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For this displaced Irish writer and cultural chameleon, a picture says…

Aisha Ashraf Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Aisha Ashraf at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, for her very first live ice hockey game, 2013.

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who likes to think of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

A happy new year to one and all at the Displaced Nation. My guest today is 38-year-old Irish expat, blogger, traveller and photographer Aisha Ashraf. She is currently based in Canada with her husband and three children. A freelance features writer, Aisha has published articles in newspapers, magazines and a range of expat and mental health websites. She says she has been a cultural chameleon since she first emigrated from Ireland to England at the age of eight. She is also a friend to the Displaced Nation and a recent recipient of one of its “Alice Awards” for a post on her Expatlog blog, provocatively entitled “My mother was a nun.”

Today I’ve asked Aisha to shares with us her experiences and view of the world via a selection of photos from her peripatetic life. I have followed Aisha on Expatlog for a short while and am so impressed by her pictures and the stories behind them.

* * *

From the glamor of Europe (Paris, France)…

Hi, Aisha. It’s good to meet you here at the Displaced Nation. I understand you now live in Canada. But where were you born, and when did you spread your wings and start traveling?
I was born in the same Dublin hospital as Bono from U2 and spent my early childhood roaming the family farm on the broad plains and bogs of Co Kildare, Ireland. Following my father’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder (“manic depression” in those days), we emigrated to England so that my mother could be nearer her family, swapping the farm for suburban living. I was eight when we left and it was many years before the night-time tears of homesickness subsided.

I have seen U2 twice. A great experience and I wonder if Bono knows he was born in the same hospital as you!! I trust those difficult times are now a distant memory, and I know travel has featured quite a lot in your adult life.
Aside from travelling all over the British Isles (we moved house almost annually after leaving Ireland), I didn’t travel abroad again until I met my husband. Together we explored Europe—we drove all over Malta in a yellow convertible. We also loved Paris so much we kept returning. He proposed to me in the bar of the Metropole Hotel in Brussels—a gorgeous historical landmark in the centre of Belgium’s capital, the setting for numerous films and host to royalty, foreign dignitaries, presidents and film stars.

That gives us quite a lot in common. In 1995 I had a great holiday in Malta, and Paris is a favourite of mine, too. And now I would love to know how you and your husband finally ended up in Canada.
Just before our second child turned one, my husband took a post in Libya while I held the fort at home in the UK. He travelled around the country seeing the sights and even sleeping under the stars in the Sahara, but the long absences were tough on all of us. After six months we were certain we didn’t want to continue living apart and considered moving our family to Tripoli. Luckily for us a post in Canada was offered because in the following months expats were evacuated when the revolutionary spirit that had taken Tunisia by storm spread to Libya, and the Gaddafi regime crumbled. We began the Canadian chapter of our life in 2010 and have been here since.

…to the rugged beauty of North America (Paris, Ontario)

scenefromAishaslife

Paris, Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Canada is a big country. Where exactly do you live, and what is life like in those parts?
We live in Ontario, just outside Toronto. Initially my husband was slotted for a Toronto office but when Canadian HR learned he had a family they felt we’d be happier in Whitby, a once-bustling port on the banks of Lake Ontario, now a haven for families. It’s a great base from which to explore natural wonders like Niagara Falls and Algonquin Provincial Park, along with historic settlements like Kingston, Stratford, Bracebridge and Paris—Ontario!—which you can see in this first photo. I took it from the bridge spanning the Grand River.

A moment

A moment in the Distillery District, Toronto. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Boywithtincup

The local ribfest. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Thank you for sharing some of the photos that capture a few of your favourite memories of Canada thus far. I’ve never been there, but I can see it is an amazing place. Can you tell us a bit more about these next two photos, which I believe are of your children?
This first one, of my son standing awestruck before a monstrous sculpture with an exploded head, brings to mind a bitterly cold winter’s day spent exploring Toronto’s Distillery District, where the kids got to meet Santa and the Victorian architecture and cobbled streets made us nostalgic for home. Back then we still felt like tourists. The second one is of my youngest child taking a deep draught from a tin mug at the local ribfest. I’m recalling a day of competitive rib-eating and blazing sunshine that melted into a night of flashing lights and fairground rides. Children are always such rewarding subjects—their innocence and unselfconsciousness makes them great fun to photograph—and the photos I take of my own children of course have special meaning.

hawkbyAisha

Soaring turkey vulture. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

And this next must be a New World bird of prey?
Yes, it’s called a turkey vulture. I got lucky after several attempts of zooming in and losing it to the vastness of a magnified sky. The photo always reminds me of an afternoon spent at the slipway, watching people get their boats in and out of the lake whilst navigating some particularly plentiful algae—it was more entertaining than TV.

The irresistible pull of the Great Outdoors

I think that is so interesting because, recently, I have been looking back over photos I took 35 years ago in many different countries and there isn’t a single one that doesn’t bring on a flood of memories. Photos are like that for me, a trigger, and they always have a story attached. Your two shots of the children are quite compelling—I love the girl picking her nose in the fairground photo—and the vulture is a great shot. Do you have any favorite places in Canada to take photographs?
Without a doubt, it has to be Lake Ontario—it’s where we head to chill, explore, reconnect and refocus. I actually get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t go regularly. The ever-changing light and character mean I snap lots of pictures that, once home, I usually find I have failed to capture whatever elusive quality it was I was trying for. We go for walks on trails and in conservation areas so I have countless photos of woods and water. Here are just a few that I really like:

Daughterwalkingoncliff

Cliff walk near Lake Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

boyinpumpkinfield

Pumpkin field near Zephyr, Uxbridge, Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

Wavesofthelake

Lake Ontario. Photo credit: Aisha Ashraf

The one of your daughter in the field full of pumpkins is so vital, and the naturalness of the colours brings your lovely composition to life. By complete contrast, your daughter on the rocks is positively Neolithic and, although it’s Canada, so Cornish! Nourishing stuff. And I understand that the black-and-white photo of the sea lapping the shore of the lake is a real favourite of yours. Can you explain why these places inspire you?
I love nature—perhaps it was growing up on a farm and spending most of my time outdoors. I have a condition called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and getting outside is a big factor in alleviating its debilitating hold. I see incredible, uncomplicated beauty in the natural world that I find soothing and strengthening. I try to capture it with my camera in a way that may allow others to be moved/nourished by it, too.

