Friday, December 31, 2010

Thinking Back

Exciting times! Feel so blessed to have the opportunities I do. Today am thinking back to Weaw's father, a decent man, a good man, what opportunities did he have? He only could become a farmer and live the life he now leads, he had only one road to follow. When I offered him 500 baht after staying there (3 nights) he jumped back with shock saying "MAI OWE!!!" (Not Want!!!) I had to force the money on him, even thou he is poor and needed the money he did not expect it and did not want it. He reacted so instinctively with the "MAI OWE", the quick back movement hands raised, it sort of surprised me! The loudest I heard the man speak was when he was turning down money. I want my "Khon Thai" photographs to show men like this and to pay tribute to them, I want to create a lasting memory of who they were.

Got to start saving money and get back to Thailand soon!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Got Some C-41 Chemistry From A Friend

Picked up some C-41 chemistry from a good friend last night so I can get started developing my 220 Portra (ebay outdated film) ring heads tomorrow!

Quite excited that I can finally spend some enjoyable hours in the darkroom over the next 5 days. I have 35mm b/w, 120 b/w, 4x5 b/w and color 220 to develop. Hope to have time to also do some contacts and a few work prints this week as well. If anything decent turns up I will also scan some negs for this blog, so stay tuned!

Got some outdated HP5 4x5 today at 1/2 price. I want to try to shoot my Linhof camera daily, need to pick my speed with this tool so when I return to Thai for "Khon Thai" I can work faster.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why Film Not Digital?

I get this question asked of me often.

"Why do you still shoot film? Digital is so much faster and easier!"


1) I can shoot and afford (because of digital) the best film cameras ever made. I now shoot Leica rangefinders, Hasselblad medium format and Linhof Technica 4x5s. Photography is just plain flat out easier, reliable (less camera breakdowns) and more fun when your using a state of the art (for film) high quality tool.

2) A black and white darkroom print looks better to me than anything I have seen printed on a printer. The darkroom print has a depth to the image and a tonality that I have not seen reproduced on a printer which seems to me to have a smaller tonal scale and a artificial printed on top of look.

3) There is a timeless beauty using film. I like to work with the same limitations that the great photographers of the past had. I do not want to use Photoshop tricks to spice up my photographs, either I capture it at the decisive moment or I fail. To try and create a photograph that hangs with the best of the past and to do it using similar tools as photographers of the past just seems honest and right.

4) The darkroom is fun! I love my time in the dark, it is a place of meditation and happiness for me. Sitting in front of a computer working in Photoshop then pressing control/print does not feel the same. When your in the darkroom with your hands in the chemistry touching and massaging the print to life it seems so much more real, so much more personal, great stuff!

Photographic Truth

All photographs are only as real as the photographer wants them to be, it his interpretation of a subject. Photographs are not about truth, they are about the photographers personal interpretation of reality.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Xmas Day

Merry Christmas everyone!

Been thinking of why I want to make the large format portraits in Asia, what I want to say with the work. I have always had an interest in learning and understanding people, to learn of their lives, of their thoughts and feelings. I think that's the basic reason for my photos, a great curiosity and a need to try to understand.

The other part that is important to me is making a record of the subject, paying a tribute, creating a work that lives on and might be in a book or museum someday (a form of immortality for the subject). Gerry Yaum is a fiction, the subject is what's important, the work is a tribute to them. Tonight at work I am looking through a book of portraits Paul Strand made in Mexico. The people in the book lived in the 1930s, most of them are dead now but they still are kind of alive (caught in time) because of the photographs. The images are a tribute, a "forever moment" Strand gave to his subjects. That's what I want to do with my photographs make portraits that pay tribute to the lives of my subjects honestly (good, bad or anything in between) and that makes a record that will live on past our lifetime.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Quote: Paul Strand

Paul Strand speaking about his photographs taken in Mexico.

"I began to find that the shibboleths of time were not true for me. It was always said that you really have to know a place before you start working in it; otherwise you would do something very superficial. Another shibboleth was that you can't make a portrait of a person unless you know that person, and then when you you know the person you create the moment or wait for the moment when they are most alive and most themselves. These shibboleths went out the window."

Large Format Portraits

Spending lots of time over the last few days studying the large format portrait work of Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, Paul Strand and August Sander.

I am really falling in love with the beauty of large format portraiture, there can be a static/forced nature to the imagery if the posing/expression is not right but when it is right it's very right!

I will start working on some portraits here in Canada over the next few months which I will post on the blog, I want to improve my skills at this type of photography. I need also to start using reflectors to bring more light to my subjects. Jock Sturges emailed me and wrote of the importance of reflectors in his work, I want to try working with reflectors to see if it will improve the look of my photographs.

Been thinking of photographing people from other countries as well, Bangladesh, India, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and maybe parts of Africa and Central America. The idea would be to photograph often forgotten people to make images that speak to their lives. When I was in Thailand on my last day of 4x5 shooting I photographed a motorcycle taxi driver, his eyes were rather haunting, a older man with a strong face and haunting eyes. I think back now to this man motorcycle taxi man, it is exciting, I want to photograph all those strong faces, all those lives so different than mine. I want to make a record of their lives and interpret who they are in my photographs.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Phil Borges, Edward Burtynsky, James Nachtwey Lectures

Lectures by some great photographers, check them out here:

Phil Borges

Edward Burtynsky

James Nachtwey

Developing Film

Started developing the 35mm Tri-x done 16 rolls so far. I want to get started on the color 220 film as well (sex worker ring flash heads) but need to order some chemistry first.

This part of the process is always fun for me. First seeing the film and the negs then making the contacts, choosing the negs that I will enlarge then doing work prints and finally with a select few images final archival fiber prints.

Ain't photography grand!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Back In Canada

Well I am back home! Was a long trip back but I did manage to sleep 7 hours on the Pacific part of the journey. I feel that the trip was a success, I shot lots of film (hopefully made some good photographs). I met some amazing people and I feel I grew a bit as a person and as a photographer.

Going to take a bath and have a nice meal (pyrogies for the first time in 5 weeks!!!). Then I will go to the darkroom mix some fresh D-76 and develop my first 8 rolls of 35mm Tri-x. It should be an exciting time in the dark, many different styles of photos to work on (Khon Thai 4x5 work, 35mm Klong Toey Slum photos, and color head-shots of sex workers).

Feel happy and content that I was able to make the photos and now hopefully I can can put together some quality prints for the upcoming group show in May.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

4x5 On The Street

Today I photographed the food vendors and some small business owners on the street near where I am staying in Bangkok. I wanted to make these photographs my first day here in November but at the beginning I was a bit nervous using the 4x5 camera on street (did not shoot the 4x5) and later I was busy doing all the other types of photography. Today I finally got around to making the portraits that I had imagined earlier in my minds eye. I shot a number of female food vendors, the sewing shop guy and a older man who drove a motorcycle taxi (sensitive eyes). I got it done today with my last sheets of Tri-x and my first of 20 sheets of Portra. The black and white 4x5 street images are the beginning of the "Khon Thai" series of photos.

I might switch to an 8x10 camera in the future and only use the 4x5 in special situations (night shooting with flash, or in places the 8x10 is not a practical camera). My only 8x10 fears are the weight of all the equipment and the cost of the film, I am no longer worried about shooting a large format camera on the street in available light. I will work on doing some street 8x10 photography when I return to Canada.

