Saturday, December 31, 2011

First 4x5 Film

I opened up my first box of exposed 4x5 film from the trip and developed 10 sheets. The sheets so far look good :) They are of a young man named Ai who lived and hung out in a drug/drinking area I photographed in, he might have been involved in the drug trade somehow (dealer?), only saw him 2 times, the first time I photographed him with the Linhoff. I also developed some of the freeway canal negs and 2 negs of an old couple who lived in a shack near the drug people. The negs of the old people were shot in very low light (doorway of their shack home), if the portraits turn out it will give me confidence to continue shooting in similar lowlight conditions.

When your making the pictures its quite tiring, carrying around the gear, working in the hot weather, dealing with all kinds of people while speaking a foreign language, transporting everything through multiple airports around the world etc. Its all worthwhile thou when you make a good picture, all the work is worth it, a successful portrait makes it all worthwhile.

When you make a good neg the high you get is better than than anything else I experience, I got a bit of that a few minutes ago when I looked at the negatives for the first time, seeing those beautiful negatives makes everything worthwhile. Next time I need to work twice as hard!!

I feel happy, am on a high right now.

Happy New Year everyone!!!, bye till later I am off to a dinner and a small new years party.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Development Of 35mm Continuing

I am continuing my development of the 35mm film from the last trip, I have done 70 rolls or so now, will try to get it all developed in the next few days before I go back to work. I am also eager to develop the 4x5 film from the trip (especially the Banarama 2 stuff) plus some 5x7 I shot recently.

Then of course I still have to print the sex worker white background stuff for the coming group show in April 2012. Sometimes there do not seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.

Freezing Tri-x

With all of Kodak's problems I have decided to buy a large supply of Tri-x film and keep it frozen. Kodak seems to be on the edge of bankruptcy and might stop making film any day now. I ordered 70 rolls of Tri-x 35mm bulk 100 foot rolls. I also ordered 1900 sheets of 4x5 and 50 sheets of 8x10. I will need to pay for all this film in instalments as I am very short of money right now, but it was important to get it ordered now while it is still available. I will try to add to this stock later next year, I want to have over 100 rolls of bulk in the freezer as well as a large supply of 4x5.

When I come back from Asia in March I will have to get a second job to pay for everything. The idea is to build up a 10 year supply to lesson the effect a Kodak bankruptcy will have on my photo work. eventually I will probably have to change to Ilford HP5 as my film of choice.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Changing Back

So there I am last night having a post Christmas meal with my father, mother and family. The table is covered with food, turkey, ham, meatballs, pyrogies, cabbage rolls, perishke, salad, potatoes, dressing etc etc. I am looking at at all this wonderful food but thinking back to the young children I photographed in the slums of Poipet. "What are the children doing? What is that girl with the big eyes doing now who lived next to the garbage dump, what is she eating today tonight?"

9 days ago I was photographing groping ladyboys in short time sex rooms bars of Pattaya Thailand, 11 days ago was photographing people slaving pulling large wagons of goods across the border, 12 days go Cambodian children playing in garbage, 14 days ago Thai teenagers smelling glue from bags, 15 days ago people working picking up garbage in the canals of Klong Toey, 17 days ago young 12 year old boys training to become Muay Thai boxers.

Now I have to change back to being Canadian security guard again. Last night I was sitting with this table full of food in front of me, listening to the group talk about the weather and what pills they were taking for upset stomachs and acid reflex etc.

My 45 year old sister who does not work, has no responsibilities and has everything provided for her is complaining. She lives in a beautiful big house with her pets is talking about her stomach issues and telling stories of her numerous animal (Bob did this and Dodo did that). I am sitting there half listening and half thinking of the young girl with the big eyes in Poipet living in the garbage, of the family of more than 10 (5 or more children) living in a run down slum shack, of the 7 year old girl washing dishes in the back of her small wooden house at the back of a  temple, of the young teenage boys in Bangkok sniffing glue, of the workers I photographed in Bangkok standing, working, living in garbage. Now today here I was sitting at this table of food with my family listening to my sister telling stories of her dogs, cats, doves etc. It all seems so surreal. Is this world I live in now real? Do people worry more about doves, cats and dogs more than they do hungry children in slums?

How do I switch back to being a Canada guy again? 

