An Adventure in Aperture

Early Saturday morning Chai Lu and I set out with camera equipment in hand anticipating the discoveries the day would bring.  The goal was to experiment with the various lenses Fuji lent to us and to gain a better understanding of the equipment we would be using during the coming semester.  Following Fuji’s suggestion, we boarded the 139 bus and set off to an unknown garden at the end of the bus line.  Neither Chai Lu nor I really knew where we were going, so when the bus driver waved at us acknowledging that we had we had reached our destination we departed with nervous energy.  Upon exiting the bus we knew we were in for an adventure.  The map had made it seem that the garden would be visible from the bus stop; however, a bustling outdoor market offering everything from baozi to live fowl greeted us.


Chia Lu and I were determined to find the garden so we set off through the market fully prepared to explore.  We wondered around a few side paths until we gathered enough courage to ask a woman for directions.  She patiently waited as we did our best to explain that we were looking for the garden, however we did not actually know its name.  She gave us directions to the big garden near by and we set off on our way.  After circling the block to no avail we stumbled upon a smaller garden at the end of the open market and headed in.  Upon stepping inside, the hustle and bustle of the surrounding area seemed to melt away.  Music was playing and there were groups of people exercising all over the garden.  We picked a small gazebo to setup our cameras and begin to take pictures.  By the time we readied our equipment we had attracted the attention of a few of the people around us.  They all seemed eager to figure out what these two foreigners were doing.  After Chai Lu and I asked permission to take photos and explained a little about ourselves, our new friends went back to exercising and we shifted our focus to capturing representative images of the scene.


As we photographed the activities, I could not help but reflect on Benjamin’s notion that with the creation of mechanical reproduction, the aura of an object begins to fade (Benjamin:2003).   As I altered my angle, aperture, and zoom to capture as much as possible of what was going on around me, I realized how challenging it is to preserve the feeling in the moment.  As Tommy had mentioned earlier on the trip, cameras are great for saving memories but until a form of technology is invented that can capture the emotions and feelings of the moment along with the image, a photo has its limitations.  Despite the camera’s lack of ability to capture the emotion in the moment, the photos still seemed to have captured the joy present in their faces. While Benjamin states an object’s full aura cannot be captured in a photo, all who view the images can feel the joy shown on their faces.


I had a great time photographing and talking to all the people we met in the park.  They all seemed very interested in what we were doing in China, and more specifically why we were in the park early on a Saturday morning asking to take photos of them.  We explained that our professor had encouraged us to come and take pictures of the “laoren” in the park doing their morning exercises.  They seemed to enjoy this answer and continued to ask many questions about our educational history and how long we had studied Chinese.  Everyone also seemed very interested in how old we were, how long we were staying, and where exactly we were from.  A few of the ladies even tried setting us up with their grandsons, although this may have simply been an error in translation on my part.  Upon meeting each new group of people, the first or second question we were asked was “Where are you from?”  My answer, “America” was accepted immediately, while Chai Lu’s was always questioned.  Having a mother from Malaysia and a father from the U.S., Chai Lu does not share my pale white skin they so easily accepted as American.


After a morning full of Chinese language practice, camera experimentation, and making new friends, Chai Lu and I set off toward home.  We passed through the market on the way back, again overwhelmed by all the varying sights, sounds, and smells.  After sampling some of the local fare we boarded the bus, happy and ready to return home to share with our classmates the tales of our early morning photographic escapades.