Five years ago, Steve Goodman decided to chuck his corporate career and go on “sabbatical” — venturing to Southeast Asia. During this time, he has compiled a photoblog that sheds a remarkable light on his experiences. I talked with him recently about his adventures.
Andrea: For 20 years, you had a successful career in high-tech sales and marketing. Then, in February 2001, you left it all behind. Any desire to jump back into the mainstream?
Steve Goodman: No going backward for me, only going forward. When I started traveling in Southeast Asia I thought I’d be gone for nine months, maybe a year at tops, but once I got going I couldn’t stop.
In addition to having so many absolutely unforgettable experiences (studying with the Dalai Lama in India, surviving the Tsunami in Thailand, trekking in the Himalaya in Nepal, boating down the Mekong River and hiking in the jungles of Laos, Viet Nam and Myanmar), I found myself becoming more and more interested in pursuing my passions for cultural diversity and photography.
Andrea: It’s a long way from Detroit, where you were born, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where you live now. What made you decide to settle there, at least for the time being?
Steve: Phnom Penh is a fascinating city with its Khmer and French Colonial architecture and Cambodia is a truly amazing and beautiful country, both of which are up-and-coming both economically and culturally. I’ve always been a big-city guy, having lived in San Francisco, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Bangkok. Unlike many ex-pats in Cambodia, I find the city a much more interesting place than the rustic Cambodian countryside. It’s a place where many cultures and languages are swirling around and cooking in a delectable stew of ancient, modern and post-modern influences – very exotic and full of flavor! Where else in the world can you eat Khmer food and drink beer from Laos while listening to a Taiwanese DJ spin classic American and British rock from the 70’s and 80’s?
At the same time Cambodia can be a very challenging, unsettling and disturbing place, but nonetheless it satisfies my sense of adventure, curiosity and need for other perspectives and vibrant experiences.
Andrea: You’ve traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada, England, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Nepal and India. What countries or places haven’t you seen yet that you’d like to visit?
Steve: China is on my list for next year and possibly Mongolia as well. I’m also very interested in Africa and I certainly plan to spend a big chunk of time there sometime on the not too distant future. I’m particularly fascinated with Madagascar.
Andrea: Do you have a favorite of the photos you’ve taken?
Steve: This portrait of an Indian man on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) is a favorite. I have a real passion for portrait photography. People’s faces are incredibly beautiful and they all tell their own story.
Andrea: You wrote on your blog, “I absolutely refuse to define myself by, or conform to any standard or convention. Question authority. Break the dominant paradigm.” Is that a personal philosophy? And how does it impact your photography?
Steve: It is both my philosophy and my personal policy. I steadfastly resist labels and restrictions. Social imperialism must be actively challenged. I am independent, private and I seek always to transcend normalcy. Being ordinary and doing ordinary things is fine, but being average, complacent and unquestioning is simply unacceptable behavior for me. My outlook informs my photography with a sense of curiosity, adventure, of possibilities and acceptance of diversity.
Andrea: You also wrote on your blog: “We can’t choose who our family is or what we look like. There are lots of other things we can’t choose either, but we can choose to be good and even to transcend whatever current circumstances may prevail.” Has this played a role in what you try to reveal though your photography?
Steve: With my photography I try to reveal what I see and how the world is, but it’s a triple-edged sword. Firstly photographs serve to show how things are outside of us. Secondly they help to reveal how things are inside of us. I am never responsible for whatever feelings and emotions that may be stirred within someone who sees one of my photos – that becomes part of their own individual and private experience. Thirdly, just as a movie reviews often reveal more to us about the reviewer than about the movie being reviewed, sometimes my photos are more revelatory about who I am than they are about the particular subject at hand.
Andrea: You’ve been writing your blog, mythicaldude, since May of 2004. Do you see yourself more as a writer, or as a photographer, or as someone who tries to communicate in whatever way is most effective in a given situation?
Steve: I think I’m a good communicator both verbally and in non-verbal forms; however, I am much more interested in doing photography than in writing. Both take a strong commitment and a certain kind of tenacity. My blog is simply a vehicle that I use to stay in touch with friends and family, I don’t have a particularly strong editorial agenda or purpose beyond that. I’m slowly working on a website to market my photography, but I am most concerned with improving my skills and doing the work, not with making sales and promoting myself.
Steve: I like to make photographs of just about anything and everything. I definitely have a penchant, and I think a certain talent, for portrait photography, but I’m just as excited about architecture, urban landscape, social documentary, photojournalism and even abstract images. For me it is definitely a double-dose of extreme satisfaction; first the process of finding subjects and shooting, which I find to be a very liberating and zen-like experience, and then later enjoying both the images that I have made and the deeply personal memories they hold. Hearing what other people have to say about my photos is a third surprising and satisfying result.
Andrea: What are your thoughts on where photography is going? Both in the amateur realm and the professional arena? It seems the lines between the two are increasingly blurring, with more professionals posting pictures on photo sharing sites such as Flickr or Zooomr, more amateurs making their photographs professionally available, hybrid magazine-publications like JPG Magazine launching, and the increase in crowdsourcing taking place.
Steve: Technology makes it so easy for anyone to take pictures, really great pictures. And media proliferation, I think, also makes it easier for anybody to develop a strong intuitive sense of the various elements that make a great image – composition, color, motion, action, expression, emotion, surprise and so on. Photography is more democratic than ever before.