Travel

Essay

Essay: My journey to becoming someone who can live in the moment

A trainer leads his elephant in Thekkady, Kerala, India,

Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe

A trainer leads his elephant in Thekkady, Kerala, India,

Photojournalists are hunters of moments — moments when the veil lifts and humanity, unaware, is briefly exposed. This takes a certain skill set: patience, the ability to blend, and the intuition to anticipate a subject’s next move.

I am a veteran photojournalist and a skilled hunter of moments. My senses are always heightened; I’m always anticipating a great moment. Even if I’m not on assignment, I am looking to make evocative images. I even do it in my dreams, though I admit those are more like nightmares: lenses won’t focus, I’m a week late for an assignment, or — my least favorite and most-reccurring one — I open the back of my camera and muddy water pours out.

Advertisement

Earlier this year my nephew invited my sister, his mom, and me to travel with him to Kerala, India. For one reason or another, I have never ventured any further than to countries that share a border with my own. This trek across the world would be the trip of a lifetime for me.

My first instinct was: I must bring my work gear. I thought about what photo story I might document while I’m there. Then I remembered that traveling with family meant that there would be plans and agendas to follow.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

When I’m taking pictures, I find it to be a meditative process. My own life and stresses melt away and I’m filled with a feeling of calm. What better way to spend a vacation in India? Maybe on this family trip, I thought, I could work on seeing things in the moment instead of two steps ahead. In order to achieve this mindfulness, I knew I would have to leave my professional gear home.

When I boarded Qatar Airways in New York, my only camera gear was the one on my iPhone 7. My go-to visual prosthetics, an assortment of well-worn cameras and lenses, were left at home.

We arrived in India at 3 a.m., after a 20-hour flight with little sleep.

Advertisement

In Trivandrum’s tiny airport, as tired as I was, I immediately started to tick off story possibilities. I watched as families struggled to hoist huge, heavily taped boxes from the luggage carousel. Exiting the building, a wall of people waiting behind a barrier stood in front of me, waiting for family members carrying large boxes to come out. I took in the surreal scene of hotel security, flashlights and bomb detection mirrors in hand for checking our car’s undercarriage for explosives, and, the perfectly silhouetted figures of my loved ones going through a metal detector in order to gain entrance to our posh hotel.

Observing and absorbing, I held onto my cellphone like a safety blanket.

I thought to myself, “Take a picture if you want . . . but why not simply savor the visual?” With that, I felt the tension being released from my body.

So began my journey of being a photojournalist who lives in the moment.

During my two-week family trip, I allowed myself the luxury of going with the flow. I took anticipation off the table. Not having my gear made this an easy transition.

Taking photos of people is my happy place. So at every scenic tourist stop, if I chose to take pictures, they were of locals, tourists, and workers. I found visual inspiration everywhere; tea plantations, beaches, rest stops, on the streets where we shopped and hotels where we stayed.

At times I opted simply to absorb the beauty of the visual, no picture taking, a wicked indulgence for a photojournalist.

Relieved of self-made expectations and rules, I came the closest to being in the moment that I have ever been. I felt relaxed, happy, and rejuvenated.

Back home from for several months now, I am happy to report that I have not completely slid back to my old ways. I now accept that I am an anticipator, and thanks to my trip, I am an anticipator who is also capable of being in the moment.

A selfie reflection with my sister (left) at our hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India.

Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe

A selfie reflection with my sister (left) at our hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India.

Young male vendors (below right) offer horse rides on Poovar Golden Beach in Trivandrum, Kerala, India.

Cheryl Senter for the Boston GLobe

Young male vendors (below right) offer horse rides on Poovar Golden Beach in Trivandrum, Kerala, India.

An employee operates a rolling machine to crush tea leaves at the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate in Munnar, Kerala, India.

Cheryl Senter for the Boston Globe

An employee operates a rolling machine to crush tea leaves at the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate in Munnar, Kerala, India.

Local fishermen work to get the motor going on their boat as they head out in the afternoon at Sanghumugham Beach, Kerala, India.

Cheryl Senter for the Boston Globe

Local fishermen work to get the motor going on their boat as they head out in the afternoon at Sanghumugham Beach, Kerala, India.

Cheryl Senter can be reached at senter.stanion@comcast.net.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.