How Living Abroad Has Raised My Awareness in Street Photography

julius motal the phoblographer living abroad awareness

When I returned home to New York from Istanbul this past summer, I looked at my city with new eyes. My summer abroad was my first time living away from home, and it was my first time spending any significant amount of time photographing outside of New York. It’s fair to say that the newness of Istanbul for me had the capacity to make everything seem interesting, from someone crossing in front of a mosque to arms converging on a tea platter. What it gave me, however, was a keener sense of awareness.

There’s a certain degree of discomfort that comes with living in a new city. Routines are upended and creature comforts have to be redeveloped. I settled into my life in Istanbul, but not fully. On public transit, a frequent photographic haunt for me, I was too often hyperaware of my surroundings because I never completely internalized routes, whereas in New York, I could fall asleep and wake up at my stop. In Istanbul, I kept my role as observer, and when I got back home to New York, I had to settle back in.

julius motal the phoblographer samsung nx1 image-11

The awareness I developed in Istanbul as a result of displacement followed me home. New York was familiar and foreign at the same time, and I paid closer attention to the city I’d been living in my entire life. I found that the images I made after my return had more soul. At least, some of them did. I was more conscious of the ebb and flow of the city, people’s movement and emotion and the subtleties of every day life.

If you spend a great deal of time in a place, there’s a tendency to get complacent. Routine can dull the senses. It’s been said that when you lose one of your senses, the others become much more acute. I’d wager that when you displace yourself, all of your senses become more acute, which can not only heighten experiences but yield better photographs.