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October 2020

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When Photography is More Than Taking Photographs

I have two great passions in this world.
One is photography and the other is travel.
When I realised I could marry the two – travel and photography – it was a match made in heaven because that meant I could go around the world photographing all these great places in all of these great lands that I had always dreamed of visiting.

When I first thought about becoming a photographer, that was my vision. I could go to Mont Saint Michel and photograph this great architectural wonder in the middle of the water. I could also go to Venice and get lost in the alleys, and capture the colors of Morocco.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that photography could affect me or put me in situations where I would meet people who would cause me to look at myself and learn more about myself.  These very same people changed my life.

Travel really has become a very personal thing for me.  Sometimes I think that there’s someone I don’t see who pushes me or has their hand on my back pushing me in a certain direction so I do come across some of these people that I do.

The first real true experience that opened my eyes would have been in Marrakech. I was in the Medina and really not enjoying the atmosphere because there seemed to be too much chaos and noise. What I had envisioned in my head wasn’t happening in front of me.

Then, out of nowhere this man stopped me and he asks, “are you ok?” And I replied, “Well, yeah. Why do you ask?” “You don’t look very happy.”
I said, “I’m not. There’s too much chaos here and it’s driving me crazy. I just want to leave.”

The stranger looked at me with a look of surprise.  He took a hold of my arm and asked, “what is your name?”

So, I told him.

With a huge smile he asks how long I planned to be in Marrakech. Again, I told him.

Then he asked, “where are you staying?”
And, I told him the name of the resort. I don’t know why I told this man, but I did.

He firmly replies, “I’m coming for you tomorrow at 8am.”
I said, “no you’re not!”

“Yes, yes, I will come at 8am.”
I replied, “No!”

“Why not?” the stranger asks with more surprise.
“It’s too early,” I replied with a sly smile.
“Ok, Ok, What time should I come?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s say 10:30 or 11am.”
He smiled and said, “Ok, I’ll be there.”

The man jetted off into the Medina; I went the other way.  My only thought was what a peculiar encounter and I didn’t give it a second thought.  This was merely a moment in time and I’d never see the man again.

Well, low and behold the next morning at 10:30am the phone in my hotel room rang. The receptionist said, “Mr. Paulda, there’s someone here to see you. I thought, who is it?  Who in Marrakech knows me?  I had forgotten about the day before.  More to the point, my brain doesn’t function so great in the morning.  The receptions ended by saying, “his name is Hakim and he’s waiting for you.”

I think to myself, I don’t know anyone named Hakim.  Curiosity got the best of me and so I walked to reception.  There waiting for me is this man, the man I met in the Medina the day before.

Hakim told me, “I want you to come with me.  Go get what you need for one, two three days.”

And with no obvious expression, I thought – “holy crap!  This man wants to take me away.  I have no idea who he is. Then I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this. I’m going off with this stranger whom I don’t know.”

So I did. I went off with this man, Hakim.

We drove in a direction foreign to me.  I had no idea where we were going. We talked about life, the philosophy of life – just back and forth as if we were friends reunited after a long separation.

By the end of the day, we were headed into the dunes of the Sahara Desert.  That night I slept under the stars, a gabillion stars in the Sahara Desert.  And, there was a full moon. I remember the rising moon over the dunes; the sight was one I’ll not soon forget.

After being awed by the sandy desert, Hakim drove me back to the resort after this incredible time.  In my mind I kept asking myself, “did this really happen?”  Am I going to wake up only to realise the eye opening experience was merely a Moroccan dream?”

Instead, the encounter was real and it helped me understand the culture in Morocco just through Hakim.  I also learned I am a little bit braver than I ever imagined.

When we arrived back to the hotel, I thanked Hakim and asked how much money I could give him for the journey. We hadn’t discussed money before the trek began. Hakim’s startled expression was followed by, “nothing my friend, I only want you to love my country.”   I was speechless and in awe at the same time.

Before Hakim drove away, he simply said, “I’ll be in touch.”

