A recurring theme will present itself as images and video start to come from my recent trip to Easter Island. There is a real dilemma that I was constantly faced with on the island almost every night. That is one of crossing the line, often just a simple piece of string, or in the case a stone wall, to "get that image".
As you can see in the image below, I am on the other side of a stone wall while getting this image. It was super tricky as it was just high enough that my tripod was at full extension, when capturing a 10 second exposure, that is not really the optimum, you want stability.
It was about 2am, a very complex time to be in the Rapa Nui National Park. As soon as I arrived on the Island I visited the offices of the communication team of the National Park to be really clear about the rules regarding when you can and cannot be around various parts of the island. They were so nice to deal with, and made it really clear that you can be on the road that runs through the park 24 hours a day. You simply cannot be on the other side of the clearly defined walls/fences that protect the archaeologicaL areas. However, there were several occasions where some of the local people were really not happy that I was even in the park at all, a story for another time.
Just to the right of where I am standing is the "guards hut", a spot where during the day you show your park pass, and enter the site. I could see the guard sitting in the hut. I could also see that he was clearly asleep. Here begins the conundrum.
The top image here is one of several Light Painting images I created this night. The light is coming from a torch that has a hood on it, a Light Painting Brushes Colour Filter Hood, and I had to walk over to just near the gate to get the angle I liked. I was really concerned that the guard would see me and the light and promptly ask me to leave. Which would be a real bummer. I realised pretty quickly that he had in fact gone to his car to sleep. So I found myself pretty much alone at the site.
So what is the conundrum? Well as much as I absolutely love this image. The moonlight, the way the light pays with the texture of the Moai, and the fact the background scene is so delicately lit, by simply climbing over the fence, or stone wall and spinning a Ball of Light, or using some light painting tools to create work around the Moai would have taken it to the next level for sure!
I will be super honest, I stood at that wall looking over, then walking over to see him asleep in his car, than back to the wall, then back to his car, several times.
So why did I not just hop over the wall, create the image head off into the night with "that image"?
Well, it is a very complex thing. And as I sit here back in Australia contemplating the answer it becomes even clearer. As light painters, and I think this is relevant to many forms of photography, we push boundaries simply by the nature of what we do. Urbex, cliff edges and places we should not be, to get the image. I have pushed those boundaries many times.
Below is an image from the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. To gain access to the temple, which like Easter Island is a very closely guarded site, I made an "arrangement" with the local police and temple guards. Representatives of both of these groups were with me in the temple and knew exactly what I was doing and why I was there. Yet I look at this image, and know that during the day, you simply would not be allowed to climb to this position.
So why was it different at Easter Island?
There is an easy and obvious answer, and a not so easy, or obvious one. If I jumped over that wall and started light painting, and was caught by the guard, there is a very high chance I could have been removed from the Island. They take the protection of the archaeological sites very seriously, and justifiably so. The Island has been raped over the centuries.
The deep guttural thing that ultimately stopped me was this. The Rapa Nui people have been, and continue to be treated with a level of respect they do not enjoy (there is a deep and long story of the current situation) and I think they deserve to be treated with every respect possible, even if they do not know it. Simply by breaking the rules to satisfy a desire on my part to show it can be done, and create an image to please my ego, and the desires of the viewing public was something I could not do. Believe me I stood there and made many arguments in my head as to why it would be perfectly acceptable, after all I was not going to touch the Moai, or do anything you could not do during daylight hours. This dilemma played out in my head almost every night on the island.
The other important thing is this. If I do it, could this motivate others to try as well. I am not suggesting that I have that sort of sway, but there are dicks alive that might see it as some sort of challenge.
So, if you have made it this far, what is the take away? Well for me this image, as with every light painting image from the trip, became a challenge to create something I loved, from a distance. I wanted to present the Moai with a sense of majesty, perhaps giving it strength and making It the centre of attention, rather than the light painting.
Remember, there are so many facets to creating images around sensitive sites. Always consider the cultural and archaeological significance of anywhere you create. Even if the immediate "damage" is not obvious, there can be damage done to the Mana of a place, and you may be adding to the cumulative damage of a site or may even be giving permission to others to try and replicate or "better" your foolishness.
I think I made the right decision?
A huge thank you to Olympus Australia for making this incredible trip a reality.