Last night before bed I googled and studied some of the 8x10 film portraits made by Jock Sturges, stunning!

"Adele" by Jock Sturges

"Jennifer" by Jock Sturges

Friday, December 17, 2010

4x5 in Bangkok

Shot the 4x5 today on the Bangkok streets for the first time. Did some portraits of people on a bridge. I was walking about with the 4x5 and tripod and thought - how can I photograph people? what is the best way to do this? The sky was overcast creating a nice even soft box light and I thought - hey why not set up a little studio on this walking bridge. I composed the picture then just waited for someone visually strong to walk by. Spent more time waiting than shooting but I do not have much film left so waiting was much of an issue. Ended up photographing about 5 people.

I reloaded film and will go out tomorrow again when I have good light one last time. I have 14 sheets of Tri-x left and my first 16 sheets of color Portra loaded, I want to experiment with a bit of color film this trip as well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Evil Jing Joks

I have a farang friend that is a bit afraid of Thai jing joks (little lizard like creatures that scamper around up and down walls and roofs in Thai buildings of all types).

I never really gave them a second thought. I knew a girl once who had a boyfriend named Sammy and I used to call the jing jok in my room that name to tease her but that was about the extent of my jing jok involvement.

That all changed when one interrupted my meal in Chiang Kong. I was enjoying my meal at a table overlooking the Mekong when I felt something fall on my shoulder I looked up at the roof and saw nothing, then a bit to later something fell to my right on the table. Looking up this time I recognized the culprit, Mr Jing Jok! He was hanging upside down on the metal roof above the table.

I think the little sucker took a crap on me!

Northern Thai Dialect

Weaw's family and many other people in the North speak a Northern Thai dialect. I was having a harder time understanding them and them me, did not really understand why till later. I kept calling Weaw's grandma "Yai" (central Thai for grand mom) but the Northern word for grand mom is "Oo-ii"

No wonder she looked at me strangely sometimes!

Why Thai Culture?

Had a friend recently ask me in a email why I was so interested in Thai culture, thought I would post my response on the blog.

Why are you so fascinated with Thai culture? Why not learn other cultures as well?

Think that's a multi leveled answer

- When your doing photography it is important to have a clear understanding of the people lives (people your photographing) to make the photos better. Jock Sturges the great photographer of naturists (exchanged several emails and phone calls with him) told me to spend much time with my subjects, years if possible to make the photos better.

- I can speak a fair amount of Thai which allows me a further insight into that world (most recently at Weaw's family house). If I went somewhere else I would have to start from scratch language wise, I think most people underestimate how important language is in understanding or starting to understand a culture. I am in my 40s, if I want to make a practical approach to my photographic vision (creating a long-time and important series of portraits) I need to get started making the photos now, not jump about from culture to culture, I am running out of time. I hope with some luck and good physical conditioning to be making photos until 70 or 75 so have a limited time period to get this done. When I am older I will be physically unable to make the photographs but hopefully can print the work for the last 5 or 15 years of my life (working in a darkroom I can be slow and unsteady, cannot be that way in the field working with people).

- Cultures are extremely complicated, to jump from one to another to another would only give a superficial understanding, by sticking with Thailand for a long period I am just beginning to get a small handle on things. To be so arrogant and full of myself that I would think I can understand the Thai culture so easily (or any other countries) would be a mistake. If you want to understand something it takes many many small steps over decades of work.

- In some ways many Southeast Asian cultures are interconnected historically, economically, religiously and politically. By studying Thai culture, I also learn a bit about Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Recently when I was on the Laos/ Thai border the connections between those cultures were obvious. I might make some photos in those places in the future as well (especially Cambodia).

- There is also a more practical side to concentrating on Thailand/Thai Culture. Khon Thai is an extended long term commitment, I hope that one day it will include 1000 strong portraits. To accomplish this goal I will need to make a lifetime commitment to Thailand. The great photographer August Sander created a great body of portraiture on the German people but when he went outside this series to work on photographs in Sicily it took away time/photographs from the most important project of his life (the German portraits). I need to learn from Sander's mistake and not spread myself to thinly.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Weaw Helping Out

Weaw would helps out around her family home as much as she can. I remember watching her wash a frying pan. Here was a girl blind and HIV positive who did not whine and complain about her life but instead was trying to help her mother and grandmother, trying not to be a burden and help with their work.

A lesson to us all, if Weaw can help her family I can certainly help my mother and father more than I am.

Back In Bangkok

Going to rest some today the bus trips were tiring and I need to get my wind back. I hope to shoot the rest of the b/w 4x5 film over the next 2 days. I have about 50 sheets left. I want to make some portraits of the nearby street vendors and workers in shops. There is a cool guy who has a little sewing shop on the street not far from here, he looks so happy in his work (about 30 years old with a ponytail), got to photograph him soon.

Police Inspections

On the trip back to Bangkok yesterday we went through 2 security check by police. The first on the Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai bus the second on the Chiang Mai to Bangkok bus.

Police searching for illegal Laos/Burmese and also checking for drugs in jackets etc. The checks did not seem to thorough, I and the other farang were not asked to show an ID or passport of any kind.

The police concentrated on the darker skinned people (Laotians and Burmese are generally darker skinned than Thais) and also listened for accents and language skills. No one was taken off either bus as all was in order. I guess these security checks happen every trip. Along the border with Laos workers can sneak across and work (like the man I met in Chiang Kong Som Pet who worked illegally as a driver) but Thai authorities have many ID checks more inland to help control drugs and or illegal workers from entering deeper into the kingdom of Thailand.

Final Thoughts On Chiang Kong

Enjoyed my stay in Chiang Kong, it was such a nice quiet sleepy little town a welcome change from busier Chiang Mai and very busy Bangkok (and very noisy).

To just sit and outside my room and have a breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, hot chocolate and orange juice while watching the slowly flowing Mekong river was very relaxing.

Chiang Kong is a peaceful part of the world I hope to return to with my 4x5 and the Khon Thai project.

68 Baht ($2.35 CAD) of Food

Yesterday in Chiang Mai I got:

3 pieces of fried chicken
2 boiled eggs
1 big bag of sticky rice
1 piece of fried pork

A nice tasty couple of meals!

Saying Goodbye To Weaw

Said good bye to Weaw yesterday it was hard, she seemed so vulnerable and alone. I carried her bags to a room on the 2nd floor of the blind massage school. Weaw walked in front of me led by another blind girl. I told her not to worry that after 3 or 4 months she would have a trade and that she would make friends and learn from the other blind people at the school (17 blind residents).

We talked to Khune Aud the man who ran the place (another incredible person I met this trip). He is blind and has a blind wife, but they have 2 children a 18 year old pretty girl and a fun laughing 17 year old boy (both can see). Khune Aud told his story, the story of the school and it was translated for me (he spoke in a difficult Thai dialect).

"I wanted to help the blind people of Thailand and to show that they could work and be useful. I decided to open up a school where I could teach them massage. At first it was very difficult but I took small steps, little by little very slowly things improved. I first bought a very old house (on same location as the current school), then I slowly began to train the blind to do massages and to change the way people (Thai people) thought of the blind. I got a little bit of gov't support and some donations and after a long time I slowly went forward, eventually I was able to build this building (current school)."

