Thursday, July 31, 2008

2 More Ladyboys Photographed

I went out at 12am and found 2 ladyboys to photograph around 3am, now it is close to 5am and I am heading home after updating this blog. I have to load film when I get home and then wake up at 10 am to photograph 2 more ladyboys, Mat (2nd time) and Bee. After I photograph the 2 people tomorrow my film will be basically done. I think I will have some 4x5 film but all my roll film should be finished. If I have any 4x5 film left I will load it and photograph a few ladies I know here, maybe a girl I know from 2003 and 2007 named nit and possibly the girl I met again tonight Bee.

The ladyboys shoots tonight were so so. The first ladyboy was named Ann, she was pretty but difficult to photograph, I did my best but I fear I might not have any good photographs of her. The second ladyboy might be the best one of the trip, her name was Tia and she was exceptional for photographs. She was very visual and moved simply and easily during the shoot, which made my job easier. Tia told me she has made a sex movie with farang men where one shot the video and the other took photos. She seemed sad and lost and a bit confused. I think she might be HIV positive as she did not really look healthy. She was also very aggressive towards me sexually, I had to basically pull her hands away and say sorry I only wanted to take photographs. The different personalities of all the ladyboys I have photographed makes each portrait session a unique photographic experience.

Dealing with people in a polite way is my first rule. I try to be honest and straight forward and treat the people I photograph with the most respect I can, and usually they return that respect and kindness. The owner of the short time room tonight was rather rude to me but I just kept on being polite and thanking her with respectfull Thai vocabulary, when I left at the end of the 2nd shoot I thanked her again and she was somewhat less rude, she kind of nodded to me in acceptance of my thanks.

Bee Lady Sex Worker

Went down to find some ladyboys to photograph today and was sitting drinking some water when a lady sex worker I had met briefly the night before came up and sat down beside me to talk.

The girls name was Bee, 21 years old. She came from a farming community in Issan (poorest area of Thailand). Bee had never known her mother, her father died when she was young, she was raised by an Aunt with a farang husband and a grandmother. When the grandmother died the Aunt through Bee out. Bee has a son that is 2 1/2 years old. The son lives with her ex Thai husband in Issan.

Bee came to work in Pattaya and now has a farang boyfriend who is 37, she misses him but is not sure the farang man loves her. Her boyfriend is from Ireland and according to Bee he will come back to Thailand and marry her he will pay 500 000 baht in dowry along with 5 baht in gold (weight of gold for the rings and necklace at the wedding). Bee's dream is to own a house and a small business of any kind. When I suggested she use the money he is sending her to go to school she told me she was to old now for school.

Bee was friendly and nice but very street smart and not shy in the words she used. She said to me "I do not fuck other man only my boyfriend". She was walking a street thou that is frequented by freelance sex workers so am not sure how much of her story is true. She told me the boyfriend was sending her 20 000 baht a month if that was so why wsa she working a street that paid 500 baht for short time sex? She might be alone or the boyfriend might not be sending her money.

I felt sorry for her she was polite and funny, talking openly and freely to me. There is so much more she could do with her life, she speaks English well, she is a quick and smart lady. She told me "I know everything no farang can bullshit me!"

A very practical and upfront lady far to savy for a 21 year old, her life has be tough and she has become strong.

Maybe I will try to photograph her, my film almost finished thou.

Simple Pleasures

It is amazing how enjoyable getting your hair dyed, cut and washed can be. I just spent an hour or so under the care of 3 Thai ladies as they worked on my hair, the ladies smiled laughed and told stories, I even got flirted with a bit, total cost $12 including tip. The lady who washed my hair gave me a massage on my face and shoulders. Going back to Canada and paying over $50+ for far less service will be hard to take.

I am going to miss Thailand!

Quote: From the Book " Ladyboys the Secret World of Thailands Third Gender"

"I didn't choose to be born like this. I am who I am. And to be honest, I like who I am."

Current Portrait Count

The current portrait session count is.

17 different ladyboy sex workers.
3 different lady sex workers

I expect to shoot Mat (2nd time) and Bee tomorrow along with 2 more freelance ladyboys to make a total of 20 (different) ladyboys and 4 woman, 24 people total, not bad for 2 weeks work.

Mat and Dao

Photographed 2 more ladyboys at 10am today Mat and Dao, they came to my room and I did the shoot in the room. Mat was one of my favorite models from last year, I really like her facial expressions eyes and hair. Mat reminds me of a lady I shot in the 3 hearts series from 1999, the ladyboy Mat has similar hair and skin color to the lady Nong from the earlier series, not sure Nong would like if I told her this ladyboy reminded me of her but she/he does!

I have Matt returning again tomorrow with another ladyboy named Bee, I will photograph Mat a second time (only second shoot of this trip) and Bee for the first time.

I would also like to go to and photograph 2 more ladyboys in short time rooms, but they do not come out till around midnight. I would like to photograph Mat, Bee and 2 more freelance sex worker ladyboys and that will be it. If I have any film left I will go to photograph a lady I have photographed 2 times before ( in 2003 and 2007 named nit). After the Nit shoot I should be out of film.

Good Band

I had a nice moment tonight just wandering the streets. There was a good Thai band playing in a beer bar, it was about 3am and the bar was mostly empty, I was standing outside buying some barbecued squid when I heard the band playing. They played 2 Eric Clapton songs, Sunshine of my Love and Cocaine. The guitar player of the band was especially gifted, not that the drunk farang and sex workers in the bar noticed. I was standing outside and clapped and the guitar player raised his hand in acknowledgement of my appreciation. It must be very tough to play night in and night out and have no one really pay attention to your talent and passion.

Insulting Ladyboys

Nut a ladyboy I photographed earlier this week told me that many times farang men will talk to them and pretend they are interested just to have fun with their friends. They approach the ladyboy and make a joke of it, Nut told me this has happened to her many times. To be a lady trapped inside a mans body must be very difficult, at least here in Thailand there is a higher level of tolerance than there is in the West.

