Why Asians, And Many Of Us, Like Taking Photos

These days taking photos is something a lot of us like to do. It’s intriguing how some of us like taking photos of ourselves, taking selfies. Intriguing how some of us like taking photos of what we see around us, such as that city building reaching for the clouds, the unmoving calm blue ocean, family, animals or the homeless man shaking his booty for a buck.

6am. My alarm goes off. I groan, squinting a sleepy eye at my buzzing handphone next to my pillow. Slapping a hand over it, the shrill sound cuts off. An hour earlier to rise before work to watch and snap photos of the sunrise along the iconic Yarra River. I groggily stumble out of bed, put on my corporate clothes, grab my bag that I packed a few hours earlier and shuffle to the tram stop.

New dawn, new stories. Vivid sunrises know no seasons. Yarra River | Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season. Vivid.

New dawn, new stories. Vivid sunrises know no seasons. Yarra River | Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season. Vivid.

Whether we’re an amateur, professional or hobbyist with the camera, we find fascination in the sights and people around us regardless the season. No two of us have the same life stories and perspectives so in retrospect each of us carries our camera for different reasons.

For some of us, photography is escapism. Eyes fixed steadfast on our subjects, each gentle click of the shutter button carries us away from the shackles of mundane life. Enthralled by the vivid world in front of us, we forget about ourselves for a while.

Ironically, sometimes we feel the same reprieve turning the camera on ourselves. We selfie when we’re proud of how we look, this photographic “me time” ever so popular in Asia. Having a fair face is all the rage here, and so are doe eyes – putting faces on show is the trend there, hence the selfie trend. Not much of a surprise since parts of the Philippines and Malaysia take up four of the top ten spots in the “selfiest” cities rankings.

So some of us might take photos of ourselves to satisfy the inner narcissist in us. This morning, taking a selfie is the furthest thing from my mind at the deserted tram stop. A city-bound tram screeches to a halt in front of me and sleep-deprived, I stagger on.

We take photos to capture moments, creating mementos of time that were once lived. Mementos giving us a sense of connection to cultures around us. It could be a reason why some Asians eye their meals through cameras. Certain dishes are symbolic of prosperity and eating well is a sign of wealth in Asian cultures – food is language, food is pride, and showing off snaps of food is one way to flaunt social status.

It's always darkest before the dawn, darkest before a brand new day.

It’s always darkest before the dawn, darkest before a brand new day.

My stomach rumbles. No breakfast this morning, no photos of breakfast today. As the tram heads towards the river, my half-closed eyes peer out the window. A dash of pale red streaks through the navy blue predawn sky. What a tease, Melbourne. You beauty. My city…

We take photos of the world around us because we don’t want to miss a moment, don’t want to forget fleeting, priceless moments. Life waits for no one, life moves along and memories fade. Stifling a yawn, I glance at my phone. 6.45am. My jaw clenches as the tram grinds to a halt at a red light. Faster…it’s not every day I have much time to myself outside of a long hours number-crunching job. Maybe I’m becoming like my Chinese-Malaysian dad, yet another workaholic Asian parent working round the clock

…on a trip to Singapore Zoo when I was a kid, dad stood stoically on the path, blocking other visitors behind him and indignantly yelled in my direction, “Move a bit right! A bit left!”, holding up his point-and-shoot. All for a distant full-body shot of me in front of the giraffe exhibit. Desperate to get shots of the family on holiday. You got to do what you got to do to capture moments that matter….

And so some of us take photos because we want to say we’ve been there, done that, felt that. To remember how we felt.

Or not, since not all of us like taking photos. We might be afraid of offending someone by snapping a photo of them, someone who happens to think taking a photo of them in public sans their permission is intrusive (probably why some of Asian descent ask politely before taking photos of Westerners on the streets). Or we can’t for the life of us walk and press buttons on a camera at the same time.

Every hour, minute and second holds a different story.

Every hour, minute and second holds a different story.

The tram rumbles to a stop across the river and I alight. Barely feeling the crisp autumnal breeze batting my face, I jog to the bridge overlooking the water and MCG. Pass a man wearing glasses and a hoodie, leaning forwards on the bridge railing while looking skywards. I look where he’s looking, heart racing, and my eyes flicker wide open.

Clouds touched by the early rays of sunshine speckle overhead. A sight akin to an explosion of a thousand bags of red cotton candy across the sky. I fumble with my camera, point it upwards and press the shutter button.

Taking photos is more than just about creating memories. Whenever we take a photo on a film camera or DSLR, we freeze time and space. Capture a story, capture history. Holding a camera in our hands, we slow down when we take a shot: we see how the world turns, live the present and turn with the world.

