Tuesday, November 1, 2005

My inner photojournalist


By Jason Broekhuizen

It all started with a submarine. The inscription read, "My first photograph. Submarine. Plymouth docks." I discovered it while flipping through a school autobiography project dating back some 20-odd years, buried among pictures of particularly hirsute family members and many yards of trouser fabric.

"This evolved into a rather sophisticated 'friends-doing-stupid-stuff' period."

In reality, what the picture captured was more like half a submarine -- and not the pretty half either. I managed to get a whole ship in the next shot, along with the backs of several heads. This early, slightly avant-garde foray into travel photography may have offered little to those interested in the naval exhibits of Plymouth Docks, but aficionados of '70s hairstyles were in luck.

The wilderness years

Tragically, my early photographic promise was left to wither for some time. I passed into the "in-front-of" years, when my family subscribed to the philosophy that any scenic view was greatly enhanced by sticking a couple of children in the foreground. This evolved into a rather sophisticated "friends-doing-stupid-stuff" period, when shots of classic landmarks invariably featured my grinning acquaintances holding things in a suggestive manner. Man, was I cultured.

It wasn't until I visited the United Arab Emirates in my early twenties that my perspective began to change. I wasn't a well-traveled youth; a couple of family beach holidays were the sum total of my international sojourns. This was my first trip to somewhere so distinctly foreign.

For the first time, I set about creating a record of a place I might never see again and would struggle to describe upon my return. I took shots of Arabic script nailed to broken signs and captured views from across Dubai's creek of ramshackle wooden dhows lined up in front of skyscrapers, all to portray the contrasts between wealth and tradition that struck me so forcefully. Of course, everyone back home preferred the photo of my brother-in-law sticking his tongue out, but I knew where I was going.

The gradual shift from holiday snapper to travel photographer continued (in my own head, at least) with a trip to Poland in the early '90s. There is nothing like journeying into the unknown to bring out the pretentious adventurer in a man. Warsaw, Krakow, and their surroundings provided ample opportunities to document the country's emergence from years of austerity.

My pictures from that trip reflect an eclectic experience; an appreciation of Renaissance courtyards found in the Jagellonian University and the Wawel is evident, along with obsessive photographic studies of Polish pinball, Zywiec beer, and Eastern European soccer stadia.