Would You Like Culture With That? (Location: Mazatlán, Mexico)

In a city engulfed by corporations and Americana, the essence of true culture is always changing.

Mazatlán, Mexico.  It conjures a precision of memories.  For many years my family met once a year to live, laugh, eat and drink, recounting memories beneath the Mexican sun.

We lounged like the afternoon’s iguanas, strolled and swam like leaves in the fall, shopped the Zona Dorada with red eyes, rode horses through the waves and parasailed as if we were birds.  For once a year, The Inn at Mazatlán became our home for two weeks, where we relished in relaxation as a family conglomerate stuck together by the sticky juices of squeezed limes and empty Margarita mixes.

But every once in a while, certain members would miss the reunion and due to my direction in various travels, I was one who often missed these annual Mexican fiestas.  After three consecutive absences, I was looking forward to the next year’s, which reintroduced me to a culture buried within the memories of youth.

As I sat in the back of a taxi outside General Rafael Buelna International Airport, located seventeen miles south of downtown Mazatlán, heat and dust drew in through the open windows and swirled around my head.  It smelled hot.  It smelled tropical.  I thought I caught a scent of a distant sea as a faded CD hanging from the rearview mirror flashed in my eyes.  On one side of the disc, Mother Mary gave me a reserved glance before rotating out of view.

An Unrecognizable Return

I watched out the window: a beloved Mexico and its culture, passing high-walled penitentiaries, catching drafts of burning trash and the odd pile of rubber.

The land was sparse to the city, impoverished with corrugated roofs and sheds, wiry fences enclosing pigs and cattle while chickens roamed freely.  Then, broken by an obtrusive power, gorging the expanse of the countryside, were paved lots of multinational corporations.  They found their way into a culture as Mexico fell to the global faces of Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Noise and debris, rising dust-clouds of eternal heat, rapturous signals, stoplights and padded feet across cracked asphalt. Then the next race of unholy exhaust pipes flooded the streets.

I breathed in, and as tin and brick and corrugation turned to unfinished concrete harboring spikes of rebar, the city-center approached.

A culture, historic in its patternless flow of work, family and tradition.  Mix in nutritious rice, beans, corn tortillas and a few cooling cervezas.  And then birth the working-class as a mother interlinks her arms throughout five children before dodging traffic, and los federales rolling in their crisp black ’06 GMC pickup trucks and waxy Ford Mustangs, circling fat signs and stripped lands with their sweating asphalt and gymnasiums of cheap simplicities.

My heart skipped a beat at their infiltration.  But as I drew another inhale and observed the life surrounding, I continued witnessing a thriving Mexico.  The dust tickled my throat.  I coughed.

How unburdened can a culture remain?  I was about to find out.

Arrival at the Inn

The Inn dressed as usual.  Elegant in contrast with the streets beyond its whitewashed walls.  A new tower touched the sky with 215 luxury rooms crowned with one three-bedroom ten-person penthouse.   Larger pools.  Fully functional waterfalls.  Yoga classes in the morning and increased prajna after a night of drinks, chips, salsa and guacamole.

There were painting classes, weekly Bingo for the crowds accompanying time-shares in Branson, Missouri, as well as Mexican piñata fiestas for the kin Wednesday nights at seven.  With a restaurant on premise, The Inn was a self-sufficient community of lounge-chair tortillas here for a deep-fry.

I searched a meat menu for a vegetarian plate.

Culture? I ask:

¿La cultura? ¿ Dónde está la cultura?

Indeed, it wasn’t to be found within the walls of the large resorts and hotels fabricated for the broadening American and Canadian tourists, unless, say, you worked your Spanish with the maids and gardeners.

But outside, in the heat and noise, Mexico awaited.

Mazatlán Idol

One evening the family piled into two pulmonias (a crazed golf-cartesque taxi blaring an ungodly noise of music ranging from YMCA to CCR’s Bad Moon Rising). We drove north to La Costa Marinara.

Inside the seafood restaurant, I scanned for something traditional, simple, clean.  I came up empty.  Drink, talk, laughs of the previous evening, and then to eating.  After our meal, the American music toned down and the DJ slapped on a record of classic Mexican rhythms.