I went back into the hotel. I started thinking, “ok, Hakim told me he’d be in touch with me, but how?”  He didn’t have my phone number; I didn’t give him my email.  He only had my name.

Months went by.   I was in Texas and I received a phone call from the gallery manager, the gallery that represents my work.  Kelly said, “Mark, there is this man on the phone, he has an accent and he’s asking for you.”

Immediately, I knew who was calling.  It was Hakim.

You never really know when you’re traveling who you will meet.  And, you never really know the long lasting friendships or relationships you’ll create along the way.

It was a year or two later, I’m sure two years after meeting Hakim, he called me. I was in Texas, he was in Marrakech and he said, “Mark!  I have this great idea for you.

I thought to myself, “oh my god, here we go.” “What is it,” I asked?

“I want you to come back to Morocco,” Hakim said, “I want you to go with me.  We’re going to walk on a trail that has been traveled for thousands of years with a nomadic tribe.”  Berber nomads.

It took me about ten seconds to say yes.  “I’ll be there. Tell me what day, I’ll be there.”

Walking with the nomads is an entirely different story of learning about myself and learning about the Moroccan culture, and the simplicity of life.

More importantly, I look at the Moroccan way of life, then looking back at us in the Western world.  I always think how much we in America and Europe really do complicate matters.

Know and understand that photography can be more than taking photographs.  Photography is more than owning a camera.

I’ve said this throughout the blog and I’ll repeat it again here – open your heart and open your mind.  Let whatever happens, happen.  Take it all in; the experience, take it all in.

Photography can really be an education for you.

I know it has been for me.

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                         – Miriam Beard

We never want to believe that there is a magical reality, though there are a myriad of magical places in this world. We all too often choose to ignore the wide-open door leading elsewhere, and instead live vicariously through fictional characters beamed onto our televisions. Perhaps the outskirts of town is a foreign land as one gets tangled up in every day life, or maybe even the thought of hopping on a plane today seems like more hassle that it is worth.

Instead, we want to live uncomplicated, and simple, lives, staying put. We want to swim in reality, and remain in our “safety zones,” but while swimming through it, we can miss out on so many idyllic landscapes, vibrant cultures, and amazingly beautiful architecure waiting for us to discover. Yes, we do get a glimpse of another world without realizing at times, though there is no real substitute for travel. In fact, no matter how much you have learned in a classroom, there is no better education than experiencing a land beyond our borders first-hand.

During my adult life, I have grown tremendously, and have learned to “think internationally” simply by opening my mind while visiting countries foreign to my own. As a travel photographer, I have flown a million miles, trundled step after step, and have clicked the shutter on my camera more times than can be counted.

Throughout this article you will view some rather magical places, and this is my reality. One could say — everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from traveling around this world, and yet, there are still so many lessons to be learned, and so many more corners of this world to discover. . . .

1. The world is huge. I mean, really, really huge.
It is larger than our minds can ever imagine.

2. The more we see, the more we want to see.
Yes, the list can be never-ending.

3. We are braver, and stronger, than we know.
Stepping out of comfort zone really
is not that scary.

4. Nothing stops traffic quite like a herd of cows
in the middle of a West Ireland road.

5. The cruelty of a few can ruin the lives of many.
But, the vast majority of people are good.

6. Happiness really is a way of travel,
and not a destination.

7. Just around the corner in West Texas could mean
at least a hundred miles.

8. Certain sights may disappear from the mind,
but experiences will stay with
you.

9. You can travel just fine without
a guidebook.

10. Wearing the same clothing week after week
is not so bad unless you don’t wash them.

11. It is entirely possible to take too many
photographs.

12. Even if you aren’t the traveler, or person,
you want to be in your head,
it’s never too late to change.

13. The more you say “tomorrow,”
the less likely tomorrow will arrive.

14. Life is amazing. There’s no reason to worry.
Everything really does work itself out.
Relax and just go with the flow.

