When traveling for film production there is temptation to move so fast that there is only time to focus on capturing the wide grandeur of a location, and neglect the details. Whether traveling personally or for business, there is always the constraints of time to balance against an endless list of “must sees.” While grandeur is important, it’s in the obscure details where history and education truly shine.
When visiting any new place, it’s easy to only be focused on the large and monolithic structures that capture ones immediate attention. Take for example the temples of Cambodia. The large flowering stone structures are what everyone immediately notices, and everyone lines up for their perfect selfie pic. While I always get these obligatory shots as well, I also always try to capture the details few others notice. Throughout Cambodian temple complexes, you’ll find endless detailed stone carvings. At Angkor Wat alone there are 1,200 square meters of carved bas reliefs.
Take for example the temple complex of Banteay Srei (meaning “Citadel of Beauty”), which is widely known to be one of the most beautiful and intricate temples of the ancient Cambodian empire, and a described as a “jewel of Khmer art.”
Banteay Srei is a complex of small shrines and sanctuaries, with the most impressive bas relief carvings featured in the overhead pediments.
Most of the relief carvings of Banteay Srei are telling mythical stories of the exploits of the Hindu god Shiva, to whom the temple is dedicated. Because no written record of the Khmer Empire exists, everything modern scholars know about this civilization comes exclusively from 10th-century carvings such as this (and a few secondhand accounts from Chinese diplomats and traders).
On most of my international shoots, a cameraman is usually assigned to capture detail. Paintings, sculpture, architectural detail, even “local color” of townspeople and shopkeepers. While such footage is usually a small part of the final edit, it’s critical for communicating the true beauty and depth of a site. For an educational show, especially content dealing with archeology and history, details of art and sculpture is often where the most educational value is hidden, and when explained, gives the most satisfaction to the viewer.
Next time you travel personally or for business, attempt to find the small details that reveal the deeper story of the place you’re visiting. You’ll remember so much more, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re likely learning from the same firsthand sources used by scholars today and throughout history.