I’ve always been fascinated by elephants from a pictorial point of view. As a kid, I remember reading that parable about the group of blind men who attempt to describe an elephant while patting it. For one of them, the elephant is like a tree, for another it’s like a wall. Others think it’s like a rope, or a spear. In essence, the elephant is a metaphor for the fact that each of us view the world in a unique way.
This same principle applies to photography, at least to the type of photography I enjoy the most. It also makes elephants great photographic subjects.
Far north from the bustling streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the second-largest province in Thailand. If you are lucky enough to visit, as I was, you will soon be facing the chance of spending some time with elephants.
Two pieces of advice if you have the opportunity to interface with elephants (in Thailand or elsewhere). First of all: do it! It’s an unbelievable experience. There have been a couple of disturbing tragedies throughout history, but for the most part elephants are extremely gentle, safe and fun creatures to be around.
Second and most importantly: do some research on where and how you’ll get to interact with the elephants. There is a dark side to elephant-related tourism. Believe it or not, elephant spines are not naturally equipped to support the weight of humans, so you should never ride an elephant or support organisations that profit on it. Elephants that are used for rides or perform tricks have been tamed through a cruel process called “Phajaan”, which can translate to “crushing of the soul”.
That is why I urge you to look for elephant shelters that at the very least have a strict “no riding” policy, and where you can spend some time with these amazing creatures without harming them.
Now that I’m done with my rant, we can carry on with the happier photographic considerations.
Lately I’ve been taking an interest in master photographer Sebastiao Salgado. As I see it, the biographical documentary on his life by Wim Wenders (“The Salt of The Earth”) is a must-watch film for any photographer. While I wouldn’t dare to place myself anywhere near the same category as Salgado, his project Genesis was a great inspiration for me while putting together this particular set of photos.
I’ve tried to tell a story about the closeness between this group of elephants and their caretakers.
This trip to Southeast-Asia was the first I took with my brand new XT-1, together with XF18-135mm and XF35mm f2 lenses.
I chose black and white (basing mostly off the green filter profile) to concentrate further on shapes and textures in this series. Nonetheless, there are individual pictures that I think look better with the muted color tones of the Classic Chrome profile. I’d really like to try out the Acros profile if Fuji makes it available for the XT-1 (c’mon, Fuji. Do it).
As we joined the caravan of elephants, caretakers and visitors climbing down a hill, I was very thankful for the ruggedness of my equipment, as well as its dust and water-proof protection.
While many photographers choose super-zoom lenses, I found the 18-135mm ideal for the flexibility I needed while following our caravan down the hill. For more detailed shots I turned to the 35mm as I was able to get really close. In fact, some of the shots were taken while I was struggling with (very friendly) elephants trying to grab me.
I could recover a tremendous amount of detail while post-producing in Lightroom. As a tip, if you edit for sharpness in Lightroom you might find that Fuji X RAW files allow for much flexibility on the “detail” slider, which brings up textures more than it concentrates on edges.
If you want to take a look at other photo projects of mine, you can visit my site at photo.jonzinger.com or follow my Facebook page. I would love to have you over.