Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Comfort Factor

I was reading another photographers blog last week and he was going on and on about how he likes to approach each of his assignments. He first mentioned that he liked to find a story that meant something to him, then make all the calls and get everything set up so he is nice and comfortable; so that everyone understands exactly what he is doing and then he just has to worry about the shooting.

Wow, in an ideal world. What a life. Sounds like heaven.

I couldn't help but being blown away but this guys statements. Now before I go on, I am mentioning this because I envy this person with every inch of my soul. When we all grow up and want to be photographers first we all want to run around the world shooting in every which way - then finally we slow and settle and try to work as this above mentioned blogger.

In China however, there are several factors that don't exactly add up when trying to sort out a job and shooting schedule. First of all, I can count all my assignments on just one hand where I have actually been able to call ahead an arrange a visit. Second, in most cases I am thrown out of where I want to shoot after a few minutes - or I am detained immediately without even a shot. Lastly, if I am lucky enough to get an uninterrupted 10-20 minutes of shooting time I have the fear that the local thugs are just around the corner once I exit - so they can administer yet another passport check. Painful.

It's almost when I walk in to a location to shoot, it's like jeopardy. That clock just starts ticking away, "don't stay too long", "keep moving", "everyone here has a mobile phone, I am going to get caught up for sure".

Out of all the countries in the world that we (photographers/writers) choose to work in, I have heard that Russia and Central Asia are horrible. A close second is Africa, a good writer friend of mine often says that he used to get fined use for breathing when he landed in rural airstrips; and lastly is China.

Now, we all have our niche. We all have different tolerance and comfort levels and we all pursue different types of work. A lot of people think it is really rough working in China, and that the levels of bureaucracy just wear you down and shorten careers (and life expectancy!)....but to be honest, it's not that bad. After 5 years of working in China I have become used to the "normal" interruptions. But I don't pretend in a minute that I could handle working in Africa or parts of the Middle East; that falls well outside my comfort level. For example, I can't tolerate guns of any sort. Comfort basically amounts to what you know and what you have grown up with, and my career has mainly been in China. This is where I have learned, and this is where I feel most comfortable. Asking me to work in Africa may yield lovely images, but my ability to work and operate there could never be as good as someone who started there career and continued to work there.

I would love to hear from a few people on their horrible experiences while traveling - and where they think there comfort level is at?

As I move out of my "hitch hiking around china with a camera" phase and move in to my "hire and land rover and take my time" phase it's interesting to hear from other people what their ideal or regular working situations are like.

And no matter what anyone says on this blog, I still envy that guy's blog whom I mentioned at the opening. I would love to be able to call up an AIDS Clinic in Henan Province in Central China, hop on a plan and shoot without interference for days on end. But that kind of stuff just doesn't happen here. What's it like in your neck of the woods?

Ryan Pyle
Skype: ryanpyle

1 comment:

  1. Thailand is interesting to say the least, yes you can sorta move freely here, but shoot anything that is deemed against what the current military government wants the public to know, and you end up in deep shit.

    I'm currently researching a story on the increase of Cocaine within middle society, and obviously this means learning about how Thai police are heavily involved (monthly salary 10000 baht, 1 time pay off of 50k, you get the picture)

    Thank god for being able to speak basic Thai and having a damn good assistant who can talk our way out of most things.

    As for shooting in Africa, I recently did a story on the Informal settlement camps (a.k.a squatter camps) and for that i have a guide, but it was still pretty nervewracking to head into a area of extreme poverty as a white guy and get people to open up. I constantly looked over my shoulder.



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Ryan Pyle