This post has nothing to do with purchasing a 52″ plasma TV for $99.99 – rather has everything to do with expectations and respect.

Today I went out to get a much-needed afternoon of shooting in.  I hadn’t been out in quit a while because I’ve been dealing a lot with business consulting meetings lately and getting our Plateau Photo Tours Lhasa to Kathmandu trip ready for everyone.  Nonetheless it’s been a busy month and I was looking forward to just going out and simply doing what I love – to be brutally honest, one of those “Leave me alone I’m doing this entirely for myself because I need to relax and do what I love and I’m gonna be a big jerk about it because if I don’t get behind my camera this week I’ma gonna ‘splode!!“type of situations – I’m not proud of myself for it, but I really needed it after this month.

If you are a long time reader of my blog, you will remember this post about giving back.  Needless to say no one left me alone and my day of shooting didn’t go nearly the way I planned it – par for the course, right?

I got up early to head up to a local Taoist Monastery that I had yet to visit in the city I live in.  I was excited to go there because I’d only been to a few other Taoist monasteries in my life – the vast majority of my monastery visits being that of the Tibetan Buddhist variety.  I thought to myself, “Ah, this is exactly what I need.” and had already mentally envisioned what the day would look like for me.

I arrived at the monastery still greeted by the exceptional morning light – exactly how I planned.  *Insert Record Scratch here*  That’s literally where my plans stopped and something else took over.  What I hadn’t planned for was the main priest/master to invite me in for 5 hours of conversation and tea.  I had to say yes – to say no would have been a major offense in this culture.  I sat there for 5 hours talking to this man as the beautiful morning light faded and the harsh, ugly, hateful mid-afternoon light began to beat down.  I “endured” hour after hour of Chinese cultural lessons, watched as he poured me glass after glass of “The best tea in China” and patiently explained away misconceptions about my home country while learning quite a bit about Taoist culture.  Not what I expected –  All in all, it was the best and most important way I could have spent my time and I don’t regret one second at all.

There are a few hard and fast rules I try my hardest to live by when it comes to photography.  This afternoon put me on trial for one of them.  If we refuse to engage people as humans BEFORE we engage them as a photographer, in my mind, there is a major gap in cultural, respectful, and realistic understanding.  So what if I came home with well less than 150 images – the majority of them being ruined by the harsh afternoon sun.  So what if it hadn’t even remotely gone the way I wanted it to – so what.  Respect people first at all costs to your photography.

When it was all said and done it wasn’t the afternoon I expected – it was actually pretty paradoxical.  The monastery was filled with specifically Tibetan Buddhist artwork and architecture alongside it’s Taoist counterparts.  I walked past one of the largest mosques in town – past a small Tibetan Buddhist monastery – past loads of government buildings – and finally past the largest builders market in this part of China – all to get to a 1,700 year old temple that overlooked the ever-developing city.

The new next to the old
The past next to the future
Crumbling temples next to brand new highrises
Taoist next to the Tibetan Buddhist next to the Islamic next to the government.
Most of all, my expectations next to what actually happened