Thank you for your honesty about your condition, Aisha. I feel exactly the same about photographing the natural world: it allows us to capture not just the picture but the way we feel at that particular moment. Unfortunately, unlike you I am only at a level where I am trying to move and nourish myself. If others are moved also, that’s a bonus. Now I know you enjoy photographing your kids, but do you ever go to the other extreme: ie, taking photos of people you don’t know in the places where you visit, and do you find that awkward?
Absolutely! I know my shyness has cost me many a great photo-op. I’m not sure if it’s my BPD or my peripatetic life, but I always feel like an observer, standing in the periphery looking in. This translates into a preference for my subjects to be oblivious to me and my camera. I like to capture the raw moment.

Yes, I know that feeling. You want to melt into the undergrowth and take the most natural shot possible. Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs and how do you get around any language barriers?
I have, on occasion, screwed up my courage and asked someone if they’d mind if I took their picture—come to think of it, no one’s ever said no. I think if language were a barrier, it might make things easier. Tourists get away with a lot!

I understand. Taking people photos can be a bit personal. It’s so much easier shooting a mountain as it’s too far away to argue! Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
Capturing memories and the perfect picture are my twin obsessions. I’m in love with light and the effect it has on everything: the study, the photographer, the viewer. Is there anything else so intangible, potent and unspoken, and whose experience is unique to each individual?

When did you come to realise the importance of light?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been transported by the tone of light or the way it falls—it triggers memories for me like nothing else can. Not so much of occasions, but of feeling and being. For a few brief seconds I’m caught in a flashback. Time slows so that even the dialogue in my head is distorted, becoming deep and stretched like treacle, a voice on a tape recorder played too slow.

Such powerful analogies. Now for the technical stuff which I am not very good at. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Fuji FinePix f750EXR—it’s just a regular compact camera, no fancy lenses or anything. If I couldn’t fit it in my pocket, I wouldn’t be able to take it everywhere with me. Photography is as much about identifying a good picture as it is about capturing it, and many great photographers have started with a basic machine. A good eye is evident whatever tool you have at your disposal.

I can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel! Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers (like me) who are traveling or living abroad?
Never leave home without your camera. Mine even comes grocery shopping with me—you just never know where that next great shot will be. Sometimes you find the sublime in the ordinary, and for me that’s the sign of a great photographer—that ability to show the beauty in the everyday.

Thank you so much, Aisha, for joining me in this interview. It really has been a pleasure talking to you.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Aisha’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments!

And if you want to know more about Aisha, don’t forget to visit her excellent blog, Expatlog. You are also welcome to contact her at aisha-a@hotmail.co.uk +/or follow her on social media:
Twitter: @AishaAshraf1
Facebook: Expatlog FB Page
Linkedin: Linkedin profile
Google+: Linkedin Profile

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when our fictional expat heroine, Libby, returns to the Displaced Nation to update us on her many adventures. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For this peripatetic Argentine, now an expat in Queensland, a picture says…

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Belu in Buddha Truth Relic Temple, Singapore; photo credit: Belu.

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Belu in Buddha Truth Relic Temple, Singapore; photo credit: Belu.

Welcome back to our series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The new series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who blogs at Jamoroki and truly believes a camera is a mirror with memory…

Greetings, Displaced Nation-ers. My guest today is the 35-year-old Argentine Belu: an expat, blogger, world traveller and photography enthusiast. Belu studied industrial design at university in Argentina and then moved to Europe. Not long ago, she relocated to Australia, where she sells her designs at street markets and travels as much as her finances allow.

Belu brings her experiences and unique view of the world to her photography blog, BeluChi, and to the travel blog, Travel Tips and Pictures, where she is the main travel writer.

I have followed Belu for a short while and love the simple, down-to-earth way she brings her pictures and the stories behind them to life through her writings.

* * *

South American but with deep European roots

Hi, Belu. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can we begin by having you tell us: where did you live in Argentina, and when did you spread your wings, leave the nest and start your world travels?
I was born in Mar del Plata, a pretty big town located 500km south of Buenos Aires. I lived there until I was 25, and it was about that time that I became curious about travel and ended up moving to Europe.

So you got the travel bug. I can relate to that—but what really inspired you to travel?
Travelling for me is a way to get connected with people and to nature. I so love meeting people, and I knew travelling would give me that opportunity better than anything else. I love it when people tell me about their lives, their cultures and traditions, stories and dreams. I learn so much from my travels.

I know exactly what you mean. It’s quite addictive and I can see you are a compulsive globe-trotter. Tell me what countries have you visited so far?
Aside from Argentina and southern Brazil, I’ve travelled mostly around Europe: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Monaco, Belgium, England, Scotland and Ireland. And now, because I live in Australia, I’m starting to be more in touch with Oceania and Asia—Indonesia and Singapore, for example. I’m planning a trip to China next year, and in 2015 I hope to travel to India and some countries in Africa.