Suddenly, as if transformed into Mexico’s next “American Idol,” a waiter stepped onto the patio platform with microphone in hand.  He held it tight, not in nervousness, but passion.

With reverence, he sung his heart out, swooning the customers in love song.  One local, loaded with two of his buddies at a game table of empty beer bottles, joined and grumbled to the melody.  I cringed.

“Tom Jones!” my sister exclaimed.  Reborn and alive, south of the border in Mazatlán.

In all the years we had been coming to this restaurant by the sea, we never saw the bills paid and tables emptied as quickly as they had that night.

Visit From the Country

Señor Jones was not the only performance.  Directly afterwards, six blonde children dressed as Midwestern cowboys appeared.

Between the ages of five and fifteen years, they appeared out of place from the average Mexican; not only the pressed red-squared collared shirts, jeans and boots, with chaps, bandannas and dresses, but also their faces.

These six little children seemed to have come off the beaches of Santa Cruz with tanned white skin and sandy hair.  Let alone, it was nearing ten o’clock on a school night.

The DJ queued the music.  Georgia-born Alan Jackson, in thick accent, rolled with Chattahoochee.  In practiced timing, they kicked their boots’ heels in square dance.  Suddenly, I was transported on a stagecoach time machine to a backwoods Montana bar.

An American woman, apparently from a similar locale, clapped in dramatized exuberance.  “I love this song!  Love it!”  I didn’t dare look over, but from the far corner of my eye I spotted her Margarita bowl near bottom.

Signaling the end of the dance, the youngest three removed their plastic cowboy hats and bowed, before turning them upside down and requesting alms from each table.

Old Streets, Same Bathrooms

I walked back to The Inn that evening with my uncle on the main Avenue Cameron Sabalo.  We passed Japanese restaurants, American burger joints, tapas of Spain, and I thought of the real Mexican dishes in los pueblos y montañas: the simple rice and beans of the Latin world.

The previous day, my mother recalled the sole brilliance of the establishment known in more languages as simply: McDonalds.

“At least we can rely on a clean bathroom no matter where we might find ourselves in the world.”

Yes, Home Sweet Mickey D’s, along with other chains, soon to include Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, Subway, Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Culture.  Mazatlán.  The input of the West’s power, yet out on the streets, there was Mexico at its finest.

Yesterday’s Today

Blocks are now splashed with the primary colors of the restaurants’ and consumer stores’ façades, but the dust still rises, trash still burns, with the Chevy trucks and the workers down in the shades, mothers sprinting across traffic with young flailing and babies wailing.

Things and their monsters.  They let loose to dilute the beauty of this original culture. Yet cervezas y guacamole, no matter how diluted, still reinvigorate the Mexican culture of memory to the old and young.

Culture is life.  Life is change.  Change is Culture.

It is the beauty of the world, no matter how desperate, no matter how congested and overflowing, omnipresent like a McDo, in Mexico, India, China, France or across the street from your Ace Hardware chain.

Collecting Forks, Making Decisions (Location: The Traveler’s Road)

Experience is based on our personal choices, and we can bring as much or as little choice into the matter as we wish.

Life revolves; as the motion of the sun, as the pleating horizon and its contrasting hues from light to darkness and back.  The individual, from one’s perspective, is the traveler.  And upon all travels, there is a road to follow.

This road is full of choices. Which fork will you choose?

This question came to me long ago as an adage.  I was young, say nine years old.  It stated thus: “If there’s a fork in the road, take it.”

And I laughed.  I laughed until it hurt.  Who would put a fork in the road, and why would I want to take it?

It was a phrase filled with ridiculousness to my budding imagination, but one of deep wisdom as I grew into understanding.

The quote was read to me out of a book written by Pat Riley (one of the top ten NBA coaches of all-time according to NBA.com) entitled The Winner Within. I now see it in its full light.  I can taste the fork, the food of life from the past, present and future.  The flavors of choice.

The Life of a Student

Paris—its ancient European splendor discovered on one’s lap in the finest literature or upon the walls of the most selective galleries.

Five months I signed my life away and gave my word to family, friends, and Paris—I would be a student of the City of Lights.  But five months for the traveler is eternity.

The French classes, the home-stay with a lone parisienne woman, and the intense independence of a traveler buried within his consciousness.  The forks were many, arriving and departing, offering me choices in all directions.