Wednesday July 30

I only did 2 photo shoots today, a ladyboy named Ann and a named ladyboy Pim but it was a good day. Both ladyboys were interested and visually strong in the sessions and both I think will contribute photos for the box portfolio I have planned. I shot them both in a short time sex room I rented for 2 hours. Ann seemed the sadder of the two she told me how she did not want to fall in love because it only leads to pain. Pim was stronger and independent she seemed to have a thicker skin than many of the ladyboys I have photographed. She was very moody and into the shoot, sort of performing for the camera without me having to add much input, she ordered in cigarettes to add to the mood, she kind of reminded me of a Marlene Dietrich type person.

Tonight I also made arrangements to shoot 2 ladyboys from last year tomorrow morning at 10 am, this will be the 5Th and 6Th shoot with the people I have shot before. I am trying to follow Jocks advice about establishing relationships and reshooting the same people over longer periods of time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Running Out of Days

Have only a handfull of days left, I still have film to shoot about 8 people. Today was basically a day of rest, I had a nice meal with a friend and prepared all my equipment for tomorrow.

I wanted to shoot photos in a new parts of the city here so I went out and talked to some ladyboys about making photographs. I also found 2 shorttime rooms where I could make photographs. I have 3 scheduled shoots for tomorrow at 6pm, 8pm and 12 am. Will see how it goes, am feeling a bit burnt out. I need to go home to Canada take a rest and recharge my batteries before developing the film and making prints.

At times I am a bit imtimidated when creating this work, making the images puts me into some what dangerous situations. Ladyboys can be physically and sexually aggressive much more so than the woman sex workers I photographed in the past, so that can be a bit daunting.

I just hope the photographs honestly portray the people I am photographing and that the images are sensitve to who they are as individuals. As I make the portraits I am trying to let the individual personalities of the subjects come forth, I want to show their humanity as Jock Sturges and Jim suggested.


I---, is a man I have known since 1999. I met him again last night, he is a sex pat (ex pat who lives in Thailand to buy sex) he came to Thailand in search of sex and has lived her since 1997 to that end. I---, has lost count of the woman he has slept with, he slept with 2 or 3 a day when I first met him but now because of his age(66) he only has sex with 1 different girl each day. This type of life might seem like paradise (I---'s word) to many men. He does not work, he eats, sleeps, drinks and f_cks that is what his life is about. I---, even has business cards printed up to hand out to the girls.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Walked into some areas of Thailand I had not visited for years. I ran into an old friend from my earlier photographs of sex workers. The ladies name is Nit, I have photographed her 2 times before in 1999 and in 2003, tonight when we meet again she quickly recognised me and was interested in making more photographs. She looked so tired this photo session, in 2003 she said she was 43 and now she says she is 49 which is about right, but she looks so much older. Living the life she has lived has really worn her down. She told me how many farang men will pay her so they can urinate on her or pay her to urinate on them. She told me she often does not get wet when she is having sex with a farang and does not like sex at all anymore. When she is having sex with her customer she tries to think about nothing, the only thing she thinks about is hoping he will finish quickly. I tried to photograph her in a way that showed how worn down she has become both physically and emotionally. Will I photograph her again? no doubt in the future I will. I wish she could have some good luck and get out of this world.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ladyboys Are Lining Up for Photo Sessions

Talked to around 8 or 9 ladyboys tonight all are interested in doing photographs some for a second time. I have 3 tentatively scheduled for tomorrow, I might have to do 2 ladyboys then go back to my apartment and reload film and come back and shoot the 3rd and possibly 4Th person. Not sure I can do 4 shoots in one night, with the heat, walking and the heavy camera bag plus making the images it is quite physically demanding.

I do not expect much difficulty in finding enough different ladyboys to photograph. I am getting a reputation here now and they are starting to come to me instead of me needing to seek them out.

So far I have photographed 11 ladyboys and 2 woman ( 1 ladyboy and 1 girl from last years shoots posed again). Nut another ladyboy from last year asked me to photograph her tomorrow.

I will have to do my best tomorrow because on Monday I might be taking a one night trip to meet some farang sex pats I know. I also want to visit some old stomping grounds and see if I can find some old Thai friends.


Photographed a ladyboy from last year named Ji Ji. Last year she was sort of angry during the shoot but today she was very pleasant. Ji Ji has had breast surgery since last year and now had quite large breasts (last year she was flat chested). I liked photographing her because she had nice large eyes and a expressive face. Ji Ji told me a story of how she had a farang boyfriend who she liked very much who at first did not know she was a ladyboy and liked being with her even after he found out. A few years passed and the man changed his mind and said he could not stay with her anymore because she was a ladyboy. Ji Ji thinks the man broke up with her because he was embarrassed to introduce her to his family, the guy was Welsh from Great Britain.

I also photographed a lady (2nd one) named Tun who was a very nice person. Tun is 27 without a mother or father and has no children. I guess a 4 years back she was selling food on the street in Bangkok and after her father died she moved into the sex industry. Tun laughed alot during our shoot and we had a grand time. Afterwards she wanted to meet me outside the bar and I told her sorry I could not. When I was about to leave the bar she gave me a hom gam (kisses on both cheeks, sort of a smell kiss, like she wants to inhale you, Thai woman often do this with their children or people they have strong feelings for). I meet so many girls like Tun here, kind people with good hearts working in this shit industry, heartbreaking.

Old Man With Thai Woman

Was buying some sweets on the street today when a old man of close to 80 shuffled by. He was heavily tanned and wore a old style hat which seemed odd, the man had obviously been living in Thailand for years. Four steps behind him followed his Thai lady friend, she was probably in her 30s and carried 3 small bags, I was not sure they were together until I saw him stop at the corner and she ran up to hold his hand as he crossed the street.

The thing that struck me was not the age difference which is quite common here but their facial expressions, both looked so bored with each other so unloving. It seemed more like the woman was the older mans nurse not his wife or lover.

There was a music video on Thai TV last week. The song was sung by a young Thai male who lost his young girlfriend to an old rich fat farang. In the video the girl kept rubbing the farang mans fat belly while the Thai man sang the song and cried about lost love. It must get quite frustrating for younger Thai men here who lose there woman to older, uglier, fatter but rich foreigners.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Goy and Oy

Met two very nice ladies working as sex workers in short time bars here today. Shortime bar girls sit outside their bar waiting for customers then go up to rooms upstairs for sex.