Wow, that’s quite a package! Tell us, how did you end up in Australia, and what is life like for you your new home?
I met my partner when travelling in Australia over two years ago, when living in Barcelona. So, after going back and forth several times, we decided to live together here in beautiful Cairns, a city in the far north of Queensland. So far, so good. I believe that how you feel in a different place and culture depends mostly on how you connect and interact with the people in your new environment, at least in my case. Weather is also important to me because I’m a “sunlight” lover.

Pizza San Marco, Venice Italy. Photo credit: Belu

Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy. Photo credit: Belu

You offered this photo—of you and all the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco in Venice—as one of your favorite shots that captures cherished memories. Thank you for sharing it. Can you tell us more about why it’s so special?
This photo brings me back to the first time my parents came to Barcelona to visit me. We went to Venice and Rome—spectacular!—and then to Lettopalena, a tiny little village up on the top of a mountain in Chieti Province, around 200km from Rome. It was the place where my grandmother was born. I met my Italian family, who are still living there. That trip was exiting because of the contrasts.

Taupo Lake, Taupo, New Zealand. Photo credit: Belu.

Black swan on Lake Taupo, New Zealand. Photo credit: Belu.

Solo travel and staying with locals

That must be a very personal piece of your life. Now moving on to your photo of a beautiful black swan on Lake Taupo in Taupo, New Zealand.
Lake Taupo is in the centre of the North Island. My trip to New Zealand was unforgettable because of the natural beauty. It was also solo-travel, so I could be more in contact with locals and travellers from everywhere. I love this kind of travel. I usually have a “tentative plan” that I hardly ever follow. I love the freedom of changing and re-organising my itinerary according to my feelings.

Oh! I know the feeling well. No one to nag you. Free as a bird (so to speak). Okay, so now for a photo of the everyday scene—a street market in Ripoll, Girona (one of the four provinces comprising Catalonia), Spain. My favourite country!

Street market in Ripoll, Spain. Photo credit: Belu.

Street market in Ripoll, Spain. Photo credit: Belu.

I spent a Saturday morning strolling around the heart of Catalonia, in southeastern Spain. I had the honour of staying at my friend’s parents’ home, always with locals… that made this travel special. I did visit popular tourist spots in that area, but when you are with local inhabitants, it makes the place so much more interesting and you learn so much more about their culture. They told me folk tales and stories that you’ll never find in any guidebook.

I seem to be agreeing with everything you say, but it’s difficult to argue with that. So many people travel but never really integrate with the local people. They miss so much. But we must move on now. Where were or are your favourite spots to take photographs?
My favourite spots are high viewpoints and streets.From high viewpoints you get to admire the whole picture, almost like aerial photography. I find that very exhilarating. And when I am in the streets I am close to the people and can really feel the ambiance and capture the essence of the place.

High vs low, scenery vs people

The last three photos you’ve chosen illustrate the difference between high (looking down) and low (streets at ground level) admirably:

Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Photo credit: Belu.

Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Photo credit: Belu.

Back street, Bali, Indonesia. Photo credit: Belu.

Back street, Bali, Indonesia. Photo credit: Belu.

London (near St. Paul's), England. Photo credit: Belu.

London (near St. Paul’s), England. Photo credit: Belu.

The photo of Bali is so typical of a Southeast Asian back street. And the one of London, showing a tramp walking between a dust cart and a City businessman with St. Paul’s Cathedral as the backdrop, is an absolute gem. Actually, this photo leads to my next question: do you ever feel reserved about snapping photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so? And do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs? How do you get around any problem of language?
It usually depends on the situation and the local culture. I sometimes ask permission by words or sign language, especially if I feel the person is uncomfortable because of the camera. Fortunately, I have never had any problem about that. Most of the time people say “yes”.

That must make it easier to take natural shots; so would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
For me the answer to that is “most definitely, yes!” When I left Argentina I, maybe unconsciously, realised what a powerful force pictures are. To be able to produce something that can never be repeated exactly is quite amazing.

Let’s get technical

Now for the technical stuff which I am not very good at. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon Ixus 107 called “Anastasia”. She is always in my bag. It isn’t a professional camera but it works as it were! A useful camera for me must be compact and not too expensive, because I don’t want to be too worried about it when travelling.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers (like me) who are travelling or living abroad?
Well, the Internet has plenty of information, videos, etc, for those in search of photography tips. But I can tell you what I do: stay curious, learn from others, and meet people.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Belu’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments! 

Once again, if you want to read more of Belu, don’t forget to visit her sites (see links above). You can also contact her via aquibeluchi@gmail.com.

(If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts, including an interview with this month’s featured author!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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For semi-retired expat blogger James King, a picture says…

Welcome back to our series “A picture says…”, which we created to celebrate those for whom photography is a creative outlet—who rely on a camera to register the look, character, and ambiance of the people and places that capture their fancy as they move around the globe.

Today’s guest is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King. From December onwards, James will take over the hosting of this column from Andy Martin and publish it monthly.

As James plans to ask his interviewees to provide a selection of photos that help to tell their personal travel stories, it seems only fair that we require him to undergo the same exercise. What pix would he use to illustrate his peripatetic life of the past 25 years?

