Blurry Borders Photographic Exhibition | Goldfields Library Corporation

Blurry Borders Photographic Exhibition

Swan Hill photographer Kristan Emerson has been shooting the world on his overseas travels since 2016. On their own, the photographs are beautiful – but take into account that the photographer has 3% vision in only one eye and you won’t believe what he can capture. Kristan’s photographs are accompanied by his unique stories of the places he has visited. “My eyes do not have lenses but my camera does. It is my way of seeing detail in an otherwise blurry world."

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99 Red Balloons

Rajasthan, India. June 2017.

To me balloons are like smiles. Smiles that I can actually see, well kind of. They are a burst of colour, a flicker of fun and my camera and my eye love them.

Balloons stand out even more in the dirty streets of India, Lao, Myanmar etcetera than they do at a kid’s birthday party at home. They are a modern juxtaposition in an often timeless scenario. They are a glimmer of hope, of joy in an otherwise relentless and often difficult existence. They are a bit of fun for children who often don’t have much of a childhood. They are an income for old men who may have passed the prime of their working life. They are something that I can sort of see even without a camera.

This photograph was taken while a street parade was taking place, celebrating one of many ‘special days’ on the Indian cultural calendar. Whilst the men in the picture were busy watching the parade I turned my back to it preferring to watch the crowd. And then balloons! Yes!

The men themselves appear in no rush to party but the balloons are. The police officer, like all good Indian police officers, would prefer tor hide in the background and look away rather than do anything. It is up to the balloons to do the talking. The colourful balloons are echoed in the rugs above them and well, I really don’t care what else. I mean, Balloons!!!

The Ship Song

Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, November 2019

Our itinerary had us hunting for tigers in southern Bangladesh. With an armed guard in tow we headed into the open water of the Bay of Bengal to reach the Sundarbarns mangrove forest.

“What’s that?” “It looks like he’s in a flowerpot.” “Is that a cut up buoy he is rowing?”

The others on my boat excitedly pointed at the scene before them. I looked and wondered what they could see.

“What are we looking at?” I quietly asked my brother.

“Can you see the orange thing? It looks like a bloke has made a boat out of a giant bucket or something.”

I lifted my camera to my eye and scanned the horizon.. Eventually I found a blur of orange and clicked. “Bugger”. I knew straight away that I hadn’t focused properly.

On we went into the mangroves and the heat. Most people’s minds focused on the tiger hunt. I kept thinking of what I had missed on the water. We walked and we sweated.

Finally it was time to head back and cross the water again. For me the hunt had just begun. I readied my camera waiting to take my shots. Would the elusive rower be seen again?

A blurry spot of orange appeared again. I lifted my camera for a better view and at the same time my brother confirmed we were approaching the Bangladeshi boatman again. I snapped and snapped. Zoomed in and out. Shot away as if a tiger was racing towards me.

I loaded my quarry onto a larger screen. The orange jumps out at me catching even my eye immediately. The craft, its cargo and the man stoically rowing it, slowly melts into view. As does the ship behind.

I may not have seen or photographed a tiger but I did manage to photograph and then see a guy rowing an improvised, recycled, orange boat with dirt as his cargo in the Bay of Bengal. I bet photographs of that are rarer than tiger shots.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Nyaung Shwe, Shan State, Myanmar. October 2016

When I first thought of visiting Myanmar, inspired by my brother’s visit there, I knew nothing about the country except that it had been largely isolated from the wider world due to a strict military regime. When I thought of the place all I could see in my mind’s eye was greyness. No colour, no sound, no smiles, no stories; just greyness.

There is a lot of colour bursting to show itself through the grey haze. Golden stupas (Buddhist shrines) rise out of the ground, markets with fruit and vegetables of all hues rise out of the concrete and dirt, people in brightly coloured outfits rise early from their simple homes with smiles. Colour is energy and Myanmar is full of it.

Boats are used dailyin Nyaung Shwe and as such have potential to disappear into the background. The boatmen ensure their water craft don’t disappear by painting them in bright primary colours. All the colours of the rainbow. The paint protects and attracts; the paint is a technicolour coat.

My eyes and my camera smile at such colour, happy to take in all its frequencies and fun. Often I take many photographs of the one thing hoping that amongst them is a non blurry, focused picture. This doesn’t always work out. In this instance though it was simple. The colour and the lines were there bold and bright and only needed one click to be captured.

I like this picture because the details don’t really matter. The form is simple and the colours bright. It is basic, it doesn’t need to be thought about or analysed. It just is.