Goy is 22 a small polite lady with soft face and eyes, she has been working the scene for a while I think and is starting to harden a bit. I met her my first night here and tonight she called me over to sit beside her and have a talk.

Oy is 21 but looks 18, she has the face of a young girl. She laughs easily and quickly and seems like a very nice good hearted person.

I wonder what their futures hold, I might come back to the bar in 2 years and their smiles would have faded no doubt they could have more tattoos and be more saddened and pessimistic about life. Maybe they will become hooked on some drug be alcoholic or be HIV positive and banished from the bar.

I hope they will have some good luck and meet a decent guy who will pull them out of this world as fast as possible.

Language Skills

Well the language thing seems to be improving. I am understanding more and more of overheard conversations. Things on TV are also more clear than they were last year. In the past much Thai language talk was sort of background noise for me now I am at the point that I am understanding things even when I do not try to.

A Much Better Night

Well last night sort of sucked photo wise but tonight was a home run. I found two very good ladyboy subjects. Both were nice polite people with interesting, strong faces. I photographed Bui aged 21 and Cake age 22, am looking forward to getting back to Canada and working on their photographs.

I also met a ladyboy from last year named Ji Ji. I liked photographing her last year even thou she was kind of angry/aggressive at the time. One of my favorite photographs from last year is the one I took of Ji Ji with her hands cupped. I will photograph her again tomorrow night and give her the photograph from last year as a gift.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Battery Charger Repaired

Well I was able to get the battery charger for the Turbo battery repaired. I can now shoot all my 4x5 film. I hope I can find the people I need to make good photographs, I wish I had just one exta week. I have to push hard making photographs until I leave Thailand, then fly accross the world and return to work 1 day after I am in Canada. This vaction thing is exhausting!

Finding Faces Difficult

Am in a bit of a dilemma. I am facing a problem I anticipated in Canada. How do you find strong faces that will hold a wall (hold the viewers attention in a gallery) in the limited time I have to make the photographs? If I had more time I could search out the faces that inspire me to make photographs but with only 2 weeks to shoot all my film before returning to Canada my subject options are limited.

I only photographed 1 ladyboy today named Emmy and was uninspired by the other people I had the opportunity to photograph. Tonight was also a tough night physically feel a bit run down and tired. I need to have a good sleep and recharge the batteries. Tomorrow I will try finding ladyboys in a different area of the city.

Oyster Boy

Just ate 7 large raw oysters! The oysters are served in the shell with ice you eat them with fried onions, lemon juice , spicy Thai sauce, lemon grass or garlic along with a raw Thai vegetable that you eat last. The first time I ate this dish was last year and I was really looking forward to the dish again. My stomach seems to holding up rather nicely but I continue to eat medicine for my previous stomach problems.

I think I might go for traditional Thai massage also. There is a place I can get a massage here that costs 200 baht for 2 hours, when you add the 100 baht tip for the massage person it works out to around $10 CAD for 2 hours of bliss.

The best news thou is I was able to take my battery plus transformer charger to a local repair shop. The man in the shop said the problem was with the transformer/charger (not the battery) and he could convert it to 220 volt power for $200 Baht $6-7 CAD. Thai people are very skilled at repairing broken things. This is the second time I had a problem with the Bananarama, first it was the flash bracket that broke and I had it repaired now it is the charger for the Bananarama Turbo battery that will hopefully be repaired (find out tonight at 5pm).

If the battery charger cord can be repaired I should have enough time to charge the battery, change film and go out and photograph 2 more ladyboys tonight. I have photographed 7 ladyboys and 1 lady so far. I want to photograph a minimum of 20 different ladyboys, then hopefully I will have enough good photos to do my box portfolio set "A Box of 10 Ladyboys".

I feel like I am getting into a nice rhythm with the cameras. There are less and less technical mistakes and I feel a nice flow when using the equipment. I can focus and use the Bananarama quite smoothly now so I hope I can shoot the rest of my b/w sheet film and the few sheets of color negative 4x5 I brought along. The friendships with the people I photograph are growing also, all the people I photograph are friendly to me after and often stop me to talk to to me on the street when they see me. If I could stay here for 1 year I could really establish some long term friendships. Two girls I photographed back in 2003 still work the bars here and I was able to speak to both of them last night.

I have so far stayed clear of the angry farang bar owner I met the other night so hopefully that is not a problem any longer. Things seem to be balancing out and going quite smoothly now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Good Photo Day

Ate a great meal of barbecue at a local mall, you order your food raw and cook it at the table. It was really delicious!! After being pretty sick for the last few days I sort of gorged myself on this food. I really love Thai food, it is now my favorite food followed by Chinese and Japanese.

Went and photographed 2 more ladyboys. Nicky aged 26 and Goby aged 20. Both were very polite people and I especially liked to photograph Nicky, she talked to me about many things. I learned for example that if ladyboys want to join a temple as a monk or a nun they join as a monk if they have not had the breast surgery and as a nun if they have had the breast surgery.

My flash battery for my Bananarama system has run down. I will try to charge it all night (doubt that will work), tomorrow I will take it to local electronic repair shop to see if they can do anything. If the battery cannot be repaired I will go to a pro camera store to see a replacement or repair the one I have. I think thou that my using the bananarama for making ladyboy photos is done now, even thou I still have over 200 sheet sheets of 4x5 film, DAMN!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Cremation 2

What struck me most about the cremation was the simplicity and finality of it all. I knew this man in real life, he was a strong man a decent and good man and here he was in this coffin and I could see his face and body as it was surrounded by smoke and flames. It is a fate that awaits us all, someday the guy in the coffin will be me. It is so important to live your life to the fullest while you have a chance, to not live life in fear but to push yourself to live an exceptional life. I think if anything it reaffirmed the need I had to create a body of work while I was still physically able to do it. Life is a fragile thing that ends all to soon we must use the time given us properly.

I can still in my minds eye see the flames rising up around the coffin, the body lying inside not moving, the family crying and reaching out. The cremation is something I will never forget.

