09 July 2012

Mark's Photo Project

Back in April, I started on a photo project to take at least one thoughtfully composed photo every day. We had recently bought a nicer camera that we could use old manual film lenses with and had not really begun to take full advantage of it beyond general snapshots of events we had been to. I wanted to take better pictures to more vividly document our time here in Tonga, and this project has been the push I needed to do this. The second major reason for the project was to participate in the Shifting Sands and Movement Art Exhibitions that Elena organized with On The Spot, and for which Elena was already preparing art pieces. Although I was still in the middle of my month when Shifting Sands came along, I was able to exhibit 4 photos in the Movement Exhibition, three of which are included below (see the captions on the pictures).

Without further ado, let's get right into it:

These are some of the 59 photos I selected out of the nearly 3,000 photos I took between 15 April and 5 June. The original month stretched into nearly two as I was having fun, and so I didn't stop at the Movement Exhibition.

This photo was taken in "possibly the best bar in Tonga." She looked so bored under Audrey Hepburn.

One of the things I immediately noticed, following in the footsteps of nearly everyone who has ever used a camera, is that photos taken at different times of day have drastically different character. The following photos I took at dawn, midday, dusk, and night, respectively.

Dawn from our front porch, seen through lace curtains

Hot day of shopping at the Saturday market

Dusk over Nuku'alofa while walking to dinner
Enjoying Tonga's best pizza parlour

This year was the first time Tonga had a formal ANZAC Day Memorial service. As is tradition, the service started before dawn at the war memorial commemorating Tongan soldiers who fought with the British Commonwealth troops in the two World Wars. The sun rose as the various dignitaries here in Tonga were laying wreaths on the memorial, and was followed by a breakfast at the New Zealand High Commission Residence.

Guard at the Tongan WWII memorial, ANZAC Day Memorial Service

Girl Scouts at ANZAC Day breakfast

One of the challenges that I faced during this project was that I work every day, and was not particularly inspired by my work environment. The result was that I started focusing on what I could see on my way to and from work every day, like the image below.

Heading home from work

Elena and I attended the first place award celebration service for the team she had mentored in the Tonga Chamber of Commerce and Industry Youth in Business competition at Tupou Tertiary Institute where I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was only able to stay for a few minutes before work, but was able to take this shot of our friend, 'Ungatea, during the requisite prayer at the beginning of every event in Tonga. The solemn mood quickly lifted after this shot as the school jubilantly celebrated their team's successful business venture.

'Ungatea, Dean of the tertiary institute I worked at as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Another event that offered a lot of opportunities for interesting images was One the Spot's Shifting Sands Exhibition, held in a derelict house in downtown Nuku'alofa. The house was overgrown with vines and flowering plants and was slowly deteriorating, but made for a location of vibrant colors and interesting textures. Elena left for New Zealand that day, so I documented the event for her.

"Aging Gracefully" - the house of the Shifting Sand Exhibition, and one of the photos I submitted for the Movement Exhibition
One of our friends and his son at the Shifting Sands Exhibition

Home also provided some good inspiration; I came out of the project with hundreds of pictures of our cat, Dende, who never ceases to amuse us with his sleep poses and precociousness. Elena and her art also featured heavily in my photos, such as the various pieces made with pages from The Brothers Karamazov (misprinted, lacking 200 pages from the middle of the book).

"Dende" - Considering the embarrassingly vast number of photos we've taken of him, it's fitting to include our cat in this collection.

Elena's Brothers Karamazov lamp shade

An interesting feature of downtown Nuku'alofa is that after 5 o'clock every evening, large sections are completely deserted. Elena and I were taking a serene walk to get outside after a couple of days of rain, and the sun came out for us right next to the Tongan house of Parliament.

"Pangai Si'i" in downtown Nuku'alofa, was also included in the Movement Exhibition
Elena relaxing next to the Nuku'alofa waterfront after the Movement Exhibition
"Plastic Beach" - On a camping trip with our two friends, our first stop was to clean all the plastic from the beach and build a fire; who doesn't like fire and plastic?
"Ageless" - taken of the petrified coral rocks that line the waterfront of downtown Nuku'alofa, included in the Movement Exhibition

This photo project was exciting for me because it prompted me to take a closer look at the island we've lived on for almost three years, and to think about composing artistic images of the world around me. Photos still only barely scratch the surface of what I see with my own eyes and imagine, but it's been fun to work within those confines and discover some of the art in "painting with light". And it will hopefully be a continuing inspiration to me to provide our readers with a window into our world.

You can find the entire project album here.

Sundown after rain in Nuku'alofa


  1. Nice shots, and I enjoyed the commentary!

  2. I'm always surprised when photgraphers are able to capture images of people, seemingly without their awareness--which, in my opinion, is one of the 'requirements' for a "good" photo. You certainly were able to do this in many of the photos included in your post. Are your photos available elsewhere (photobucket, eg?)
    I can appreciate your interest in using your camera to find beauty (or at least interest) in your surroundings in Tonga. My over-riding impression of the country (at least Tongatapu) was one of filth and rock and dust (exacerbated by heat). I am finding that through re-visiting Tonga in my memories, I am also able to capture some of the beauty (see my fb profile pic).
    It's nice to hear from you on the blog. BTW (and I do suppose that I could find this info on your blog--but am too lazy to do so): where are you working? Take care, KB

    1. Hi Kathy! Thanks for checking the post out; this was a fun project! I'm glad you're rediscovering some of the beauty of Tonga in your old photos.

      I'm currently working at Christine 'Uta'atu's Accounting and Management firm on the technical side of things, staving off digital disaster. :D

      Best, Mark

  3. Mark, thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures! further inspiration to share some of mine that are locked away in an external drive!


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