He took small steps a bit at a time a over a 18 year period to get where he is now. It seems he has something in common with Father Joe (of the Klong Toey Slum Mercy Centre), both did things small at first and big things later, both built something great after many years of effort (Khune Aud 18 years, Father Joe 35 years plus).

I gave some money to Waew;s family yesterday 500 baht to Grandma, 500 baht to her Father and 3000 baht to Weaw (plus paid for her food and bus tickets etc). Weaw is a kind sweet person, I hope she can find a good man and start a family, hopefully she can live at least part of her dream.

I gave her a kiss on the forehead when we parted and she waied as I left, I turned around to take a last look and Weaw was sitting and chatting to her new friends (2 young blind girls).

Last Morning Weaw's Family Home

I woke up at 615am my last day in Weaw's family home, wrote some quick notes as I walked around the farm waiting to leave.

- Mist and fog hanging over everything, I cannot see the treed mountain in front of Waews home.

- Slight chill in the air, I feel quite comfortable in my short sleeve shirt (being a Canadian) but most Thais wearing long sleeve shirts and light jackets or sweaters.

- Weaw's father sweeping up leaves and garbage around a dirt shack out back.

- Roosters still crowing (will they ever stop?)

- Small banana's freshly picked laying on a bench in the house out back. Weaw's mother will make deserts out of the bananas and sell them at the local market.

- Grandma up and active before me, what time does she wake up at everyday? 73 years old and going strong.

- Man shows up with a big pink and black pig in the the caged sidecar of his motorbike. Leaves 15 minutes later with the pig after spending time out back with Weaw's father.

- We are all ready and head out to catch the local bus. Everyone comes out to say goodbye to us, dad, mom and grandma (with a cane) along with several neighbors. It turns out we missed the bus (flew by earlier than expected, buses fly on the roads in this area) and had to take a truck to another area to catch a different non air con bus to Chiang Rai (1 hour 30 minutes) then a first class A/C bus to Chiang Mai (3 hours).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back At Weaw's Home

Am back at Weaw's home, I took her motorbike to this Internet shop. I will be leaving with her tomorrow at 7am to Chiang Rai via local bus then on to Chiang Mai where I will leave her at a school for the blind. I expect to get back to Bangkok (10 hour overnight bus or train from Chiang Mai) on or around the 16th.

After I process the film back home I hope to send a number of prints to the family. I will also scan some negatives and send them to a man friend of Weaw's online.

I Want Fuck You

Met a couple from Austrailia last night at a bar in Chiang Kong (lots of farang backpackers in town). The girl and guy had recently traveled through India and told many funny and sad stories.

Something farang woman have to face often while traveling in India is groping and touching from Indian men and boys. The lady I talked to told stories of men grabbing at her as she walked and on one ocassion as she passed a man on the street he turned his mouth close to her ear and said "I want to fuck you!"

Over 4x5 Fears

Coming to Thailand I was a bit afraid to use the 4x5 on the street. I have overcome that fear now, all it took was to to get the camera into the street and have some FUN making photographs (when I was at Weaw's house).

At first the thought of approaching strangers and asking to make their photographs with a large format camera was a bit scary, now it seems easy and exciting.

Today in Chiang Kong I went to a local temple and photographed 2 young monks (my first monks) and shot 2 sheets (all the film I had left) of a old deaf women in her home.

I am not sure what the pics will look like but am happy with the experience and fun of making the photos. I think like all my photography in the past the photographs will improve as I grow more and more comfortable with the camera and the style of shooting.

I got a start this trip with the 4x5 and Khon Thai portraits. I think next trip I will concentrate on this camera and bring more 4x5 sheet film. This trip I only brought 300 sheets next trip maybe 600.

Red Hotel

When I stayed in Chiang Mai a week or so back I stayed in a Red owned hotel. The Red party people (pua thai-thai rak thai) are in a battle with the Yellow controlling party. Earlier this year 80 people many of them Reds died in street demonstrations in Bangkok.

Unwittingly I ended up staying in a Red political party member owned hotel. There were no meeting or demonstrations when I was there but it was still strange to see all the people wearing read. There were red shirts, red pants and red hats. The hotel had red cushions and red table cloths, a bar called the Red Line Bar, even the dog in the lobby had a read collar and red leash (wonder if he got along with dogs wearing yellow?).

Head Wacking

I have started a daily ritual of whacking my head on things in Thailand. Three days ago I whacked it so hard I drew blood! That's the problem with being a tall guy in a short persons country your constantly hitting your head!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Becoming a Monk?

I want to become a Buddhist monk in the future. It is very common for Thai men and some farang to become a monk for a short period of time. I want to understand Buddhism better to meditate everyday, hopefully this will help me become a better person. I also think it might help in my understanding of Thai culture which will improve the photographs.

I would like to be a monk in some rural temple far from the cities where I could live alone with other monks and Thai locals far from the farang influence in Thailand. Not sure when I can do this but it would be great to do it for 1 to 6 months.

Hopefully I can become a monk before I am to old to benefit from what might be a life altering experience.

Nice Quiet Day

Slept in a bit, then had a nice breakfast overlooking the Mekong river for 100 baht. The sun was high and the river full of action, across from my guesthouse is a docking area for small long boats carrying goods from Thailand to Laos. Many products available in Thailand are not available in Laos. I have seen everything from cabinets and piping to coke and cookies heading across the river to be sold in Laos.

After breakfast I carried the 4x5 down to Khune Tong's shack and photographed him in the shack, outside of the shack and standing in a nearby field. A friendly affable man Tong who I talked to using the polite forms of pee (older person) or Da (father) speaks a bit of English so I was able to learn quite a bit about his life and history. He has 2 sons who attended university one of whom is a architect in Bangkok.

After the photo session I went back to my room changed out the 4x5 film holders and then returned to the river for a trip down the Mekong with Khune Tong in his long fishing boat. He took me up and down both the Thai and Lao sides, the trip lasted about 1 hour and cost 400 baht ($14.00 CAD). I learned a bit about the river and as I passed people waved at me and smiled. Fishing is tough now on the Mekong, fish that were once plentiful have now been depleted as a result of over fishing. The most famous fish on the river is the Mekong catfish which can obtain sizes of 35 kilos or larger. One kilo of catfish will get the fisherman 250 baht. Khune Tong told me the largest catfish he caught this year was 15 kilos but that a friend of his had caught one of 20 kilos.

Am leaving Chiang Rai tomorrow and will return to Weaw's family home to pick her up, expect to spend one more night with her and her family. We will then travel via bus to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai where I will leave her and go to Bangkok.

Going to try and get up early and make some photos in a temple before I leave. I want to photograph some monks if possible.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

HIV Ghosts

In Weaw's village HIV has long been a killer, I learned that both Weaw's uncle and aunt died of AIDS. Many people in her village have also died of AIDS most of whom had worked in brothels and bars. The disease was then transferred to others when the worker returned home.

Initially the people felt that the deaths were the result of ghosts and spirits. They did not understand the disease and were very frightened of those that were givin that death sentence. Weaw's Aunt was asked to leave the family home because her family was afraid of her, she was allowed to return later to die in her own village but no one would touch her.

