On Wednesday, March 12th Point Park graduates Lindsay Dill and Aldona Bird will be showcasing their work in the Lawrence Hall Gallery. Their work comes from separate journeys that they took following their time at Point Park. The open reception starts at 4:00 pm.
FF: Was this your first time traveling to India/Europe? Why did you make this journey and what were you hoping to encounter or learn from this trip?
LD: I traveled to India for a friend’s wedding, and I went early because I wanted to see more of the country, and at a slower pace. I’d taken Dr. Fessler’s course on India in the Global Cultural Studies program, and still nothing could have prepared me for the assault of India that was to come. I’d hoped to learn more about the role of spirituality in India, and get an idea of what it’s like to live there.
AB: When I went to Europe for 14 months, it was my first time leaving the States. I bought a one-way ticket to Vilnius, Lithuania, after I graduated from Point Park because I wanted to travel.
FF: How do you prepare to make a journey like this? Did you learn something from your time in school or from speaking to other photographers?
LD: Rolf Potts’ book Vagabonding taught me a lot about how to enjoy traveling with few belongings and on a few pennies— which is all I had. I also learned a lot about my own traveling style, how much money to save, and what to pack during my first trip abroad to Costa Rica. As far as photo equipment goes, I pack one body, two lenses, three batteries, a flash, lens cleaning gear, loads of memory cards, and a charger with an adapter for that country.
For this trip, I prepared by taking on a job as a delivery cyclist, and by completing the bulk of my university assignments and projects before I left in the middle of my last college semester. Foolishly, however, I didn’t prepare myself with cultural research. As I mentioned, I took a course on India, and there’s only so much even Dr. Fessler can translate into a lesson, and being there is an entirely different thing.
So, I packed one backpack with too much clothing, the usual camera gear, a Life Saver filtered water bottle, and way less than enough money. I cried within the first couple hours of arriving, and at the very least once every day after that. I was a child again, and I didn’t know how to communicate or be a person.
Photo by: Lindsay Dill
AB: To be honest, I didn’t prepare much at all for this trip. I basically just packed my camera, clothes, and hopped on a plane. At the time my sister was in Europe, so I had someone to meet me at the airport and a place to crash. Certainly looking at works by travel photographers helped inspire me to travel. My photography and photojournalism classes gave me the tools to be a travel photographer and columnist.
I prepared a little more for the trips I took to the 19 other countries I visited, but the preparation was mostly just to learn the best means of local travel, and to find CouchSurfing hosts/WWOOF farms/hostels.
FF: I always ask photographers if they felt welcomed in the country they were photographing? I heard photographer Matt Kollasch speak and he said that while photographing in Eastern Slovakia a man told him “I feel like an animal in a zoo when you point a camera in my face.” Did you find that the subjects you met were approachable or ok with you photographing them?
LD: I was not very concerned with people feeling like zoo animals, because I usually talk to people I photograph. I did raise my camera less often than I would at home, though, and I think it was more to do with fear of offending the religious and fear of being heckled for money (which I had to heckle my travel partner boyfriend for once I ran out of money.) I became more encouraged to photograph as people would ask to see my photos and to photograph me, because I was a strange blond white American.
My discomfort didn’t stop me from photographing, but rather it slowed me down. This meant that I missed some great shots, surely, but it also meant that I was being more deliberate in shooting. It’s actually how I was able to slow down and see what themes I was capturing.
Photo by: Lindsay Dill
AB: I think photography is a universal language. It often helped me learn about people and make connections even when there was a language barrier. People’s reactions always vary, no matter what country you’re in. Photographing people brings out their personalities.
While working on the first farm I visited in Italy, I asked the farmers if it was ok if I took pictures while we all worked. They were flattered, and agreed. The two women (Maddy and Graciella) living there spoke only a word or two of English, and I spoke even less Italian. Despite this, Maddy was very warm and friendly, and always tried to communicate with my sister and me. Graciella was friendly but kept her distance a little more. When I brought out my camera Maddy got shy, and even asked me to stop photographing her once. Graciella however became more friendly, and always smiled and got excited when I’d take her picture. Using my camera helped me get to know individuals and their personalities, but it took a more journalistic approach to learn about the different cultures.
When photographing in countries where I didn’t speak enough of the language to actually approach people and ask if I could photograph them, I’d make eye contact with my subject, smile, and hold up my camera questioningly. This basic method always worked for me.
Photo by: Aldona Bird
FF: Another part to that question, how can students learn to better approach people to photograph them in a different country?
LD: I think the best way to approach any subject is to imagine you are them— under the same laws, family structures, social trends, etc. Get out of your own head and imagine that you’re in theirs whether you’re trying to come up with a story, improve on your current story’s perspective, or gauge how you should approach subjects.
AB: The only advice I can offer students is to be a confident and kind photographer. Don’t piss people off, because getting yelled at in a foreign language is no fun. Also don’t annoy German bus drivers, as I did a couple of times.
FF: Lindsay, in your artist statement you spoke about seeing India from two different perspectives. One from a poor traveling side and the other a rich more western civilized side. Could you elaborate more on what it was like to get to experience these two contrasting views?
LD: “Real India” lies in the villages according to most Indians you ask. I didn’t go there. My memory of India is made up of my experiences while couchsurfing with middle class, likely upper caste, college aged Indian men. Most of them lived in neighborhoods that were featured large, marble homes, shanties, and half-built brick structures. Everything was in flux. There was constantly the stench of fire, either from cooking or burning trash— sometimes both. The food-cart-laden streets were often unpaved, dusty, and were always a mess of people, rickshaws, bikes, shanty shops, and honking (which is used to make your presence known rather than to display your anger).
While all of this was new, it was the gut-wrenching poverty that is seared into my memory as one of the hardest parts of India’s social stratification. I’ve never experienced poverty, and I’d certainly never experienced or seen Third World poverty from such a close range. I was constantly approached by beggars of all ages, and this was one of many reasons why I’d cry every single day of my trip.
I’ve read the articles warning that mothers begging with babies are likely scammers, and children begging are simply pawns of a sort of pimp who takes all their collected money at the end each the day. Those facts may make some feel better sometimes, but it’s really hard to say no to an emaciated mother and crying baby tapping on your rickshaw window while your driver is urinating off to the side of the road. I gave sometimes and I refused sometimes, and eventually I ran out of money and had to refuse. The poverty just became a part of my consciousness while I was there.
Once I reached my friend’s home we were in a much wealthier Southern India neighborhood and we were much more sheltered from the extreme poverty while in his neighborhood. His family has two large homes across the street from each other, and they have two cars. Had I seen nothing but their lives, I could imagine that India was the unpaved, smokier America. It was almost a relief to be there and forget about my other experiences. Almost.
FF: What did you take away from this experience in the end? What did you know before going in and what changed for you as the trip continued?
AB: I learned so much on this trip, it is hard to even summarize it. Living in Lithuania, and traveling around Europe taught me a lot about other cultures, photography, myself, and much more. It was an incredible experience. Looking back, I feel that when I started I knew next to nothing. Now I at least know better how to learn.
FF: Where do you go from here as a photographer? What’s next for you?
LD: Photography will always be a part of who I am. I’m constantly drafting and working on personal projects, and I think that’s the major role it will play in my life for now.
AB: Now I plan to spend some time saving up again to continue traveling with my camera. The more places I visited, the more I wanted to visit. I am happy for this opportunity to showcase some of my work, and I hope to find or create other venues for the photographs I made while abroad.
Photo by: Lindsay Dill