Indeed, “peripatetic” seems an apt descriptor for James. Semi-retired and now living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he has traveled to over twenty countries. He lived in South Africa for a couple of decades and Thailand for the past five years. Here, in summary, are his vital travel stats:
Place of birth: England, UK
Passports: UK and EU (British citizen)
Resident in: UK (Bristol): 1942 to 1995; South Africa (Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town): 1995 to 2008; Thailand (Chiangmai): 2008 to present.
Main countries visited: France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Gambia, Kenya, Botswana, South Africa, USA, Thailand, Malaysia, West Indies.
Business interests: Majority shareholder in WestJewel (Pty) Ltd., a Cape Town jewelry wholesaler he founded in 2004.
Social media coordinates:
Twitter: @JimKing28265666
Facebook: Jim King
Linkedin: James King
Google+: jamoroki@gmail.com
Blog: Jamoroki.com

* * *

A bloomin’ late bloomer!

Hi, James. I see you were born in England during World War II. When did you actually start traveling?
Life was pretty austere after the war, we had rationing and people lived a fairly simple life. There were very few restaurants and I don’t actually remember ever going out to eat with my parents. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t on the “bread line”; but it just didn’t happen in those days. We had TV for the first time in 1953, and it wasn’t until I was 24 that I first traveled overseas; to Paris in fact. When I got into my thirties, then I really started to spread my wings but I was very busy trying to make a living so I didn’t have the freedom I gained later in life. Only then was the adventurous side of me given wings, so to speak. Eventually, at the age of 53, I packed my bags and emigrated to South Africa after a few sorties there in the three years before.

SouthAfricanBeach_JK

Photo credit: James King

Okay, time to see your first photo. What’s the story behind this one?
This guy wears many hats and makes a living selling his wares on the beach at Bloubergsands, which is close to the house that I bought (and am now trying to sell!) in Table View in Cape Town. Generally these traders are not South African. They often travel a very long way from neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Many of them dodge border posts by hiding in the back of goods trucks. They all hope to make a new life in South Africa after escaping from oppressive regimes or poverty. Some of them are intelligent, articulate and well educated, as I remember this guy was.

What do you like most about this shot?
I like that it highlights the harshness of Cape Town light. The ozone layer is so thin there—I had to be far more careful of the sun than I do in the tropics. I also like the photo because at that time, I wasn’t into photography at all and had even less idea about what I was doing than I do now. I always have to be aware of what harsh light can do to my pics.

Okay, let’s move along to another photo that speaks to your South Africa experience.
Can I have two shots, please? One of the Cape of Good Hope and the other of Table Mountain, with Cape Town below.

EndoftheEarth_JK

Photo credit: James King

TableMountain

Photo credit: James King

For me, these photos bring back memories of how wonderful the landscape is in that part of the world. So overwhelming, you really have to experience it in person. Just think, we are at the Cape of Good Hope, the bottom of Africa! And, despite how beautiful it looks, you don’t want to know how cold that water is. Naked you may survive ten minutes in there!

What particularly appeals to you about the Table Mountain photo?
I love how the clarity changes as soon as you hit the shore line below the mountain. It really is like that and not a cock-up on my part. It won’t win awards, but it is very personal so I love it.

How did you end up in Cape Town?
How long have you got? Things went a bit wrong for me in England after I got divorced, and then I met a guy who used to live in Durban and still had some business interests there. His wife had died the previous year so we were both single and hit it off. He had to go to South Africa again, so we decided to go and work together. That’s the “nutshell” version.

Semi-retirement in the Thai tropics

And now 20 years later you are in Thailand. How did that happen?
I’ll have to get the “nutshell” out again. In 2004, with some backing, I bought a jewelry wholesale business. Most of our silver is sourced and manufactured in Thailand, and I took on the responsibility of buying overseas. So I started traveling to Bangkok to meet suppliers and go to the Gems and Jewelry Fair in March and September. I met so many new people and also took a couple of holidays in Phuket before going back to Cape Town. Gradually I got a taste for SE Asia and, after a few years, decided to stay for four months getting to know more whilst still working remotely. That was it. Semi-retirement in the tropics beckoned and I was hooked!

I imagine it’s all been plain sailing since you moved to Thailand. Just kidding! I see from your blog you’ve had your struggles.
It is very difficult to précis my life over the last four years. I wrote my first book, the memoir MASK, to try and show the different sides to Thailand, its people and their culture. The book isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it was a cathartic exercise and helped me a lot. I should add that I didn’t include everything in it. The rest may come out later. But now I have a new lease of life and am so pleased I found blogging and photography because I believe the two go hand in glove. Writing, which has been a passion of mine for a long time, can embellish the photos and photos can enhance the writing, so in blogging you have the best of both worlds.

You say that photography gives you the ability to be able to capture something unique, which will never be seen again. What brought you to this realization?
I have always admired great photography while not having time to pursue it because I was working. Now, through my blog, I am learning how to incorporate photos into my posts. It’s fair to say my appreciation is growing as I hope will my knowledge. Writing is still my primary passion, but I now have another tool in my observation box. Although late in life for me, we are so lucky to be living in a technological age where we have the tools to enable us to express ourselves like never before. Sorry to take over the interviewing, but don’t you think it is so amazing?

Thailand2_JK

Photo credit: James King

But of course! Getting back to you and the photos that capture special memories: what do you choose next?
Actually, on my “to do” list is scanning some of the photos from my pre-digital collection, beginning in the 1970s, a number of which carry powerful memories and should help to create some rather interesting blog posts. In the meantime I have selected three of my more recent favorites for you.

The first one shows this guy and his wife who live in their little house at the end of Kata Noi, a beach on Koh Phuket. Every grain of sand is polished every day, they welcome everyone whether you want a drink or something to eat or just to say hello. They have a few beach loungers as well if you want to relax there. If you can have a more simple stress free existence, I’d like to know about it. On this particular day, I visited early one morning before the tourists woke up, and they made me feel most welcome.

