Monday, September 27, 2010

In my photographic life, I never set out searching for “wonders”.  I was just bitten by the travel bug.  This list is just a result of attrition.

A few years ago Morgan Freeman & Jack Nicholson made a movie.  Although with top tier stars & a huge budget it was not their best effort but it introduced a phrase into the American lexicon “The Bucket List”;  Places you want to go or things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”.  I think most people dream about it in one way or another.  For most of my travel life it has been foremost in my mind even though I have never given the slightest acknowledgment of death.

The ancients made up a list centuries ago: Seven Wonders of the World.  We memorized it in high school.  The man-made monuments are legends that have lost much of their significance but the concept still lingers:  Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The idea seems a little artificial to me but it begs the question “what are the most amazing things I personally have seen before I die."  Hopefully it has evolved over time & I continually add new phenomena as I get older.

1)             Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A short time ago the Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world.  Flying in to Malaysia I watched the movie Entrapment on the airplane.  I thought it was one of the most amazing promotional gambits I had ever seen.  Although Academy Award winner Sean Connery & Catherine Zeta Jones acted in the film, the Towers were the star.  The buildings loom over the teeming city.  I walked concentric circles round & round until I found the foreground I need to make my image & returned early the next morning to make the shot.  I returned a few years later to repeat it.

On both trips I lived with ex headhunters on the island of Borneo.  Sleeping in their longhouses (an architectural "wonder"very in their own right) was the antithesis to the high tech world of Kuala Lumpur.

2)             Opera House, Sydney, Australia

This piece of architecture has been on & off many organization’s lists.  The original architect was thrown off the project when the city administrators became angry with what they thought was too unorthodox.  Many years later, after the rest of the world recognized Jorn Utzon’s  genius & it quickly became one of Australia’s most visited landmarks, the town fathers invited him back to fulfill his original dream.  We photographed the abstract “ship sails” structure during the XXVII Olympic Games.  They give tours up on the bridge but I was told you could not take a camera & that concept is the closest thing to hell I could imagine.

3)             Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

On a little jive assignment to Paris, my mentor pleaded with me to photograph the Eiffel Tower.  In my hubris I told him “I don’t DO Eiffel Tower.”  For almost twenty years every request I got from clients for pictures of Paris included the most recognizable landmark in the world.  I intended to return each year to correct my oversight.  Eventually I got a free ticket from a failed assignment, booked the trip, dropped off my bags at my hotel, called an ex assistant to meet me at the base, took the photograph I had been contemplating for 20 years & returned to Boston the next day.  I had been dreaming of this very image for all those years.

4)             Space Shuttle, Cape Canaveral, Florida

I grew up a product of the Cold War.  A byproduct was the “space race”.  I studied physics in school & as a hobby learned everything about NASA, astronauts & the science of outer space.  One of the few summer jobs I ever held was as a rocket scientist.  To this day I am a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek & all manner of science fiction.  Therefore it became a quest to photograph a space launch.  The USA had put men on the moon.

Nothing history had done to that point was more glamorous.

The original launch time was scrubbed at the last minute.  I anxiously called back to my studio to see if appointments could be moved around.  I had two extremely long lenses to document the brief event.

Life Magazine made an industry of showing an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes view of these amazing scientific/engineering efforts.  It sucked me in like a moth to flame.

This was the first appearance of the shuttle.  I had to submit to Secret Service clearance.  But this only exacerbated the mystique.  We were three miles from the launch pad.  The battery of lenses lined up in a row that stretched a half mile along the river.  Every photographer of note was there.  It was a Who’s Who of photojournalists.  I met a number of my heroes.

5)             Great Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt

The pyramids were as old to Cleopatra as Cleopatra is to us.  They are also the only edifice that remains from the original Seven Wonders of the World.  I encountered them while teaching a workshop in Egypt.  I woke up the first morning & they were outside the window of my hotel.  The overpopulated northern African city has grown up & out to meet its history.  Their stature is a symbol of human perseverance.  These days the surrounding area is devoted to short camel rides for silly tourists.  It is a spectacle.

6)             Tall Ships

One of my early assignments was to cover the Bicentennial in Boston.  Much of the American Revolution began in the area & its 200th birthday was a huge celebration.  It proved to be more than eighteen months of work.

The whole thing culminated in the Fourth of July events, Queen Elizabeth’s visit & Parade of Sails in Boston harbor.  Confronted with how to distinguish my coverage from every tourist with a camera, every newspaper photographer & television station, I wrote a letter to each embassy that had a participating large tall ship.  Only one said “yes”.  But I only needed one.

I climbed aboard the Christian Radich (Denmark) completely overwhelmed & not knowing what to expect.  After setting sail I realized that for the next three days I was captive with the next generation of the Danish Navy.  But early next morning I went out on deck.  Dozens of blond juvenile cadets crammed the deck.  The language barrier increased the distance between us.  But when they started to unfurl the multiple sails overhead everything changed.  I was watching the world as my ancestors saw it 2-300 years ago.  No other moment in my life has had such a profound effect & thrust me so far back into time past.

Since then I have convinced several other countries to allow me to accompany their tall ship at sea but the first time was the most meaningful.

7)             Olympics

Every four years an international city builds another city within a city.  Millions of people descend upon the sports town & all eyes turn towards the athletes.  Despite your opinion about athletics & its politics, this is the biggest nonpartisan event in the world.  Grace & human endeavor & competition are celebrated.  Cultures collide amicably.  Heroes emerge.  I have covered at least thirteen.  I train just like the participants for at least six months to endure the rigors of heat &/or cold.

I “compete” against the best sports photographers in the world.  And for two weeks every Olympiad I document the elegance & rhythm & art of sports.


David Tames November 3, 2010 at 5:45 AM  


great post, thinking what might be my own list of the seven wonders of the world has been great fun, here's my list, as of today, which will, of course, continue to change over weeks, this was somewhat whimsical....

(1) The New York Worlds Fair as I saw it in 1965 as a five year old.

(2) New York City

(3) The southern African sky at night

(4) Venice

(5) The Channel Tunnel

(6) The Golden Gate Bridge

(7) The World Wide Web

(8) The Internet

(9) The Space Shuttle

(10) The Apollo Mission to the Moon

I could not limit myself to person-made things...

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.