India and Film and the Artist's Ego

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If you follow me on any social media whatsoever, or if you've sat in close proximity to me for longer than five minutes, you know that I recently took a solo trip to India - a trip I've been dreaming of as long as I can remember.

So, this year, tired of waiting for some cosmic sign that the time was right, I contacted a tour company that had been recommended to me by my Aunt, when she traveled with her daughter to Egypt.

I hesitated briefly, because I'm not a tour group kind of lady. I don't enjoy any part of open air buses, or being herded from one gift shop to another, or having to wait while Mr and Mrs So and So find their way back after getting lost in the crowd outside of the American-safe-tourist-restaurants. And I particularly don't enjoy being told how many minutes (seconds?) I have to get off the bus and take photos before we have to shuffle off to the next hot spot.

But, I looked into this company, because if I'm completely honest, despite being an Independent WomanTM, I didn't know if it was entirely wise to travel there alone - or even HOW to travel there alone. Realistically, all I knew was that it was beautiful, and I wanted to photograph it. I didn't know WHERE I wanted to go or how I would go about getting from point A to point B, and if Slumdog Millionaire taught me anything, it's that I wasn't ready to brave the railway solo.

Enter: Kensington Tours. I have to just gush over this Delaware based company for a minute, because without them, I would still be sitting in my living room, watching the Darjeeling Limited on loop, dreaming of the day when I would be brave enough to just GO.

Kensington and their incredible team worked not only with my budget, but LISTENED to where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see and what my goals were for being there. I was able to talk to a REAL LIFE human, and tell her (shoutout to Jennifer!) that I am a photographer and I wanted to see A, B, C, and D, and I wanted to be sure that I had enough time in each place to really explore it, and capture it all in photographs. They took a base itinerary, and changed it to best accommodate me, including afternoon walking tours and visits to remote villages.

AND OMG the flexibility of traveling ALONE you guys. Dream. Come. True. Wasn't in the mood to stop at another textile market? Fine. Let's spend more time at the temple. Not feeling a busy afternoon tour of the bustling spice market? Cool. Let's go back to the hotel early for a nap and shower and then have a night-tour of the city center instead.

My guides and drivers were PHENOMENAL. They let me roam free when I wanted to, and let me cling close when I felt I needed it.

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An interesting thing came up while I was in India.

Whenever I travel, I always shoot film. It's my way of savoring the places I visit. Film makes me happy. The tones and colors and creaminess are qualities I love - and qualities for which I'm not willing to compromise. I set off with 75 rolls of Fuji400h. By the second day, I had a horrible realization that this trip was not going to allow for any of it.

London Heathrow's airport has never been particularly friendly about hand checking film. I don't think I've ever had success there. So, through the machine it went on my layover before taking off for Delhi. Upon arrival in India, it was scanned again. Then again when I checked into my hotel. ...And again when I visited the City Palace the next day. And again at Humayun's tomb. And again when I went back to the hotel that night...

I shot seven rolls of film my first day in Delhi. I didn't shoot another frame the entire trip. By the end of my two weeks there, my film had been scanned 24 times. In and out of nearly every hotel. In and out of three in-country flights. In and out of most historical sights.

I emailed Richard Photo Lab to ask what the odds were that it would be alright, and while they said there was no real "limit" to how many times it could be scanned without damage, the fewer the better. Not very helpful in India. I stopped carrying my film camera, and leaving my film bag at the hotel in the hopes that my 75 rolls would be spared extra scanning at major sites I was visiting. I was crushed.

I sat up in bed one night, early on in the trip, and had to have a heart to heart with myself. I had my mirrorless Fuji camera with me. It worked perfectly well. So why was I feeling like the trip was ruined before it even really started?

An artist's ego is a fragile little thing. It doesn't matter how successful the artist, or how many awards they've received, or how adored they are by the masses. A tiny speed bump can really bring a sister (or brother) down. I don't know when, but at some point in my ten year career, I began to associate shooting film with being a "real photographer". When I say that out loud -- or type it -- I want to barf. I hate myself for that. It's completely untrue. Digital photography is photography! It's 100% an art form. You have to know just as much about exposure and contrast and composition -- you have to know exactly the same amount. IT'S THE SAME.

But for some reason, I felt like I was failing myself. Like my photographs would somehow be LESS beautiful, LESS relevant, LESS REAL.

I stayed up late one night, and talked myself off the ledge. It went something like this:

Dear Joanna. Get over yourself. Film is great. It's beautiful. But it's not possible here. It's not practical. You're beating yourself up for no reason. Pick up the camera you literally just bought for this very reason. Get over yourself. Get over yourself. Get over yourself.

The next morning, I left my film bag at home. I was literally 30 pounds lighter for it. I took my little purse, my phone, and my mirrorless. I walked out into the sunny streets of Udaipur feeling unburdened. I got over myself. And I got on with it.

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There are literally too many images to ever fit into a single blog post. Even one as long as this.

I'll be sending out my seven shot rolls of film to Richard Photo Lab this week. I don't have particularly high hopes. But I'm not too upset anymore. Any sadness I still feel is directly related to the amount of dollars I'm watching circle the drain.

India taught me an important lesson about myself as an artist. And for that, and so many other reasons, this trip will be forever burned in my memory.

If you're hoping for more pictures -- so am I! Keep an eye out for a Part 2, which will be less talk and more snaps!