Borrowing Martin Heidegger’s phrase and his notion of temporality, when we take photos, we are time. Holding a camera in our hands, we are at one with nature when we take a shot: in a split second the scene we shoot becomes past and we step into the future ready to capture the next moment, the future which instantaneously becomes the present at the forefront of our watchful eyes and camera lens.

The crimson sky bleeds into orange before I know it. I snap away in the same direction. Birds soar overheard towards the MCG, cutting into my shots. There’s usually much more going on during the darkest moments before dawn, every hour of the day, than we think. The sky’s not the only one awake this morning…

First light, new beginning. Endless stories.

First light, new beginning. Endless stories.

Certainly a multitude of stories lie in a single photo. And no two photos are entirely the same because no two seconds in this world are the same. As Melbourne-based photographer Ading Attamimi said, each photograph “capture(s) a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”

The orange tones in the sky blend into peachy hues, then baby blue hues. I turn my camera off and look around, just in time to see the guy leaning on the bridge straighten and walk away. In such a big world, often we are small, surrounded by the imperceptible powers of nature. I turn to go to work. And pause. Shivering in the crisp autumnal air. Heart racing no more. Alone. I raise my camera again. Work can wait…

We take photos to tell stories. Discover, relive and share stories that not everyone gets to feel. The subtle ones especially.

Do you like taking photos and why?

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214 thoughts on “Why Asians, And Many Of Us, Like Taking Photos

  1. I teach ESL, and I once took my class to the park where there were cherry blossoms blooming, so it was SO crowded. As soon as we got there, the entire class wanted to find people of different nationalities to take selfies with. It was interesting which nationalities refused to have their picture taken.
    My mom is asian, and I have had to take my fair share of photos with her. And yet somehow I am camera shy…

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    • The cherry blossoms must have looked stunning. Maybe it was a personal reason some nationalities didn’t want their photos taken. Maybe some of us don’t like how we look in photos, or we feel like others deserve time in the spot light which could be a self-esteem thing. That is a complex topic. I hope you get over being camera shy, I’m sure people want to take photos with you 🙂

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  2. I definitely shoot to capture moments and memories. I also shoot because I truly believe that if I succeed in creating meaningful images of life, and share them with others, over time my work will have enough of an impact on the world — in whole or in part, to change it for the good in at least a very small way.

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    • Half the time creating images is due to going out and showing up to shoot what we want to shoot. And I think the other half is due to luck. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll get known for your images. Always admired your work.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful sunrise. I’m glad that you got up earlier that day to take these shots. Personally I always eat breakfast before leaving the in the morning, even if I get up one or two hours earlier than usual. It’s nice to capture sunrises, but in my part of the world the sun rises at 4 am these days (a bit too early to get up)…
    I love taking photos, but I’m not sure if I can answer why… It’s a mix of different reasons I guess: an outlet for my creative side, leaving something behind, passing time, developing my skills, a passion, documenting reality.

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    • Agree that it’s hard to capture sunrises sometimes. In the warmer months in Australia, the sun rises at around 5am or so. Yes, too early to get up. In the middle of winter, the sun rises around 7.30am. Not too bad.

      Love how you see the world through your lens, Cardinal. Really like your portraits and amazing how you make others look so natural in front of the camera.

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  4. wow, awesome shoots my friend!!!
    i think it’s personal matter, for me, i’ve not seen in most of my photographs because the surrounding is my focus because
    sometimes people to focus to capture the moment and forgot to enjoying it….

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  5. I wrote about a tongsis – tongkat narsis on my blog. A fiction actually. How Indonesian so caught up in selfies. I mean. It is okay to do selfies but it should be on the right time and place. Imho.

    About pictures, love your reasons. They are actually right, sadly. Somehow, what we ate determine our status. Hmmm.

    Btw. Love your pictures Mabel. Gorgeous like always.

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    • Yes, yes. Certainly a right time and place to do selfies. Like you wouldn’t do it while you’re crossing the road…

      Thanks, Ryan. I had so much fun taking these photos. Never thought I’d enjoy taking photos so much up until a year ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The photos here are extraordinary, but what really captures my mind is your writing ~ the bouncing between the life/morning you are dragging yourself through and the philosophies of both life and photography as you pull out your camera and narrate your thoughts. It is a fantastically soothing ride and a great read.

    Taking photos perhaps is this part of us wanting not to miss an opportunity of the day and we wish to hold onto that hope, that instance where we felt a certain way. Of course, sitting on tens of thousands of images will soon defeat such a goal, but there is nothing quite like having a photo that truly speaks to your heart. Wishing you a great day Ms. Mabel 🙂

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    • I’ve always wondered why you took photos, Randall. I wish one day I can take photos like you do. That will take time, and hard work. Interesting. We take photos because we don’t want to miss an opportunity, because we want to seize the day. Understandable if we’re out to be the best we can be, but it’s something else altogether if we keep chasing aimlessly for too long.