Thailand3_JK

Photo credit: James King

This little seven-year-old boy lives in my village in Chiang Mai. As you can imagine he is very naughty and the older children tease him unmercifully. So he comes to my house at weekends to annoy me and get chocolate and biscuits. He always wants me to take his pic, and on this occasion I caught him waiting for the school bus. He felt very proud.

Let’s not get technical

What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
Please don’t ask me anything technical. It says on the bottom “Canon PC1130” and on the front “Power Shot S2 IS”. One fixed lens 12x Optical Zoom with lots of numbers on it. It has lots of settings but I don’t know what they are for so I leave it on auto-pilot and hope for the best. Oh, and most importantly, the rechargeable batteries are held in with an elastic band. I haven’t got a clue whether it is any good or not: I just shoot and ask questions afterwards. But sometimes I do worry that my photos are not so good when I see many accomplished photographers blogs. I just console myself I must work extra hard on the subject matter.

ThaiWhiteTemple_jk

Photo credit: James King

I think you have one more Thai photo?
Yes, this one: the white temple in the forest, which can be viewed from my village. This is very special because most of the time, although I know it is there, I can’t see it for mist or haze. Then one evening it was there and so was I with my camera!

Where have been your very favorite places to take photographs?
On safari in Kenya, Mykonos Island in Greece, and here in Chiang Mai where, even though I say it myself, I’ve managed to capture some beautiful morning and evening landscapes.

MykonosTown_JK

Photo credit: James King

Do you have a shot that’s your all-time favorite?
I pick this one, of a house in Mykonos Town, taken in 2005. I think it will always be one of my favorites.

A few parting shots

Do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
It’s a very good question because I am always conscious that they may be shy and so I try and make a quick judgement call. But I do have an aversion to posed photos in the natural environment, so getting the balance right is important to me.

Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
I just try and feel how they feel if they are aware I want to shoot them. I prefer to take them when they are unaware, then smile and say thanks. Otherwise I don’t get the naturalness I want. Look, I’m not experienced so I am not over-confident and I need all the advantages I can get. I find people will show you pretty quickly if they don’t want their picture taken.

But how do you get around problems of language?
Funnily enough I find not speaking the same language gives me an excuse not to ask. I have a smattering of Thai so the people here know I’m not a tourist, which definitely helps a bit.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
In a nutshell (there I go again!), here are two pieces of advice:

  1. Never leave your camera at home or you may miss the shot of a lifetime out of nowhere. (Up until recently I have regretted not taking my camera on so many occasions. Now I hardly go anywhere without it, so much so that I often feel like a Japanese tourist. Believe it or not, most of my best shots were taken when I forgot to put in the SD card!)
  2. If, like me, you are not proficient, use other skills such as writing and storytelling or bizarre scenes, so that the photos don’t have to stand alone, to be judged naked.

* * *

Thank you, James! Readers, what do you make of James’s experiences and his photography advice? And do you have any questions for him on his photos and/or travels? Please leave them in the comments! (If you are a photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please let me know: ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

Once again, if you want to read more of James, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.com. (Hmmm…I suspect there’s a story in that name!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with November’s featured author, a novelist!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Main image at top of page: Camera lens from Morguefile; James King at the Khao Panong Rung Khmer Temple near Buriram, NE Thailand. All other images by James King.

For travel addict & photography lover Milda Ratkelyte, a picture says …

Milda M CollageWelcome to the second installment of “A picture says,” a series that sheds light on the people who move through our planet with a camera in hand, registering the look, character, and ambiance of people and places that capture their fancy.

Our guest today is Milda Ratkelyte, a camera-happy Lithuanian whose wanderings have taken her to the UK, America and now Asia.

Here are Milda’s vital travel statistics:
Place of birth: Lithuania
Passport: Lithuanian
Overseas history: From least to most recent: United Kingdom (London): 2005-2008; China (Wuhan, Shanghai, Beijing): 2008-2009; United States (California, Colorado, New York): 2009-2010; United Kingdom (London): 2010-2011; Singapore: 2011-present.
Occupations: Travel Community Manager at AsiaRooms.com and owner of Milda Ratkelyte Photography
Social media coordinates:
Twitter: @MildaRatkelyte
Facebook: Milda Ratkelyte Travel
Instagram: @milda_ratkelyte
Google+: Milda Ratkelyte

And now let’s meet Milda and find out: which came first, the photography obsession or the peripatetic life?

Kenyan curiosity

Hi, Milda. Let’s talk a bit about your travels. You are originally from Lithuania but have spent a considerable amount of time in other countries and now live in Singapore. Tell me about how that came about, and what inspired your moves.
I had the most amazing childhood in Lithuania. I was very lucky, because my dad was a true travel fanatic. Back then it was not easy for us Lithuanians to go traveling to remote destinations outside of Europe, but my dad found a way to get us to Kenya for a summer. From that time on, I was addicted to travel, and have been wandering the world ever since. “Explore, discover and get to know different cultures and people around the world”that’s become my mantra.

Boy reaching for candyKenya sounds amazing. Can you share with us one of the photos from that trip?
I like this shot of a boy reaching for what he hoped would be candy. It’s from the early days of my camera experience, but I love it because it’s just so natural. There was no set up, no preparation. I was wandering the streets of the Watamu village, looking for the school where I was volunteering, when a group of kids ran towards me asking for candies. I didn’t have any on me, but I had a pack of pencils that I was carrying to the school, so I gave them out and decided to take a photo of the group. As I was setting up the shot, this boy ran from the end of the street. Noticing something was being given away, he squeezed through other kids and jumped right in front of the camera.