The people have been educated and have learned from the experiences of the past they are now more tolerant and fear the HIV victim less. They have been educated about the real causes of HIV/AIDS. With new medications hopefully Weaw can have a long life. She even dreams of having children, her only fear is taking care of them, she feels her blindness would make her a poor mother. She did talk to me about one family that had 2 blind parents, so she hopes she can still raise a child.

Tourist Clicks

Noticed 2 distinct tourist clicks in Thailand again this trip.

There is the sex tourist/sex pat click, they sort of hang out in the bar areas chasing women/men or ladyboys. They do not really go to other parts of Thailand or experience much Thai culture (some sex tourists/sex pats will visit the homes of their bargirl girlfriends). Sex pats generally hang around with other sex pats bitching about how bad Thai people are and complaining about other problems in Thailand (yet they never leave!). They always have an eye open for their next shor
time sex partner.

The second click is the backpacker click. They hang out in all the cheap guest house areas of Thailand, wear the same sort of loose fitting environmentally friendly clothing (got to get me one of those cloth hippy bags!). The backpacker click person also sees little of Thai culture (probably a bit more than the sex pat click) , they tend to hang out with other backpackers, living as cheap as possible (in other words very very cheap). They are usually more worried about money than in really enjoying themselves.

I guess I am speaking in broad terms here, in generalities but it seems in most cases I see the generalities fit.

Day in Chiang Kong

Had a very relaxed and quiet day here, did not make any portraits with the 4x5 but did shoot the XPAN a bit.

Met two interesting fellows out by the river when I went for an afternoon walk.

Khune Tong, a man of 64 who spoke very good English. Tong had lived for several years in Australia and New Zealand and had at one point in his life earned a good living. I guess he had several girlfriends in his life and feeling sorry for them had given them much of his money. Now Tong works as a fisherman and lives in a small shack within sight of my guest house. I have an appointment with him tomorrow to take a tour of the river in his small boat as well as make his portrait (Strong face and hat!).

The second man I met was Khune Som Pet. Som Pet is 35 years old skinny and tall and very shy. I talked to him in my poor Thai and he talked to me in his Lao/Thai. You see Som Pet is an illegal worker in Thailand, he came across the river to work illegally in Thailand because the pay is much higher here (similar to Mexican workers in the USA, Canada). Som Pet works driving a truck and comes down to the river now and again to see if he can make a bit of extra money. When I met him he was staring sadly across the river at Laos, he told me he missed his family.

To end the evening I had a 2 hour massage ($12 CAD) and some Pud Thai for 25 baht (80-85 cents). I finally feel like I am on a vacation!

Will stay here tonight and tomorrow before returning to Weaw's home to help her back to Chiang Mai (2 bus trips, one air con and one non air con). I will probably spend 1 maybe 2 days in days in Chiang Mai before returning to Bangkok on the overnight bus.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The World Of The Blind

Over the last few days spent a lot of time watching, talking and photographing Weaw. Her world is so small now, she is often left to her own thoughts. She cannot be distracted by TVs or Books (brail books are to expensive for her). She cannot see the mountain nearby, he asked me the other day "Gerry what color is the mountain now?" I told her it was covered with beautiful green trees. Today she asked me "Is the sun shining?" Her only outlet is her phone and thankfully her computer which she can use to chat with and send emails, she has a voice software that reads where her cursor is with a computer voice. She is very fast considering how difficult the process of hearing everything first and then trying to find the one link that she needs. The only problem she has is logging on to the net, she has taught her grand mom to help here with that.

We had a talk yesterday about whether it was better to see and then loose your sight and miss seeing or is it better to be born blind and never to have seen anything so you do not know what your missing. I made the argument that it was better to have seen and remember the color blue and then lose that then to never have seen color in your life. Weaw did not look convinced, she must miss seeing what she saw when she had sight, terribly. She must miss it so much she even wishes she had never seen anything. When I first met her I said without thinking "Weaw it is nice to see you again!" she aswered back "Yes but I cannot see you!" she said it with a smile. Today when I left her I said "I will not say see you again soon (will return in 2 days) this time and she laughed and said "Better to say I will feel you again in 2 days!".


When setting up my 4x5 today to do a portrait of Weaw's father I carefully looked for ants (and snakes) first! Yesterday I managed to step into a ant trail or nest area! The little suckers can bite! You can hardly see them their so small but when they start a biting, I start a jumping!

Chiang Kong

Am in Chiang Kong now, a small town on the border with the country of Laos. From my guesthouse balcony I can see Laos across the Mekong river.

Tonight had dom yum bla buk (dom yum soup with catfish from the Mekong). This might be the best dom yum I have ever eaten a large bowl with lots of meat cost 120 baht ($4.00 CAD).

I will wake up early tomorrow and grab the 4x5 before heading out and trying to find some people to photograph. Over the last 2 days I have gained confidence with my 4x5. The people I have met love to be photographed and the 4x5 is less difficult to use now, I need to work faster and smoother but it is much better now compared to my misadventure with this camera setup in Klong Toey.

All the people I have asked to photograph with the 4x5 have agreed, they love to be photographed, which makes my job a lot easier! This Khon Thai project is a go!!!

I hope eventually to move up to the 8x10 camera and make some important portraits, if Jock Sturges and Sally Mann can do it, why not Mr Gerry? It might take years of effort but there is a certain beauty in large format photography I want to acheive with this project (Khon Thai).

Quotes: Weaw

"I know I have limits because of my disease but I still dream of having a family of having a man who cares about me. But how can I do, I'm BLIND!!"

"I never had a real relationship with a man, where we stay together a long time and are happy, I want that so much"

Weaw's Home

Spent 2 nights at Weaw's home. The home is poor but not very poor, I saw a poorer area of Thailand my first trip back in 1996. The neighborhood is clean and well kept with a paved road leading from the highway. Behind the houses are farming areas with rice fields and various animals. Weaw's father who is a farmer has 2 large and noisy pigs (one pregnant) 2 disinterested cows (one pregnant) and a few dozens chickens, there are also a couple of noisy roosters who woke me up each day with their crowing.

Why do roosters crow when its still dark?

The family also have 2 lovely dogs, Angel and Bong. The people who live in 2 houses are Dad, Mom and Grand mom. Grandma likes to hear me speak Thai (maybe I sound funny!) and laughs at my silly jokes. I told her one the other day (speaking and acting it out) about 5 barking dogs (one with saliva hanging out its mouth) who scared me and came close to biting me at the local Buddhist temple. She thought it was funny because Thais ignore the dogs and just march in, where as I was sort of fending them off with my 4x5 camera mounted on a tripod.

The people in the the neighboring houses treat Weaw with respect and kindness, maybe a bit of sadness as well. She has been honest with her neighbors and told them all she has HIV. I liked the fact they did not stare at her because she was blind, in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai I saw many Thais staring at her for long periods. In her own neighborhood it is different they remember her from when she was a little girl, they joke and talk to her as she walks past their homes with her cane and glasses.

Weaw is a strong lady and I tried to show her strength as well as her sadness/loneliness when I made portraits of her. I never really realized how important eyes are. I think we all know and we all say we know eyes are important but until you see someone you know and care about walking into things, talking to people who are not there, crawling on the ground trying to find something, you really never know how important they are. I will never underestimate the importance of eye sight again.

