I’ve always admired landscapes and portraits taken by much more talented photographers than myself. Looking at their work – take landscapes photographed by Nasim – I see a world completely different to my own. I see colorful forests and tall mountains inviting me, tempting me. It’s as if they’re saying – come. We look gorgeous from every angle. Come. We are the very bones of Earth. We have valleys and rivers, there are canyons and caves, meadows and snowy peaks to be found. Whatever the time of day, whatever the season or weather, we look gorgeous from every angle. Much unlike the nature around my home, you know. All I’d need to do is choose the one angle I like most. How wonderful would that be.
I had the honor once of traveling with a British professor on train. He saw me photograph passengers aboard and we engaged in a conversation. Halfway through it, he pulled out his beaten laptop and showed me lots of images from his travels all around the globe. He was no photographer, but the places he’s been to were so mesmerizing, I felt a sudden rush of sadness. Why is Lithuania so boring? I’ve seen portraits of exotic people. I’ve had friends travel and come back with breathtaking images from Thailand, Malaysia and Africa, and they always brought something back with them that made me envy their chance. Portraits of people so different from those around me – deep, true. Living. I’ve seen foggy eyes of old wise men, I’ve seen carefree laughter of youngsters out in the streets of Delhi. I’ve seen French lovers in embrace. Why are French so different from the rest of us? Why a simple market suddenly becomes so interesting, if it’s in Japan or Vietnam? Why are taxis so iconic in New York City and London underground trains so full of street photography opportunities? The answer would seem very simple, of course. It’s because they’re better places than where I am. It’s because they’re more interesting people than those around me. There are no exotic people in here, no foggy-eyed wise men, no French flamboyance and certainly, certainly no beautiful, breathtaking, colossal mountains to behold.
Wrong. So very, very wrong of me to ever say such a thing.
That same professor eventually stopped talking as he reached images he took in Lithuania during his visit. At first, I thought I understood why. There’s nothing interesting here, I kept repeating to myself. Nothing. And then he spoke again, and my jaw fell open. He spoke with the same enthusiasm as he did when he mentioned all the exotic corners of the world he’s been to. Exactly the same kind of enthusiasm and admiration. He was surprised by everything here, starting with architecture, moving on to our beautiful nature and forests, and finally to people. I was lost for words. What’s wrong with him? Or… hold on. What’s wrong with me?
Do New Yorkers think they have special taxis? While traveling by underground trains, do people in London think they are exceptional subjects for street portraiture? Quite, quite doubtful. Yet to us, each and every corner might seem special and different. Because we are used to different kinds of corners, used so much we barely notice them. We barely notice our people and how interesting they are. We barely notice our nature and how beautiful it is. I came to a simple conclusion, then. It’s not about being a tourist in some exotic Far East country. They don’t think they’re exotic. It’s about being a tourist where you live that allows you to see how extraordinary things you thought to be ordinary truly are. So how about, for a change, we look through our own window – metaphorically and literally, as is the case with the landscape above. I think we may find it well worth the effort.
And so Lithuania has a beautiful nature. There are beautiful, interesting, exotic people in here. Truth is, the fault is my own. I am the one who needs to learn to, first of all, notice all of that. And then, only once I know how to look and where to look, then I need to learn to photograph it. Perhaps, if you had similar doubts to mine, such conclusions are equally suitable for you?
You have your taxis, New Yorkers. I bet you don’t have inhabited greenhouses from the Land of Oz in your backyard like I do.