Rob Verger

JOURNALIST

Posts from the ‘Travel’ category

New Story: “My Guilt-Inducing, Nausea-Provoking Street Photography Obsession”

I have a new story up on WorldHum.com about street photography, travel photography, and the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Here’s the first few paragraphs:

“The guard approached and asked me nicely, in Spanish, to come with him. He led me to a man who I assumed was his boss, a man in business clothes, not a uniform, standing on a Bogotá street. With my camera wedged in my front right pocket, I held my hands out slightly, my palms forward, in an I’m-not-a-threat gesture. He didn’t speak much, if any, English, and I know very little Spanish, but what he wanted to know was clear: Why was I taking so many photographs? In Spanish, I said I was an American tourist. (That must have been a shocker.) I handed him my camera, and he looked through the photos, unhurriedly.

“What he saw in my camera were dozens of photos of the changing of the presidential guard, which my guidebook had noted would happen at 4 o’clock on Friday, not far from the expansive and pigeon-filled Plaza de Bolivar. And so I had scurried over there, camera at the ready, thinking that although it was a touristy thing to do, it might yield some good photos. I had taken lots of photographs—not because I felt the need to capture every moment, but because I knew that the more I took, the likelier I was to get one or two good shots. I had snapped a photo, with permission, of two guards standing on a corner, one in a blue and gold dress uniform, the other in a more practical dark green uniform, a machine gun slung around his shoulders and his pants tucked into his black boots. I had taken photos of soldiers—members of the Batallón Guardia Presidencial—lining up, drilling and marching: some of them in funny red and blue uniforms, white gloves, and tall hats with flat tops. When another group of soldiers in blue dress uniforms marched down the street, I had followed along, loving the intensity of the moment: the rhythmic pounding of their boots on the ground, the patterns of the guns and uniforms, the order and military drama. I had taken a few shots, with permission, of guards standing in front of a big, black, ornate gate affixed with two golden seals. Was it the gate to the presidential compound?

“After a minute or two of questioning and further study, I was free to go. It was just a quick conference on the street, and I hadn’t done anything wrong, but the moment was enough to rattle me. As I walked away, and for the next few hours, I felt nauseated and embarrassed and upset with myself. I think I had taken one photo too many. Why had I pushed it? Why was I obsessed with trying to get the perfect shot? And what makes a great travel shot, anyway?

“Something happens when I travel and take pictures, and it’s related to a feedback loop that’s both good and bad. The more photos I take, the more I start thinking in images, and that leads to more picture taking. At its core, this obsession can be a good thing, because it leads to better, more artistic photos. But for me, street photography can be emotionally complicated. Because I love it, and because it brings me satisfaction when it goes well, I continue to do it. But in a lot of places, it’s not a brilliant idea to flash a camera. Also, the more I do it, the guiltier I feel. Not always, but sometimes. In developing countries especially, the more I hold my camera to my eye, the more I feel like the ugly tourist, the man from a wealthy country working to capture a piece of a poorer one—or, more accurately, working to try to capture something beautiful, or some sense of emotion or feeling tied to how I see the place. I ask permission when it’s easy to do so, but sometimes, I don’t. Maybe it’s not just the power difference that bothers me, because I’ll take photos anywhere that’s interesting to me, including my home turf. Maybe it’s just that snapping a photo of someone without asking can be rude, or voyeuristic. My guess is that I’m not the only traveler with a camera and a heightened sensitivity who has snapped a shot or six and then felt a twinge of guilt.”

Click here to continue reading.

More Sao Paulo images

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I was creating the audio slideshow “Beauty Amid Ugliness” for World Hum, one of the hardest parts was deciding which photos to include and which to exclude. I wanted to include far more than I had space for, and the problem with trying to squeeze in too many is that the slideshow becomes rushed. If you’re working with an audio track that is a little over two minutes long, the more photos you include, the quicker each one needs to be displayed. Above, then, are 18 photos that I wish I could have included.

Reviewing “A Week at the Airport”

Photo from JFK International Airport by Rob Verger.

I have a new story out in The Boston Globe– it’s a review of Alain de Botton’s new book, “A Week at the Airport.”

Here are the first few paragraphs of the piece:

The title of Alain de Botton’s latest book concisely describes the subject of this brief work of nonfiction. The airport in question is Heathrow in London — specifically, Terminal 5 — and the week that the author spent there was at the invitation of the airport’s owner, BAA, which wanted to showcase the new terminal.

Thus, for “A Week at the Airport’’ London-based de Botton became an employee of BAA, which he refers to at one point as his “patron.’’ He could write about anything in the terminal; he was even given “explicit permission to be rude about the airport’s activities.’’ The result is a book, first published last year in England, which feels more like a long essay. As such, it sometimes feels forgettable or strange, and at other moments is sensitively and memorably observed, and ponders important philosophical questions about travel. It’s accompanied by color photographs taken by Richard Baker, many of which are somewhat ordinary, and some of which are quite nice.

“A Week at the Airport’’ begins with a brief introduction, called Approach, which describes de Botton’s decision to accept BAA’s offer to be the “writer-in-residence,’’ and the remainder of the book is divided into three larger sections: Departures, Airside, and Arrivals. In Approach, de Botton describes his interest in the airport this way: “[A]sked to take a Martian to visit a single place that neatly captures the gamut of themes running through our civilization — from our faith in technology to our destruction of nature, from our interconnectedness to our romanticising of travel — then it would have to be to the departures and arrivals halls that one would head.’’

Continue reading.

Exploring the iPhone’s new HDR photo setting

I’m excited by the latest version of the iPhone software, 4.1, which has a new HDR (high dynamic range) function on the camera. When this is switched on, the camera “automatically combines multiple exposures into a single HDR image,” as Apple explains it. The idea is that when shooting a scene that has both bright and dark elements, all of the exposures will be a little more balanced. And to make things more interesting, you can have your phone automatically save both a normal image and an HDR image, so you can compare the two.

I had fun experimenting with this while riding the T in Boston over the Charles River yesterday. Here’s a non-HDR shot out the window:

Now, check out the HDR version of the same image:

It’s a big difference, isn’t it?

In the second version, the faces of the passengers, the interior of the train car, even the advertisements on the car’s interior– all of it is visible. Objectively, I think the HDR version is better. It’s certainly more balanced. And the varied facial expressions on the four passengers add a great amount of life to the photo.

But now compare the colors out the train window. In the first image, the blues are more vivid. The John Hancock tower and the Charles River are both more richly blue in the first shot, whereas in the second they’re more faded, like an old-fashioned snapshot. And while the faces in the first photo are almost all in shadow, the little splashes of light that are there, juxtaposed with the black foreground, make the photo more moody and dramatic.

If I had to use one photo for a publication to accompany an article, I’d probably pick the HDR version. But artistically, there’s a lot I like about the first version. Which do you prefer?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.