Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crazy Day

Had a busy busy day today. The day started out with 2 no shows for shoots. I was hoping to finish the ringflash color work in the morning but 3 ladyboys who were supposed to come for photographs before my 12pm checkout time did not show. I walked the beach and made a few photographs. I then discovered the flash hotshoe from my Hasselblad XPAN was GONE! How the hell do you lose a hotshoe? Of all the cameras I have ever owned (dozens of cameras) I have never lost a hotshoe, guess there is a first time for everything. I bought the camera second hand on Ebay it must been damaged by the previous owner. When I returned to Bangkok later in the day I had to do a emergency run to the shop that got me the adaptor ring for my other Hasselblad. The owner doubted he could get me an XPAN hotshoe but will try to adapt another hotshoe to work. If the hotshoe does not work I will have to sinc the flash using a sync cord. A repair in Canada would probably cost over $150, here in Bangkok it might cost $33 or less. I left the camera with the store and will hear back from him in the next 2 days.

Later that evening I returned to Sukhumvit road the place I made most of my 1999 street photographs. It was sort of nostalgic in a weird sort of way. I even met a American man (H) I knew from that period a man I had not met in at least 5 years. I stumbled onto to him in the parking lot of a hotel he frequents and without batting and eye it took him about 2 seconds after seeing me to say "Hi Gerry, how you been?" Was nice to talk to him, he had recently had some health issues and seemed quite humble and relaxed. We had a nice 45 minute conversation I even talked to him about having a long term relationship and he said that it would be the ideal situation. We all need love, someone to trust and someone who worry and take care of us. Even men who had sex with thousands of women have the the need to find a girl that will love them and be with them full time. H talked to me of a 67 year old man who was in longterm with a 24 year old Thai lady and seemed quite envious. I think I stereotype people at times and sexpats who engage in sex with countless women are easy to judge in a negative way. Now that I have known several hardcore sexpats for 10 years plus I can see a bit of their own humanity, see a bit clearer their need for love and companionship. Talking to these fellows now after 10 years I can understand their loneliness a bit, and see them as more of a shade of grey than in simple black and white terms. Before I saw them wearing a black hat and now see them as wearing a blackish grey hat. I am not sure that is much of an improvement but heck it does make them more human and more real. I think I might like to try do some white background portraits of these fellows at some future date if they will allow me to photograph them.

I ended up photographing 5 ladies tonight to make up four the 3 ladyboys missed earlier in the day. I photographed 3 older ladies early in the evening before my talk with H and 2 later in the evening after midnight. I am finished doing the ringflash color stuff (did about 25 photo sessions) and am happy that this part of the photographs is done. I think I made some good photos especially at the beginning of the night when I did the first 3 who were all older 44 to 57 years old. One of the ladies Mai was quite angry at the beginning of the session and was difficult to handle but I tried to be as polite as I could and treated here with respect using the Thai words for politeness as often as I could. I do not blame here for being angry toward a farang she did not know, being 57 and working as a sex worker is not easy, her life must be filled with sadness. I hope I can get to know her better and at some future date and make more portraits of her. When I left her both her and Pun another lady I photographed waved goodbye to me with a smile.

I spoke a ton of Thai today my fear of the language has vanished and I jumped in speaking at any opportunity. I even learned all about my taxi drivers life on the way to my room after the days shooting. I also played my first Thai chess on the street in several years, it was fun and I was competitive until the end game when the Thai man I was playing (he the help of his 2 friends) got a slight advantage and won with some difficulty. They asked me to return to play them again the next day, it was lots of fun to joke with them and to smash the pieces down on the wooden board while saying ROOK (check).

The thing I need to do now that the sex worker photos are done with is to photograph people on the street with the same ease. I need to move outside that comfort zone I talked about before and create photographs in a new form. Damn I wish I had more time, I have only about 18 days, 17 actually as it is 620am and I exhausted. Tomorrow will probably be a non day as I need to load film and unpack from my trip South.

It was a fun day, hard day, unlucky day and lucky day but need to move on to better photographs. I am excited by the possibilities.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Peoples?

