Outside My Comfort Zone

Recently, I attended my first and (maybe) last photo-walk with the local Flickr group. I had looked forward to this walk for a month. I wanted to meet people from whom I could learn things, in a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere. Photography is fun, but it’s not easy.
The venue was a small town railway station about thirty miles south of my home. I arrived on time, and introduced myself to the group of four women and five men all carrying cameras. We shook hands and exchanged names. Most of the group had met each other at previous photo-walks, so I expected they’d start talking, but they didn’t. The leader told us the route we’d walk, and the things we’d find interesting to photograph– a garage for the trains, a town square with some of the oldest buildings in the state, and an old-fashioned ice cream shop.
We started walking. The clicks of shutters made more noise than any of the few words that passed between the walkers. When they did speak, they made small talk, saying nothing about photography. No one asked anyone questions about anything. No one gave me the time of day.
Cameras of all kinds hung around necks. Some walkers carried full-frame cameras with L lenses. One man must have been strapped with six thousand dollars worth of gear. My own is a Canon 60D, a respectable machine that gives me a challenge. Those people knew what they were doing, but they didn’t talk about it. I was disappointed. I meandered off on my own, as is my habit when I’m supposed to be in a group. Eventually we all came together again, in front of a bar. No one had missed me, and sure enough, they had to enter the bar for a beer.
I hate bars, and I don’t drink.  I went in with them in hopes that a beer would loosen their tongues and they’d start talking about photography. Their tongues loosened, but instead of talking about photography, they talked about drinking! The bar owner got friendly and told us the history of the bar, and how it was used as a hotel one hundred years ago. He took us upstairs, where several rooms had been preserved as they might looked back in the hotel days. We all took pictures in the heat, and sweated.
Afterwards, we continued our walk around the town square. They conversed more, about inconsequential matters having nothing to do with either photography or their personal lives. I wanted to know more about them, especially about those who might have been professional photographers, but I didn’t speak. At this point, I was curious to know whether any of them would say a single word to me.  One did, to tell me that a local custard stand owner is now on record as supporting the legalization of marijuana.
I couldn’t wait to reach the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and soothe my frustration with a Turtle. Surely then, when everyone was sitting, they’d talk about photography. They didn’t. They talked about those old rotary telephones we used in the sixties. The Turtle was also a disappointment. The caramel syrup was not caramel, but cheap, chemical butterscotch, and not much of it, thank goodness.
I ate it in silence. We threw our money on the table and walked outside into the heat. I said my phony, “goodbye-nice-to-have-met-you,” lines several times and headed for the parking lot. One other person headed there with me, as silent as the rest of them. Of course, I could have spoken to her, but by then, I felt as though I’d just spent two hours in the Twilight Zone. I restrained myself from running to the car.
During the next several days, most of the participants posted their images to the Flickr group . Every single one of their images was better than mine. Every one of those photographers knew how to use their equipment better than I did. Still wanting to learn from them, I looked for the EXIF data of their images. Several of them had chosen not to share their EXIF data. I had spent two hours with highly skilled photographers who didn’t talk about photography nor shared their technical data nor spoke to the new person– me– and yet, they all had seemed in good moods, happy enough to be doing what they were doing.
If an Arab had been amongst us, he or she would have gotten the life stories out of every one of us. None would have parted as strangers. I think, though, that this group’s  aloof attitude is typical of Americans. No one wants to invade the privacy of anyone else by asking personal questions or expressing interest that could be misinterpreted. Americans are touchy about their privacy and their independence.
Maybe they are behaving normally for Americans, however. I don’t know because I haven’t socialized with a group of Americans for thirty years. Maybe I am overreacting; it wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe it was me who exuded an air of aloof indifference; that, too, would not have happened for the first time.
I’ll continue to read, experiment, and improve my technique, but I’ll do my next photowalk by myself. If I overcome the sense of weirdness that enveloped me while walking with this group, I may walk with them again next month, to test the idea that they are simply geeky Americans, insular and provincial, but willing to open up when they realize I’m safe. We’ll see.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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7 Responses to Outside My Comfort Zone

  1. Safiyyah says:

    I don’t think being American has anything to do with it. It’s more that photographers are a snooty bunch 🙂 Photography is an extremely complex art form. It’s difficult to explain exactly just how one does things. Maybe you can start out by asking questions, then answers will lead to more questions, and then you’ll learn from there. If I were you, I’d experiment with one aspect at a time, i.e., aperature, shutter speed, composition, editing, etc. In the meantime, you can set your camera for automatic or program during your learning process. You’ll get it. You are a terrific artist, Masha Allaah, and you have an eye for color and form. You’ll get it 🙂

  2. Safiyyah says:

    Oh, also look into non credit photography courses at your university. Most schools offer them, and you can learn the basics of photography.

  3. Marahm says:

    Thank you, Safiyyah, for your generous comment, which I value on several levels– you’re an American, a Muslim, and a photographer; you know where I’m coming from. So– photographers are a snooty bunch? I think you may be correct about that. Several months ago I attended a Kelby Photoshop seminar in my city. Several hundred photogs atttended, and few of them talked to each other, much less to me! The instructor didn’t even take questions, and ducked out of there within five minutes of ending the program.

    A YouTube video would have been more instructive, and cheaper.

    I spent so many months doing fun stuff– image manipulation, grandkids snaps– that I never mastered proper photography. Classes don’t work for me because my job is in a hospital– irregular hours.

    I find the Flickr discussion groups very helpful. Maybe we’re all introverts, more comfortable at the computer than face-to-face.

    • Safiyyah says:

      There was some discussion about reviving Muslim Women Photographers over at Flickr. I’m heading over there now to see where the discussion is at. There are some extremely talented sisters over there, and I’ve always found them helpful.

  4. It’s always better to go with amateur enthusiasts. Professional photographers everywhere are a very snooty bunch. But it’s strange they came together for a photowalk. They usually work alone.

  5. susanne430 says:

    Sorry this was a disappointing experience for you! I tend to be one that asks a lot of questions**, and get people’s life stories as you put it. But even then I have to be in the mood for that, and try to take cues from people about how much they are willing to share. Not everyone appreciates people asking about their lives, and I try to respect that.

    You would think a meeting FOR taking pictures would involve discussion of that – the excitement of sharing new tips, new equipment, new – whatever.

    ** Based on the comments of people who have moved here from other regions of the country, perhaps Southerners are more this way (i.e., nosy 😉 )

  6. Metis says:

    Salaam, I’m Metis from http://musfem.wordpress.com/. I’m writing to request you to please email me. I’m including a review of your blog in my study and want to share with you what I’ve written about it – if you like/not like it, want to change it etc. Many thanks in advance.

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