Made photos of a few people in the neighborhood and of Weaw, her father and grandmother. I also did a few pics of the animals and the farm.

One more note, enjoy your hot showers! When I stayed at Weaw's home I could not take a hot or warm or semi cold shower, the only option was freezing bite your tongue off COLD!!!!!!

Bus Ride To Weaw's Home

The bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was very nice (9 hours 30 minutes), I slept like a little snoring baby. The bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was nice also (2 hours 45 minutes) but did have the slight smell of urine in the air. The bus from Chiang Rai to Weaw's home (2 hours) was difficult! Packed to capacity, no A/C, windows open, dust flying, no place to put my feet, and 7 men standing directly in front of me.

Am amazed at how cheer full Thais can be in such a difficult situation, things that would make me go bonkers they just smile at and accept. Standing for 2 hours on a dusty, hilly and bumpy road but still smiling and joking!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Met Som Jit Again

Yesterday as I was photographing a young girl next to a old wall a man walked up with a masked face and stuck out his hand. I shook the hand not realizing who it was (everyone here sticks out their hand to me), after looking at the eyes more closely above the masked lower face (sort of masked like villains in the old west) I realized the man was Khune Som Jit.

Som Jit is the honorable man I wrote of before who had his face damaged in a fire. The mask must be there to help him get customers for his motorcycle taxi business, he also probably does not want people staring at him.

It seems Khune Som Jit had come back to his home to help deliver his son to school before returning to work and saw me so came up to say hi before leaving. I told him I might not be back to Klong Toey for 3 or 4 months maybe longer but that I would bring him some of the photos I shot at that time. I also told him I would be going up North to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and possibly Laos as well. Som Jit understood me and nodded, as the words came out of my mouth I realized a man like Som Jit no matter how hard he works will never be able to enjoy a simple trip like I am doing to Northern Thailand, to visit a foreign country even one very close like Laos was also impossible for him. Something I take for granted and talk about without thinking about a man like Som Jit could never do. He will continue to live in his slum shack, continue day after day to drive his motorcycle around Bangkok making a few dollars a day, his life will not change. The things I enjoy, the places I will see and the people I will meet will never happen for Som Jit, he will never have the chances or the opportunities I accept and boast about without thinking.


I met a girl today in Chiang Mai who I have known since 2003, her name is Weaw. I found out just before this trip that Weaw was HIV positive and had gone blind because of poor medical treatment at a govt hospital (lack of money prevented her from getting better medical care at a public hospital).

I remember her from back in 2003, a girl full of life, wearing short shorts and a tshirt walking quickly through Bangkok traffic guiding me with an ease Thai people seem to have in the street that a bigger fatter farang finds difficult to master. I remember stumbling and having a hard time keeping up with her. Today in Chiang mai I helped guide here through the streets, she had on long black pants with a tan shirt, dark sunglasses and one of those folding out blind person sticks that starts with a black handle and alternates between red and white.

To see the contrast of the girl from 2003 to the girl of 2010 was heartbreaking. She still was polite, and pretty but the loss of her eyesight made her so vulnerable. She has lost much of her independence, the girl from Bangkok that I knew is gone forever. On top of the blindness she has HIV, here bf of 6 years who is also HIV positive a farang man from England has stopped emailing her, stopped telephoning her. He has cut her out of his life, she told me she did not want to get back together with him but I think this was not true, I wish she could be with him again and be happy with someone she loves.

Heartbreaking day to see the girl I knew then and now. I think thou she will overcome her disability, she is brave, she is strong and she is smart. Today we went to a massage school for blind people, to see if she could join the school. The classes last 3 months and should allow her to earn an income on completion. Many times Thai people like to receive massages from the blind because it a way of making merit, blind people also often do a better job.

Tomorrow morning will go with Weaw to her family home so that she can visit her parents, the home is 4 hours 45 minutes away from Chiang Mai. First to Chiang Rai by VIP air conditioned bus then by ordinary fan bus for 2 hours to Weaw's family home. Weaw's family are farmers so I will have a chance to photograph and to meet a Thai farming family this trip.

Bus To Chiang Mai

Arrived this morning in Chiang Mai after an all night bus ride. The trip North took about 9 hours and 30 minutes by first class bus. The drive was quite comfortable, I was able to recline in the seat and sleep for several hours. The ticket cost $21 CAD and included a bottle of water, a box of juice, a box of soya milk and a meal of rice/sausage and curry chicken. They also include a clean blanket to fight off the chills from the A/C.

Monks on buses always sit at the front out of respect for Lord Buddha and his monk hood. It was interesting to see how the food situation is handled for monks. Monks are not allowed to eat after mid day so could not take rice from the bus cabin attendant (dressed in high heels complete with uniform and airplane like hat). The attendant instead of giving rice gave the monks soya milk. Another problem is that women cannot hand things directly to a monk so the attendant girl handed the milk to a Thai man sitting nearby who then handed it to each individual monk. Monks can only receive food as gifts from the people it is a way people who are not in the religious order can make merit.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Speak Thai Become Friends

When you speak Thai in the slums or anywhere else it opens doors for you. I do not know how many times I have had people seem stand offish or shy or angry but after I speak Thai, make a joke, ask them about themselves or tell them about myself, the photos flow. Not sure how photographers can make good photographs in places where they cannot speak the language. I find that language, talking to those I photograph is absolutely crucial to my image making. It also helps me understand the people I am with which hopefully leads to more truth in the images.

Plus its fun to speak Thai!

Buddhist Teacher

Photographed a old very thin man sitting outside his slum shack next to the train tracks. The man was extremely thin, I asked him his name and his age but he seemed to ignore those questions. He did talk extensively to me about Buddhism and various famous monks ( some of which I understand most of which I did not). The man was obviously a devoted Buddhist and even invited me into his very small home (like a closet) to see all the Buddhist monk photos and drawing he had placed on the walls. There was also an old lady (his wife?) laying on the floor who got angry when he accidentally stepped on her, she seemed a bit shocked when she saw me standing next to her husband.

Before I left the old man saw that I had some dirt on the knees of my pants and he gently brushed the dirt away.

English Speaking Lady

Met a lady that could speak English in the slum. I was not sure if she was all there as her eyes, hair and behaviour was a bit erratic. The children that were near by also did not show her much respect (Thai children almost always show elders respect). When I started to talk to her I realized she spoke fluent English and as a girl ( she was in her 60s when I met her) she had lived in Washington DC. She had been a student for 7 years in Washington and also had a farang boyfriend.

How had she ended up back in the slum? What tragic things had happened in her life? How had she ended up destitute on the streets of Klong Toey?

She gave me some play money that she had in a plastic bag, he wanted me to give it to the children in Canada to play with. I made here photo, she was so thin, so haggard looking. She did not look like she would live much longer.

Marbles Serious Sport

Watched and photographed 3 children playing marbles today on the Kong Toey slum train tracks (Taung Rot Fai, in Thai), 2 young boys and 1 older girl. Serious business marble playing is! After a few minutes they completely forgot about me as they intensely battled it out in the dirt and rocks between the tracks, to the winner the shiny marble!

A dog with no hair (only soft pink/brown skin) and some kind of growth on his head watched us all warily from a distance.