I have noticed more then ever how there seem to be two distinct worlds in the bar areas. There is the Thai world and the farang world. Many farang hang out in groups and seem oblivious to the Thai world around them. I met a farang on the beach the other day who told me he had lived in Thailand for the last 5 years but did eat Thai food only farang food. How the hell do you live in Thailand and not eat Thai food? This same man had an eye for the girls as we talked, I sort of felt like I was observing a different world than his because right in the middle of our conversation he would become distracted and start commenting on some Thai girl near by (legs, face, breasts). Here was a guy maybe 20 years older than me who basically had his tongue hanging out as the girl passed, I had not even noticed her. I talked to two other older farang the same day and had the same experience. Many times I also noticed an anti women and anti Thai sentiment. I have never been able to understand why people so critical of Thailand, live in Thailand.

Desperate People

Many of the girls and ladyboys working the bars are desperate for customers. I have heard a dozen times how they have not had a customer all week. I have photographed several older workers this trip (the youngest lady I photographed this trip is 25 the oldes 60+), the older workers seem especially desperate. I went out for food at a restaurant not far from my hotel today that had bargirls as waitresses. The women in the bar were over 40 but still tried to dress young and sexy. I wondered how many hours these older ladies had to sit in the bar waiting for a customer, waiting for someone to notice them. Most bars have quotas and if a girl gets to old and does not have enough customers a month she will lose her job and have to find another way to make money (many become freelance worker).

Heading to Bangkok Soon

Heading back to Bangkok tomorrow. I have shot 11 people over the last 2 days and have another 3 to do before I check out tomorrow at 12 noon. I am a bit worn down by this type of shooting to much like working a job. I want to get back on the streets and into Klong Toey meeting real people and shooting a bit of their lives with the 35mm cameras and also want to get out the 4x5 and shoot that some.

I am happy I have got these color ring flash shots done as a backup to the coming show, I think I shot several strong photographs but its a bit of been there done that. Someone once told me I am in my comfort zone when it comes to these photographs. I think the comfort zone comment is right on the mark, I need to step out of that zone and force myself to work in a new direction and in new ways.

Going to rest up a bit tonight, go have a foot massage and a nice meal, then to sleep and 3 more shoots tomorrow. I still have time to do more straight documentary work and if I need to I will return to Thai before the show to continue this work. I will put the sex worker photographs behind me for a while maybe for a few years. I might like to try some more white background 8x10 stuff but not for at least a year or 2.

Seeing lots here and meeting interesting folk. I met a farang man about 50 who has lived here for 7 years. He owns two bars a short time sex bar (with pretty girls and shortime rooms on the premises) and a friendly beer bar for regulars where the girls are older and do not push the customers to buy lady drinks. This fellow Mike has daily massages, gets a daily shave for about $2.25 and gets serviced in other ways as needed. Mike seemed very happy but it seemed somehow to be an empty life, a life of having others serve you and a life of leisure. Where are the goals? What will you leave behind? Life should be more than seeking your own pleasure, it should be about helping those around you and contributing something positive to society.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Photographed Nid today for the 5th or 6th time since 2003. I met her back in 2003 when I first started the bargirl photo series. She is still working in the shortime bars 7 years later. Today she told me of a bf she has back home in Korat, I like Nid, she has kind heart, she laughed a lot during the photo session, I hope it adds another type photo to the series, a photo showing a bit of joy. Most of my Thai sex worker pictures are rather grim but life is broader than that and including a laughing photograph might be a good thing. Jock Sturges is right about photographing people multiple times. I had not seen Nid for 1 year and 6 months but it was sort of like we were long lost friends, the photos were fun and easy to take.

I also met some motorcycle taxi guys playing macrook (Thai chess). After a few sentences of Thai we were fast friends. I was offered a chair and everyone was eager to play and talk to me. Thais tend to be like that, the "Land of Smiles" advertisement is not far off the mark, and is actually quite accurate. I have grown to love this country and the people here. The language stuff has improved and I feel confident again to speak to people and to try to understand more about Thai culture. I need to work harder in Canada on my Thai language skills.