Stay in Paris: the marooned traveler locked in a conceived commitment like a child to its bottle.  Return home: my mind, body and soul thirsted for a rest within familiarity, before the dusty lane of a lingering wanderer caught his scent afar once again.

I couldn’t help but sink beyond the mind-fuck of options into a wordless image of the road, where long curving paths travel outward, into movements of the unknown, guiding to new towns and hostels.  Flavors constantly pushing onward.  Possibilities endless.  The road limitless. Where was I?

From the start, way before the birth of my Parisian studies, I collected my forks.  This was my reassurance that I was okay.  Every choice in the road that led to the enrichment of adventure, shaped in spontaneity, was my destiny.  I was not lost.  I was not stuck.  I was on the road less traveled where the unabated borage of questions my mind teased me with was none other then normal brain activity.  I didn’t have to sit in mediation longer.  I didn’t have to eat healthier: rawer foods and purer waters.  I needed to breathe, observe and continue questioning until the choice felt right.  Until I made the decision to pick up the fork and own it.

My present moment—my past and future—rolled into one.  They were in my hand, on the fork, before sliding onto my tongue and across the palate.

The Manufacturing of Commitment

To commit is dedication.  With the soft pavement beneath my feet, as with the crisp steel shaping the idiom’s many forms, I’m dedicated to the life of the traveler.  Time in Paris was up.  I clearly saw my fork and I took it.

A thought is a thought.  Experience it.  Accept it.  Leave it at that and move on.

When a choice is made there’s a manufacturing of commitment.

“I will do this.”

You tell yourself.  You tell others.

There’s a response from all: Yes you will, or no you won’t.

And as word spreads around, a bond is created.  A thought, into speech, turned to action.

However, a choice remains at its origin in that plain thought.  Here lies the trouble: Perhaps you can’t let go.  Maybe, just maybe, you’re stuck because you took it too seriously, so whole-mindedly that there was nothing else to stand in its’ way.

A thought is a thought.  Experience it.  Accept it.  Leave it at that and move on.

Return to the Road

Although I thought about Paris from its conception, where I shared it, created it as my reality, and experienced it’s artistry for five months; whose commitment was it?

It was mine and I could change it.

Remember Cameron, you have the fork.  My conscience was speaking clearly.  You picked up the fork.  You own it now.  This is your life to decide what to do, when to do, without questioning why.  Feel your way through the flavors of destiny.

I stopped, took in a breath, and experienced the current circumstances.  A perceived commitment, which never existed, vanished for good as my path along the road became unblocked.  I let go and my movement proceeded, far from Paris.

No, I’m not married to any single thought.  I never was, and I never made a commitment, except to that originating decision to do it.  But then there is another, and another, and another, from the past, into the future sitting before me on the plate of the present moment.  And with my fork, I decide where, when and how I live this moment.  As my road evolves and revolves, new choices are made, affecting the current life circumstances.

I don’t allow someone else or something else to begin collecting my forks for me.  They’re mine.

In other words, it all comes down to this:  Bundled in a ball, simple enough for a nine year old to play with, Pat Riley continued, “Don’t let other people tell you what you want.”  Deliberately take it upon yourself to recognize and embrace your life’s choices.

Remember:  If there’s a fork in the road, take it.

 

 

Culture Hopping: Life is the Essential Ingredient (Location: Planet Earth)

Like a roasted pepper, you’re done: well cooked, charred on the outside, burnt and spent. But on the inside, hidden within the veil of life’s fire-burner, you’re soft and ready.  Anticipating for more.

However, it doesn’t come all that easy.  After the months, weeks, or maybe only the days of travel, you return home to the accustomed life once left behind, and there, piled with new baggage you were ready to unpack, you find yourself overloaded with a new beginning.

And despite how many times you attempt to escape from this, seeking the bliss of freedom discovered upon the open road, mixed within the world’s vast cultures—leaving, returning, leaving, returning—you are met face to face time again with this long winding road home.  It stares at you.  It tempts you.

Upon returning, afflictive emotions once erased resurface (hint: they never leave!).  In order to take this road, you know you must begin the new journey with your new bags; keep on traveling, keep on truckin’ to peel away your surface layers to reach that core initially sought.