Smoking Boy

Early on in the days shooting I came across a young man named Oh 30 years old crouching on the tracks smoking a cigarrette. Oh looked looked like a homeless kid, no shirt, wearing shorts with messy hair and very dark skin. He was curiously looking at me as I made some tryp-pics with the 6x9 camera and after I spoke to him in Thai he came closer and looked at the camera and told me his name etc. I made a number of photographs of him with the Leica and the Fuji 6x9. He was not homeless as we eventually made our way to a small shack where he put on a shirt. A very quiet man, I thought he might be mute, I wonder if he had a learning disability of some kind or if was just very shy.

Lady Of Klong Toey

With the help of John P I was able to gain access to Mercy and make a few photographs of the "The Lady of Klong Toey". The statue is revered mother type figure for the children and others at the Centre, it allows all the orphaned children to have a symbolic mother of sorts.

Not sure the photograph is anything exciting but it was enlightening to talk to John P and to get a bit of insight in to his thinking. Mercy is sort of a Oasis a Sanctuary in the slum world of Klong Toey. John compared it to a Temple in a a small town, a safe haven for people to congregate.

Last Day In Klong Toey?

Am now in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand trying to catch up with blog entries I could not make yesterday.

I had another moving day in Klong Toey yesterday, the Thais I met were all polite and friendly to me. I met some people for the second or third time and am becoming a bit of a recognised figure around Klong Toey. If I lived in Bangkok full time I would make a visit to Klong Toey 2 or 3 times a week, I could establish friendships. Unfortunately that it not possible the trip yesterday might be my last trip until next year.

I wish had the money to make photos 24/7 365 days a year but heck who can do that? I will go back to Canada work some more and come back again to the people of Klong Toey to hand out photographs and to make new ones.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Off To Chiang Mai

Am off to Chiang Mai tonight, it will take about 10 hours by bus. After a short stay in Chiang Mai I will head to Chiang Rai (9 hour bus ride) to photograph hilltribe and rural peoples. I plan to shoot mostly 4x5 in these areas, I got to get good at the cameras some how!! so will shoot shoot shoot!.

Do You Know Poh Jo?

I have made 4 trips to Klong Toey now and have been either associated with Mercy by the people I meet or asked if I have met Poh Jo (Father Joseph Maier of the Mercy Centre) at least a dozen times.

I never talk about Mercy first but it is obviously very important to the people here as they speak about Father Joe all the time. On 3 different occasions yesterday I was asked if I knew Father Joe.

I have an appointment to photograph "The Lady of Klong Toey" (statue on the grounds of the Mercy Centre) today but not sure how that will go as the light might not be good for the time I am being allowed to make the photograph. Security at the Centre is friendly but high, I cannot get close to the doorway without someone approaching me and asking how they can help. I am not allowed to enter the Centre on my own and need a chaperone to be on site. Mercy must have had problems in the past allowing people to roam freely. It is the only place in Klong Toey that I have had difficulty entering.

Flirting Eyes

I am currently staying in area of Bangkok where there are few farang males. Because of the lack of farang here I am a bit of a exotic species, sort of stand out in the crowd.

Tonight when I was at the mall eating my Thai food and KFC fish burger I accidentally seated myself near a walkway that led to the ladies toilet (in Thailand washrooms are called toilets). As I sat and ate a number of times I was looked at with flirting eyes. It is a quite common phenomenon here for farang males. You notice the flirting eyes thing the moment you arrive at the airport, sort of like you've become more handsome after 24 hours, 3 planes and travelling half way around the world. I am at best an average looking middle aged guy but tonight at the mall I got the flirting eyes treatment from 3 or 4 girls in their mid to early 20s. One girl after I asked her how to say the word "grapes" in Thai gave me 3 flirty looks before I left the supermarket.

I can understand why many farang males that come here go a bit nuts chasing women. Not sure I understand the fascination from the Thai woman's point of view. It might be partly finding someone different and unique, it might partly the perception that farang have more money or maybe the girl is just flirting in thought only and does not really want a relationship.

Khune Moo 35 years old

When I was about to leave Klong Toey today I came upon a very friendly man named Moo who was 35 years old. Khune Moo was a victim of polio as a child and travelled around the slum on a 3 wheeled bicycle that was hand powered. When he was born he did not receive a polio vaccination, when he was a child he contracted the disease. I photographed and talked to him for a while, he seemed like a decent fellow, his legs had braces on them, were underdeveloped quite small and skinny and folded in front of as he sat on his bicycle.

What is it like to live your life in this way, on a three wheeled bike hand pedaling around the Klong Toey slum. I want to meet Khune Moo and learn more about his life, does he have a family? how does he earn money? where does he live?

Khao Pud Moo

About half way through my Klong Toey visit today I walked into an area where men were playing cards and drinking (possibly using drugs). It was an area in the center of some slum shacks and a small one stall restaurant. At first I was a bit worried as two men started coming at me and speaking very fast in Thai, they were both drunk at mid afternoon (about 3pm). After I took a few photos of them (tattoos on their backs) they calmed down a bit we had a nice chat where I explained my history. There were children and one old man of 58 years old (he looked 70)nearby who I also photographed, the old man had haunting eyes, some good photos there I think. I also ordered Khao Pud Moo (fried rice with pork) for 20 baht. The lady who cooked the food was the mother of one of the drunk men (Bun 25 years old). I spent about 1 hour with these people, the old man, the ladies working and sitting in the area, the drunk men and the young children. This place today was a small snippet of life here, a small window into the lives of the people of the Klong Toey slum.

The Khao Pud Moo was delicious!

Khune Sum R--

Arrived at Klong Toey today around 130pm another late start. I walked in a different direction from the Mercy Centre in search of the Chao Phraya River (never found it). About 10 minutes later I came upon a large old slum house with a man laying down watching TV. I went up to the door said hello and waied the man. I asked permission to take a photo, then asked permission to come into his home. I photographed and talked in the mans house for maybe 30 minutes and learned about the lives of the people who lived there.

The man on the floor was named Sum R--, 55 years old he had 4 children. One of Khune Sum Roo-ai's children was in jail for sniffing glue, he was picked up and the family could not pay the bribe so son was in in jail. I was told the way the bribe system works depends on age, younger children might only pay a 200 baht bribe to the police(100 baht = $3.30 CAD), the older and taller you get the more the bribe costs, 400 baht, 1000 baht, adults pay upwards of 2000 baht. The jail time also depends on your age, sniffing glue/doing drugs might get you 14 days in jail if your a child but 1 year if your an adult (if you do not have the money to pay the bribe to police).

Khune Sum R-- makes his money collecting bottles on his motorbike, he would travel around working for 8 hours or so collecting and make 100 baht or so in profit. I hope the photographs help tell his lifes story.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Milk Money?

I met a young girl sitting in a doorway who looked malnourished 2 days back. I spoke to the lady taking care of her and she said her mom had run away (not sure who the lady was a friend? an aunt?), she said she did not have money for food (repeated that several times) when I gave the little girl 40 baht the woman scooped it up quickly (took her about 3 seconds) and said she would buy milk, not sure that's true.

There was also a man at the house who looked like he might be a heavy drinker or drug user. I hope the money does go for milk but I have my doubts. I can still see the little girl with a sort of a hollow face, she did not talk to me (or anyone else)like other children do, just sat in the doorway and quietly stared at me as I made photographs. What will her future hold?

