We made a trip to Chinatown recently. Chinatown? Well, with more and more I guess it’s fair to say it was New York City. But there are at least three enclaves now. Manhattan! Of course! Is there any other? Yup, San Francisco, Los Angeles…. Live seafood. It’s about live and fresh. I’m not sure there are many places where you walk past tanks of live seafood ready to be cooked to order.
The shops? Exotic? Certainly different. Prices? Whoa! Look closely. Read the labels and … whoa! They would be thousands of dollars per pound! Really? Dried shrimp, a delicacy? And abalone, at hundreds a pound? I can appreciate the price, marvel at the prices, and shake my head that someone values this at so many dollars. Abalone is chewy and not particularly tasty to me. But then don’t ask me. I don’t like wine much either.
Street photography – you don’t aim or compose, you just press the shutter. The idea is to catch spontaneity. It’s mostly because you are afraid or shy to ask to take a picture. Or you are afraid to have an angry objection. And if you are in a foreign place it is wise to be discrete. Auto focus! It works. Aim in the general direction of your subject. Hope for the best. At night I use auto ISO and shutter speed 1/125. Otherwise things will be blurred. They tend to be. So I try to lessen the error.
I had an errand to do in the old city. It’s September and still hot as blazes. The humidity is high. And still, it does not rain. You go out only at night. Daytime is instant meltdown. I live in A/C. My villa has never seen the A/C off in four years. Power outages are very rare. Once it lasted for more than an hour and my friend left to go to a hotel. He did not tolerate heat. Wuss! Well, me too. But for some reason we were on different circuits and my power was on. No, he did not want to stay in my messy villa. As soon as I exited the air conditioned car my camera lens fogged up. I did not realize it. So for a moment, until I checked, everything was fogged. It was an interesting effect. And the shot I could not get… the man in the chair had sweat dripping from the tip of his nose. Sorry. Couldn’t get that. It’s street photography! There are shots I saw that will ever be on my mind. I missed it. But I saw it. If you didn’t get it, you didn’t see it. But I did. Like the eggs. Some days you are in the right place at the right moment. And just a bit later on, you miss. Yes, a drop of sweat, right on the tip of his nose. “Plain as the tip of your nose.” Missed!
There is a genre – street photography. I’m shy. And I dislike encounters. And I don’t want to ask. And I don’t want a pose. And I don’t want to be giving someone money to take a picture. You may not like it, but in America, anyone on the street is fair game. Commercial use is a different story. But for personal use, it’s all good. Here’s what you do. It’s simple. (Somehow people don’t object as much to iPhone. But I use a camera.) Use your camera on wide angle, set the shutter speed to about 1/125. Then do what it says – point and shoot. Don’t look. There is the flavor of an imperfectly composed shot. It works. You hit. You miss. Sometimes you win. If you are unsure shoot more than one. Don’t stop moving. And don’t let anyone catch on that you are taking pictures. Slices of life, unposed, unpretentious, natural…it’s more for me to have a flavor of life to recall. In Jeddah the heat of the day has everyone indoors. Some shops are open. But at night the whole tenor changes and the streets of the old city are teaming with activity. The heat of the day is lowered to simply unbearable as opposed to daytime hell. And digital allows you to take images I could never do with film. There’s a vibrancy to night life in the city.
Push carts abound. Vendors will sell any kind of produce. The big supermarkets – nope – people buy, sell, and bargain – probably illegally. But there is definite supply and demand.
Sugar cane – it’s crushed and the liquid is served up as a drink. It’s bland. Almost yuck! You need to add lime and ginger when you crush it. That’s a drink! Jules and I learned this in Zanzibar. She drank the whole thing and left me a taste. So I know from that small sample how to fix this. But nope, not in Jeddah.
Sticks – there is vendor in this spot, his spot. And now there are a couple of others – competition. They cut them and bundle them. They are to rub your teeth – like a toothbrush. No Crest, Colgate, or Tom’s of Maine. Buy a bundle. Share them or use them yourself.