You must emerge from the cultures of the ancient times of open-air fires with stone, brick and mortar to reveal the modern complexity of steal and chrome.  The time allotted is the progress made, and until then the core will not be exposed.  Instead, the fires will continue to char, and char, and char returning you back to the start of that winding path, through and through.  Call it culture hopping.

And You Are?

Whether Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, South America, North America, or some distant cardinal tropic marooned from the flanks of one’s accustomed culture, the traveler is an explorer in the miasmic layers, colors and spices of the world’s cultures.  To have that desire for taste, for preparation and creative roast is to obtain the initial interest of discovering a lifestyle other than one’s own.

It is a yearning for experience, for knowledge, for an accumulation of wealth that can never be bought, taught or sought in books:  It’s the potential growth of the soul that comes with willingness, dedication and an awareness given the time and space to be sown in the soils of one’s consciousness.

Through the journey beyond, an epic tale of letting go and allowing the fires to char on their own accord, experience becomes wisdom.  It becomes that seed enriched with appreciation for life, a life involving a continued exploration of man, woman, Nature and their intriguing interwoven dynamics.  Alone, this path cultivates and further roasts one’s seed of awareness allowing the pepper to blossom and the fires cook.

For such a traveler, life is the essential ingredient.  Within mind, body and soul there contains essential components only fed when the traveler throws oneself into this very unknown.  This is where life revolves.

Certain characters are necessary for the traveler to embark and take upon these fires when ready:  Such one loves the unknown.

He or she loves taking this upon destiny like a parasite caught in flesh.  It is a necessity, a fertilizer sucked from the deepest soils, where the senses abide to the farthest root tips; stretching, distending, growing further and reaching for that appreciation of life, its beauty and the diversity which flourishes.  These cultures of humanity define the sustenance of life, and without their firsthand experience there would be no worth to the traveler in the life surrounding.

And so, with a firm grip upon an adventurous nature, a character ready and willing to let it all go for something without any future at all, the traveler within me tossed this mind, body and soul into the deep soils of the earth.  Seed planted, sustenance fed—my pepper of various layers, colors and spices began to sprout.  The fire was already provided.  I began my culture hopping.

Cultures Revealed, The Culture Transformed

I went abroad, explored the cultures of islands, of development and riches, of poverty and those stricken with the despair of unjust treatment to their basic human rights.  I went abroad and found turmoil in the markets, unlike my hometown grocer’s well stocked and aligned isles.  I was ingrained within these new markets like a spider in a neighbor’s web, weaving my thread with theirs, calm and observant with the people of Africa, Asia, south-north-east-west and beyond.  I spun more, throwing an innocuous trust within my surroundings.

Further, I found isolated pockets of forest, tropical with malarial mosquitoes and monkeys.   I saw fauna and flora of the imagination, and I let my own wander to color my thoughts with its fragrance.

Things filled my senses.  Life invaded me.  From one culture to the next, I let go, stepping deeper into the unknown.  And I let go once more.

Literally it all consumed me, and as the small seed, a sponge underneath the flowing faucet, I soaked in it.  I was free.  I was the traveler.  I absorbed this flow—people, thoughts, situations and circumstances, foreign politics, cuisines and their palates, lifestyles and manners.  They became a part of who I was, and who I sought to become.

From one individual to the next, from village to village, city to city, via bicycle, rickshaw, tuk-tuk, taxi, bus, train, boat—or by foot—I was culture hopping.  I was experiencing this life I knew and never knew.  It was withdrawn from within me where I allowed an awareness to manifest the road ahead.  And on every step, the journey started anew as the flames were fueled, the fires turning hotter.

Eventually, I was done.

The pepper: blackened, charred, burnt on the outside.  Work was now necessary to peel away the layers, and so the traveler returned home to the culture left behind.  There, after faced with one phenomenon to the next, culture hopping at its finest (the pepper well-done, the spider entombed within, a sponge oozing the sustenance of life), explorations changed courses and routes led homeward to the familiar lifestyle.  But through each interlope and interchange of culture there was that reunion affected by this so-called hopping.

It was a reemergence with the traveler’s old self, bags ready to unpack before discovering there were still more bags to be carried.

