My Life in High-Res

by ursavoice

Daniel Phan
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

There is a movement out there called slow-photography, which asks us “what’s the point?” Indeed, what is the point when cameras have become so quick, so versatile, and so affordable that you can document every friend you have, every night you are not alone, and every sunset you think is the best one you have ever seen. A slow movement disciple may find that capturing every fleeting moment dilutes the value of photography, and even diminishes the sanctity and humility of leading an undisclosed life. I disagree. Rather, photography can serve to heighten awareness of our surroundings, and lead us to discover truths, issues, and beauty that we otherwise would not have seen if we had not been searching for that perfect picture.

I recently visited Burma, and spent 13 days traveling to each of the country’s newest and oldest capitals: Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Amarapura, Mandalay, and Bagan. While questing through each of these cities, I realized that daily life in Burma is easily dictated by two themes: either military or religion, the latter being more influential. Because religion, by far, plays its greatest role in maintaining the optimism of Burma’s people, many of my pictures focused on the monasteries, temples, nuns, and monks who play that role. What would the slow-photography movement have to say about my experience? Well, over the course of two weeks, I captured 2319 photos. That comes out to 165 photos per day, and roughly 7 pictures every hour. Believe me, I resisted my trigger finger, but should I have resisted at all? Because I was on such a picture-high, I shot first, and asked questions later. However, the point is that I took the time to ask questions. Photography without context leaves me feeling empty, so I make sure to know what I am pointing at, and understand the circumstances that led me to capture that moment. In Burma, the lack in government aid and initiative is desperately filled by religion. For example, parents send their children to monasteries because it guarantees them an education, clean robes, and three meals a day. In return, monks of all ages walk barefoot through the surrounding city before sitting down for their own meals distributing handfuls of rice to those who ask— including stray dogs. Contrary to what the slow movement claims, photography fulfilled my experience with so much more curiosity and understanding than I otherwise would have felt. Sure, a nation and its people would certainly have a voice regardless of whether anyone photographed them, but the gift of sight and imagery can add so much more to the message.

My point is that photography makes me a better traveler. Though I am spending a lot of time behind my viewfinder, I have a more thorough appreciation for the subject in front of me. My obsession with photography helps me find details that others may not see, and gives me the balls to ask a stranger to pose for a photo. In the end, I come out with a picture, a story, and a yearning to come back to the place that I digitally pillaged with my fancy camera.

I know that many of you share the same passion as I do. Whether you are an amateur like me, or a semi-pro, and whether you use a point-and-shoot or a DSLR, I would like to form a place to collaborate and share our perspectives. Contact me if you are interested. I live between 14mm and 54mm, and everyone is invited. Or you can just reach me at dannyhp@gmail.com.

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