I thought I was going to write about something different this week… But sometimes other things happen, and provide ideas and inspirations for articles, and this week is one of those times!
If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll have noticed my embryonic exploration into street portraiture.
You may have picked up on my little line:
Many wonderful things have started with a conversation; and what can be a more exciting as a prospect, than a conversation with a stranger?
Well a street portrait I took led to an interesting and prolonged conversation with a pilgrim!
Here’s the story.
I’d noticed a dilapidated Church (just past some other ruins) that I wanted to explore, and that day was the day to finally get round to doing so!
The Church I waned to (and indeed did) get too!
But before I could get any where near the Church, there was terrain to transverse!
First, follow the graffiti!
Places like this tend to be boarded up and unsafe to enter (for a variety of personal safety reasons), but you can often scoop a snap through a crack or a hole.
Keep heading down… this is actually a stone staircase… Best watch your step!
In amongst the ruins, surrounded by the unkempt undergrowth I happened upon a man.
This can be a little disconcerting, no? I mean absurd worse case scenario…. how long will my body be here before I’m discovered !!!
I know that sounds silly… but bad things can happen, and one does tend to associate bad things with grime filled places… of course statistically, in places like this I’m more likely to fall and hurt myself or the camera, than I am to be attacked… But we often fear the worse case more than a bad case.
But it quickly became apparent that this guy meant me no harm. He was washing his clothes in some sort of ancient communal sink, I was wandering about shooting.
Laundry day the age old way!
I ended up asking him what he was doing there… I wondered if he was homeless… this area of the city is frequented by people with serious drug and housing issues… evidence of this lay all around (and I’ve been told about this many times by many people)
Well, he was a little homeless… but only by choice!
He was embarking on the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago, which is an ancient route to the shrine of an apostle (St. James the Great) located in Galicia, which is in the north western region of Spain, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
For me, this was an interesting revelation! I mean what a thing to do, what a task to undertake.
Can you imagine combining something like this with a camera? (I’m sure it’s been done before!) A true modern adventure, both literally and figuratively following in the footsteps of so many people from history.
My interest was piqued, my reservations evaporated and I listened intently as Alex started to tell me his stories.
A veteran of many walks, Alex had hitchhiked across his native America. Visited every continent on the globe bar Antarctica (it’s on his list!) and had achieved all of this mainly on foot, everything he needs packed into a 30 KG (about 65 pounds) rucksack.
He spoke of the people he’d met, the places he’d seen, the experiences he’d had and the positive impact this nomadic existence had on his outlook and perception of life.
He told of many people also living as he did, how they supported each other with information about places where some manual labour, and odd jobs could be exchanged for a meal and a bed for a night or two.
He only knew of the ancient sink where I found him because of a tip he’d picked up from a fellow traveller.
He’d visited many countries, met a great many people – in my opinion he had a calm and expansive outlook to life and if you were to judge him by the standard metrics of success (wealth, possessions etc) then you’d think he’d achieved nothing… But of course, this would an obtuse and ugly judgement to make.
This guy was living a life of adventure, a life of discovery – sure I doubt every day of his travels was a complete joy, I can’t believe that he’d never experienced hardship in this way of living.
But equally I feel you could off set that against the sheer joy of living such an ‘off the grid’ existence.
We walked together back into town, stopped at a place selling sandwiches.
The hour arrived in which I had to leave, for my life is not nomadic, and I have things I need to do, specific places at specific times that I have to be.
We wished each other luck, and I felt inspired and enthused from the meeting.
There are a great many things to photograph out there.
But when I embarked on my street portraits project, I had a hunch that shooting images with a strong human component would be a gateway to humanistic interactions, and my little intersection with Alex’s travels only reinforced that view.
Sure, we like our cameras! How we set up our cameras is important, what FW updates we receive from Fujifilm is interesting.
But cameras are for shooting, and when we get on out there and shoot, we can have interesting experiences with unusual people that give us a glimpse of a different way of life.
So good luck Alex and good luck to all the wandering pilgrims out there!
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