Still Traveling

Often it’s unexpected, meeting this thing left behind which is now present; all around you, within family and friends and customs and routines.  It is the traveler of the past; the traveler before the traveler was ever a “traveler”.  In essence it is the mind, body and soul in which everyone knew and everything expected despite the change.

Returning from Southeast Asia to southern California, my confidence and belief within my own self and the direction I was heading hit a steel-plated wall.  All happiness faded.

But now, unexpected, the new traveler facing the old traveler before the traveler was ever a traveler becomes paralyzed.  He or she is overwhelmed with the past culture amounting to that of the new various cultures adopted.  Known collectively as “culture shock”, there is no turning back.

The old sages comment, “Easy is the choice to begin or not, but once begun, better finish.”

And like a dish of foie gras to a vegetarian consciousness, like a Russian bath for the Hawaiian local, culture shock throws you into a chasm where the lights are dimmed to view only the faintest silhouettes ahead.  There is nothing left behind.  You must continue and accept a responsibility, for this very shock is the effect of your culture hopping.  It stuns, saddens—and more significantly—paralyzes the senses and any feeling of centeredness.

Questions arise again, afflictive emotions stir as remorse composes a symphony of disgust, despair and pain before the next layer of pepper is charred.  There’s never the chance of having the opportunity to live the life of its soft sweet flesh.  This is the case of reemergence into Western society.

Returning from Southeast Asia to southern California, my confidence and belief within my own self and the direction I was heading hit that wall.  Happiness gone.  Despair arisen.  Confusion ahead.   What I remember most having returned from the months abroad was entering that Ralph’s “superstore” on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena.

Culture shock as loaves of bagged bread—signed, sealed and delivered—shook with a consumerism’s shopping rage.  It was like an exemplified spree; carts with gargantuan mouths, open and wired to the teeth.  They could be stuffed full, occupying up to ten bags if willed.  There were meats, animals to be more specific, which now took the form of slice after slice, shank and steak and thigh and breast—or why not whole? My eyes witnessed the abundant glory to what a Newari family in the Nepalese Himalayas might perceive:  I’m in heaven!

No.  To me, having experienced the impoverished of India, Africa and Asia—as well as the freeway underpasses of California’s forgotten homeless; having walked the mountains and beaches where a family was considered lucky if a porter succeeded in bringing what they requested, this mass production of animals, genetically modified fruits and vegetables, and aisles upon aisles of sugared dumplings called Ding-Dongs hit my lower abdomen with an iron cudgel.

Cheeses and yogurts fermented beyond their expiration date.  Fizzing bottles of Coca-Cola and Dew blew their tops.  Bottles of water became dirty.

What happened to the market?  To morality?  What happened with globalization and to our care for others’ well-being?

No, I concluded, there was never a moral concern for life.  And there never will be.  What the hell am I doing here? I was culture shocked.

A Welcome Home

It’s the most difficult stretch of the journey; to return home to family and friends, to routine—to life as you once knew it—and apply successfully all the lessons of travel.  People look at you as they did in the past, but you say, you stand up for yourself:  No, I’ve changed.

The world revolves.

You see the news.  You have the luxuries you once forgot and indeed took advantage of in the past.  Daily life causes its stresses.  Anger, confusion, and all the other emotions come to greet you with a slap in the face, smiling like they’ve never done before.  Even those plates of food adorning your dining table are a blessing, but no one else seems to see.

Likewise, you yourself begin to struggle.  In your silent prayers you return your conscience back to the center and thank the sustenance before you and your family.  You thank the Universe for this life compared to others witnessed far away, an observance you’re beginning to forget.

As with most, the first return and its adaptation is the hardest.  You cope with it, you deal with it and you hopefully take in the lessons for your growth.  The second and third become easier due to experience, and with the appropriate placement of the lessons recalled, your life, whether traveling or at “home” in your own culture, becomes a continued journey of culture hopping.

You are the traveler and you feed this, caring for yourself with the practice of your experiences from the places you’ve been.  It is your new culture in which you live and grow from.  But how do you get passed the initial return, and the second and the third?

Over my travels, an unknown quote to an unreligious individual has reminded me of strength and courage: “God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.”  It is a message shouting there is always more growth to be had.  Once you think you’ve reached the top, you’ve actually hit bottom.

