I thought it would be a lecture just like any other that discusses a standard photographic topic. The lecturer was American photographer Michael Yamashita who has been working for the National Geographic magazine for over 30 years, and is the creator of the feature documentary, The Ghost Fleet, which won the Best Historical Documentary prize at the New York International Independent Film Festival. Yamashita is also a judge in the Fifth Edition of the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA), themed ‘Happiness’.
I have been regularly attending lectures by inspirational photographers for many years now, but never before was I ever mesmerised by a lecturer’s attractive style or was drawn into the flow of the lecture, as was the case with Mr. Yamashita. Nor have I for that matter come across an event whose title was so strongly connected in such magnificence and prowess, The ”Silk Road Photographer”. It was as if the photographer vocalises the pictures and weaves them into a flawless story which gives you no choice but to listen to him. He is also a brilliant artist with a kind of mischievous character that deserves to be sought after by the National Geographic and other high profile organisations.
It was a breath-taking, cheerful journey of Silk Road images, extending from China up to Anatolia in Turkey. Yamashita summarised the stages of the journey, and discussed how daylight can be used by the photographer to produce charming images along the diverse landscape that the Silk Road crossed; from the endless desert to the oases, vast planes and valleys; starting beyond the Great Wall of China and passing by many castles, fortresses that have stood witness to a significant portion of man’s history.
Yamashita took the audience on a journey through his detailed historical and cultural photographs, featuring Buddhist temples and caves, and profiling the distinctive lives and cultures of various peoples around the world. The presentation offered an exceptional visual memory that depicts the unique heritage and culture that characterised the Silk Road and the ancient communities that used it. Yamashita said his photography was heavily inspired by the travels of the famous explorer Marco Polo and his discovery of China and its mysteries. He advised photographers to thoroughly research their topics before embarking on their respective missions, stressing the importance of prior knowledge of the cultures of a land before planning and determining the nature of the desired photographs.
This lecture left me in awe, a feeling that I have not experienced in a long time, which I like to call “mental permeation”. It is like when someone permeates your mind with your full consent and directs it as he pleases without the least resistance from your part; using his magic to entertain the mind, enchant the soul, and takes away all the effort needed to think of other things. This evening will never be erased from the minds of all those that attended, which was evident by the many positive responses and expressions of appreciation for the lecturer and HIPA for organising such a high-profile event.
The one who cannot listen to a photograph is blind…