A Good Photo Day

Had a good photographing day, I photographed 2 ladyboys named Ji Ji and Sammy. Sammy was quiet and polite with nice large eyes and a sensitive nature,she had a 60 year old Denmark boyfriend who took care of her. Ji Ji was over the top expressive with large facial expressions and mannerisms. Ji Ji told me that she had made many sex movies with farangs and was on many Internet sites, she really enjoyed the photo session and seemed disappointed when it was over.

I have another camera related problem, my quantum turbo battery is not charging so I will not be able to use the Bananarama with flash soon. I have a back up charger and 2ND quantum turbo in Canada but made the mistake of not bringing them in case of an emergency. I wanted to travel light and will probably pay for that mistake. The quantum battery is almost dead now and I still have around 250 sheets of film to shoot. Made a bad mistake I should have brought the backup for emergencies. I will go to a pro camera store to see if I can a replacement charger or possibly buy another new quantum battery. I would hate to not be able to shoot that final 250 sheets of film.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Scene is Tiring

After seeing these people work the bars for so many years now and to see the same thing night in and night out I am becoming tired of this type of photograph. I think I need to expand my vision beyond what I am currently shooting. I do not know how farang stay in this sex tourist scene drinking and f_cking and not doing other things with their lives. To sit in this place for 10 years getting drunk daily having unfufilling personal relationships would be a terrible way to live. I still keep seeing these non verbal relationships. The farang sits at the restaurant looking at his food and hardly saying a word to his Thai girlfriend, or they walk down the street the farang 50+ years old leading and the Thai girl usually 20+ years following with a look of dislike on her face. Empty Empty Empty way to live life.

2nd night of photos

Photographed 2 people tonight a ladyboy named Paula 21 years old and also a girl from last years photos named Long 24 years old. Not sure of the quality of the images but I made fewer technical mistakes and I got phone numbers from both and hope to photograph them in there homes also.

I talked to Long about many of the people I photographed last year. Most were gone now. Sau was married to a farang in Switzerland and as Long told me "now she has big clean house and a nice car to drive!" Dao I guess was put into Jail by the Thai police with her Thai boyfriend, possibly on drug related charges. Yai has stopped working because she was to old now and could get no more customers. Jo was pregnant and not working. I guess Da is still around but away somewhere and will probably not return before I leave Thailand. People who work as sex workers do not have a long job life, I do not think I can do as Jock Sturges suggested and photograph the same people year in year out, they are simply gone to fast. If I stayed in Thailand for 1 year I could establish longer relationships of about 1 year with these people and photograph them several times. I will photograph Long again in her own home which will add some humanity to the images.


Got quite sick over the last 2 days, I guess I overdid it on the Thai food at the funeral. I ended up with quite serious diarrhea for 1 day but took some medicine and now things are better. I had a fever and sore body while the medicine was fighting the illness but a good sleep and 8 pills seem to have settled things down. I have not eaten much for about 2 days now but have my appetite back again. Last night I ate 3 pieces of bread only and a few small sliced cucumbers.


Making photographs here has a potential danger, maybe more so than in years past. I have no problems working with the sex workers in the industry my personal danger is a result of the money people. The bar owners the organized crime in the city and many corrupt policemen make lots of money out of the sex industry. If they feel that I am endangering that income with my photographs I could be in danger possibly life threatening type danger. Many farang males die in this city in unexplained ways, I cannot pick up a newspaper without reading about a farang who has died of unknown causes that are attributed to suicide. I read one story where a farang was found with his hands and feet tied, a plastic bag was placed over his head and he suffocated, the police ruled it suicide. I must be careful.

Tonight I was warned by a farang bar owner not to take photos on the Soi I am photographing on. I told him I would not photograph at his bar but the guy was drunk and angry and hard to reason with. I will stay well clear of his bar and concentrate on photographing ladyboys in there personal rooms over the next few days.

I am also not going to carry the photographs I shot last year any longer to show people. It draws to much attention to me (drew the farang bar owners attention). Most of the people from that time are gone anyway, I cannot give them any photographs because they are not around any longer.

It was interesting to see the reaction of the girls I was talking to in Thai when the bar owner farang showed up , the girls scattered and were obviously afraid of the man. His Thai wife the mamason of the bar also seemed submissive to him. She walked by us as he warned me here eyes looking down at the ground. I hate this type of farang who is a sex exploiter of Thai people, a drunk and probably a violent man. A dangerous man also for me, I need to stay well clear of him. I guess he has been running the bar for over 9 years so he must have connections with organized crime and corrupt policemen here.
A lower profile is what I need, that is one reason why I am not putting my exact location on this blog.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Buddhist Funerals

I found the ceremonies connected with Buddhist funerals quite different and very interesting. Some of the differences included:

- 4 Buddhist monks are seated in front of of everyone next to a Buddha statue on a raised platform there heads being higher than surrounding people who kneel on the ground.

- The body is placed in a coffin with no lid and then put into a ceremonial display coffin(device)that is part refrigerator, this device keeps the body cool for the 3, 5 or 7 days of the funeral.

- A string is attached to the body and which then goes out the device door and is strung overhead for the monks to use during the ceremonies while they pray. This string allows a direct connection to the person who has died.

- When the monks do their nightly chanting they cover there faces, I asked why and from what I understood it was because it was a funeral and it represented the fact that the person had died, at weddings and other ceremonies the monks faces are not covered when they chant also at weddings a odd number of monks preside for the ceremony either 5,7,9 or more.

- Before the body is initially placed in the coffin it is placed under a red cloth with the head facing the crowd. When the cloth is removed money is placed and tied into the hands of the dead person in the shape of a Thai Wai.

- The visitors of the funeral offer daily personal prayers at the time of their choosing. They walk up Wai the photo (of the dead person on display) or they Wai the coffin they then kneel down and light some incense. The incense is shaken to eliminate the flame (not blown on) then it is placed in a Wai between your fingers. Then you Wai the deceased person again and quietly prey. When your done praying you place the incense stick in a pot filled with sand in front of the coffin. Finally you bow down (from your knees) and touch you head to a cushioned stool on the ground.

- Incense is lit on the first day of the ceremony and must stay lit for the entire time the funeral goes on, only when the funeral is over and the bones/ashes are either placed in the family home or in the temple area where they store ashes can the incense stick be allowed to run out. A person from the family slept nightly next to the coffin at the temple to make sure the incense sticks did not go out.

