Tightly-packed, low-rise, yellow-brick buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick grey bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice.
The Night Market
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
As dusk falls over this archaic western outpost, a thriving night market erupts in a raucous entanglement of fat, dust, and sweat pitched against such an inescapable medley of localized tongue that it’s enough to make one wished they had studied the local dialect a little harder, if not at all.
Trans-China National Highway
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Xinjiang
A sudden rush of noise from behind, the honk of a horn, the revving of an over-worked engine and a motorbike passes us at over ninety, stampeding the melting tarmac as if behind schedule. The Nikon leaps out the window with me closely behind, hanging a full half-body out in mid-air whilst white noise takes over. Fighting against the ravaging wind I heave the heavy black camera up to eye level and it’s already focusing before I compose, eager to capture the majestic scene ahead.
Belle and Sebastian
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Pamir
A young girl sits on the side of a lonely single track road passing through the Pamir moutnain range. Hand washing a dusty red dress, her best friend watches with hungry eyes, probably hoping for a snack to jump out. The friends converse together in sign-langauge, broken manadarin and the occasional woof.
Down Town Kashgar
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
The western boarder lands of China contrast wildly with the eastern shanghai seaboard. Here, the indigionous population evidently belong on the other side of China’s vast westen border. But that’s another story.
A Tolkien Landscape
D700 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Khunjerab Pass
Traveling the Karakorum Highway from Kashgar up to the snowy peaks of the Pamir mountains, our clapped-out thirty year-old car sets a steady pace through the windy lowlands, the ice-capped peaks in the distance promising stories and adventures in equal measure. This gateway to Pakistan resembles a landscape from Tolkien’s middle earth. We arrive at the deserted border, a howling wind preventing us from venturing too far. A handful of bored Chinese guards keep a careful eye on us as we pick our way around the farthest outpost on china’s western frontier, nothing exists here except for the occasional rhythmic chugging of an over-laden mini-bus heading for Pakistan.
D700 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Lake Karakul
An early morning wind rasps through barren grasslands, wild horses drink at the edge of lake karakul as sleepy shepherds trek the wild landscape with sheep in tow. Mount Muztagh Ata reflects on the still morning waters of lake Karakul as the gentle summer wind lifts a single bird to flight. Outside this bubble of bliss the harsh martian landscape surrounds this lush oasis like wolves baying at the door.
Boy With Bike
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Hotan
A young boy sits on the family motorcycle, polishing a dusty fuel tank in the midst of a mild midday sand storm. Sitting a few metres away, his parents crouch on the road curb sorting through small pieces of multi-colored Jade they fished out of the White Jade River.
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Yarkant
Dawn brings a short bumpy ride to the Sunday cattle market. Pulling in the local farmers and domestic tourists alike, mutton adorns every menu, sweet, gritty teas spill from over-filled tea-pots, and long-deceased cattle rock gently in a calm breeze, strung-up on stall corners and slowly stripped of their meat until only their bare bleached bones remain.
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
The main road running through the centre of Kashgar becomes a hive of activity twice a day as the local Uighur school manages it’s student population. Domestic tourism is growing in Xin Jiang, but with tensions raising between the native Uigur and the ubiquitous Han, it’s proving hard to bring money in from the rest of China’s deep pockets.
Tightly-packed, low-rise, yellow-brick buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people below from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick grey bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice. As the viscous smoke rises upwards it rallies and aggressively suffocates the black crenelated shadow that forms a biblical horizon. Momentarily poetic.
The cab splutters and pulls away leaving us stranded outside the peeling green doors of an old youth hostel. Inside, dimly lit dormitories encircle a dusty mosaiced open courtyard home to a pack of motorcyclists from Beijing quietly fixing their metal steeds. A European cyclist perches on a balcony above, watching the entourage below he occasionally stabs at his notepad with random thoughts, pausing only to look wistfully at the horizon. We pass by a time-worn computer moaning wearily as an earnest traveller attempts, unsuccessfully, to check the weather forecast, and somewhere behind closed doors a hardy fridge hums happily laden full of locally produced honey beer.
Stashing our gear underneath dusty mattresses there’s a momentary wrestle with an uncooperative stained-glass window. Begrudgingly the ancient warped metal frame swings outwards and through a sea of dust motes dancing in the heavy air our first view of Kashgar streams through. Rescuing a couple more cameras we leave our precious gear packed and vaguely hidden in a variety of obvious places and take our first steps out into the dense, smoky shadows.
Shooting analogue was a combination of artistic bliss and personal bankruptcy, so when digital cameras hit the market we all thought the same thing: win win. But after 15 years shooting digital, my field-work attitude had shifted for the worse; I became accustomed to the high FPS my Nikons could turn over, became lazy when bracketing for HDR, began to abuse high ISO, just accepting the grain in all weather. I’d even leave my tripod at home and just make do with image stabilistion. Above all, I’d become lazy, relying on technology to finish a process I’d start in my mind. I didn't start like that during my analogue days; back then it was sacrilege to 'fill the buffer', as it were - we thought, composed, and captured with each and every click. Romanticised maybe, but true.
So I changed.
Capturing one solid image for a collection is pretty easy, anyone can take a great image with a bit of skill, practise, and luck. Seriously, anyone. Two great images - still not hard and sometimes they even look good together. Three, four, and five start taxing the cranium; you need to start thinking ahead, above, and beyond. You start to sweat. Working up to ten images takes dedication, time, and skill, but once you have your collection, you get a real sense of achievement.
Forcing ourselves to select a limited number of images amongst an infinite number of possibilities enables us to think deeper about our photography, it gives us motivation and focus during times of lack-luster malaise, and it aligns our thoughts, encouraging exploration and thematic expression in collections.
IOIMG isn't typically about obsessive image matching for competitions or exhibitions (although I'd go so far as to say the images in your collections should, in some way, compliment each other), nor is it particularly constrained when choosing subjects or themes for image pools; I like to use IOIMG as more of a guiding principle designed to help maintain standards and encourage exploration in my photography as I explore the many different avenues within the discipline.
Without a guide, we'd get lost.