The great photographers like Salgado, Sheikh, McCullin switch back between these worlds often (and they see truly horrific things much worse than I experienced), not sure how they do it, maybe it's something I have to learn.

The photographers that switch back from these other worlds are no doubt irrevocably changed by their experiences (how can you not be?). They must just pretend better, hide it better than I can, this will take me some time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quote: Paul Strand

"I like to photograph people that have strength and dignity in their faces, whatever life has done to them, it hasn't destroyed them. I gravitate to people like that."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Quote: Sebastiao Salgado

"Detachment is disaster for the documentary photographer. You must live within the situation, let it become your real life, share with the people what they are going through the best you can. Do I question myself? No, because all my ethical concerns have been decided ahead of time. There can be no room for doubt. You don’t go to take anything from anybody or to exploit them. You don’t “take” pictures, you make pictures; you make them well and use them to communicate, to help the people and the situation."

Breakfast With Salgado Story

POSTING CREDIT NOTE* I should have given proper credit and a link to the author of this story Mr. Bennet Stevens, thanks Benn for the wonderful article. Here is a link to his site where the story originated. Check out the photographs on the link as well, I especially like the work done at the Cambodian AIDS clinic.

Here is a brief Bio of Bennet Stevens:

Bennett Stevens is a writer/photographer and co-founder of 
Luminous Journeys, a travel company providing top flight
photography tours & workshops in Myanmar. Please visit

Breakfast with Salgado

by Bennet Stevens

OK, so breakfast is a bit of a misnomer. More like coffee and crumpets for 20. The occasion was a morning workshop put on by, a San Francisco Bay Area non-profit organization dedicated to helping documentary photographers create, edit, fund and distribute their work worldwide.

And so we were gathered at "the feet of the master" in a small studio across the street from Pixar Animation; a gaggle of "emerging" photographers joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, Kim Komenich of the San Francisco Chronicle; multi-award-winning social documentary photographer, Ken Light; renowned photo editor and longtime Salgado collaborator, Fred Ritchin of; and a small film crew.

I sit directly down the long rectangular table from Salgado; he is at the head, I at the ass end, a perfect juxtaposition of our skill levels. He looks good, a vibrant 60, blue eyes shining under a white baseball cap that covers his perfectly baldpate. After a brief introduction, Sebastiao, good naturedly, informs us that he has never conducted a workshop and has little idea of where to start. So he asks us to begin by asking him questions.

And so we do. And will for the next three hours. His answers come thoughtfully, forthrightly, engagingly, lengthily. His English, though virtually fluent, is spoken with a Brazilian Portuguese accent tinged with Parisian, and is not always easy to follow. The film crew is ever lurking, the soundman perpetually swinging his fuzzy, stuffed animal (windscreen) of a mike over our heads. The wind, to the best of my meteorological abilities, is coming out of nowhere at zero kilometers per hour.

First up is a 30-something photojournalism teacher, a liberal intellectual type who poses a rather labyrinthine question, or group of questions, most of which he answers for himself. I cannot recall the first exactly, but the gist is essentially, what is your philosophy as an artist. The gist of Salgado’s answer is, “I am not an artist and so I have no philosophy as one.”


Even though Sebastiao masks it well — his actual answer is not so curt of course, and one senses that he’s dealt with these types before — he has a certain level of disdain for the over-intellectualization of photography. The journo prof's continuance amounts to pointing out a common criticism — a thorn in Salgado’s side as Fred Ritchin lets be known — that he makes beautiful pictures of people suffering, that he somehow romanticizes and even exploits it. What do you say to these critics?
I paraphrase:

Salgado: Here I am 20 years later and people are still talking about Sahel, reprinting Sahel, and of course it’s topical again since the ongoing tragedy in Darfur. If I did not make these pictures with good light and good composition, if they were not compelling, how would they now be contributing to the discussion about Darfur? The information from the Sahel book keeps circulating because the pictures are well made.

Eduardo Galeano, who along with Ritchin wrote essays that appear in Salgado’s An Uncertain Grace, explains it thus:

Galeano: Salgado's photographs, a multiple portrait of human pain, at the same time invite us to celebrate the dignity of humankind. Brutally frank, these images of hunger and suffering are yet respectful and seemly. Salgado sometimes shows skeletons, almost corpses, with dignity — all that is left to them. They have been stripped of everything but they have dignity. That is the source of their ineffable beauty… That instant of trapped light, that gleam in the photographs reveals to us what is unseen, what is seen but unnoticed; an unperceived presence, a powerful absence. It shows us that concealed within the pain of living and the tragedy of dying there is a potent magic, a luminous mystery that redeems the human adventure in the world.

