Available Light: A Photographic Journey
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Nicholas Sumner is a photographer whose work has been published in twenty nine travel guide books. This, his first travel narrative, recounts the story of a seven-year journey across Asia in pursuit of beautiful pictures. "Before I left home, I thought that I knew something about photography, but I found that what knowledge I had was more hindrance than help and I had to admit, that really, I didn't know anything at all. This was humbling, and a little frightening, but it was also the beginning of a process of discovery in which my expectations as a photographer and as a traveller were constantly challenged, reassessed and revised. "I experienced moments that were terrifying and sublime, hilarious and tragic. I was mugged, threatened with guns and arrested; I journeyed among mountains, through jungles and cities, I encountered deserts both spiritual and physical, saw things so beautiful that they moved me to tears and received kindness so absolute that I can never repay it. I knew both joy and despair, I ate kangaroo pie, discovered the exact monetary value of my eyebrows and I fell in love. Twice." His journey became much more than a quest for great images. Travelling and photography are pursuits of the curious, they complement and sometimes conflict with one another but both are driven by a desire to observe and a hunger for insight. Both can touch the spirit, move the heart, and both can reveal truth.
After all that mayhem things got a bit better, but as the Silk Road declined, so did the fortunes of Kashgar. By the late nineteenth century, while still a part of Quing Dynasty China, it was coveted by both Britain and Russia as a military base and had become merely a square on the chessboard of the Great Game. When Peter Fleming passed this way in 1935 he wrote in News from Tartary that Kashgar was ‘barbarously remote’, a city at the ends of the Earth, and it still seems isolated. Kashgar is
and anything else that will float and are waving their arms frantically. A lifeboat is being launched from the beach. Another wave breaks over my head, pushing me under once more. I come up spluttering and gasping and I know that I am in trouble. The distance to the shore has become immense, my weakness fuels my fear and for a moment I wonder if I am going to get out of this at all. And then, so close that I flinch, a voice says, “How ya goin’, mate?” Right next to me in the water a lifeguard is
children tug on their strings to keep them airborne. There is a kite festival in progress and this is a series of interlocking dogfights, for the kite strings are dipped in glue and then ground glass to give them a cutting edge that will sever other kite strings. I watch them dance like gnats in the still air. One falls as its string is cut, I watch it turn end over end, fluttering downwards, until I lose sight of it among the rooftops. Very early in the morning I take a boat out onto the
though I have performed a miracle. An afternoon smog hangs over Kathmandu obscuring the hills beyond and making the light diffuse and strange. The throng on the pavements is literally crushing. Through streets that seem hardly wide enough to deserve the term ‘alley’ crowds of people, bicycles, ancient cars, rickshaws and livestock seem to percolate. None of them pay attention to each other and yet there are no accidents. Shifty Nepalis sidle up and mumble, ‘Hash?’ ‘Changesh maaaney?’ ‘Smack?’
years later he describes framing hundreds of images, but time and again he couldn’t close the shutter. The scale of the tragedy, the wretched condition of the survivors or simple respect for the dead made him turn away. Near the Miyuki Bridge, at a police post, he found a huddle of victims: girls from the Hiroshima Girls Business School and the Hiroshima Junior High School No.1 They stood mute except for the sound of sobbing. They had been outside when the bomb detonated, their backs, faces,