      Thank you. I hope to write in this style more, sooner rather than later 🙂

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  7. I agree, we took pictures to tell stories, to illustrate our memories. Sometimes, you don’t remember something, a feeling or an emotion, but seeing a picture can trigger and bring them back to life. That’s why I love to take pictures.

    I really love the tone of this sunrise, beautiful !

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    • “seeing a picture can trigger and bring them back to life” So well said, Gin. Not only do we feel transported to another world looking at a photo, but we feel a certain part of our heart beating again. We’re reminded of memories, emotions and where we’ve been, and those important to us.

      I loooove your macro flower photos 😀

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  8. Excellent write-up Mabel. And some really striking images there! I think for many, photography is also a medium of expressing their own-selves. It is their voice. The relevance of a photograph then goes beyond creating memories, it is a means through which the photographer attempts to articulate her/his deepest thoughts and emotions.

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    • Thank you, Uday. Agree with you there – photography can be our voice to express our emotions. Sometimes emotions can’t be expressed in words, maybe they can only be felt…and perhaps the closest way to actually sharing that is through photography, through photos where others can see and hence feel what we feel.

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  9. Pingback: Five Reasons Why We Prefer to Take Selfies & Photos of Ourselves | Foreign Sanctuary

  10. I have read (and heard) that our new ways of taking lots of photos prevents us from remembering or truly appreciating what we are looking at. It seems that if we take only pictures of the moments we will have less recollection of it even when we look at our pictures.

    I think we need to balance enjoying the moment for what it is and taking pictures to capture the moments. So sometimes I go out walking around without my camera so I can truly look at thing and sometimes I might get back to the place later to take some photos but it is fun to be without the camera and the pressure of taking a great photo.

    Nice pics of the sunrise and interesting commentary. (Suzanne)

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    • Seeing and feeling your surroundings are two different things. Two different sensations. Definitely agree with you that sometimes we can get way too absorbed in getting a shot to look just right. Good idea to go back to a place more than once, one to take photos and the other to appreciate it’s true beauty. I do that often when I have time on my hands. Also, going to a place second time round you may see it in a different light.

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  11. You know us… WE LOVE taking photos. And we sometimes find we don’t take enough… we try to but somehow find that we don’t end up with the ones we quite want.
    By the way – loving all your photos of late… 🙂 You got to give us some pointers.

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  12. I never started taking photos until I started blogging. Why? Well I always like to have at least one photo or image in my blog posts. Then I discovered the WordPress Photography challenges and I was soon hooked. Now I carry my once forgotten iPhone everywhere with me and I have built up a huge collection of photos just in case they are suitable for one of the challenges. Joining in the challenges bought in new followers and also introduced me to wonderful new blogs, many of which are photography blogs. I will now take a photo at any given opportunity.

    You have some lovely photos here on this post Mabel. You should be very proud of them. I’m so glad to see you watermark them as well.

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    • I love your photos. Very scenic and I love seeing your town. It’s so different compared to Australia.

      I love the WordPress Photography Challenge too. Like you, it actually prompted me to include more photos in my posts – and sometimes these photos help tell the stories I want to tell too.

      Thank you, Hugh. I feel like I’ve got a lot to learn about photography. Having fun along the way all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Beautiful writing M! I was right there with u catching these early morning shots – and right now I just wish I had enough time to click on each link and to read the commend – but there are hundreds of comments and so that is not doable right now – but I will have to check out temporality – and one of my favs was imagining your dad getting his family shot 💜and so true – sometimes “we gotta do what we gotta do”
    🌞

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    • Thank you so much, Y. Always so encouraging. I think you will enjoy the whole concept of temporality and time when you get the chance. The past, present and future really all happen so fast together in the blink of an eye… Taking photos, we are often quick to snap for fear of missing the moment. Hope you are well ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ok so now I am coming back to read that for sure – thx 💛 and doing pretty well over here / had a nasty chest cold, but it is almost fully gone this week (whew) and hope all is well w/ u this week too…

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        • Rest well and get fully well soon. This week has been busy at work and busy in the personal life sense…and with blogging too. Looking forward to taking a break from putting up blogs and focusing on practising taking photos next month ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh how exciting that next month is focused on taking photos – is it with a class or do you have a theme?
            I am thinking about doing a wreath a day photo for December (a blogger did this back in 2013 and I always wanted to – but still processing) – hm

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            • Next month I’m hoping to just go out to places I’ve never been and take photos, and chase more sunsets as well. Also want to sit down and properly learn camera terminology and the technical side of things 🙂

              Sounds like an interesting project you got there. Hope it won’t be too stressful for you. Art should always be fun. Life should always be fun 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

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