I should be finished here in about 4 days. I have enough film to photograph about 12 more people and have 4 scheduled for tomorrow with another 5 or so lined up. I want to save some film to shoot the older Nid in Bangkok when I return then I have to rush back to Klong Toey to work on some documentary 35mm shots of the slum. I have shot almost no 4x5 film I need to get my ass in gear in that direction as well. I think I can shoot the 4x5 and do outdoor portraits now, I do not feel like an outsider here anymore.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Todays Work

Been working hard at getting the ringflash headshots done so I can start work on the 4x5 environmental Khon Thai portraits. I have shot about 1/2 the 220 Portra film I brought with me and want to complete that before I move onto the next stage of photographs.

I ended up shooting 6 ladyboy sex workers today which sort of wore me out. My eyes got tired of focusing the blad/ringflash combination. I had one film jam that prevented me from shooting more in one session. I also seem to be having some film advance problems. I hope I am not getting any double exposures. The good technical news is I was able to get a adaptor ring for the ringflash/blad so I do not have to tape the ring flash to the lens any longer (darn thing get falling off and going sideways).

The ladyboys I shot today had either pleasant or difficult personalities. Some that I shot got into it, laughed and try to collaborate in the photo sessions, others were tired or angry types that were hard to work with. I wanted the photographs to accurately depict who they were as people. I might end up using 5 or even 10 portraits from these sessions in the May group show I am involved in. I have photographed 12 people so far (9 ladyboys) and will probably photograph another 12-16. I have 2 older ladies scheduled for tomorrow at 2pm.

Got go go eat some pizza and relax my eyes a bit, then there is some kind of full moon party that I want to check out.

Overheard On The Street

"Hello, I want to eat your hotdog"

Ladyboy Sex Worker

"A long term relationship for me is if the girl stays overnight."

DJ longtime Sex Pat

"His life is fulltime boom boom, he's happy."

H sexpat talking about another sexpat

"You don't understand, you're the one I love"

Old farang man speaking to young female bar worker (she had a I don't beleive you look on her face}

"I would rather pay 2000 baht for no condom than 1000 baht for condom."

I-----, long time sexpat who has lived in the Philippines and Thailand for over 20 years buying sex from sex workers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Color Ring Flash Heads

Did my first color ring flash head shots today of 2 ladies who worked freelance, one was 57 and one 60 but they looked older. I shot them in my room against blue and green backgrounds, think I might have got some good photos today. I also made appointments to shoot 1 lady tomorrow at 4pm and my first two LBs at 1030 pm. I am trying to be more selective in who I shoot, trying to find visually strong people to photograph.

I think the film will go fast, I have 60 rolls of 220 Portra to use up in the next week to 10 days. I hope to get out of here in 1 week but we will see. I also shot a single roll of 35 panoramic and 1 roll of 6x9 120 Tri-x with the 2 ladies today.

Got here around 4 pm and went for a walk met some Thais on the street selling various things, I want to photograph them with the 4x5 or with the 6x9 and flash. I need to get up my nerve to carry the larger camera with tripod on the street here. The whole thing sort of becomes a spectacle and attracts lots of attention, something I am not fond of. I think thou it should be ok because I will be photographing Thai people only and people working regular jobs (not sex workers).

I met one girl from last year who remembered my name, not bad for 1 year and 6 months! I said hi to her and called her by name and there was a delay about 5 seconds before she said, "Gerry?" Then a big hug and a nice little talk, might try and photograph her again this trip. I also met 4 ladyboys today who I have known for a while, one who I had not seen since 2003 remembered me as well. I will try to photograph as many ladyboys as I can this trip, because they are so visually strong and also because I hope to learn and understand more about their lives. Every time I have a conversation with a Thai person I learn a bit more and understand a bit more so it is sort of a progressive learning thing. Learn more language equals learn more culture equals learn more about the people equals better photographs.

The Thai came a bit hard today, kept flubbing words and searching for them. Today I spoke more Thai than anytime in the last 1 year 6 months, and my brain and mouth hurt. I usually become fast friends with whoever I talk to and rarely have a negative experience. People are so friendly in Thailand even those who have seen the worst kind of farang.