15. You can’t change the future – it hasn’t happened yet.
Make the best decisions you can today,
and enjoy the moment.

16. Life is a curious thing. Curiosity never killed
anything except maybe a few hours.

17. If you are determined enough, there are ample
opportunities in life that are totally achievable,
regardless of who you are.

18. The world is much more fun with people
of varying interests and beliefs.

19. Wear sunscreen, even if there is cloud-
cover, when near the equator.

20. Our parents are more awesome, encouraging,
and open-minded than we have ever given
them credit for.

21. Sleep and a good meal can cure an otherwise
horrible day.

22. Our homeland is as unique as those places we
fawn over in travel magazines,
and television.

23. Almost everyone has problems and puts on a
brave face – don’t presume they
have it easy.

24. The fastest way to get from Point A to Point B
is not always as obvious as it seems, and not always the
most interesting.

25. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.”
It’s much smarter to be honest.

26. When you spend enough time with people who are
actually living on next to nothing, but having a full life,
then you will truly understand money is not always
the answer.

27. Television is the greatest black hole of time
available to mankind.

28. You really can depend on the kindness of strangers.

29. Gazing at the Milky Way can make you feel both small,
and insignificant.

30. Every person’s lifestyle is equally valid as
long as that person is happy.

31. No matter how geeky we think we are,
there are people so much
geekier than us.

32. There are some great benefits to not knowing
the local language – like miming out
“chicken” to let the waitress know you
want eggs for breakfast.

33. The world that is worth experiencing is not
in books, or on TV, or computer screens.
It’s with other human beings.

34. While doing as the locals do will help
enrich your travels, urinating on the side
of the street is not a necessary
requirement.

35. There is a song for everything.

36. Never ever leave your bag unattended.

37. One word may have three different meanings
in three different countries.

38. Never regret the things you’ve done, only
the things you haven’t.

39. If you want soft toilet paper, it’s best to pack it.

40. The Aurora Borealis is the most amazing light show
anywhere, and might make you believe in
aliens.

41. Journey is an adventure. No matter what happens
on the road, it’s never a mistake. As was once said,
“your choices are half chance, and so are
everybody else’s.”

42. Scare yourself once in a while. It makes life less dull.

43. You are never really alone being alone.

44. Don’t force yourself to say another good-bye
if you don’t have to.

45. Every country in the world is modernizing, but this
does not mean that they are westernizing,
or Americanizing.

46. You might appear “backwards” in a culture you view
as backwards.

60. You can’t please everyone.

47. Thinking too much can stop you from experiencing
an adventure of a lifetime.

48. Comfortable shoes can be a blessing.

49. Wash Your Hands.

50. Living vicariously through someone
else is not the way to live.

51. Deferring your happiness to the
future is a terrible idea.

52. You can relate to everyone in the
world if you look past the
superficial things that
separate you.

53. The world owes you nothing.

54. You owe it to yourself to be the master of
where your life ends up.

55. People are impressed by those who are not trying
to impress them.

56. Spending time exclusively with people who agree
with you about almost everything is not
a challenge, and you learn so much
less.

57. Embrace your individuality. What is “cool” now
will be out of style in a few years.

58. You can be “interesting” by being a good listener.

59. The most important lessons in life
can never be expressed in black and white,
but must be experienced.

60. International calling with mobile phones is great,
until the bill arrives.

Marina Monsivias of State of The Arts radio program on KTEP interviews Mark Paulda about his new photography book, “Sí El Paso.”  KTEP is an NPR station.

Marina :: “Sí El Paso is a 10th anniversary edition of Mark’s first book, “Celebrating El Paso.”   This new book shows how El Paso has changed over the last 10 years and runs a little over 200 pages.  It contains El Paso in stories and accounts of the city from a personal viewpoint and shows over 200 photographs of the city and is completely bilingual the book also includes our sister city Ciudad Juárez.

Here to tell us about his latest book is photographer Mark Paulda.   Welcome to State of the Arts.

Mark ::  Thanks for having me.

Marina ::  I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since your other book.

Mark ::  It seems like a few months ago.  Time just flies by.