A young woman, who’s worked with Steve McCurry in Tibet, asks about coping with the emotional aspects of photographing in such conditions, and if he ever questions himself. Fred Ritchin steps in.

Ritchin: People often assume—wrongly—that Sebastiao has to stay detached from the suffering, otherwise how can he cope with it. And this goes to the heart of who he is as a photographer and as a man. The last thing he wants to be is detached.

Salgado: Detachment is disaster for the documentary photographer. You must live within the situation, let it become your real life, share with the people what they are going through the best you can. Do I question myself? No, because all my ethical concerns have been decided ahead of time. There can be no room for doubt. You don’t go to take anything from anybody or to exploit them. You don’t “take” pictures, you make pictures; you make them well and use them to communicate, to help the people and the situation. Many times the suffering people in the Sahel would see me working and they would ask me to come and photograph them or a loved one as a way of helping to solve the problem. In time they come to your camera like they would come to a microphone, they come to speak through your lens.

His famous use of light is “part of who I am," says Salgado. Raised on an Amazonian cattle ranch, with dust and smoke resulting in diffuse light, and with simple structures allowing mostly chiaroscuro lighting situations indoors, this was the medium through which he came to see the world. He knows it and knows how to work with it. He will often shoot against the light, even overexposing his Tri-X up to five stops!

Salgado holds up his Workers book, just one of several multi-year projects, shuffling through the pages until he finds the famous photo of an oil worker in Kuwait after Gulf War 1. The man is seated and slumped and covered in crude, having spent a long day under black skies putting out oil fires. It’s about an 8 x12 inch image, without an unusual amount of grain. We guess the ISO was 400. Wrong! In actuality it was shot at 3200. The reason for so little grain was that the subject and the background were almost entirely black and white, with little by way of gray tones.

By this time I am stepping on Komenich’s Pulitzer feet and snapping off a few shots with my new digital Nikon. Salgado is not a fan of the digital camera. Nor is Ritchin, who, being a photo editor prefers to see the evolution of an image — and a photographer — frame by frame. The fact that digital images are so often destroyed on the spot is bothersome to him. He goes on to say how sometimes an image can remain on a contact sheet, overlooked for decades before being “discovered”. Salgado’s own documentary archive exceeds half a million images.

Karen Ande of, who documents the AIDS crisis in Africa, asks the question I was about to ask. I paraphrase:

Ande: Given the number of intense and emotionally delicate situations you’ve put yourself in, you must have a special way of getting people to accept you and your camera. People dying, their loved ones suffering are not always happy to see a lens pointing at them.

Salgado: This is very true, and so you must always have asked permission. Not for each time you click the shutter, but to be a part of the situation in the first place. When you first arrive it’s important to get introductions. If you go to a village or a factory or into the fields or a feeding center in the desert, you must get introduced or introduce yourself to whomever it is that can give permission in that situation. Explain yourself in a way that makes your being there important for them. It’s one thing to make ‘street shots’ here and there, but to tell a story you must get inside the story and live with the story, in a sense becoming part of he community. This also allows you to know when not to be pointing your camera, when it would not be appropriate. There are times I do not make the picture, out of respect for the people and the moment.

With this Salgado draws a Bell curve on a pad of paper. The bottom of the near curve is where you — the photographer — approach and first enter a given situation. Here on the street you may be using a longish lens. Then you make your introductions. You explain yourself and most importantly, get permission.

At first the shooting can be very difficult, a steep, slow trudge up the curve. But after a few days or a week, as people become accustomed to you and your camera, you climb the curve more steadily. As you get deeper into the story your lens gets shorter. The pictures get better. When you approach the apex of the curve, there is less gravity working against you. The people have accepted you and dropped their defenses. The story enters its climax stage at the top of the curve and you are now using your shortest lens and making your best pictures. Inevitably you begin to sense a natural drop off; the story winds down. Traversing down the other side of the curve is a bit like cuddling and having a cigarette after sex. Gradually, and as gracefully as possible then, you extricate yourself from the bed of the story, giving your thanks and saying your goodbyes, while your lens (and here we must depart from the sex analogy) is once again getting longer.