Queen’s Tattoo

A Chin village, Rakhine State, Myanmar. October 2016

Whilst sitting in Ma’s bamboo house, in remote Rakhine State, Myanmar, she told us about her face tattoo, a tradition of the Chin ethnic group. When she was young the practice was banned by the military government. Ma was not meant to be tattooed but she was not one to be told what to do. She begged her family to let her receive the tattoo, even going on a hunger strike.

She began to tell us the cultural reasons why the tattoo was so important and how it was done. This story was interrupted as her daughter-in-law nudged her and motioned towards my face. They were interested in my face covering; to them it was a sight rarer than a heavily tattooed grandma.

Ma’s grandson had recently lost an eye, for what reason we couldn’t quite gather. She asked me about why I wore the patch and I tried my best to explain a complicated medical history. She told me about her fears and concerns for her grandson. It was a story I knew well. Her concerns were the same as my mother’s towards me. The grandson’s struggles were my struggles. We both did our best to hold back tears as we talked. The language barriers and cultural differences disappeared.

I found a spare patch and offered it to Ma. She took and held it softly and with reverence. She was genuinely touched to receive something from a tourist, being more used to tourists wanting to take something away, and I was humbled to be able to share.

When it came time to take a few photographs I struggled. The tear stained eyes were one thing but the desire to not treat Ma as a freak show oddity was more overwhelming. I quickly snapped a few photographs so I could see the tattoo on my computer screen. I couldn’t see it in real life.

I prize Ma’s photographs and the story behind them but was even more humbled by the photo I received via email after returning to Australia. The picture was of her and her grandson. The grandson was wearing my patch. His patch. The tears started again along with smiles.


Yogyakarta, Indonesia, July 2019

Entering the Taman Sari in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia was like stepping into a different world. First a downwards walk through total darkness; like traversing a cave. Then streaming sunlight as a series of dimension defying steps appear and lead onwards. A circular passageway hovers in between, a neverland both cloaked in darkness and bathed in light.

Taman Sari is an underground mosque. A relic of a sultan’s palace; in this case a water palace. The mosque was a sanctuary for the sultan’s harem; a place to reflect and pray, to escape the suffocating heat and mayhem of humanity knocking on the palace doors. It was a place of beauty with swirling colour decorating the walls, coloured light streaming in and a cool breeze amplified by the aqua and architecture.

The decorations are long dismantled and disappeared, the colour like the water has drained and the façade is crumbling. Only the breeze remains as designed.

Colour is still attracted to this overwise darkened place. For a brief instant a female figure lingers between the light and the dark. She takes a step; her black attire ties her to the darkness she is leaving behind while her bright orange headscarf moves forward to be bathed in light. A glimpse of bright colour emerging from the darkness; a flickering image that will appear and disappear again within the blink of an eye.


Sadan Cave, Hpa Ann, Kayin State, Myanmar. October 2016

After finding our way through the pitch black Sadan Cave I was blessed to find that the light at the end of the tunnel was perfectly filtered by the greenery that grew at the cave’s exit. I snapped away at some Buddhist shrines just inside the cave, proud that we had managed to make it through.

There was no time to rest though. Some locals had come through and were making their way towards a lake. I was always going to take a photograph of the scene, even my eyes could tell it was beautiful even if I didn’t see the detail and I knew I would be able to see more of the detail later on my computer screen. The locals arrival meant I had to be quick though. I hurriedly aimed my camera at the scene before me. Only time for one quick snap.

Thankfully the light and life aligned for that one snap, freezing it forever. Now I can go back to that cave whenever I like and each time see something new in the scene, something fresh to discover, something else to treat the eyes. Something else to imagine.

Don’t Take Your Guns to Town

Bumburet, Chitral district, Pakistan. August 2017

The Kalash believe they originate from a small group of absconders from Alexander the Great’s army who decided to settle in the fertile and well-watered valleys. Following the Greek tradition they enjoy a tipple or two of alcohol, mainly home-made wine, with their meals and delicacies such as fresh goat’s milk cheese. They have been isolated in their remote valleys for most of their existence and as such are fiercely independent and proud of their unique culture. When I say fiercely I do not mean violently as they prefer a peaceful life of song, dance and friendship.

Being so close to the Afghanistan border means that all visitors, including us, must have an armed guard with them at all times. The armed guards themselves were friendly and free but the feeling of having an automatic weapon behind your back or just outside your door doesn’t exactly scream friendliness or freedom.

Our armed guard was just out of the frame to the left. There is a space in the right hand side of the picture. In reality this is because I cannot see through the camera’s view finder properly as what seems like the centre to me is often actually to the side. These happy accidents sometimes make sense though.

The space on the right side of the picture would perfectly fit our armed guard but in none of my photographs of the place will you see a gun. Why ruin such beauty with violence? Why highlight the war machine when the beauty of an ancient sewing machine can be seen instead?