Photo Backstories: Apprentice Monk

Apprentice monk getting help dressing

Things got busy for a while, but I’m trying to get back at this. For the sake of ease, and while my time to write is limited, I’m planning to discuss some of my photos a bit more. I’ll give a bit of backstory, hopefully inspire some of you to take more photos, and understand how photography can support or lead to unique experiences.

I’m also planning on getting back to shooting more while balancing other things. Should be able to get some interesting shots in the next month or so and I can share those experiences as well. 

Hsipaw, Myanmar

Monks watching film

While walking around Hsipaw, Myanmar we wandered into a monastery. Inside the main structure three young apprentice monks were huddled around a laptop. Two local men were with the three boys. I later found out the men were from nearby villages and assisted the monks during the day. 

Out of curiosity, I glanced at the screen to see what the boys were focused on. If memory serves me, it was Avengers: Civil War, definitely an Avengers film though. It is these types of moments I particularly enjoy and often try  to capture with photography. 

This is a relatively mundane moment. Something that occurs around the world. I’m sure many of us often wouldn’t think twice about seeing children watching a film, myself included. However, it is this relatively mundane and commonplace event, with a hint of difference/uniqueness, that comes off so intriguing to me. In this particular case, it’s the blending of general everyday norms with monkhood. That along with our common perceptions, accurate or not, of the life and behavior of monks. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to act fast enough to get a great shot of the boys watching the film. A took some quick slightly blurry shots, but the credits started rolling before I could make camera adjustments and reposition myself. And just like any young child, they had little interest in discovering the film’s casting director.


Mundane actions - getting dressed

I spoke to one of the men for a bit as the boys just stared at at me with curiosity. After a few minutes one of the younger boys leaned over to the man next to him and quietly whispered in his ear. “Egg,” I heard the man reply. With a smile and soft confidence the boy held out a hard boiled egg and said, “eat egg.” I accepted, and he turned again to the man and whispered again. After learning this new word his smiled return and he offered me a bottle, “drink Sunkist.”  

One of the older boys ran off and when he returned he told the others boys to get dressed. This is when I captured these shots. For the same reason the boys watching a film on the laptop caught my attention, what stood out again was the somewhat mundane scene. Simply due to the worldwide commonality of the moment. Of course, there are clear differences in the moment compared to what many of us may see on a regular basis, an underlying commonality of the moment remains – an adult assisting a young children to get dressed.

The second element I enjoy in the photo is what seems to be a glimpse of intimacy, mutual respect and dependency.


Apprentice Monk Dressing

The last couple photos don’t have any real backstory, but I just figured I’d try to drive my point home further – the idea of finding similarities among differences.

This next shot was also taken in Hsipaw. I had just finished eating and took the photo while walking back to the hotel. This young apprentice monk could be any other child walking with his lunchbox. The playful swagger and swing of his container, not unlike a child you would see in many other cities or towns around the world.


Young Monk Walking with Container

This final photo was also in Myanmar, but at Sandamuni Pagoda. Again we have a photo of young monks. In this moment they were taking a cellphone photo for another monk. The photo captures a commonly observed moment. Someone taking a photo for their friend, while others goof off and make them laugh. 

Of course, common sense tells us monks are people too. And people will always have some similar tendencies, being, well, human. However, we are sometimes disillusioned, misinformed, or just unaware, to the commonalities we may share with others. 

Monks taking photos

Final Word

Those were examples of some of the type of moments I look for when taking photos, especially while traveling. We get a peek at elements of normalcy intertwined with elements that are foreign to us. A blend of familiar and unfamiliar. From the unfamiliar, we build intrigue and curiosity. From the familiar, we find comfort. Contrast, yet a sort of interdependency.  A lot of the photos I discuss later contain these elements, as I tend to look for them while exploring and skimming the surface of other cultures.

Although this is particularly true for when I’m traveling. The travel doesn’t need to be some distant location, such as a foreign country, although admittedly the more different from your everyday experiences the easier. You don’t even need to go anywhere. Wherever you are is just fine. But just being out of your city or town, or even neighborhood can be enough to find variances. If that’s what you’re looking for. And within many of the variances there are often similarities. After all, it is the people who make the communities. And the commonality of humanity will inevitably lead to commonalities that can be witnessed, experienced and photographed. 

That’s it for now…

Feel free to reach out on Instagram@ted_stanton_photography, the comments section, or the contact page. 

And check out my free ebook, 5 Unique Photo Challenges, for some inspiration. As well as, sign up for the Photography Insight Journal using the form at the bottom of the page for notifications when a new post is up.

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