, grocery stores, McDonald’s, the movies, it’s all here. There’s one oddity though. I see a greater variety of cars here than I ever saw in the States.
You have also really embraced Russia itself.
I believe I can trace my first love of Russia back to my childhood. My father brought home a record, How to Learn Russian Easy—I was probably only 11 years old at the time. The only word I learned was здравствуйте (hello). Later in high school I wanted to learn the language, but the choice was either French or Spanish. I chose French but never went to the class.
I know from my experiences in Thailand how valuable having a local partner or wife is. However, it can make you a little lazy on the language front and ultimately more dependent. But I’m sure that’s not the case with you, Steve! How often do you travel out of Russia to explore other places?
My wife and I love travel, and since moving here I’ve had the opportunity to visit Cyprus and Israel, both fascinating countries with incredible beauty and charm. I’m sure I will get to other places as well, eventually. Right now we have a couple of trips planned, one to the Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, and the other, hopefully, to Europe. If anyone out there is into adventure travel, we’ve invited a small group to join us on the Altai trip. There’s still space.
Now let’s see some photos that capture a few of your favourite memories.
This first photo shows the canals of St. Petersburg. I took it during the blue hour of the summer solstice, close to midnight:
The next photo is of the ancient town of Bolgar, which is located on the Volga about 75 miles away from Kazan—for me, it captures the essence of the place (which I found hard to do!):
For the next one, I happened to be walking by the lake near my home when the fog started to lift. I saw the stump sticking up out of the water, the fog in the background, and the changing colors of the leaves. I knew this was one of those moments I would never see again. More than any other photo it changed how I viewed my photography:
The last one is indeed a lovely capture and I agree such moments aren’t ten a penny. Now I’m keen to see some of your favorite places for photography and hear about why you found them so inspirational. Let’s have a look.
The next photo shows the type of scene I love to capture. I was in Suzdal and just happened to be standing on a bridge looking over the river, towards one of the many churches within this small, historic town:
While in Israel we traveled all over, from Haifa to the Sea of Galilee. We got to see Nazareth (which I didn’t like), Tel Aviv (much like any big city), and then Jerusalem, a fascinating city of culture, history, religion, and much more. We even made it to Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, which is a beautiful in its own right. I took many pictures of scenery, but here is a view of Haifa:
Also in Israel, I snapped a few photos of people. One that stands out to me is this one, of a homeless man. I captured it on the sly and unfortunately came out blurred but it still speaks volumes to me:
I can understand why this one is special. It’s that beady eye watching your every move. I can forgive the blur when it has so much meaning for you.
Another photo that stands out for me is this one of a Druze woman. She was preparing food for us in an outdoor oven in what felt like the middle of nowhere, on Mount Carmel:
It’s a lovely, natural picture. Tell me something, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so, and do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
I will look at them and try to understand their mood. If I can see a smile, I’ll just go ahead and take a picture; if not, I’ll ask permission. Then at other times if I can’t detect a mood, I’ll ask permission or try to take a picture without attracting attention. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t.
Всяк глядит, да не всяк видит. (Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.) —Russian proverb
From your descriptions, it sounds as though photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again, is a powerful force for you.
Photography and art have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. There have been times when I dreamed of becoming a professional artist or photographer. Then I came to understand that the reason I love photography so much is the freedom I feel when I manage to capture that special moment or scene. I wait for my eye to tell me: here it is, your model or subject. Relying on my inner instincts brings a sense of wonder and happiness to my soul. Being a professional would rob me of that freedom. And this way I am also free to share my photos with others.
That’s an interesting, and unselfish, perspective. From a technical point of view, some readers will want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
All my images so far have come from my Canon EOS 10D, I use long-range and mid-range lenses and occasionally a fish-eye lens when I feel it will capture what I’m looking for. There’s nothing really special. The post processing software I use is Picasa since it’s free and does most everything I need to do.
So all in all, it’s a simple and uncluttered approach that works for you. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Enjoy where you’re at, don’t worry about the subject matter (each one is a lesson), and don’t let anybody tell you to take lots and lots of pictures.
I must say I agree with what you just said, assuming you mean taking loads of shots randomly in the hope that you might get a good one. That’s a lazy approach that seldom works. It’s not a good way to learn the art, and it also means you have a lot of sorting and deletions to do. I only take a lot of shots when I’m doing blurs. Sorry, I interrupted. You were saying?
Explore different angles, walk around your subject looking for the right look, imagine it, see it in your mind, then shoot. A camera isn’t a shotgun; it’s a finely tuned instrument ready to capture whatever you want. A camera is nothing more than a fancy paintbrush. You the photographer are free to decide the final look and feel. The world is your subject and the photo your canvas. Good luck!
Sound advice, Steve. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell the story of your exciting journey and for sharing so much interesting and useful information in this interview.
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Readers, what do you make of Steve’s experiences? If you have any questions for him on his travels and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!
If you want to get to know Steve and his work better, I suggest you visit his blog (which you can read snippets from his novelette, Under the Blood Moon), follow him on twitter and/or friend him on Facebook.
(If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to email@example.com.)
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