Today when I was walking home to the hotel from the 7/11 with some supplies I stopped to watch TV from the street at a bar. Above me drinking were some German men and 2 Thai bar workers. One German man was very drunk and kept pawing the Thai lady who was working with him, she was maybe 35 years his junior. At one point the farang put his face down into her breasts and started kissing, talking and rubbing, the poor Thai girl (maybe 20 years old) was so embarrassed and uncomfortable, was sad to see it. In Thai culture holding hands in public is done rarely if at all, mostly by young people in shopping malls, sometimes on the street. Hugging, kissing and public affection is almost never seen, the rules in the bar areas are different thou and she cannot complain, she just must try to laugh it off and get him to stop. What always surprises me is how blind the farang man is in this situation, can he not see how disgusted the girl is with him when he acts this way? It is like the guy is blind and does not see what is inches in front of him. I was several feet away and could feel how repulsed she was by his behaviour. Maybe the guy just does not give a shit, for him the girl is bought and paid for her and he has the right to do what he wants. I can still see her eyes when the guys head was in her breasts.

Ugly place going to make my photos then got out of here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No Photos Today, But!

Bad day photo wise, spent most of my time trying to track down a adaptor ring for my Hasselblad ring flash. I could not find anything in Bangkok and it looks like I will have to duct tape my ring flash to the blad lens! Not sure how successful this set up will be but I have no other options. I have to try to make photos with a duct taped ring flash. Last year when I did the white background images I did it with a badly cracked/broken ground glass that I had to tape and glue together. This years challence will be making photographs with the ring flash coming off and going off centre.

I delayed my arrival in Pattaya a day without a penalty at the hotel so am off from Bangkok tomorrow at 6am. I did have a rather unique experience today. I went to a Thai massage school and had a free oil massage for 1 hour and a half. The massage was given to me by 1 sometimes 2 and for about 15 minutes 3 ladies! The atudents are learning Thai massage and they need people to practise on, especially big farang like me. I am a bit shy when it comes to things like this but heck I had to overcome it for the good of others. Goodhearted of me don't you think? : )

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great Day

Had a great day in Bangkok today kind of surprising considering how late it got started. At around 2pm got out on the street and headed out to get a bite, ended up having pork cutlet Hungarian style (gravy and mushrooms) along with a milk ice tea for $5. I then took a taxi down to the Klong Toey market. I visited the market two days ago so this trip was not as intimidating. I got up close with people talking and making photographs. After the market I wandered into a more residential area and made some photographs of children and people living their daily lives. I think the best images of the bunch are some made of families who were living in slum shacks in a truck repair yards. I photographed a man repairing a large tire as well as a group of men playing dra-groh(foot volleyball). Even photographed some cats playing and rolling around in the waterish oil covered ground.

It is strange how the poorest of the poor are usually the nicest folks where as the rich people can often be snobbish and selfish. I met some wonderful people today, even had a girl shyly ask if I had a girlfriend or not. The children here are really adorable and friendly, had four come up to me and get all excited when I spoke to them in Thai and took photos. There is so much potential in the children but they are so poor, what futures will they have?

I met some wonderful people today in Klong Toey, but I think I have not seen the poorest areas, the areas I have read about. Father Joe Maier is right, this is the real Thailand and these are the real people of Thailand.

Today was my 3rd day in Thailand and the first I felt comfortable speaking Thai and interacting with locals. I felt like less of an outsider today, more comfortable, more at peace with what I was doing. Thai people are so outgoing and friendly and today I was able to see that first hand and not be intimidated making photographs in that environment. I shot with a Leica M6 and 28mm lens and also a Hasselblad Xpan with 45mm lens.

Today was the first day that I felt ( have not tried it yet!) I could make photos with my 4x5 camera. The 4x5 is an entirely new way to shoot for me, I have shot it in the studio but not in public, today I felt "hey I can do this, I can make the 4x5 work in public place" Will have to see how it goes but love shooting the 35mm cameras (maybe shooting to much film to fast), hopefully can shoot the 4x5 as enthusiastically.

In the evening I went to the Golden Mountain Temple for the loy khratong festival. The temple was filled with thousands of Thais, ended up spending about 2 hours there and only saw 3 other farang (Westerners) the whole time, sort of an oddity for Bangkok. The temple was quite beautiful sort of like a old time country temple with fire works and loy comb (floating candle lights, that rise into the sky). At the end of the evening you could see many loy khratong (floating banana leaf boats with lighted candles and incense) floating down the canals next to the temple.

