The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Going Native

Adventure is not what it once was me thinks. Even as more of us set off for the ever more remote places of the world that are our holiday destinations these days we take so much of the world we profess to be escaping with us. Mobile telephones, laptops, ipods and yes even cameras all basically get in the way of being a tourist. Of course we are not tourists now we are travellers and travelling is a lifestyle image every bit as fashionable and marketable as Marlboro Reds or Louis Vuitton. More and more of us apparently want to get “off the beaten track” but only so far as it is not too dangerous and uncomfortable or even too off the beaten track. The Discovery Channel vacation of adventure repeats is all the rage with the right demographic and a GPS, satellite phone and TV crew seem as de-riguer for going somewhere now as a passport.

Anyway I digress but I am Jeolous that my long commitment to the cause of the vagabond no longer gets the impressed/shocked reaction it used to. I admit my own wanderings were not that far from the route now well trodden. But I trod it at a time when there were not that many people doing the same. And I started late by today`s standards. What must it be like to be a school teacher now with kids apparently travelling the world? I remember going back to school in September with the usual homework of “What did you do over the summer holidays?” We all told tales of parks and seasides; parents driving to dripping backwaters and for the richer kids the occasional two weeks in the sun on a Spanish beach. The same homework must nowadays contain such bile inducing name-drops as Kenyan hot air balloon safaris, polar plods with private air support, indigenous excursions to jungle cultures filmed but twice and sky-diving over Patagonian ice-caps while on weekend breaks from building day-care centres for blind, homeless lepers in the Buenos Aires slums. And all this before they`ve even done their A-levels!

There are no explorers now we are all travel consumers…every experience however extreme seems to come with a money-back guaranteeand itinerary now. Okay I lied, there is one. Benedict Allen is a true hero of our time; he makes TV shows and writes books yes. He even models clothes! But he also gets immersed totally in the places he travels; putting his body and mind to work, and at risk, crossing inhospitable terrain, meeting and really trying to understand indigenous people and learning to care about them much more than the fame it will bring him or the pride he could take in his line on the map. Of course I have been a fan for years but didn`t know much about him until I found his website. I saw that he had been to Siberut Island to learn and study the kerai or medicine men similar to those pictured above. My own trip was a trek, touristic and probably not that authentic but I was struck with the power of the place and learned enough to know I wanted to learn more. Now I know the logistics of visiting I aim to go back there one day  and photograph more of these amazing men. I may not be able to get as “deep” as Mr. Allen but I care about these people, I made friends with one family of Mentawai particularly in my short time there and the more I learn about how their way of life is threatened the more I want to do to preserve it.

Damon

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4 responses

  1. Andy

    Reminds of a quote (and I forget who said it): A tourist is someone who travels a 1000 miles just to be photgraphed in front of their car

    March 12, 2007 at 12:24 pm

  2. Exactly Andy!
    My point if there was one in the few minutes I had to write that was that travel should be educational. Of course we all love showing off the stamps in our passports but when that becomes the point rather than the experience travel ceases to have value. If I ever start looking at travel as totally about photowork I`ll give it up. Yes I need to get the shots but that should not be why I went to somewhere in the first place. I should feel something of an interlectual need before I go and have a few more questions answered when I come back. I think you get better pictures that way anyway. Cheers for the comment and am looking forward to your website coming along more.
    Damon

    March 12, 2007 at 2:23 pm

  3. Andy

    What made me think of the quote was a photo of my grandparents – with caravan in tow – at the arctic circle. I think what I was trying to say was that people often travel for no greater reason than to say they’ve been there.
    What has happened in recent years is case of “keeping up with the Jones”. It’s not sufficent to say “Here I am in front of the any old tourist attraction”, you need to go one better and say “Here I am with a ‘lost tribe'”. It’s a game of oneupmanship and ignores the fact that plenty of other people have done the same thing.
    I know that when you travel you try to get under the skin of the place your in – ie it’s more than the photos you take
    As for the photo of my grandparents in Arctic Sweden – it prompted me into a journey there. I have the pictures to prove it and and written about aspects of the trip for a travel magazine but the real reasons for travelling were far more personal and maybe a story for another day.

    March 19, 2007 at 1:43 pm

  4. We judge too strongly perhaps, for your grandparents going to the Artic circle was an adventure that was beyond their imagination for most of their lives. Like when my father came here and we visited Hiroshima. He couldn`t quite get his head around the idea that he was in Hiroshima. If the picture inspired you it had value if you went for your own reasons and managed to make some money of the experience than it had value. If you went because a friend had been there and you wanted to go one degree further north, south , east or whatever then you shouldn`t have gone.
    The phrase you use about ignoring the fact that many others have been there before really struck home with Japan. In many ways this country has an inferiority complex. I was watching television the other night and they were talking about a Japanese mountaineer who climbed Everest and tried to do the seven summits but died on Denali. My father in law was so proud of him and I was thinking, “but the seven summits has been done.” If I was the mountaineer I could feel proud of my own successes yes, but as a Japanese I wonder how I could feel that it smacked of “We`re a big, important country too” type sentiment and seemed terribly sad.
    Many travellers make me sad now. Cheers for commenting.
    Damon

    March 19, 2007 at 10:49 pm

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