Behind the Photo with Marcus Haney

Photos and captions by Marcus Haney 

While it’s been said that a picture tells a thousand words, the truth is it just doesn’t.

Not really. Not unless you’re some hyper-observant, gifted-ass, Sherlock Holmes-type weirdo, and that’s why we selected a handful of our favourite photographers for the MC Travel Issue and asked them, “Hey, what’s the story behind this picture? How did it come to be? Where were you when you took it? Who was there with you? What were you thinking? Was there beer? Did you have some of the beer? How much beer was there? Did you bring some beer back for me?”

One of those photographers was LA native Marcus Haney, the talented photographer and director who’s made a career out of life on the road. He’s been tour photographer of little-known musician Sir Elton John and Mumford & Sons, snuck into over 50 music festivals for his feature film No Cameras Allowed, shot everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Bernie Sanders, and been published in Rolling Stone. We figured he’d have a few stories to tell—and we were right.

I met some local Jordanian boys in Petra who were on their way to a camping trip in one of the surrounding deserts. Between one of them speaking a smidge of English and me speaking no Arabic, I somehow got invited along. An hour after meeting these guys on the street, I was in their car running around town to various houses to pick up tea, chickens, a 50-gallon drum (?!), and sleeping bags. Communication was very limited—I couldn’t make out where we were going, for how long, and more importantly, how pure the intentions of these guys were. I could potentially be hundreds of miles into the middle of a desert with complete strangers, with a cell phone that already didn’t work, and no plan B if anything went wrong. I did the old head/heart/gut check: head said don’t do it, heart said do it, and gut was stuck on the fence. I didn’t have to be at my photo assignment for another two days, so I went for it.

We took off into the mountains, moved a few “Road Closed” signs out of the way, and descended upon the most stunning desert scape I’d ever seen. The fellas ended up being lovely dudes—we cooked the chickens and veggies and rice in the big steel drum, slept out in the open under the stars, and drank very sweet tea all night. We came across a few true gipsy families that were herding camels across the desert the next morning. This baby camel was just two days old.

People say travelling to Cuba is the closest thing you can get to time travel.  I agree with them, but for reasons beyond just the classic American cars and unrestored colonial architecture. Walking down the street feels of a different era because of these things, yes, but also because the people of Cuba genuinely engage with each other. Strangers speak to each other, conversations are happening everywhere, all the time. Attention is paid, voices are heard, time is spent but not wasted.

It took me a few days of trying to put my finger on what it was that made me feel I was accessing a portal into yesteryear—even when there were no cars or crumbling architecture around. What was it about interacting with the people of Cuba that made me feel cosy, like a kid again? Phones. Cell phones.

Almost all the kids I was hanging out with had cell phones, but no one used them unless they were receiving or making an actual call. Imagine walking down the streets of your own city, going to a bar at night, hanging with friends at a house party, and everyone’s phones stayed in their pockets.

The visual absence of phones is one thing, but how it compels people to behave, to connect with and be open to friends and strangers alike, is beautiful. With data and internet so scarce, the dependence on, and addiction to, social media on phones hasn’t really happened yet in Cuba. This piece of the time travel illusion is the most important one to me… the old cars will always be there, so will the buildings. But when the internet becomes readily available to the people of Cuba, social media will get its sticky fingers on young souls and it will be interesting to observe how it changes the shape of interaction, from the youth up.

This boy in Prilep, Macedonia wanted to show me his town, but did not want his photo taken. I followed him through all sorts of dodgy neighbourhoods as he introduced me to his friends and neighbours. We laughed at a boy surfing a donkey down the street, played some street soccer, had a wander through a factory, talked to some old ladies growing tobacco in their yard, but the whole time all I wanted was a photo of the kid himself. Finally, up on a hill overlooking the town, at the last farewell of light, he finally didn’t cover his face or turn away as I clicked the shutter over. We didn’t speak a single word of each other’s language, but gratitude was communicated in both directions.

I was shooting a band on tour in Asia when I met these kids. We had a few days off in Thailand so I rented a scooter and a helmet for 11 dollars a day and got lost. Really lost. Somewhere deep in the jungle, I came across a village with a makeshift Muay Thai boxing ring with a training session in full swing. They must have only been between 12 to 15-years-old and were already RIPPED. It seemed that these kids lived, ate, and breathed Muay Thai. Conditioned from a young age, these boys were training whenever they weren’t in school or sleeping—and it showed. I would not want to be on the other end of a tangle with any of those boys, no matter how much smaller than me they were.

See more of Marcus’ work on his website or Instagram @marcushaney and read more from our Travel Issue by getting it here.

Sign up for the Monster Children Newsletter