Galeano: Salgado photographs people. Casual photographers photograph phantoms… Consumer-society photographers approach but do not enter. In hurried visits to scenes of despair or violence, they climb out of the plane or helicopter, press the shutter release, explode the flash: they shoot and run. They have looked without seeing and their images say nothing.

We spend a fair amount of time discussing the “framing” of a documentary project. In other words, know what you want to do, what your project is going to be about, and that your reasons for doing it are very important to you. If they are not, the difficulties of any given situation may overcome your dedication to it, and your work will reflect it.

Do as much research as you can. Wherever possible, develop contacts for your introductions ahead of time. Again, know the heart of the story you plan to tell with your photographs. Of course you cannot know the specifics; these will take care of themselves. And of course, things are never as you expect them on the ground, so you must also be nimble and prepared to make adjustments. Keep your eyes and your mind open, but at the same time stay focused on the main threads of your story. Otherwise you may think things are going well, only to return home and discover that somewhere along the way you lost your story, and are left with only a few nice pictures.

Fred Ritchin talks about some lesser-known aspects of Salgado. About how they worked together on a project to eliminate polio worldwide, which has been very successful if not 100 percent yet. He mentions how Salgado donates time and money to Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) and other groups helping the developing world. How he has rehabilitated rainforest in the Amazon where he grew up. How his current project, Genesis, is a risk and a departure from his previous work, and that he is learning a new medium format camera specifically for it.

The genesis of Genesis was Migrations, or rather the despair he felt at the he end of the project. He saw so much destruction of the environment, so much greed leading to human displacement and intractable poverty in the second and third worlds that his faith in humanity was badly waning. He wanted to address the reasons for this loss of faith in a way that would help to restore it, both for him and others. Like all his other major works, this project will take several years; he estimates seven. It is these multi-year projects that set Salgado apart from other great documentary photographers.

Salgado: I conceived this project as a potential path towards humanity's rediscovery of itself in nature. I have named it Genesis because, as far as possible, I want to return to the beginnings of our planet: to the air, water and fire that gave birth to life; to the animal species that have resisted domestication and are still "wild"; to the remote tribes whose "primitive" way of life is largely untouched; and to surviving examples of the earliest forms of human settlement and organization. This voyage represents a form of planetary anthropology. Yet it is also designed to propose that this uncontaminated world must be preserved and, where possible, be expanded so that development is not automatically commensurate with destruction.

Our breakfast with Salgado is over before we know it, and it’s time for lunch without him. Fred will continue the workshop after the break. Outside, still in something of a daze of icon envy, I spot Sebastiao heading down the block and resist the urge to run after him. He is off across the bay where he will be giving a fund raising speech later that night. To think that the best "pure" documentary photographer on the planet still has to work at raising money for his projects is more than a bit daunting. Seven-year projects are not easily funded of course, but the price of his well-earned emancipation from assignment work pays for itself in many other ways. Most importantly, it gives him the freedom to express the world he sees to the world at large, to speak directly through his lens without having to endure a bad translation from some editor sitting behind a desk in New York or Paris. There will be plenty of that after the fact, when the photo-intellectuals swoop down to feed and regurgitate to the public what they are so often incapable of fully digesting for themselves.

Quote: Sebastiao Salgado

"If you go to a village or a factory or into the fields or a feeding center in the desert, you must get introduced or introduce yourself to whomever it is that can give permission in that situation. Explain yourself in a way that makes your being there important for them. It’s one thing to make ‘street shots’ here and there, but to tell a story you must get inside the story and live with the story, in a sense becoming part of he community. This also allows you to know when not to be pointing your camera, when it would not be appropriate. There are times I do not make the picture, out of respect for the people and the moment."

Kodak Out Of The Film Business?

Kodak Sells Off Its Gelatin Business

Kodak is burning through $70 million every month and desperately trying to stay alive by selling off divisions that other companies are willing to buy. After selling off its sensor business last month, the company announced yesterday that it has agreed to sell off its gelatin business (called) Eastman Gelatine) to Rousselot, the world’s leader gelatin producer. Gelatin is one of the main components used in photographic film and paper, so this certainly can’t be good news for Kodak’s future in film photography. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

First Films Developed

Developed my first 16 rolls of 35mm Tri-x yesterday, will do another 8 today before I go to bed (working  one more night shift). The film I developed yesterday looked sharp, well composed with good contrast, you got to love those Leicas!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quote: Billy Kwan

From the movie "The Year Of Living Dangerously" Photojournalist Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt) speaks about the reason women in Jakarta Indonesia work as prostituteses.