The Kings Birthday

Today was the King of Thailand birthday, he turned 81 today and is in poor health but has lived a long productive life helping the Thai people. The day across Thailand is marked as fathers day out of respect for the King.

Thais are rightfully very proud of their King and whenever I mentioned that it was Wan Po day (Kings birthday-fathers day) to a Thai person they smiled with pride and were happy a farang new what day it was.

To start the day I made a photo of the Mercy Centre front gate which has a large photograph of the King out front. A gate was partially blocking the portrait. When I asked if the gate could be opened to make the picture and that it was important because it was Wan Po day. Security quickly repeated what I had said and opened the gate for me, everyone moved out of the way so I could make the photograph.

Respect for Father Joe

In my 3 trips to Klong Toey I have often heard the name Po Joe mentioned. Father Joseph Maier is highly respected amongst the Thais of Klong Toey that I have met. There is almost a reverential awe, a quietly spoken respect that comes into a Klong Toey residents face when the name Po Joe is spoken. I have not mentioned his name once first but maybe 10 times in the 3 trips Thais spoke his name first. When I tell them I read his book back in Canada and came to Klong Toey because of it to make photographs and to learn about the people of Klong Toey there are smiles all around.

I look at the Mercy Centre, look at the good Father Joe has done for the children and others here and my respect for him grows. I hope I get the chance to meet him, if not this trip then on some future trip to Thailand. What a wonderful way to spend your life, helping and fighting for a better life for others. When Father Joe dies he will have left powerful positive inprint on the life of tens of thousands, including my own life.

This trip has shown me two different types of Thailand farang. In the sex tourist areas of Thailand I think back to a man like Mike who owned two bars including a shortime sex bar (I wrote about him in an earlier blog). Mike is like many farang males who visit Thailand, he lives here for his own selfish pleasure, to be serviced in many different ways, everything is about ME! The opposite kind of farang is like Father Joe or John P who came to Thailand for a different reason, to give and to work for others. They wanted to make a positive difference to the lives of the poor, to work for a greater good, small step by small step. There is no ME first in their philosophy of life.

You Came Alone?

Whenever I meet and speak to Thais here in Klong Toey or in other parts of Thailand they are surprised I can speak a bit of Thai so I usually go through my whole story, explaining how long I have studied Thai, where I studied Thai, what country I am from, my age, job etc.

A number of times over the last few days (more than 20 times) I have gotten the surprised "FARANG!" called out with people pointing me out to family and friends. It happened today when a young boy called me out to his family. I went down the narrow sidewalk to their slum shack home and waied (Thai customary greeting of placing your hands together and raising them to your face) the grand mom who was sitting there with the rest of her family (daughter, gran daughter, great grandson? and great granddaughter?). They were very nice to me and loved to have photographs made of their youngest child. I made photos of all of them and then talked a bit before saying goodbye, they thanked me for taking their picture!

A bit more worrying question that has been asked 3 or 4 times is "YOU CAME ALONE?" when I say yes the men who asked the question seemed a bit surprised. I know there is danger here in Klong Toey, Father Joe's book warns of some dangers, and Thais I know like Khune Som Jit have warned me of the good and bad in Klong Toey as well. The fact that some Thais are surprised I came alone means that it is not a common thing to have a single farang walking alone in Klong Toey. I am not really that worried for my personal safety as I have always felt safe in Thailand but do worry a bit for my camera's. I carry a Leica M6 with a 28mm F2 with a value of around $4000 USD (some people have asked how expensive my camera is). Today I was carrying the Leica with my 4x5 and 2 lens etc. If I get my cameras stolen I will not be able to make the photographs I want to make and that's my only fear. I think the risk is worth the reward here, to be able to make some important photographs of the lives of people in Klong Toey, to be able to start the Khon Thai project here is well worth any danger my cameras might face!


I ended my day in Klong Toey shooting 35mm film again, there is such a fluidity to the format that I enjoy shooting it. The picture quality is not on the same level as larger film cameras but the feel and the speed you can shoot at makes up for some of the picture quality negatives.

As 5pm approached and I was about to leave I ended up on a part of the train tracks that I shot the day before. Young children came up and got all excited by me being there again, hamming it up for the camera etc. They even remembered my name, I always tell them that my name is the same name as Jerry in the Tom and Jerry cartoons (I would be the mouse). That always brings a smile to a young Thai persons face and then they usually laugh and repeat the name 2 or 3 times.

The children came up to me again and called out Gerry! I took a few pictures then we had a short English lesson. One of the young boys asked me how to say nose in English(my nose seems to fascinate them because it is bigger and longer than a Thai persons). I started a short English lesson, nose, ear, hair, face, mouth, eye, leg and arm. We went over it a few times, I said the word first and then they (about 8 young boys and girls)repeated it. One young girl was very happy to learn the word mouth, even when I did not ask her to say it she repeated it over and over. "Mouth, Mouth, Mouth" she said it with a big smile and shining eyes and was very happy when I said "dee mak, geng!" (very good, your smart!).

It is very obvious these young minds are searching for knowledge, they want to learn everything including English. The slum schools Father Joe has opened with the help of people like John P and others (around 300 people work at Mercy, paid and volunteers), give these young minds a chance to grow.

I want to process and then send the photographs I made over the last few days back to Mercy, maybe they can give them to the children or use them to raise awareness and to promote donations to the Human Development Foundation/Mercy Centre.

4x5 Struggles

I got up late so could only spend about 2 hours maybe 2 and 1/2 in Klong Toey before it got to dark to shoot (about 5pm). I went to bed a bit late last night and then could not sleep for several hours, I kept thinking about my day in Klong Toey.

I started out shooting with the 4x5 and did one portrait, I struggled making the photograph. Jock Sturges fingers, mind and body flow when he has a shoot like this, he does not have to look at the lens, he does everything quickly and with feel and experience from behind the camera. I felt like a bull in a china shop (or at least a stumbling farang). The camera seemed bulky and slow to set up, I was confused by lens choice (75mm or 150mm?) focusing and composing was awkward and slow etc. etc. etc. I guess I should not expect to much because this is basically my first attempt at shooting large format portraits outdoors (did it once in Thailand way back in 1996). I was disappointed with my performance, lots of work needed to improve.

I only have 2 more days to shoot in Klong Toey before I head up North for a week to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. I need to shoot quicker and shoot more portraits. I will change off to the 6x9 65mm lens Fuji camera tomorrow and try to be more fluid in my shooting. I am running out of time, I need to work harder and faster to complete the work before I leave Thailand.

I will go back to the 4x5 when I head North. I brought 300 sheets of 4x5 Tri-x, need to get a much of that shot before I leave. The film will be xrayed 5 times before I reach Canada again and I cannot bring it back through those machines again. I need to concetrate to focus and go all out with the 4x5 work when I go up North, by then most of my 35mm and 120mm film will be shot so I will have no other options!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Khune Som Jiit.

