Photography 101: Swarm

Many of us had moments when we were in a crowded place and the sheer volume of people was just too much to handle. But I challenge that most of us don’t really know what “too much” truly is until we travel to a developing country where safety codes are meager if they even exist.

Admit it. When we read the news about horrific tragedies such as a stampeded killed more people than the cause of the stampedeĀ itself, some of us wonder how that’s even possible. Filing out of a door in an orderly manner is something we’ve been doing all our lives, right?

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Traveling and living in developing countries gave me perspective and understanding how those events happen. As mentioned, in many of these places crowd control is not a known discipline. Not in terms of movement and flow. More often, any policing would be focused on thugs, crime, and disorderly behavior. The idea of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands depending on the event, needing to move fluidly is not necessarily a priority.

One event where I and my traveling companions got seriously concerned about our safety sole because of the crowd was during the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown of Bangkok, Thailand. One end of the street where the festivities took place was completely taken up by the stage, with a narrow sidewalk on one side for exit and entering if you were to approach that end. The sides of the streets were completely taken up by vendor stalls. We were wrapping up our evening, trying to get out as the crowd ballooned in size from the after-work and Friday evening crowd.

Another thing about these cultures is there is no sense of queuing. A lot of the mentality if focused on grabbing your space because no one was going to offer it if you just stood by. There is no giving half of the space for traffic going the opposite direction. Crowds do not have a sense of courtesy or unspoken traffic flow rules. Free space is space to be claimed. So people started pushing forward in a narrow sidewalk. A building wall on one side, a chain link fence on the other.

We were pushing, body to body for space. Even if we didn’t want to move, we were being pushed from behind. It took almost half an hour to get through ten feet of distance. When we finally broke free, we admitted to each other that we each were eyeing the chain link fence in case we needed to hang on in an event of a stampede.

After that, almost any crowd in the Western countries pales in comparison.

 

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