- After the funeral the photograph of the dead person, a urn with his bones and a ceremonial lit kerosene lamp along with lit incense stick are transferred to the persons home where they are placed high in the room and become a personal shrine area for that individual. The vehicle must not stop on this journey for food, toilet breaks or other reasons or bad luck will befall the family at some future date.

- A tray of food is given to the dead person next to his coffin every day, 3 times a day (his favorite food dishes while living). When you talk and prey to the body/person you have a conversation with him like he is still alive. Tell him what is happening when you will return, say goodnight etc.


King is a 9 year old Thai boy, he is the son of one of the daughters from the funeral I video taped. The man who died was King's grandfather and main care provider. The mother of king has temper issues and is physically abusive to her 2 sons at times. King lived with and took care of his grandfather, he is a very polite young man who is responsible and hard working.

I first met King last year when I came to Thailand to work on a series of photographs. King at that time kind of latched on to me, he has no father in his life (his mother is divorced) and I guess I represented a father figure to him. I have never really enjoyed being around children and have none of my own. King thou was such a polite, quiet good boy that I grew to into liking him. Last year I would watch movies with him and his family, King would normally sit beside me and look at me and smile. This year I came back and King came right up to me and gave me a Wai (A Wai is a Thai way of showing respect, a greeting and way to say goodbye as well, they join there hands together like a christian prayer and raise the hands to their lips/nose with a slight bow of the head, the higher the hands the more respect shown). King also remembered my name and said hello to me with a big smile. Through out the funeral he would follow me around and even ran over to me and gave me a hug when I arrived at the bus station when I returned to Prachinburi for the Cremation ceremony.

I worry now what will happen to this young man. His grandfather who was raising him has died, his mother does not seem to love him and everyone else does not seem to want to take care of him, there was only his grandfather and now he is dead. I was always saddened to see the way King's personality changed if his mother was nearby. If his mother was not in the room he would smile and laugh and ask me to lift him up, he was curious about how all my cameras worked and eager to press all the buttons. When his mom was in the room he would not speak unless spoken to, he would sit silently by himself with not a hint of a smile on his face or even worse he would sort of stand in a far off corner like he was trying to be invisible.

I worry for this child's future, I wonder what he will become. When I return to Thailand in 10 years and he is 19 what kind of life will he have? What kind of person will he be?

Will Start Photographing Again Tonight

I am now back at my apartment and will starting doing 2 photo shoots a night starting tomorrow night. I got a bit sick at the funeral probably from eating every Thai dish around and there were many. My stomach was OK for the first 5 days but things caught up to me on day 6 and 7. I might have to buy some medicine tomorrow to take care of the problem.

The Cremation

Not sure how to put this experience into words. Sad, interesting, moving, difficult, life enhancing all come to mind.

I ended up video taping the cremation ceremony as the family (3 sisters) cried and said goodbye to their father. I have to think about this for a few days (it happened yesterday) and will add to this post at a later date.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Unlucky Start

Well I managed to lose my wallet! Will cost me about $200 in money and replaced cards. I am not sure if it fell out of my pocket or if it was stolen.

I tried to salvage the night by returning to my room to get more funds and making photographs. I ended up photographing 2 ladyboys, Aria (Som) and Mickie. Both ladyboys were photographed in shortime rooms above the street where there bar was. It was a bit dodgy to follow them up to the rooms in the dark through unlit back doors. Once in the room I made a number of technical mistakes while photographing along with having plenty of dificulty dealing with the heat and weight of the Banarama camera. Focusing was also a major problem as the rooms have almost no light. When I photographed female sex workers on the same soi (street) the rooms were much better lit, maybe the ladyboys like to work in the dark to hide their deficiancies. Focusing with the Bananrama was a major difficulty even with the attacted flashlight I used (anticipated this problem when I was in Canada).

Aria was sexually aggressive with me and kept trying to get me involved in non photographic ways, she said she did a sex movie once with 2 farang (Western) men, guess it was a professional shoot. I managed to hold Aria off so we could concentrate on photography. Micky was a much more polite person who I liked very much, she (he) had recently suffered a broken heart when here Canadian boyfriend broke up with her and went with another ladyboy (friend of Micky's).

I need to correct all my technical errors and concentrate on the photographs. I think I had first night nerves and am using new camera systems which is bound to have a few hickups. Outside of losing the wallet it was a OK night. I hope to have many good nights to follow. Already the ladyboys are lining up for shoots, I have talked to another 5 or 6 who would be interested in making photographs.

Am going now to the bus station to take a 3 hour ride to Pretchinburi to attend the final days of the funeral. I will be video taping the cremation process and other ceremonies. I should be back here making photographs on Sunday or Monday.

Making Photos Day 1

Well am set up in a wonderful apartment at a very reasonable rate. I had a nice sleep and now I am going to go to an area I photographed in last year. I have a number of free photos I want to hand out from the Sex Worker series to people that still might be around. Fourteen months is a long time in the world I am entering so many people might be gone now but I hope to see many of the friends I made last trip and to hand out photos and re photograph some of those same people.

The last few days I have been at a Thai Buddhist funeral. This is the first time I have seen and been apart of (making a video for the family) a Buddhist Funeral. It is both sad and beautiful in different ways. This particular funeral will be 5 days (it can run 3,5 or 7 days depending on the families wishes), tonight is night 4 which will be followed by the cremation on Saturday (no cremations are done on Fridays). After making my first photographs tonight I will take the bus back to witness the cremating of the body and the other Buddhist ceremonies connected with the last parts of the funeral. The degree of respect givin the person who has died is really quite amazing. I would like to at some future date learn more about Buddhism and possibly become a monk for a short time.

My first day in a sex worker area has such a different feel than rural Thailand. It is like night and day. I have already seen around 10 older farang (western) men with younger Thai (sex worker)girlfriends. I was having some Thai food today and watched 2couples that sat across from each other and barely spoke, they were living in different worlds. This place I am in now is not the real Thailand.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Thailand

Been busy busy. Had a hard trip over, met some nice people but damn flying packed in like sardines across the pacific is a pain in the A--.

I also managed to break my flash bracket for the Bananarama but got that fixed(sort of). I think now it should be OK to shoot. Tomorrow I depart for my rented apartment and will start making photographs soon.

