Quinn Ryan Mattingly
Chang Mai, Thailand
Time / Date:
11:37 AM / August 1, 2012
Camera Body: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon EF 35mm f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/200s
Focal Length: 35mm
This image was part of my project during the 2012 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop held in Chang Mai, Thailand. I did some research before arriving, and had found a place in which I wanted to shoot my project. It was called Children’s Shelter Foundation, and is a refuge for mostly Burmese minority children who’ve fled into Thailand to avoid faction fighting and victimization in their hometowns. About 50 children live on this large spread of rural land, and collectively they maintain an organic fruit and vegetable farm that keeps them almost fully self-sustaining. I chose this place to do my project because it’s the type of images and stories I most like to work on and that are closet to my heart. In Vietnam, where I’ve been based for about 8 years, I spend a lot of time volunteering with less fortunate children, and I’m passionate about hearing and telling the stories of those who are leading interesting, yet difficult lives in the region.
In this image, we meet Maykin (or at least half of him), 11, who is from a Burmese minority group, and came to Thailand and CSF about 2 years prior. Upon my arrival on the farm, he was the first one to run up to greet me with an indelible smile and became my go-to tour guide and friend during the few days I spent there. During a look around the fruit groves, he suddenly saw something and made a mad dash to pick it up. After a few minutes of the the little gecko wiggling around in his hands, I was making images, though none that were really speaking to me. Quite unexpectedly, he raised his two hands and gently placed the gecko on his head. I knew this was going to be the shot, and I had to act pretty quick. I fired off maybe 10 frames, changing angles and watching his expression, until it all started to line up, and I captured this image we see here. Life is all about these fleeting moments, and I just love that the camera gives us a way to not only capture and freeze the moment, but to create a image that transcends what was actually happening and becomes not only a record, but a piece of art that says something about the world we inhabit.
At times, I can be the consummate over-packer, carrying every lens I have in my bag, but rarely taking the time to change them if what I’m using is working for me. Not long before this shoot, I started to ditch my bag and just carry 2 bodies with different lenses, generally a 35 and an 85 or 135 for longer shots. I like to switch between them fairly often, to see the scenes in different ways, but I’m still very partial the the 35 because I like to be close to people and take in the environmental information as well. If I had the long lens in my hand when I saw this lizard scene taking shape, I instantly dropped it in favor of the 35. I just knew I needed a bit more of the full scene than the tighter lens may have given me. In addition, I wanted to be near the subject, to capture that interaction and powerful eye contact you see here. I think with a longer lens, standing further back, this image may have never come about, or at least worked as well as it does shot with the 35.
Making the Shot:
As I mentioned above, it all came about quite quickly, as great images usually do, and it was just a matter of trusting my instincts and being able to quickly adjust my camera settings and to compose the image I saw in my mind. As we know, great images are very much about the emotion and expression of the subject. Had his eyes not been looking directly into my lens, this image probably wouldn’t have worked for me, and in fact, that was most likely one of my split second thoughts while I was shooting. I don’t recall a lot of other details about these moments, but obviously it was a good mixture of timing, skill, instinct and luck that let me capture this scene.
Editing & Processing:
I use Lightroom for the vast majority of my editing, harnessing the power of the local adjustments now possible, to avoid going into Photoshop and creating a larger file, whenever possible. I still use Photoshop when Lightroom can’t quite do what I need, but I’d say 95% of all editing is done in Lightroom. After some basic color and contrast adjustments, I knew I needed to bring out the eyes, as that’s really where the power and focus of this image is for me. Just a few quick brush strokes brought back some light to the eyes, and also to the gecko. After that, it was just a bit of Radial Filter to darken the edges a bit more and push the viewer’s eye right down to where I wanted it.
I chose this image in particular for a few reasons. One, because it was shortlisted as it were by the editors of this website as an image that may fit in well with the other work presented here, but finally chosen by myself to talk about because it captured a moment and has a backstory that I really love to look back on ands remember. As photographers, we’re always asking for access into people’s personal lives and stories, when you’re able to make that special connection with your subjects, the images you capture become even more powerful and sentimental for you. Whenever it’s time to leave a location, I always say I’ll be back again, in the genuine hope that I will be, but of course that’s not always possible or in the cards as it were. I would love to go back and spend more time with Maykin, and all the other amazing young souls at CSF, and do hope sometime soon I will be able to, as Thailand is just next door here to Vietnam. I think this image really does express my style as a photographer, or at least the part of my eyes that see color images. It is, as I like to think my style is, all about the people, the expressions, the looks and the moments I capture while working. There was really no more truthful a saying ever penned that ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul.’ For me, these considerations are paramount when shooting and editing my work.
I’d say it’s really just all about trusting your instincts as far as what types of images or stories interest you the most, and anticipating the moments you want to capture when you’re actually there on the ground shooting. On the more technical side, it’s also pretty important to be able to work you camera very quickly without looking down at it for more than a split second. It really has to become second nature for you. If I had been fumbling around trying to get the correct settings, this moment would have come and gone before I even knew it. If you’re passionate about documentary or photojournalism work, immerse yourself in it and take in as much as you can from the people and resources around you. There is also so much good imagery to be found on the internet these days, and even great imagery and photographers if you look in the right places, that can and should really serve as your inspiration to make work that’s just as powerful and interesting. There are always new stories to be told and shared with the world.
I love images and moments plain and simple. Photographs where the photographer tells such a story by capturing a fraction of a second of life somewhere, and brings you right into the scene with them. Alex Webb is one of my favorite color photographers. The depth and moments, let alone the color and light he’s able to capture I just found absolutely amazing, almost unbelievable at times, but of course we do know they’re real moments of real life. An inspiration for my black and white documentary work, James Nachtwey is one of the photographer whom I really admire both as a person and an amazing photographer and have been influenced greatly by. There are so many others great shooters as well who’s work I really love, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it with the big two as it were.
About the Photographer
I’m originally from a small town in Ohio, USA, but have been living in Asia for more than a decade, and in Ho Chi Minh City, more commonly known as Saigon, for about 8 of those years. I spent a few years here working with local English language magazines, but recently have transitioned solely into freelance work and spending time working on my projects. I take on editorial and NGO assignments for the most part, which are really the types of images I most enjoy creating anyway, but also have worked a lot on the commercial and wedding side of things. I just really love to document the lives and stories around me in hopes of telling a good story that interests my viewers and clients, or those to potentially come from seeing my work.
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