Greeted with the eruption of past habits and routines, I have taken the journey of reentering the life I left behind as a whole new opportunity to evolve further to that infinite goal.  And what keeps me sane throughout the process is the remembrance of the journey passed and how it’s still in its entirety churning within me.

Therefore, I’m brought to the present, the internal traveler awoken within to become the traveler of the present moment no matter what road I might be on.  I see family and friends; they might mistake me for someone of the past.

Sure, I’m still that person, but now I’m him, which includes this new traveler.

I see shelves of abundance in a culture appearing oblivious to the rest of humanity’s infirmities and I become grateful to have that awareness of the resources in my life, their precious blessings, and how most persons round the globe might not have such a luxury as the basic necessity of shelter to plates to eat upon, or surviving family and a network of friends.

I remember how I used to take things for granted, including as a boy that dumpling of sugar, the so-called Ding-Dong.  Hence, there is no need to despise it, but better yet be appreciative of the options and leave it for others who might harbor interest.  And I’m grateful for the world’s diversity and the cultures out there to be explored.

Though what remains most important, disregarding the adventure of external discovery, is the magnitude of a continued internal exploration.  It is an application of one’s new understanding and belief into mainstream life that keeps this cyclone of the Self gyrating.

Barriers discovered, analyzed and then toppled; passed through to advance further into the conscious Self.

Each step hosts the opportunity for growth—mentally, emotionally and spiritually—and with the continued practice of one’s lifestyle within the new surroundings of home, obstacles of daily living no longer appear as they once did.  Instead they take the form of that flame, licking the edges of skin to provide a tool to peel away the outer layers to reach its deepest core.  That fire is of love and peace, as is the core—as is the practice, the people and places—as are those once termed “obstacles”.

And So, To Hopping

Today, there is more of Asia, West Africa, Europe and more Central America, including my own culture, within me.

As a traveler with a continuous yearning for growth through an experience of culture hopping, and a lessening culture shock, I have come to peer through a cleared perception, recognizing the differences and similarities of each land and its people.  I have come to accept these cultural barriers as a part of this physical world, established in total for our growth.  Beyond these barriers, they dissolve and I perceive a life with the oneness of all peoples.  My heart opens as I remind myself and take recognition.  Happiness returns.

Yes, I’m still traveling.

Life keeps churning, and as a morsel within the stew—that spice—as a bubble in a boiling pot, I have only so long before I leave and transform, before I am eaten by my own creation.

In order to fill this duty with its finest, in order to allow the fires to masterfully complete its roast, a strive to dig deeper attains progress.  It is the act of reaffirming the underlying connection between people and their cultures.  It is the subtle continued establishment within the mind that they—we—have founded this very life and that we are here together to share it.  Through this realization, carrying for myself and reawakening from sleep each fleeting moment, the afflictive emotions associated with the road and the return into daily life subsides.

A roasted pepper, charred skin peeled, I am now ready to continue with the ingredients of this infinite stew of culture, traveling deeper into the feast of life.  Culture hopping is my vehicle of choice.

Travel Photographer Interviews: Cameron Karsten

Travel Photographer Interviews: Cameron Karsten by Lola Akinmade (from The Traveler’s Notebook)

In a new series on Notebook, we interview professional photographers, and discuss their different perspectives on travel photography as well as tips for taking better pictures.

Photographer Cameron Karsten is currently traveling around East Africa, documenting the work of various communities and nonprofit organizations. With a unique eye for composition and lighting, Cameron is capturing particularly soulful images. According to him, “he yearns for expansive adventure of the deepest value in order to express the tales of humanity.”

Cameron Karsten has also written a series of spiritual and health travel articles for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since.

Over the past few months, Cameron has also contributed to MatadorU’s Travel Photography Program. Matador Goods Editor Lola Akinmade and Matador contributing editor Paul Sullivan took some time out to ask Cameron a few questions:

How long have you been a professional photographer?

I’ve been practicing photography for six years. It was only two years ago I decided to convert the hobby into a passionate career.

What – or who – got your initial interest going in terms of photography?

Travel. At the age of 19 I left my comfort zone with backpack, journal and pen, and my camera. I began writing and photographing in order to share my experiences and inspire other individuals to follow their passions. Today, with diligent practice and belief, I continue to develop and evolve my skills to create the life I desire.