Spent the last few days at a Thai Buddhist funeral, it was a very eye opening experience, beautiful and sad in many ways.

Will write more when I have time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Going Back

This will be my 5th and shortest trip to Thailand. I pretty well know what to expect and it should not take long to get back into the flow of things. The difficulty will come in dealing with the heat, the heavy camera bag and getting the work done in the limited time available to me. The problem when you only have about 2 weeks for shooting is you cannot be as picky in choosing who you photograph, it is difficult to find very visual people when your trying to fit into a 2 shoots a day quota.

If I shoot less film and am more choosy with my subjects I will leave myself less choices in the darkroom later. I think I am better off shooting as much film as I can and as many subjects as I can.

Speaking in the Thai language again should be fun and interesting. Most of my photo work is done in Thai and when you have not spoke it for 1 year it is sort of like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. I will be gasping and grasping for words trying to make myself understood and more importantly trying to understand what the heck 3 or 4 people jabbering to me at the same time are saying!

Oh well should be fun, starting to feel excited, the photos will come, the adventure lies ahead. Now if I can just get through that painful 24 hour 3 airplane flight!

Packing Film

Well I spent the morning figuring out how much film and how the heck I was going to carry it all half way round the world today. My current carry on film bag has.

425 sheets of Tri-x 4x5 sheet film
20 sheets of Portra 4x5 Color VC film (for experimenting with)
62 rolls of 220 Portra Color VC film
50 rolls of 120 Tri-x

Not sure if I have to much or not enough, better to have to much so I think I will probably go with these totals. Now the problem is I have to run the gauntlet of x-ray machines. I will have to pass through 6 of these machines, the x-rays have a accumulative fogging affect on the film. I will try to get the film hand checked but when you try to explain what sheet film is to airport security personal it is sort of like your speaking to them in Swahili!

Quote: Edward Burtynsky, Photographer

" a way when you look at a work of art there isn't a narrative, you are left to your own devices you are left of your own baggage to complete the meaning of that image..."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quote: Diane Arbus

"A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know."

Quote: Sid Grossman, Photographer

"The function of the photographer is to help people understand the world about them."

Diane Arbus Revisited

Shutter Release, January 2004

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was a gifted portrait photographer who achieved fame
and some notoriety from her images of people who were emotionally or physically
aggrieved. Her subjects included awkward adolescents, tattooed roughnecks, sex orgies,
and persons she called “freaks” in a matter-of-fact way without deprecation. She lived
and worked in New York City, venturing to the toughest neighborhoods. Perhaps her
most famous image is of a giant (a man about 8 feet tall) stooping beside his parents
little more than half his height. The very tall man looks a bit frightening, and all have a
startled, almost pained expression on their faces.

In her time, Arbus was controversial and disliked by many critics. After her
death—sadly, she took her own life—her work was figuratively placed on the shelf, as if
an interesting curiosity of the past. In October 2003, her photography resurfaced with a
bang. An extensive exhibition, Diane Arbus Revelations, opened at the San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art; it will visit several US and European cities in 2004. Random
House has published a voluminous collection of these images under the same title. A
second show featuring her work, Diane Arbus: Family Albums, opened in December
and will run through March in Boston and New York City; a book is also available. The
New York Times and Aperture magazines devoted cover issues to Arbus as well. A
volley of reviews has followed. As a result, Diane Arbus and her work have become all
the rage in the world of art critique.

An Ethical Perspective

Behind the buzz of the retrospectives is a question: Was Arbus judged too
harshly in the past? The discussion centers on the motivation and merits of her focus on
people from whom most of us would avert our gaze—either they would be unpleasant to
see, or we would not want to embarrass them by our staring. An issue of ethics is
involved. While no one I’ve read has put it this starkly, the root question could be
expressed as:

Is it wrong to seek out and photograph people at their worst, when the apparent
motives are a compulsion to capture images of the down-and-out, and in the process
make a name for oneself and earn a living or profit?

Arbus’s Skills: Penetrating Portraiture and Access

Straightaway, Arbus deserves at least two honorable mentions. First, she was a
skilled portraitist. Using natural light, Arbus had an intuitive flair for drawing out and
illustrating the character of her subjects through the classical portraiture technique of
subtle differential shading of the sides of the face. And her images unfailingly show
great detail, often in difficult lighting situations and for the most part without graininess.

Second, and crucial to what she achieved, Arbus worked wonders in gaining
access. Access is among the least mentioned or discussed aspects of photography, but it
is vital to the success of most photographers. The majority of beautiful images require
the photographer to identify and locate the subjects, and “be there” fully sanctioned. This
is especially true (and occasionally downright risky) in people photography. Of course,
an established reputation or clientele make it easier in some circumstances, but it’s a long

It was in attaining access that Arbus demonstrated amazing skills. Her
photographs of people who would not normally want to be photographed were not candid
or taken on the fly or sly with telephoto lenses. Arbus sought out and persuaded her
subjects to pose.


The new exhibitions and books about Diane Arbus and her photography have
stimulated a number of reviews that touch on the ethical question of taking photographs
of the embarrassed, the downtrodden, the variants. . .

In Behind the Cruelly Probing Lens (Financial Times, 12/13/03), Richard
McClure writes: “Whereas once (Arbus) stood accused of voyeurism and prurient
curiosity, she is now painted as a kindred spirit to the misfits and outsiders she commonly
depicted. Far from seeming exploitive or demeaning, her pictures have come to be read
as metaphors for her own suffering; a cumulative self-portrait of a troubled mind.”

Following this, without directly faulting Arbus, McClure proceeds to debunk, by
way of examples, the notion that she harbored inherent good will or empathy for her
subjects. He writes of her disappointment, while visiting London in search of photo
opportunities, at not finding suitable subjects, and quotes her complaint: “Nobody seems
miserable, drunk, crippled, mad or desperate. I finally found a few vulgar things in the
suburbs, but nothing sordid yet.”