Marina :: Right?  It’s scary and chronicling everything I mean you’ve definitely seen how things have changed.

Mark :: Yes, exactly.   Especially in the downtown area with revitalization and the renovation of some of our treasured buildings.  Trost buildings – all very exciting to see that and see them come back to life so it’s been fun looking back at the images that I captured 10 years ago versus what some of the buildings look like today like the Mill’s Building, what’s happening with the Plaza.  I could go on and on.

Marina ::  I can’t even remember what the Mill’s looked like.

Mark ::  It was brown and drab it.

Marina :: It was just like non-existent.  It was just there.

Mark ::  It was.  It was.   It really got restored back to its original state and brought it back to life.

Marina :: So did you know when you did the first book that you would do the second book.

Mark ::  I didn’t know that there would be another book at all and you know I thought there’s no book on El Paso and so that’s why I did that first book.   And it surprised all of us.   It surprised me, surprised my publisher it went on to be the fastest selling book for the publishers and of course became a bestseller so that opened the door to the second book and now we’re here at number three and that’s very exciting.   I’m very honored to be able to do that.   And this book really is a gift back to El Paso.   El Paso really has given so much to me and supported me and a lot of the things that I do not only in the city but around the world.   I wouldn’t be the person I am without El Paso in my life.

Marina ::  It’s cool like that right?

Mark :: It is.  We’re different here you know.  This book really is the answer, you know, when I travel around people ask me where are you from?   I always get that question and when I say El Paso they have this dumbfounded look on their face and and it’s why why El Paso and this is the answer.  Here’s our city out here really at the edge of a lot of things.   People sort of forget us,  even our Great State of Texas forgets us.  But the stories that are in the book – I went all across the city and got a variety of people to share their experiences with El Paso and what El Paso means to them and as you read through them it’s very clear why El Paso and they’re very endearing.  Some of the stories and the accounts that I was given by the various people, they’re very genuine and sincere and people really do love the city whether they live in the city still or they have moved away.   We have stories from both.

Marina :: So how did you find those folks?   Did you said okay you know I’d like tocapture the story I’d like to share the story?

Mark :: Some were deliberate people that I knew had a long-term relationship with El Paso and and would have experienced both cities, Juarez and El Paso.  When we were younger we would cross the border and go to nightclubs or whatever and you went even if you weren’t of age.

Marina :: There’s something about drink and drown…

Mark ::  Exactly and there are some people who it goes back into the 50s and 60s and theyhave stories or stories or some people who had lived in Juarez and they would take the bus and he dropped off downtown near the Newberry building but as I was going out getting photographs like Ballet Folklórico – they’re wonderful people of once I was there and I was photographing them they had stories and they wanted to share them and so I found people that way as well just by chance.  So what I wanted was a good representation and I’m a West Sider now and you know I just didn’t want it at a West Side perspective I wanted East the Northeast and we got Juarez stories as well.  We got their accounts

Marina ::  It’s super important because I think folks that aren’t from here say like oh it’s a small city whatever and if you live here you know Westsiders don’t necessary go to the East side and Eastsiders don’t necessarily go to the Westside.   They are these very different parts.

Mark :: They’re unique.  So it really was important to get all perspectives.  And the stories to me the photographs are nice you know I’m biased I took them but it’s the stories that really touch the heart in this book.

Marina :: Why did you decide to go bilingual?

Mark ::  Well our city’s bilingual and it took a bit to convince the publishers to do that.  They kept telling me works like that don’t sell.  And I said well, this is El Paso,  this is how we communicate every day.  Our signs are that way we speak that way sometimes we speak Spanglish and actually some of the stories and the quotes in the book are Spanglish and it represents who we are as a city. Really this is  what we live with every day.

Marina :: I’m glad you convinced them to do that.

Mark :: Me too and now they’re thrilled and it’s been actually the first photography book that is bilingual so that’s sort of fun as well.

Marina ::  I find that hard to believe.  Wow!

Mark ::  Yeah, so in a way El Paso is leading the way here I guess.