A great day with hopefully more to come. Tomorrow I head to Pattaya to make some color ring flash heads and environmental portraits. Pattaya will be a different world than I visited today, a world of drunken farang of prostitution and sex.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Meeting Some Men

Met 2 men last night, 1 Thai and 1 Farang (Western). The farang man I have known since 1999 the Thai man I just met yesterday while photographing at his shop in the Klong Toey slum area.

First the farang, he has been a Sex Pat in Bangkok since I have known him. He enjoys his life in the bargirl worlds of Thailand and before that the Philippines. I guess during the recent political problems in Thailand where around 80 people died this farang man had it pretty good. Because of the curfew put in place by gov't the women who came into the hotel he stays at were unable to leave after 11pm, they were locked inside until 6am giving him his choice of partners, the hotel also was at 20% capacity with army folk in the parking lot which made it a buyers market so to speak.

The second man told me a story of how he had multiple gfs, the man was about 65 and fairly successful financially. I guess he had 5 women around town that he was seeing.

Heard a story of a farang here who would take 10 lady bar workers to his room and spend upwards of $1000 a day on sex.

Need to get into the real Thai world more, this bar sex stuff gets tiring quickly. Want to make real photos of real people living real lives.

Welcome to Bangkok! Mr Gerry.

First Days in Thai

Funny how close the world is now. I was in Canada a few days ago working. Today I am on the back of a motorcycle taxi weaving through traffic in Bangkok, we were cutting by the parked traffic jammed cars coming so close my legs were touching car doors.

The noise here is deafening, my head is spinning from the combination noise and heat. I was at Klong Toey slum today photographing various people working, a sewing shop and used metal chain/wire shop. They were cutting (with a fire torch of some kind) apart pieces of metal on the street without safety gear of any kind not even gloves, thou one guy did have sort of work shoes on.

Spoke some Thai today felt funny doing that again, at times struggling for the words but for the most part people understood what I was saying. I also went to a market in the slum, live ducks, chickens and fish etc. Surprised some Thais a couple of times, they turned around and saw me and drew back in surprise! Joked with them that they had never seen a farang (westerner) before, kind of funny to see the way they reacted. One lady after being shocked, told me she was not afraid of farang who could speak Thai but was afraid of those who could not speak Thai. Fun to be in this world again, might take a week to get things working in the right direction.

So far have eaten, oysters, fried fish, large prawns, crab, sour squid soup, dom yum bla (spicy fish soup), som tam (papaya salad) and a wonderful street desert with black beans and coconut milk. I also just had some nice durian which is a Chinese fruit that sort of smells but is delicious.

Am still overcoming my jet lag will try to get my 4x5 our on the streets in the next few days, today shot a Leica M6 and 28mm lens and also with a Xpan panoramic with 45mm. Fun to shoot 35mm Trix again but need to shoot some larger formats as well for better image quality. Tomorrow I will take the blad out of the shipping foam and shoot some color heads with the ring flash.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Am In Thailand

After a long uncomfortable flight I am in Bangkok. Screaming children, a plane packed to capacity and very little sleep made for a tough trip. I am in Bangkok now trying to get over the jet lag. I expect it to take a day or two to recover, tomorrow I am going to do my first exploratory trip to the Klong Toey slum.

I had some some wonderful Thai food today, raw oysters and squid in a sour soup with peppers.

Going to get some sleep now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flying To Thai Soon

Been working, working and working, not much time for anything else including blog entries. Soon thou I will be in Thailand and will start the Khon Thai series of photographs I have been thinking and writing about for at least 1 year.

I am excited by the possibilities for these photographs, my head dances with images. The photographs I take this trip will be part of a group show with 2 other photographers (2 very good photographers!) one who shoots in India and another who will have his most recent work shot in Bangladesh showing.

I will be posting updates from Thailand on what happens and how the photographing is going, if your interested come back for some reports.

Am also anxious to see old friends and enjoy a good Thai meal. Oysters anyone?