Over the summer, ISZAF (working with the art students at ISNS) issued a challenge. Those of us who chose to accept the challenge were tasked with documenting our Treasures using our smart phone cameras. Here is a copy of the challenge proposal handed out to all the participants:
THE CHALLENGE: Create a maximum of 10 cohesive smartphone photographs over a 3-month period.
SLOGAN: “Not all treasure is silver and gold”
LEADING QUESTION: How do you define treasure in your culture?
Further thoughts on “Treasure”
The idea of culture can take many forms. It can be something that is valued through a personal or collective experience. Johan Huizingas said, “If we are to preserve culture, we must continue to create it.” We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with imagery. Smartphone technology has allowed us to instantaneously create culture through photography and digital media. Shenzhen is generally known as a hub for technology, so this is very evident in our immediate experience where we reside. How do you define treasure in your culture?
The challenge seems easy but the longer you think on it the further down you can go. The actual practice of capturing moments with your phone sometimes can be a challenge. Often when you are in a particularly wonderful moment you don’t even think of documenting it. And, as treasured as those captured moments can be, they are nothing compared to actually living that moment fully.
When I began the challenge, I had several themes I wanted to pursue. Which meant shoot photos all summer and figured it out at the end. The themes I highlighted in my head were: family, food, travel, and a look at nature itself. As the summer progressed, I focused on capturing photos related to these themes.
Family. I was successful at documenting the star of my family, Carter, and not so good at the rest of the family. My son Carter is all over my pictures and he looks adorable. It is very easy to take hundreds of pictures of him. My wife was the second person most photographed and several photos of her came out wonderfully. Especially the ones were she and Carter both were in the shot. I saw parents and siblings this summer but did a terrible job capturing them. I took a few photos, but they didn’t really do them justice. I was both happy with and disappointed with my results for this category.
Food. When I originally envisioned capturing food I saw myself really laying out how food is sold in raw form all the way to the final presentation on the plate. I wanted market shots, preparation shots, and the final dish. I was going to be in three countries over the summer and I envisioned capturing the differences and similarities between the three. I only managed to pull off 1/3 of that vision, Vietnam. Perhaps I was taking for granted the time I had and my familiarity with China and the US. The market shots were not done very well, some food prep shots from the cooking classes came out okay but the few final dish shots I got In Vietnam were amazing. I ate a lot of amazing food that never got the photo taken because I am always happy to dig in when the food arrives.
Travel. That I documented well. I have shots all over Vietnam and several in the US as well.
Nature. I wanted to approach this through a backwards way. I wanted to show the pollution and crowding that came along with the travel. I wanted to say something by sharing the discarded trash in our oceans and the sheer mass of humanity exploring nature. I took these pictures as we went along but, in the end,, I just wasn’t happy with what I had managed to capture. It was not clear what we were looking at or why the pictures were taken. I honestly think this is something that, had I spent more time thinking through and setting up the shot, could have worked well. When looking at the photos I did take, I had solely shot pictures of crowds and the focus was simply the crowding of touristy spaces. I don’t think I really had a clear vision of what this would look like despite looking back and seeing in my mind’s eye what I should have been shooting.
When the time came, I submitted 20 photos, 5 pictures for each of the above categories. The only one I had truly missed the mark on, according to the selected photos, was the Nature/Tourist category. That wasn’t much of a surprise really and I agreed with them on leaving that side out of the show. In the end they chose 8 photos; 3 from family, 3 from travel and 2 from food.
Here is the display:
I’ll talk about each in this order:
- City Chicken – This is part of the travel series. We were wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh when I saw several chickens wandering an area. I took photos of them in different places but this one just casually sitting next to the scooters resonated with me.
2. Sand Baby – Carter loves playing in the sand. I documented this at the beach near Huizhou, China. This was not his first visit to the beach. He went to San Diego while we were in the US, but I did not take photos there. I had just killed a brand-new cell phone by jumping into the pool a week prior. That new phone was nowhere near me, safely tucked in the diaper bag. I was a little braver in Huizhou and happily I’m still using that phone now.
3. Minestrone – While we were in Hanoi, Vietnam we stayed in a hotel undergoing major renovations. We were the only people in the hotel and the staff was willing to serve. They also figured it would be a good time to test out a three-course meal on actual customers. The minestrone soup was the first course. It was beautiful and very tasty. Even more so when we discovered our gourmet meal was on the house.
4. Surf Baby – Carter and his mama are exploring the waves. Carter was eager to get into the water until it splashed him in the face a moment later. This was also at the beach near Huizhou, China.
5. Coastline – A view of the Huizhou Beach from the 29th
6. Sunset on the Water – Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is a beautiful place despite the hundreds and hundreds of tourists hanging out everywhere we went. The sunset from the top of our boat was beautiful.
7. A Boy and His Bear – Carter is playing with a bear that was mine when I was a boy. He hugs it often and shows it love every now and again. This shot was too adorable not to share. This was in the hotel in Huizhou, China.
8. Caprese Salad – The second course in our three-course meal in the hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. This salad was amazingly delicious. Just as good as it looks. I did not quite pull off the third course in photos. I took the shot, but it just wasn’t quite right. If you were wondering the final course was salmon.
Here are a few photos from the opening night: