A question that I quite frequently get is, "So what made you want to be a photographer?" I think that most photographers come from a similar place of growing up around cameras and always enjoying taking photos and I am no exception. Whenever I traveled I always tried to take better photos than just snapshots but I was always far from serious about it. Where I do feel a little unique though is that I can pinpoint the exact time that I realized I wanted to be a photographer.
In February of 2012 I quit my job as a yacht captain while living in Turkey. My plan was to eventually head back to the US and find another yacht to run but I wanted to travel some before I jumped back into the work force. My first destination was Egypt. Now, Egypt was an "interesting" place that winter as the revolution was still ongoing. Mubarak had stepped down long before but Egypt had been living without a functioning government for quite sometime. The Muslim Brotherhood was elected while I was there and all in all it was relative (and admittedly dangerous) chaos at this time.
It was also great for photos! Tourism was less than 5% of what it was before the revolution. Not down 5%, 5% of the previous total. That means for every 20 people that traveled to Egypt the year before, now there was only 1. So all of those super busy tourist sites that are overflowing with people are now almost completely deserted (probably for good reason given the security situation).
So after touring around Cairo and Luxor, I made my way down to Aswan which is the closest city to Abu Simbel. Abu Simbel is the over 3000 year-old famous temple built by Ramesses II that had to get moved stone by stone so it wouldn't get flooded when they built the Aswan Dam and created Lake Nasser. It was in a James Bond movie; it's cool. I also learned through my studious research before this trip which consisted of, and I'm not even kidding, reading the inflight magazine, that two times a year the sun aligns at sunrise to light all the way into the back of the temple. I was lucky enough to be traveling over one of those dates.
Most people take long day trips from Aswan to Abu Simbel but I really wanted to be there for the sunrise. Usually there's a big crowd for these auspicious dates but, thanks to the revolution, there wasn't anything really planned. So I tailed along on a late day trip and spent the day at what was supposed to be a swanky 5-star hotel built in the 1960's when they moved the temple. I think I'm the first person to ever stay there. The whole hotel was strangely preserved and a thick layer of dust covered most everything. Purposefully I avoided going over to the temple so I'd see it with fresh eyes at dawn.
So I woke up well before sunrise and made my way to the temple. I was the first one there by far. An old Nubian man was sitting/sleeping next to the door of the temple and I startled him when I walked up. He kept saying "Key! Key!" while given a much more in depth explanation in Arabic, implying that he needed to go get a key to open the large doors which looked like something out of Indiana Jones or possibly Jurassic Park. After he went off to get the key I cautiously tried the door myself to find it slowly creek open when I pushed it. A few birds fluttered out that about scared the life out of me. Inside it was pitch black and I was only armed with a small LED flashlight that dimly lit a narrow circle to uncover massive statues and carvings. Seeing the first colors of sunrise through the doorway, I set my camera down on my backpack and took this shot from inside the temple:
And that's when the lights came on.
I was floored by how beautiful it all was. The golden color matching with the sunrise gradient, the overwhelming feeling of history, the hieroglyphics that covered every surface, and the solitude of seeing it all alone. Taking this photo and seeing it on the back of the camera convinced me then and there, at 5:50am on February 21st, 2012, that I was going to be a photographer.