Met a man today named Som Jiit, or Khune Som Jiit (Mr. Som Jiit), a remarkable person. I was walking along the tracks between the slum shacks and Som Jiit was fixing his motorbike. Som Jiit has extensive scaring and is missing his upper lip on the left side of his face, probably the result of a fire. I bent down and started talking to him after maybe 10 minutes I asked his permission to take a photograph. He pointed to his face and seemed embarrassed by his scars. I told him what I wanted to photograph was his heart, his goodness and that the scaring was unimportant that it did not hide his true good self (he had been kind to me and warned me of the dangers of Klong Toey). Later on Som Jiit invited me into his home and I made a few photos of his room and of his young daughter and girlfriend. Before I left I asked if he needed money to pay for his the doctor for his daughter who was sick. He told me no that it was ok and he did not need the money as he and his girlfriend both worked. Somjiit drove a motorcycle taxi and his gf worked selling food.

I only talked to him for maybe 40 minutes but Khune Som Jiit struck me as a good decent man, someone who worked hard and loved his family. He also talked to me of "POH JO" (Father Joe of the Mercy Centre), and asked if I knew him. I have not had the honor of meeting Father Joe yet but I did meet another honorable man of Klong Toey today, Khune Som Jiit.

Photo Album

I photographed an old man of 74 today, we talked about his family and his life as I made a few photographs. His room was very small but was newer and had a TV and even a/c (turned off). His girlfriend lived next door and came across the tracks carrying 3 photo albums. I looked through them and saw a small window into this mans life. He had lived in Klong Toey all his life had 2 children, one son and one daughter. The son was a soldier and the daughter graduated from university and was married. He was very proud of his grandson and had dozens of photographs of him in his album. Part way through our photo album talk a train came down the tracks and everyone scattered after the call of "ROT FAI MAR!" rang out (the train is coming!). So there I was at about 330pm looking through a photo album with a 74 year old man in his slum shack as a train passed maybe 3 feet to my left. In Canada at 330pm I am getting up to go to work, here, I am doing this, such a different world I live in here. In a few weeks I will be back in Canada getting up at 330pm to go to work, such a small world.

The Children of Klong Toey Slum

The children of Klong Toey were a joy to be around today. Everywhere I went the waved and came up to me saying "HELLO!" in there school taught English and were delighted when I replied, "hello" back to them. I scared less children today only 1 cried on seeing me! I tried to talk to them at their height (bending or sitting down as I am rather tall at 6 foot 2 inches) and was less intimidating, not a big white skinned monster to them. I spoke softly in Thai and they responded with giggles and questions!! They were playing with my camera, with my flash, asking my name, what was in my pockets, where I came from. Being around children is sort of a new experience for me as I have none of my own. I was a bit uncomfortable at first but how can you be uncomfortable when a 2 young girls of maybe 5 years old come up to you are curious, hold your hand, sit on your leg then grab your nose and tell you how big it is! "Ja-mook Yai!" (big nose). It is joyful to be around Thai children I can still hear them calling out my name as I walked away, a group of 6 young girls and boys standing on the train tracks with their slum houses on each side, yelling "Gerry!"

Truly Amazing Day

Every now and then you have one of those days that are truly memorable, today was one of those days for me.

Met people today that I will remember for years to come, saw things today that will be hard to forget, and felt things today that will live inside me for a long time.

Klong Toey is a place of poverty but also a place filled with kind hearted people who welcome strange farang men with smiles and kindness. I am probably only seeing the surface, the waters run deeper than what I saw today, there is good and bad in all places, in all societies, in all countries. I saw the good of the Klong Toey slumtoday and the good was very good. I was offered food, offered medical cream for my sore leg, offered beer and also offered a warm smile a little talk and a laugh.

Today was the best day I had in Thailand so far this trip. A day like today will be hard to top, when I am back home in Canada I will remember today with a smile.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Baby On The Train Tracks

Photographed a young boy today in a slum shack next to the train tracks. The young boy played at a window as his mother and father worked. Later on when I returned the young boy walked barefoot among the garbage and nails/staples. The mother and father obviously loved their child and watched over him carefully while working.

I have noticed I tend to frighten babies here! I guess it is my size and skin color that does it, most babies start out curious but then that grows into a slight fear which then progresses to tears and crying. Often after a few minutes of having me around the mother has to hug and comfort her baby.

At one point today I was walking down a soi when a women in front of me about 55 years old with big black frame glasses (Buddy Holly like) turned around and started staring at me as we walked. The lady stared while walking for about 15 seconds until at one point she sort of lost her way and bumped into the people walking in front her. The whole thing was rather funny, I guess they do not get that many farang walking around down here. I have had that reaction in more remote areas of Thailand but rarely in Bangkok.

Blang's Story

Been thinking these last 2 days of the last girl I photographed using the ring flash and color film. Her name was Blang she was 22 and very pretty. At first Blang was unsure of me but by the time we finished making photos she was happy and comfortable. She told me a story in Thai about a 50 plus year old farang man who had been a customer, how he did not want to wear a condom, how he had hurt her during sex. I can see here eyes and face now as I type, I wonder what her future holds for her. The same night I photographed ladies who had been working as sex workers with farang for upwards of 20 years, even 30 years. I wonder now if Blang will be doing the same work in 30 years?

I wish I was more fluent in Thai I can understand more now than at during any previous time in Thailand but still feel like I have so much to learn. I want to be completely fluent so I can learn and understand people here better. I need to understand exactly what they are telling me and to then translate that feeling, that knowledge into my photographs.

Back In Klong Toey

Had a late start again, got to get up earlier! I ended up getting to Klong Toey and visiting the Mercy Centre for the first time today. The Mercy Centre is a facility and outreach program that was started in the 1973 by Father Joseph Maier and Sister Maria Chantavarodom. I was given a short tour by Father Joe's right hand man Mr. John P.

After the visit to the centre I walked around the Klong Toey area. I photographed the railroad tracks where they have furniture making shacks. The workers work on a train track and then sell the products they make (tables, chairs, dog houses etc.). Much of the wood used is from old wood pallets that are re cut and then reused. The quality was surprisingly good, the tables and chairs well made and after they are finished and painted up, quite attractive. The main work area is on the train tracks so upwards of 10 times of day everyone has to remove all their equipment and whatever they are working on before the train crushes it.

Meeting the people on the streets, in their homes and along the railway tracks was a positive experience, a good learning experience. Often the poorest people have the kindest most friendliest hearts. Today when I was walking the soi's (road) of Klong Toey I kept thinking how the camera around my neck was probably worth more than many people around me earned in 2 or 3 years.

The longer I stay in Thailand the easier it gets for me and the better the photographs are. Unfortunately I only have about 17 more days in Thailand so I have to try to make the most of the time I have. I am unsure if I will return tomorrow and shoot more 35mm or take out the 4x5 for the first time, either way it should be FUN!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

African Sex Workers

There is a growing trend of African sex workers in Thailand. Last year on Sukhumvit road in Bangkok I noticed maybe 4 or 6 such workers, last night there were well over 20 maybe 30 African working girls. Two different ladies grabbed my hand and pulled me toward them to talk, they spoke very clear English and both were from Kenya. I liked both ladies and had friendly talks with both, I wished them good luck and moved on. One lady who I talked to was named Ousha and was about 30 years old and quite pretty and polite she said she also had a friend from Uganda who worked the street. There are also many Russians working the street areas, is Bangkok becoming an international market for sex workers? I wonder what Sukhumvit street will be like in 10 years? Who will be working there? and from which countries?