Asia calls!

How did you end up in my native land, the UK?
When I graduated from high school, I knew that I want to do something travel related. I enrolled in an International Tourism Management course at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK. For my work placement, I was sent to work in China for the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which gave me the chance to explore some other Asian destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore. I fell in love with Hong Kong and told myself that once I graduated, I would definitely be coming back. However, when that moment occurred, reality kicked in: I could not get a visa for Hong Kong. I’d decided to stay in London when an opportunity to work for a major events company in Singapore suddenly landed on my doorstep. I had my bags packed in a few days and was on the 14-hour flight to Singapore.

How do you like Singapore?
I’ve been in Singapore for two-and-a-half years already and absolutely love it. Mostly, because it’s the most convenient spot in Asia travel wise. In just two hours I can be in Bali, Hong Kong, or Thailand. And Malaysia is just an hour’s bus drive away.

Luck strikes again

On your blog you say you were “one lucky girl” in finding your current position as a Community Manager for AsiaRooms, a site for booking hotels throughout Asia. Tell us how that opportunity came about and how it fits into your life ideals and love of travel.
When I moved to Singapore, I was working for an events company in the oil and gas industry. While I loved the thrill of closing huge deals, I had no life. The hours were long, with weekends in the office and sales calls at all times of the night. After about half a year, I missed having time to travel, take photos, explore and discover! I started looking around for something in the travel industry, and that was when I got introduced to my current boss, who mentioned that AsiaRooms.com were looking to hire a Community Manager. It was a dream come true. Today I can definitely say I love my job! I have been working on the launch of AsiaRooms.com Community site together with an amazing team, and we’ve already achieved some incredible results. I have also gotten a chance to study and have completed MatadorU’s Travel Writing and Photography courses. But most importantly, I’m getting to work with some amazing and talented photographers, filmmakers, writers and musicians in Asia and across the world while traveling a lot! This year I will finally tick off all the places on my bucket list for Asia.

Passionate about photographybut not equipment

On your blog you say that you love photography “and being able to freeze a particular moment in time, so when things in life change you have the one thing, one memory that never will.” What are the shots that capture some of your favorite memories? And what made them so special?
It is hard to say which ones are my favorites since there are just so many of them, and every trip I make is special. But if I had to choose, I’d pick the photos from the trip to Kenya such as the one above. That was the first time I got exposed to a truly different environment. It was also the first time I experimented with my DLSR, which was a present from my dad. My dad passed away unexpectedly last year, and I feel sad that I’ll never get to travel with him again. But having those photos reminds me of him and of the reason I started traveling.

What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
I have a Canon 300D with two Canon lenses: 18-55mm and 70-300mm. When I was doing a short weekend photography course, my tutor joked: “This girl is truly passionate about photography and not equipment.” My camera was so old it did not have half of the functions they were using during the course!

But although the camera has huge sentimental value, I think I will need to invest in a new one soon, since I have started MatadorU’s Travel Filmmaking course and will need a camera that can capture video.

A “no holds barred” approach to people as subjects

Where have been your favorite places to take photographs? Any particular shots stick out as being amongst your favorites?
My two favorite spots are Myanmar and Japan: Myanmar, for its amazing people, who are always smiling, and the colors of its markets, nature and city life, as well as incredible sunsets and sunrises over the ancient city of Bagan; Japan for its nature, culture and architecture. The old streets of Kyoto, the underground cafes and restaurants in Tokyo, hip people in the Harajuku district, lush greenery and deer in Nara, and bamboo groves in ArashiyamaJapan is just naturally photogenic.

ThanakaBoy_mmIn your shots of Myanmar, I noticed one of a young child. Tell me about how that shot came about and what exactly is going on!
It was taken in Bagan, Myanmar, which is full of the remains of temples and pagodas. That particular morning we’d grabbed our bikes and were exploring the terrain, when I was approached by this young kid trying to sell me his drawings for a dollar. They were crayon drawings of the temples, neatly packed in plastic bags. The boy spoke almost no English, but soon he became my little tour guide, showing me around all the ruins. After our little tour we sat on the old dusty stairs at one of the temples, and while he was trying to tell me more about the place, this perfect photo opportunity appeared. I just love the look in his eyes.

I often feel very reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that I am doing so. Are you the same?
I used to be very reserved about it, but at the same time I knew that this was a major obstacle if I want to progress with my travel photography. I think I came to realize that after traveling around with my boyfriend, who is also a photographer and who has never had hang-ups about this! He doesn’t find it difficult to go straight to someone and ask them to take a photo. At the beginning I used to stay back and watch him, but when I saw how his shots turned out, I realized I needed to overcome this barrier.

Do you ask permission before taking people’s photographs?
It was hard at the beginning, because the truth is you will get a lot of people who will just tell you NO, but at the same time you will get the few that will be very nice to you. I guess my main advice would be to definitely ask them first, and if they don’t agree, leave it! If they do agree, have a little chit chat with them to ease the atmosphere and, once you take the shot, show them how the photo looks, I’ve noticed a lot of people appreciate that!

But how do you get around the inevitable problem of language barriers?
Well, I always try to learn at least few words in the local language before I visit country, like “please,” “thank you”, “hello”, etc. As for the rest, I just point to the camera, then at the person, and smile 🙂 Usually this works—and trust me, the results will be worth the effort.

