The Story Behind the Image


I recently posted this image on Facebook and I had a few comments alluding to great storytelling, the feelings that evolve from a single image and how one photo can say so much. As photographer one of my goals is to live up to the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”. If I can create an image that speaks to people then I made a successful image. I find it interesting that the words an image conveys can differ greatly between people. Sometimes people see very different things in the same image, at times their ideas can seem to be completely opposite of one another.

Since many people liked this image I thought I would write about the story behind the image. Before you read on take another look at the image and see what it says to you. Through this blog post I will shed some light on what was going on when I made the image.

Last month I saw a scene on a random ride through the Cambodian countryside that I wanted to photograph but I did not have the lens that I needed for the shot. I saw a farmer bringing his cows in for the night with the setting sun behind him and an enormous amount of dust being kicked up by the cows. This time of year in Cambodia the sky is constantly hazy from the farmers burning the rice fields in preparation for the years crop so in the evening the sun hangs in the sky like a glowing orb. A perfect setup for a shot but without the right lens it wasn’t going to happen.

I needed a cloudless sky for the shot and a few hours to get out there in time for the sun to be far enough above the horizon to be properly placed in the image. For months it seems that I had not seen a cloud in Siem Reap but for some reason it has been partly cloudy lately so my return to the location was delayed. The rice field burns have been slowly decreasing as most of the fields had been burned and the setting sun was slowly creeping to the right as winter turns to spring. If I waited too long the conditions wouldn’t be right and I would have to wait a whole year for things to fall into place again.

On Saturday the sky looked good so I left home knowing that clouds could fill the sky by the time I made it up to my location. I hopped on my moto and headed north out of town with plenty of time to spare. I know I can never get from point A to point B without a stop here or there to get a few pictures along the way. This day would be no different as I wandered through some pagodas, made a re-visit to a remote temple and stopped at a few family run stores for drinks and some gas. My quick stop at the temple turned out to take more time than I expected because twenty kids from the area showed up to get a look at the foreigner in their neighborhood. Of course I had to make some images and they all wanted to see them, one by one. Not wanting to miss out on the timing for my planned shot I headed out to the location I picked out weeks ago.

Two Cambodian woman in their business in their home.

A view into a family run business in rural Cambodia

Parking along a rural Cambodian road.

Nowhere to park

There is nowhere to park so I pull off on the side of the road. I look at the time and I have about an hour and a half until sunset. The best shot will be with the sun still above the trees so I don’t have to wait until the actual sunset for the shot. This will allow me to start for home and get past the dirt roads and back on to some pavement before darkness sets in. I try to spend as little time as possible riding remote roads in the dark.

I pull out my camera with the 70-200 lens and get ready for a long wait in anticipation of a random farmer moving his cows through the rice fields. I sit down on the side of the road and wait knowing that a middle aged white guy sitting on the side a dirt road in rural Cambodia with a large DSLR camera and a long lens is sure to attract attention from the people who live there.

At first people seemed somewhat curious as I could see them looking at me from all directions. People would pass by on their motos, bicycles and carts, some looking and other looking away as I looked towards them. Most would smile after I waved hello almost as if they were waiting for permission to smile themselves. Children would ride their bicycles back and forth laughing as they pass by.

Cambodian boy rides his bicycle

A young Cambodian boy rides his bicycle down a rural road.

Somewhere down the road there was a school that just let out for the day. In Cambodia students either go to school for the morning session or the afternoon session, the latter getting out around 5:00 PM. I saw many children pass me with a cautious look in their eyes. Some would go by without looking pretending that they didn’t see anything worth looking at but their awkward gait gave them away. Once they passed by and made it a safe distance from me they would gather together, talk and look back in my direction. I must have been quite a sight on that road.I could see families near their homes gathering together and watching me from as far as I could see. Some young Cambodian boys are returning with their cows but they only have two or three of them, not enough to kick up the amount of dust I want in the shot I am waiting for. Some children gather enough courage to walk near me and go out in the rice fields and pretend not to pose for a shot.

The longer I sit on the side of the road the closer people begin to come to me. They have moved from curiosity to a cautious stance to wanting to know more. I wish I could tell them that I am waiting until the sun drops below the trees to try to make an image of some cows and dust but my language skills are lacking and I will just have to let them wonder.

I notice two young schoolchildren coming down the road towards me. Between their school and the safety of their home and family sits this foreigner on the side of their road. And it is their road, not mine. It is the road they walk down twice a day, once to go to school and once to go back home. It is the road where all of their friends live. It is part of their home and part of their life. I am sure it is a safe road for them, a comfortable road. Other than a little bit of traffic and some cows they walk back and forth everyday without a negative thought in their mind.

But this day wouldn’t be the same. Today there is a difference. There is something unfamiliar to them and they aren’t quite sure what to make of it. I see them in the distance and I see them when they and hesitate, most likely talking through their options. I can only imagine what was going through their minds. The older of the two, big brother I assume, was looked to by his younger sister for direction. They started to walk again and they hesitated once again.

They look down the road behind them and then they look back towards me. The older brother must have decided it was okay to continue down the road to go home but the young girl didn’t seem quite as confident. Her brother started walking and she stood there thinking or maybe frozen in fear. When big brother was an uncomfortable distance away she must have realized her protector was leaving without her and she took off like an Olympian at a track meet. She never took her eyes off her safety net was a few strides ahead of her and she called out to him. He turned and saw her running towards him.


And now you know…… the rest of the story.

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