Lessons learned through the lens

By Joe Duty | Published Saturday, June 30, 2018

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Provide a Little Space

PROVIDE A LITTLE SPACE – Joe Duty’s guide Ruly told photographers to slow down, respect the animals and earn the shot. Duty suggests doing the same with all subjects. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

What do photographers do on vacation?

Take pictures, of course. Looking through a lens things look different. The feel of what is in front of you becomes more intense and focused.

All of this was brought back to my attention during the last three weeks on a 16-day trek across the equator in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru, including Machu Picchu.

Several lessons were recalled on this voyage, beginning in the Galapagos. We were aboard the “Nemo” a 60-foot catamaran along with eight other guests and five crew members. Leading us on our voyage was a naturalist, Ruly, whose passion for this particular corner of the world was infectious. He has spent most of his life on the islands, some by himself for as long as eight months studying the endemic marine iguana.

He started out with giving us the lay of the land, rules of the boat and what we were to encounter in the next four days. The respect for nature poured out of this guy in every sentence. He was totally dedicated to his mission of preserving the beauty and integrity of this water wonderland.

His lesson for me came the second day on a hike at Santa Cruz Island, home of the blue and red footed boobies, a bird similar to a large seagull with amazing color. One mile into our four-mile trek, we came upon our first booby on a nest, with the male close by watching over.

All the hikers, including myself, scampered to get in position to take pictures. It sounded like a photo shootout with 10 cameras going off simultaneously. The bird immediately thought its world had been invaded and showed its restlessness. Ruly belted out, “Wait!” Then his voice lowered as everyone turned toward him.

“Stop, slow down, back off and find a spot, sit down and just watch. Respect the animal’s space. Let him get comfortable with you. Then honor him with a picture,” Ruly said.

It hit me like a brick. A normal news cycle is fast-paced. You shoot and move on to the next one. Respect for my subject’s time was what had faded from my own work. Lesson one learned.

Connecting for Shot

CONNECTING FOR SHOT – Despite the language barrier, Joe Duty and new friend Victor were able to find common ground for a memorable picture on the streets of Puno, Peru. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The second half of our journey was spent trekking across Peru, including Cusco, Machu Picchu, Puno and Lima. My second reawakening realization occurred as my wife and I would walk through the various cities looking at all the massive cathedrals and watching the people interact in their own world.

I stole shots of natives and shot the stone pathways and landscape, but I felt something lacking. I was just another tourist with a camera. My inhibition to interact with my subject was largely due to the language barrier, which always creates some distrust from foreigners. Without that trust you don’t get a genuine feel of where you are.

Just as this feeling had climaxed one evening, I met Victor in a back alley of Puno and something snapped back into place as we made eye contact. Victor was a 70-ish Peruvian gentleman with the native look and great charisma. He was standing against a pastel of old crumbling stucco walls, surrounded by three younger kids. One typed on an old typewriter as Victor dictated. The other two kids framed the ends.

I was drawn in. I had to know more. This was not a grab shot. In my best broken Spanish and his best broken English we struck a happy medium and interacted for about 15 minutes. I walked away not only with an image that he was happy to give, but the story and a true feel for the people for the first time since our arrival.

Victor trusted me with his time because I had given him mine and a non-verbalized barter was struck. My confidence was back just that quick. I continued the rest of the trip interacting with the same advice for the people as Ruly had given me with the bird.

Photographers don’t just take pictures, they create images by feeling what’s in front of the lens. These were just the major lessons from the journey. There are many smaller ones for another time.

Joe Duty is the staff photographer for the Messenger.

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