Parting shots…

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers (like me) who are traveling or living abroad?
1. Never leave your camera at home. The truth is, some of the most amazing photos are from the moments that come out the blue. It doesn’t have to be an incredible place, it might just be the street you walk down every day. Even if it’s just your iPhone camera, have something at hand.
2. Don’t let rejections stop you from achieving your dreams. I must admit, I have been trying to pitch different publications, blogs, magazines, etc for over a year and all I got were either unpaid opportunities or rejections. And it’s hard to keep motivated, when someone says that your photos are not good enough. But I’ve carried on pursuing my dream and finally, a year later, I am getting paid assignments and, what’s even more important, people are finally starting to look for me and not me for them. As a Community Manager at AsiaRooms.com, I source the photo and video content myself, so I get about 30 pitches a day from very talented people. The roles are reversed: I am the one who is telling someone that we will not be publishing their work. However, in most cases, it’s not because their photos are not good, it’s because the industry is so competitive and businesses like ours can choose only the very best. Knowing this helps me to deal with my own rejections.

Thank you, Milda! Readers, what do you make of Milda’s advice on shooting people? And do you have any further questions for her on her photography, travels, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Images (from left): Camera lens from Morguefile; Milda Ratkelyte reveling in her Grand Canyon moment. All other photos by Milda Ratkelyte

For travel & shutter bug Ildrim Valley, a picture says …

Collage_1000words_Ildrim_dssWelcome to our new series: “A picture says …”, featuring interviews with displaced creatives for whom a camera is a mode of artistic expression for the sights and people they encounter in their nomadic wanderings.

To kick off the series, I have the pleasure of conversing with Ildrim Valley, an intrepid adventurer who is also an economist(!) and travel photographer. It is, of course, this last point we’ll be focusing on, so to speak…

But first a few of Ildrim’s vital statistics:

Place of birth: Baku, Azerbaijan
Passports: Canada; Azerbaijan
Overseas history: From least to most recent: Azerbaijan (Baku); Switzerland (Geneva); Kenya (Nairobi); Canada (Vancouver, British Columbia); Hungary (Budapest); France (Toulouse)—2012 to present.
Occupations: Graduate student of economics; travel photographer; amateur snowboarder; adventurer!
Cyberspace coordinates: Curious Lines (photography blog)

Without further ado, let’s find out more about Ildrim and the way he uses photography as a creative outlet for his international adventures.

Peripatetic from an early age

Hello there, Ildrim. Welcome to the Displaced Nation. Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about your travels. What inspired you to set off and what has motivated you to keep on going?
My first travel experiences come from traveling with my mom and brother. My mom is eager to change her surroundings, so thanks to her I was lucky to move around and travel early in life. At an early age I’ve been amazed at how life can be so different for people elsewhere than my hometown.

I think that this early fascination developed into a strong curiosity about lifestyles. Now that my mom no longer takes me on adventures (she gets herself into trouble without me!), I try to find my own means of traveling and satisfying my curiosity about places around the world.

You are a self-described adventurer. Do you prefer going and going, or do you sometimes settle in one place for a time?
As I travel more, I realize that it’s not just about seeing a new place that excites me the most. As fun as it is to keep going and going, simply being somewhere new isn’t always satisfying. Settling somewhere for a time gives me an opportunity to live through something different and possibly understand it.

I understand you recently moved to Toulouse, France?
Yes, I moved to Toulouse in September 2012 for graduate school. I felt like grad school would open a few doors to pursue some of my other interests, and it presented a fairly easy way to move to another country. So I set out to look for good schools around the world that fit my background as well as academic interests. At the time I was interested in southern Europe, and Toulouse offers the right kind of balance: it’s a great school with welcoming people and fine landscapes to be explored. Plus an opportunity to finally master French was very appealing—though I have to say I’m not doing a very satisfactory job so far.

On your photography blog, Curious Lines, you say:

Photography for me isn’t just an art form, it’s a way to share experiences.

When and why did you start using DSLR cameras?
I got my first DSLR in 2010, shortly before moving to Budapest. I got it in order to document the move.

Does the process itself of capturing a place or moment affect the relationship you have with that place? For example, does capturing a good set of photos increase the fondness you have for that place?
The process of capturing a moment does affect the way I experience a place, which in turn affects my relationship with it. But how I feel about a place has a lot to do with how I feel about the people from that place. So when I spend enough time in one spot, I get to meet people and build relationships. However, when the stays are short, the camera has a more significant role as it facilitates a connection with others. It helps me get a reaction, an emotional response—a smile or maybe a conversation.

But it’s important to point out that in some places around the world, carrying a camera can have a negative affect. People are fast to judge you on how you look. In Kenya, for example, I have a lighter skin tone, which results in the locals treating me differently, not necessarily in a positive way.

Likewise, having a large camera around your neck or in your hand will send a different signal and will be interpreted in a different way depending on where you are in the world.

I would just like to add that one way in which camera affects my experiences is that it taught me how to look at things differently without a lens. It helps me appreciate things differently and it’s important to know when to put the camera away and enjoy things with your own eyes. It’s easy for me to get sucked into continuous photo taking when I’m in a new place. Though I enjoy it, there are still other things to be enjoyed behind the lens, which is even more true when you’re traveling with someone else. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other; with time I’ve been learning how to balance the two.

For me, the camera has to be an extension of the adventure and not the purpose for it.

Looking back on all the places where you’ve taken photos, which have been your top three favorite places to shoot?
Although my opinion changes with time, my top spot for now is Mongolia. Last year I spent about a month there. The people and their lifestyles around the country fascinate me. The landscapes are pure and surreal. When you have such a keen interest and curiosity about your subject, shooting becomes that much more enjoyable. I’m actually redesigning my Website to present more content via other channels than a blog. One of the new sections will be about my experiences in Mongolia. The other two places that I love for photography are coastal British Columbia and Croatia.

An eye for the London Eye

On your blog you also say:

Once I started using a DSLR I’ve realized that scenes that come out on my computer screen don’t reflect the whole beauty of the moment. They don’t transmit the same type of emotion I felt standing behind the lens. So I tried and am still experimenting with different techniques to bring myself and others closer to how it actually was, at least in my mind. I don’t always try to achieve the most “realistic” looking photos, but rather try to transmit the feeling of the scene.

the-london-eye_dropshadowI notice that one of the techniques you’ve used is High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDR), an example of which can be seen in this striking image of my hometown London (original here)—by the way, you’ve now made me feel a little homesick! Tell me a little about HDR and how a novice photographer like myself can go about trying to achieve similar effects with a DSLR camera.
I have a very basic example of what High Dynamic Range (HDR) does in one of my blog posts. In a nutshell, cameras don’t capture the range of light the same way our eyes do. Our eyes adjust to both bright and dark spots in the same scene while for cameras it’s always a trade off.

HDR photography allows you to capture more light by taking multiple shots of different exposures. I take three: one normal, one overexposed bright photo, and one underexposed dark photo. By combining these three shots together you get a higher range of light information available to play with. Some people take five or even seven photos, but three is enough in most situations.

To achieve this HDR effect, I take my three shots bearing these points in mind:

  • The auto-bracketing option on modern-day cameras helps you take three photos with a single click.
  • Set the camera on Aperture priority mode (“AV” or “A” on most cameras) to have the same aperture and depth of field in all three shots.
  • Ensure that the three shots are as identical in composition as possible. A tripod could be useful. (The surroundings or simply holding your breath will do in many cases.)
  • Use software* to combine all three shots together and then let your imagination take charge.

*Some of the most popular softwares are Photomatix Pro, HDR EFEX PRO and HDR Darkroom. Then there are options like Luminance HDR, which is free (open source) but will take some time getting used to. Whichever software you choose, it will help you combine all this light information into one image. Then it’s almost always a good idea to take it into your preferred photo editing software and continue working as you would with any other photo.

People pix

Streetvendor_drop shadowTell me about this recent photo you took of a street vendor in Kiev (original here). How did you find yourself in Kiev?
I was on a long earthbound trip in 2012 from Budapest to Hong Kong, which took me through Kiev.

How did you come across this street vendor? Did you converse with him before taking his photo?
There was no verbal communication. Rather, I nodded at the guy while moving the camera in my hand slowly, indicating that I wanted to take his photo. His face was blank in acceptance so I went ahead and snapped the photo.

Do you always try to try get permission from people when trying to take a photo?
I prefer to ask for permission, but sometimes it’s the spontaneity that makes the photo and asking would yield a different result when they prepare themselves for the photo. Either way, I make sure the subject knows I’m taking their photo.

Is it difficult to obtain permission when facing a language barrier?
It’s important to learn how to communicate with your facial expressions and your body as well as being able to read others. In my experience, regardless of whether your communications are verbal or non-verbal, the more confident and subtle you are, the more likely you are to get approval.

One thing about the street vendor picture that really stands out for me is the boldness of the colors. Can you tell me why and how you set up the shot like this?
Initially, I tried to achieve an effect that would provoke an emotional response akin to the one I had in that moment. A new environment can be emotionally overwhelming—a feeling that can be difficult to capture. First impressions are special. So when I first started editing it was the exaggeration of colors that made me feel the closest to “re-experiencing” the place. Although you can never really re-live the moment, you can come up with something that reminds you of it.

In a way it’s like when a friend tells you a “you really had to be there” story—and exaggerates the details to make the point. It’s not that the true story needs any exaggeration to be interesting, but you need to have the exaggeration to translate the feeling.

Many of these aspects of photography are, of course, a matter of experience and taste. Believe it or not, my earlier photos were even more color crazy. With more experience I’m leaning away from it and trying to express the moment in other ways. I really like black-and-white photography and the subtlety of its expression. I find it trickier and am experimenting with it more at the moment.

Parting shots…

When you take a look at the two photos mentioned above, what’s the first thing you remember?
The London photo reminds me of my host, a friend I haven’t seen in years.

The photo of the Ukrainian street vendor reminds me of a young violinist I met on the train and spent the day with. It also reminds me of how hot the day was and my craving for kvass (a fermented drink made from rye bread). Believe me, a hot day in Ukraine can make you crave kvass as a refreshment.

Are you hoping that these photos will evoke similar emotions in other viewers?
The intent is not always to prompt the same reaction I had. The same photo can prompt many different reactions. I like it when visitors to my site send messages expressing how my photos reminded them of their own experiences.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad, on getting started?
I’d say to take photos for yourself first and not to think about what others would want to see or to try to meet their expectations. The first person your photos should move is yourself.

Thank you, Ildrim! Readers, what do you make of our first photographer post? Some wise words here, and who knew that autobracketing could be so useful? So, any further questions for Ildrim? Please leave them in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from expat author, Helena Halme, who is giving away THREE COPIES of her latest novel! 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images (from left): Camera lens from MorgueFile; Ildrim Valley (on right) with a traveler he met last summer in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Says Ildrim: “He was originally from Slovenia but didn’t like being associated with any particular place. He’d been traveling on his bicycle for about four years at that point.”

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