Sewing – the tailors use a fairly unsophisticated machine to do their magic. If you are native, you wear a thobe and someone has to make them. It looks like he has made lots. And overwhelmingly they are white. And, abayas are black. Who’s the biggest loser?
Life in the city. It all happens at night. There are huge super malls. But what’s new there? Everyone has seen a mall by now? Online shopping! Walmart is scared! Amazon rules? Imagine the next big thing….
Shisha – it’s what they smoke. I know it as a water pipe. Hookah, another name. It connotes smoking through water. I read that the dose of toxic nicotine is equivalent to hundreds of cigarettes in a single session of smoking shisha. Don’t do it! It’s bad for you.
It started when I passed a store that sells water pipes. It was the tip of the iceberg. Around Jeddah there are stores which will sell you custom made thobes. The stores are congregated in a few places. There might be a dozen or more shops side by side competing for business. There is another location for honey and another for olive oil, dates, and so forth. It’s silly economics. All the prices must be comparable.
The water pipe stores are on a narrow street. And then, much to my surprise, an artisan was right there. He was working away in an open shop with horrible fluorescent lighting. I paused, he looked up, and I did something I never do; I asked if he minded if I took his picture. And he was okay with it. And I got a couple. I did not try to overstay my welcome. Yay! It’s street photography and ordinarily I just shoot and look like I’m doing something else. But we were eye to eye. There was no hiding intent. And he was gracious and I said thanks. We had our moment and I moved on. I’d buy one. They sell his product next door. But, I don’t smoke. So, no…
Prayer time and everything comes to a halt. The open air market is no exception. The shops close their doors. The outdoor vendors mostly follow suit. Not all, but they mostly do. So I headed for a seat. I had sat out the thirty minute hiatus here a few nights ago. The bench was full. But I’m brave. It’s like the Egyptians at the cornice right? Go for it. I sat next to the two old guys. Hey, I’m old too! And they left after a bit.
And across from me was a photo op. Gee, even sitting down and cooling my heels, I get to take pictures. So while checking on what I had, I also shot images too. The last one was the keeper. And I promptly quit. No waves, please.
A long continuous awning…It’s for the heat of the day. At night they turn on the lights. Women sit on blankets and sell wares. Tiny shops line this alley. During the day you need the shade. At night this is just a throughway.
There’s plenty of action. But as far as traditional stores this is far from organized. But the real reason for the images is that at night the lighting is conducive to get a decent exposure. During the day shade is deep and lighting is poor.
The art of street photography is interesting. Your camera is taking photos as you walk. You are not composing the shot. What you get is what you get. There are lots of duds. The setting is wide angle and on automatic. And at night the exposure is more challenging. But digital is so forgiving. So, just point and shoot in the general direction of your subject. I’m pretty good. There is not much cropping for me anymore. Apples are the sort of photo that Jules would like. There is plenty of action. It’s mundane. You don’t need much more to convey the frenzy of the market transactions.
The meat is sold without being under plastic Styrofoam. It is cut to order and chopped or prepped on the spot. That part was pretty fascinating. These guys have pretty good knife skills. And, their knives are sharp. I’m watching my head!
Okay the first guy I have puzzled out to be a knife sharpener. The second guy is carrying lanterns or mini fire hydrants. Okay probably not hydrants but that is my guess till someone corrects me. It was the old city and I assume they were on the way to do a demonstration. Sorry they got by me and I did not get ahead to catch a better shot.
I am in the old city and around a corner there are camels being led. Two camels stopped at a barrier and a crowd coalesced immediately. The kids started taking pictures. Smart phones were clicking away. For me, I don’t see camels very often. I guess this crowd doesn’t see many camels either.
The tent is actually a cover. A man was hidden riding with his identity concealed. The two camels marched up and out of sight along a narrow alley. I got distracted by some other subjects headed my way.
Really? I have seen some strange sights. However, the carts in the background explain. These guys are delivery guys. They will cart loads around earning money from customers and shopkeepers as they go. Quiet time is naptime; all is well. It’s just an odd place to nap.