Encounters - Suresh Naganathan



I have often wondered what pushes me to travel...

Visiting temples, cycling through rice fields, watching gorgeous sunsets are all experiences that make me happy, but travelling wouldn't be what it is without encounters.

The beauty about Asia is that people are still genuinely interested in travelers. From the moment I went beyond the touristic trail, I was greeted by curiosity and hospitality. People were wondering what I was doing in their town or village; they felt proud to invite me into their homes, fed me lunch and drinks. We had conversations that taught me how to mime; conversations so meaningful that they transcended language barriers and the limitation of words. We forged a connection that ran deeper than I can even begin to express.

These connections were not made just with me. Photography is also approached differently in this part of the world.

In Europe, people fear that their privacy is invaded and usually close themselves but in Asia, people feel happy, even proud when you take their picture. They feel that you have given them the gift of recognition. Photography still remains an amazing way to create a bridge between people.

One of the highlights of my trip was a chance meeting with an old man at a temple in Kratie (Cambodia). I saw him sitting by himself in a corner, approached him and through hand gestures asked to take his picture. His reaction after he saw himself at the back of the LCD was of unaltered joy and disbelief, it seemed that he hadn't seen himself in so long!

Through similar hand gestures, he made me understand that he wanted a copy of this picture and I promised him that I would be back with it the next day. 

When I went back the following day his photo in hand, I couldn't find him inside the temple. It turned out that he was not living inside it but under it, between the stilts and amidst debris, surviving with his family thanks to the charity of the monks. 

The next 30 minutes were some of the most beautiful and surreal moments of my trip. I drank tea sitting on a piece of wood while my host beamed with joy and showed his treasure off to his wife and children.

From being just a wanderer with a love for street photography, I, for those unforgettable moments became the 'official' family photographer and took portraits of his children, grandchildren. 

My job didn't end there. The novice monks also wanted a piece of the action, so I got promoted from family photographer to the official photographer of the temple monks, while each one of them posed proudly alone or in group in front of the temple altar.

I have often wondered what pushes me to travel...

There are days when I just want to give up and go back to familiar surroundings and my comfortable life.

Then I think of moments like this. The wariness lifts and only joy remains. 

Click here to see the full Cambodia album