McClure’s clincher concerns Arbus’s famous image of the giant stooping over his
parents. His manner appears not quite human; all look nearly shell-shocked. McClure
informs us that the San Francisco exhibit includes a contact sheet with other images of
that shooting session. All the images show parents and child at ease and demonstrating a
natural fondness and affection for each other. Arbus did not publish these, selecting
instead the one image that appears to have been a fluke—as can occur when people are
frozen in motion—that shows the subjects at their worst.

In Good Pictures (New York Review of Books, January 15, 2004), Janet Malcolm
provides a more detailed, in-depth biographical study. After all the quotes, reminiscences
and opinions are digested, it appears that Malcolm considers Arbus an exceptional
photographer who produced memorable images. And that whatever her character and
motivation—on which the record, by my reading, is indicated as mixed—Arbus’s
photography served a purpose in society as well as her own mind, if only to get people to
look at a dimension of reality normally avoided.

Malcolm emphasizes that Arbus usually took her portraits against as plain a
background as possible—a demanding but ultimately rewarding technique. She stresses
that Arbus did not photograph her subjects without their permission.

Yet Malcolm initially quotes Jed Perl, writing in the New Republic, who
described Arbus as “one of those devious bohemians who celebrate other people’s
eccentricities and are all the while aggrandizing their own narcissistically pessimistic
view of the world.” This view is not directly contradicted, but is tempered by quotes and
reminiscences that suggest Arbus may have had good intent despite a cynicism about life.
Arbus is herself quoted in a style that could best be described as bohemian (and at worst,
early adolescent):

“Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. . . There’s a quality of legend about
freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle.
Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were
born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats."

In the cover story, In Communion With the Outsider—What Diane Arbus
Was Shooting For (New York Times Magazine, September 14, 2003), Arthur Lebow
ventures to speculate on her mental state. On the basis of extensive interviews with
Arbus’s contemporaries as well as her writings, he concludes that Arbus enjoyed and was
not depressed by her photography of the down-and-out. She would be concerned,
however, about not having captured subjects truthfully (i.e., not portraying them as they
were). Lebow also suggests that Arbus’s suicide was related to events in her personal life
rather than her photography. Interestingly, the previously unpublished images
accompanying the article are of people from the mainstream—albeit anxious or
embarrassed at the moment—rather than from the margins of society. It turns out that
Arbus photographed more of conventional New York society than had been realized.

In a review, Looking Again Through Dark, Avid Lens of Diane Arbus
(Washington Times, January 4, 2004), Alexander Eliot provides a highly informative and
down-to-earth commentary with minimal abstraction. Eliot initially focuses on the
images—not the photographer—in the Diane Arbus Revelations book. He observes that
taken as a whole, the photographs comprise a finely crafted, eloquent story of the human
condition, or at least an important but rarely viewed side of it. Eliot writes, “To the dull
or hasty glance, her photographic ‘preserves’ often appear ugly or shocking, or both at
once. Yet they are indeed beautiful. . .as a variegated cast of brave souls. . .” (italics

With regard to Arbus’s situation, Eliot is quite to the point:

“She was a true artist in the highest sense. In order to pursue her destiny, Diane required
a little money, and a little fame—but that’s the only reason she sought them. And her
few successes, in the practical sense, were more or less obliterated by successive riptides
of defeat. Most of the magazine editors for whom she worked exploited Diane, paying
rock-bottom fees, and even declining to reimburse her painfully modest expenses. As a
fragile, female free-lancer who was totally unequipped for, and unaccustomed to, the
rude, rough-and-tumble of professional existence, she suffered severe, humiliating
attrition throughout the last, best years of her career. Something soon upset the delicate
balance that made Diane’s intimate and yet cruel art worth living to create. What was it?
That’s not for me to guess. . .”

As to her motivation, Eliot quotes Arbus: “I truly believe there are things which
nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

Thank you, Mr. Eliot.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wrestling with Diane Arbus

Last week, we profiled the work of the acclaimed New York photographer Diane Arbus. As a major retrospective of her work opens in London, Germaine Greer, who agreed to pose for Arbus in 1971, reveals what it was like to be under the glare of her lens ...

Saturday October 8, 2005
The Guardian

Visitor at the Diane Arbus: Revelations exhibition. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

I first encountered Diane Arbus in April 1971 at a press conference organised by the American publishers of my book The Female Eunuch at Sardi's restaurant in New York. She was one of a number of photographers who asked me for a private sitting, and I didn't refuse. By May I had acquired a New York boyfriend, David, who urged me to let one of his friends photograph me. The friend was Diane Arbus.
I was photographed a lot in those days, and I hated the whole rigmarole so I tried to wriggle out of it. David, who was a photographer himself, had never wanted to photograph me. I wasn't his kind of subject. He earned his living as a taxi-driver, but what he worked at was taking candid photographs of New York street life with the Nikon he kept beside him on the front seat of his yellow cab. Arbus also worked as a street photographer, like the ones of the 1940s who used to snap people as they walked past and then run up and offer them a card, so they could buy the snapshot if they wanted to, except Arbus didn't offer her subjects a card and didn't let them see the pictures. You have only to look at the contact sheets included by her daughter Doon Arbus in Diane Arbus: Revelations to see the street photographer at work with her Rolleiflex and flash. A lot of nonsense is talked about Arbus's empathy with her subjects; what is mirrored on most of those faces is faint bewilderment and timid resentment. The subjects have no names because Arbus neither knew nor cared who they were.

I'm not sure whether David was on my side or whether he was more concerned to ingratiate himself with Arbus. He certainly knew her work, as I did not. Maybe he thought, after much lionising by the uptown set, I had it coming. He must have known that, as a photographer, Arbus had never allowed any of her subjects to look good. For the years that she worked with her husband, Alan Arbus, as the stylist for his glamour photographs she had had no option but to make beautiful people look more beautiful. It was said that she was the best stylist in the business. Once the marriage broke down and Arbus struck out on her own, there was to be no more making people look their best. Maybe David thought he would learn something by watching Arbus at work. If he did, he must have been disappointed because, as soon as they were both in my room in the Chelsea hotel, she ordered him to leave. She couldn't work with other people in the room.
She seemed too birdlike and delicate to be lugging her outsize camera bag on such a warm day. Her thin cheeks were red with exertion and her fine fairish hair stood out around her face in wisps. I asked her whether she would like a rest or refreshment or something of the sort, and she refused in a tiny voice, without looking up from her camera bag. I'd have liked something myself, but this seemed not to occur to her. Throughout the session she spoke very little and always in a deceptively apologetic murmur. She avoided facing me, as she ferretted in the big bag and patted her many pockets. She set up no lights, just pulled out her Rolleiflex, which was half as big as she was, checked the aperture and the exposure, and tested the flash. Then she asked me to lie on the bed, flat on my back on the shabby counterpane.