Cameron Karsten

What were your first photographic experiments or experiences?

The first time I mindfully began photographing was on the first day I landed in Bangkok, Thailand at 19. The new culture, architecture, environment and faces sent my eyes spinning along every street. I was enthralled with the new surroundings and found every detail, from an old shirtless man to the spires of a golden temple, worth photographing.

My family and friends had to see what I was witnessing. It became a way to transport my followers into my traveling adventures and become a part of the journey.

How would you describe the work you do now? Are you involved in the commercial world also? Any stock photography?

I am continuously building and expanding my photographic styles. Currently, I work as a professional portrait, wedding, and event photographer. However, my drive is to develop into a full-time commercial, travel and editorial photographer with fingers in lifestyle and fashion. The possibilities in the industry are limitless, and these options keep me inspired as I move forward.

Which other photographers – old or contemporary – inspire you most?

Ansel Adams with his patient lighting. Ricard Avedon with his brilliant creativity and stylistic eye. Annie Leibovitz through her skill of caricatures and personalities. And Steve McCurry for his wanderlust.

You seem to have an eye for shapes and working with patterns. Is this a fair assessment?

Shapes and patterns are where my eyes are drawn to. Within my surroundings, through my lens and into my brain, I see the world as shapes creating patterns. Everywhere, there are arrangements of order built within a format of forward-movement. From whatever cause, whether my practice in meditation to my careful observations abroad or at home, I have adapted this technique as my first and foremost.

Like jumping into a stream and letting the current take you, I pick up my camera only when the moment feels right, only when that inner fuel burns and that surge of inspiration sears.

Cameron Karsten

When you are approaching subjects to shoot, how do you set about it? Do you chat and explain what you’re doing? Or shoot first, ask questions later?

As mentioned above, when there’s inspiration, I shoot. When there’s none, I leave it alone and keep truckin’. Often, I leave my house, hotel, or camp without my camera.

There are many scenes, subjects and settings that are so captivating, there’s no reason to try and capture it. Then and there, I soak it in and use that moment for my inner fires.

Pick and choose selectively. Don’t shoot everything. Beauty is everywhere, all the time.

When approaching a human subject I wish to photograph, the situation varies. Sometimes I sit down and create a conversation before photographing; therefore, the image will have a deeper story in my memory and in print. Other times, I make eye contact, smile and politely ask/gesture for a photograph.

Other times, when in the zone and feeling the comfort of the atmosphere, I shoot and shoot and keep shooting, moving my feet while snapping the shutter. I go with my instincts photographing, writing, traveling, and daily living.

Cameron Karsten

What’s the craziest or most inspiring encounter you’ve had in general?

Most inspiring moments are when I find myself in nature. I spent four weeks backpacking from Giri to Everest Base Camp alone, without a guide or porter. That time by myself was intense during the off-season. I met locals. I sat alone atop granite spires overlooking the Khumbu Valley. I walked through sun, wind, rain and snow. I sat with locals and heard their tales of The Yeti.

I bumped into Maoist rebels and experienced the tension of a violin string coarse thru my veins. And I drank chai with Royal Nepalese soldiers over conversation about the region’s struggles.

Those memories will live on forever.

What kit do you use / carry with you / can’t do without (camera make, lenses, flashguns etc.)?

Nikon for life. I used to carry two lenses, a 55-200mm Nikkor and a 28mm. Yet, I’ve liked the challenge of cutting out the zoom and forcing myself to get into the scene, closer and more intimate. Therefore, I’ve sold the 55-200mm and dove into the photograph with my 28mm.

Finally, what else are you working on right now and what are your ambitions for the future in terms of your photography work or anything else?

Currently, I’m finalizing a new photography website that will enable me to sell and distribute my work online to a wider audience, which can be found on PhotoShelter. This site is combined with new websites for my writing and multimedia projects. I’m off to East Africa in January 2010 for six months to document the visions and progress of various communities and nonprofit organizations through these mediums.

My ambitions are to continue creating a lifestyle of travel with photography, writing, and multimedia as an outlet to educate and bring awareness to the world about different cultures, their current issues, and how we can preserve their environments for sustainable well-being.

To see more of Cameron’s work visit his site, www.cameronkarsten.com

Cameron Karsten