Marina :: Well you you have something to do with that.  Aside from the book what other adventures have you been on?  Because I know you’re always up to something.

Mark ::  Oh my goodness well I do travel around the world.  We could spend a lot of time talking about the experiences I’ve had.  I went and lived with the nomadic Berber tribe in North Africa and traveled with them from the High Atlas Mountains into the Sahara Desert sand dunes.  

Marina :: Did you say excuse me, may I?

Mark ::  Well it’s a long story how it all happened.  The first time I went to Morocco I met – actually a man found me, he grabbed my arm in the medina and just started talking to me and and ten years later who were still friends as name is Hakim and it’s his tribe and he’s the one who made that happen.

Marina :: So cool

Mark ::  And it was just a random meeting and I went with the you know sort of fearless at the time and I’m working with a young man also in Bali.  Gede is his name and he’s hugely talented and I met Gede when I wanted authentic Balinese culture not what the tour guides would take us on and so I went to this small village of about 150 people, showed up at the Temple and there was this young man looking at me saying can I help you,  you know wondering why are you here and when I  when I explained, he welcomed me in it turns out he’s the son of the village leader, he explained everything that was happening with their ceremony.  It was a full moon ceremony and so I gave him my camera that day because he told me that his main goal in life was to help preserve Balinese culture and to tell the story of Bali.   He was 22 at the time. 

Marina :: And he already knew this was important?

Mark ::  And I thought, right, and I thought to myself what 22 year old do I know could have such a lofty goal?   I didn’t and so I gave him my camera and I said to capture everything you can.  I’m leaving to go back to Texas send me photos, video, whatever so I really understand what you want. And months went by and I didn’t hear from him so I said okay I lost a camera.  Then one day email after email showed up and there were hundreds of photos, videos and he had written over a hundred pages and I thought okay this young man serious I can i can’t bail now can I so I got him his own camera, a laptop, everything he would need to do this project and I went back to Bali and I taught him everything I knew about photography and it just turns out he is naturally talented.   I’m really probably learning from him Gede now and we’re still working on the project.   This is five years that we’ve been doing this.  His images have been on covers of magazines, he’s had his own exhibitions …

Marina ::  That’s incredible

Mark ::  One time a year ago January I was at the New York Times Travel Show so I was in New York City and I thought I’m going to the Indonesian consulate because they need to know about Gede and so I showed up and they let me in and I was talking to the number two person at the Indonesian consulate her name is Willa and I told her the story of how we met, what we’ve been doing how talented he is.  And she brought in the Consul General so I got to meet him, Abdul, and now the Indonesian consulate uses Gede’s photos and videos throughout the world.

Marina :: That’s so cool just because you said I’m going to go to the Consulate.

Mark ::  Right.  I am a bit bold that way.  What’s the worst anyone can say?

Marina ::  The answer is no until you ask

Mark ::  That’s right and so it really is remarkable that chance meeting in this small village has turned into this wonderful thing for Gede.   He’s very deserving, a very humble young man,  very very talented

Marina :: Okay, well we’re almost out of time but you have a book called Si El Paso.  So if we want it, how do we get our hands on it.  

Mark ::  At the moment of course Barnes and Noble, Dorsey’s on the west side.  Dorsey’s Cards and Gifts.  She’s selling them left and right there.  And Amazon has it and we’re working on getting it placed in other retail outlets.   The book was late coming out so we’ve had a little challenge getting it placed in others stores.  But Dorsey’s, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

Marina ::  It’s here in time for the holidays

Mark ::  It is.  It is and it would make a great gift.  We’re hearing that.

Marina :: I think I think you’re right.  You’re absolutely right.  Today my guest has been photographer, Mark Paulda and he’s got his third book out called “Sí El Paso” and it’s a tenth anniversary edition of this first book called “Celebrating El Paso”   You can find the book at Barnes and Noble, Dorsey’s and on Amazon.  and I’m sure here shortly you will probably get it all sorts of other places.  Today my guest has been Mark Paulda.   Thank you for coming to be there.

Mark ::  Thank you.