I did as I was told. Clutching the camera she climbed on to the bed and straddled me, moving up until she was kneeling with a knee on both sides of my chest. She held the Rolleiflex at waist height with the lens right in my face. She bent her head to look through the viewfinder on top of the camera, and waited. In her viewfinder I must have looked like a guppy or like one of the unfortunate babies into whose faces Arbus used to poke her lens so that their snotty tear-stained features filled her picture frame (eg, A Child Crying, NJ, 1967). I knew that at that distance anybody's face would have more pores than features. I was wearing no make-up and hadn't even had time to wash my face or comb my hair.

Pinned on the bed by her small body with the big camera in my face, I felt my claustrophobia kick in; my heart-rate accelerated and I began to wheeze. I understood that as soon as I exhibited any signs of distress, she would have her picture. She would have got behind the public persona of Life cover-girl Germaine Greer, the "sexy feminist that men like". I concentrated on breathing deeply and slowly, and keeping my face blank. If it was humanly possible I would stop my very pupils from dilating. Immobilised between her knees I denied her, for hour after hour. Arbus waited me out. Nothing would happen for minutes on end, until I sighed, or frowned, and then the flash would pop. After an eternity she climbed off me, put the camera back in her bag and buggered off. A few weeks later she took an overdose of barbiturates and slit her wrists.

According to John Szarkowski, then director of the Department of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art, "Her real subject is no less than the unique interior lives of those she photographed." As if you could penetrate the interior life of a stranger by kneeling astride her and shoving a lens up her nose. It's Szarkowski's kind of mindless nonsense about what Arbus was really up to that obscures her genuine achievement. Interior life is probably not any photographer's subject; it was certainly not hers. In Arbus's hands everyone is en travesti; even women appear as female impersonators. She may have thought she was getting the mask off, but what she was photographing was actually the clumsy ill-drawn mask itself.

Arbus has been credited with stunning originality in her daring choice of subject, as if the tradition of portraying freaks were not as old as photography. Her Three Russian Midget Friends In A Living Room On 100th St of 1963 treats the subject exactly the same way as hundreds of commercial photographers before her, perching the little people on full-size furniture so their feet hardly touch the floor. Her vision developed little between 1963 and 1970 when she treated A Jewish Giant At Home With His Parents In The Bronx in a very similar way, though this time she emphasised the giant's outline with the black shadow thrown by the flash. What her work does not show is compassion, which is something to be grateful for. If I'd thought Arbus felt compassion for me I'd have socked her.

Though formally Arbus is within the tradition of freak photography, there is an important difference between her and her predecessors like the Eisenmann Studio or Obermann and Kern. Their subjects had names, lots of them, stage names and real names. The giants, dwarves, midgets, conjoined twins, bird-girls, bearded women and dog-faced boys whose photographs appear on thousands of postcards were all professionals. Often the notes on the postcards spoke of them as well-educated and happily married. Arbus's nameless subjects are denied such confederacy and performativity. She often uses the devices of the older tradition in her treatment of otherwise unremarkable subjects. Her famous Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ of 1967 are posed as if they were joined at the shoulder and hip and had only three arms between them. She reduced her subjects to generic phenomena by the names she chose for them: Jewish Couple, Puerto Rican Housewife, Albino Sword-Swallower. My ordeal resulted in a picture called Feminist In Hotel Room. No permission for the reproduction of what is an undeniably bad picture was ever requested.

The language Arbus uses about her photographic practice is revealing: "Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them." "Freaks" (a word 21st-century sensibility finds hard to use) is "a thing", a medium for her use that Arbus finds quite distinct from herself. This insensibility Arbus shares with her contemporary and fellow New Yorker, Andy Warhol. Though he was happy to exploit a cast of exhibitionists in the multimedia freak show called the Factory, Warhol never regarded himself as one of them. Like Arbus he was outwardly practically mute, evasive and completely indecisive; inwardly he was ruthless.

The emotion that thrills through every Arbus icon making them haunting and unforgettable is a relentless, all-encompassing loathing. Nudist Lady With Swan Sunglasses, PA 1965 is a rather subtle case in point. The subject is a fair-skinned woman, not in the first flush of youth, with a perfectly proportioned body, carrying a towel. She is wearing nothing but a petalled bathing hat, elaborate swan-shaped sunglasses outlined in rhinestones, a locket and a watch. She stands in a timid parody of a model's pose, left hand on left hip, left heel raised. The skin of her thigh is mottled as if she is cold. Against the unrelievedly dark background she is as white as a maggot. I have seen photographs of maggots that have shown more fellow feeling. The pretty lady would have looked far less ridiculous if the picture had been called After The Swim or La Baigneuse or if Arbus had stopped it down a touch and relieved the harshness of the contrast.

To say that Arbus's creativity was driven by disgust is not to dismiss her as an artist. It is a curiously moralistic view of art that says it cannot be generated by negative emotion. Good haters can make good art, but their despair and indignation ought to be called forth by something more sinister than mere human imperfection and self-delusion. Arbus is not an artist who makes us see the world anew; she embeds us in our own limitations, our lack of empathy, our kneejerk reactions, our incuriosity and lack of concern. Hers is a world without horizons where there is no escape from self.

Quote: Mildred Friedman, Writer and Curator

"That's what artists do, artists take risks, to do something new that no one has seen before."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gallery Talk from the book Diane Arbus Revelations

Diane Arbus recorded this over heard conversation at her her group show New Documents in 1967. I wonder what they would have said if they had known the photographer was behind them taking notes!

Man: "There is nothing!"
Woman : "What?"
Man: "Nothing. I could go out and do the same thing."
Woman: Well why don't you?"
Man: "You don't think I could?"
Woman: "I believe you I just want to see you do it."
Man: "Do you think that's good photography?"