 "Starvation is a great aphrodisiac."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quote: Sebastiao Salgado

From the book "Photography as Activism, Images For Social Change" by Michelle Borgre.

" You have a very different way of looking at the world when you come from the south to the north. I come from this world, and I have a different understanding of the poor side of the world. I look at the poor without pity because I know they are only poor materially. They are rich in culture and tradition. It's different than the poverty in America. The ghetto is poor materially and spiritually. This is what I was trying to get people to understand. This world is not a poor world in a spiritual sense. I never wanted to give a conscience to anyone. These pictures were to give a basis for reflection and discussion. To see the men who lived in South America., Africa, and Asia are the same men who live here (the developed Western world). We are the same. When you  save those people, you are saving yourselves.

Upcoming Shows

Well am back in Canada, back at work, back trying to make money to pay off debts and save for more photography opportunities.

Not making pictures now but at least the photography show situation has improved, the "Fading Lives" show is done now,  but I have 3  other shows opening over the next year and a bit.

1) April 2012 at Visual Arts Alberta in Edmonton, I will be showing 5 or so large prints (20x24) and at least to large diptychs (2-16x20s in 1 frame) from the sex worker on white background series shot in 2007 and 2009.

2) After May 2012 (not sure of exact date) I will have my first one man and first international show at the Toot Yung Gallery in Bangkok Thailand.

3)Early 2013 (not sure of exact date) I will have a show (one man? or part of a group? not sure) at the Kassa Gallery in the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Film Scrounger! And Changing Back To Being A Canuck

I am starting to plan my next trip (and last for quite a while) to Thailand for March 2012. I will not have money to buy new film so have to use up all the film I have in my stand up garage freezer. I might shoot 8x10 this coming trip to continue the white background work

I have 150 sheets of Tri-x 8x10  (mostly outdated)  and about 175 sheets of discontinued JandC 400 8x10 (outdated)  I can use as well as 110 sheets of color Portra 8x10 (outdated),

I have about 400 or so sheets of 4x5 Tri-x as well. I might need to buy some more bulk 35mm to shoot thou as last trip I used up 5 bulk canisters, I do not think I have much of that film left.

I need to pay for the air ticket and use up all my old film stock, scrounging and hoping all the outdated film is still good.

This next trip, my third in about 7 months will be the most difficult to finance, going to have to cut as many corners as I can. When I return to Canada will probably have to take a second job and work harder to pay off my debt and hopefully eventually save some money to go back to Thailand/Cambodia to continue my photography projects.

One step at a time, I need to organize myself over the coming months to get the latest work developed and printed (want to give out free photos to those who I photographed) as well as print for the VAAA show in April and apply for grants and other shows.

First things first thou, I need to get over my jet lag, slept like 4 hours and then woke up early feeling bad. I am working 7, 12 hour nightshifts over the next week. Its tough bouncing between worlds like this, last week I was photographing slum children in Poipet Cambodia, and Ladyboys in Pattaya Thailand and this week I am working as a night guard shovelling snow in Canada! I can still see the faces of all those people in Asia, I still feel the emotions from those experiences, some of those moments those feelings are haunting my thoughts now. Its hard to switch channels back into security guard mode - Canadian mode,  hard to start talking Christmas stuff and NHL hockey stuff again.

Extremely short of money right now, thank goodness I will get $750 from the Edmonton Arts Council for the "Common Lives Project" (Peoples Project) travel expenses. I think I can apply one more time for this project (believe the rules are a max 2 travel grants per project).

Maybe I will apply for a second travel grant for "Common Lives" (Peoples Project) in 2013.

First Ever Grant!

Found another envelope amongst my mail received while I was on my trip, this envelope was from the Edmonton Arts Council. I applied for a travel grant many months back and it was accepted! Its only $750 dollars to help cover travel costs (my air tickets to Thailand are about $1400) but heck its a grant, my first ever grant and I am desperately short of funds right now, it is also nice that the work is considered important enough by the Edmonton Arts people to justify this grant.

Thanks very much to the Edmonton Arts Council, the grant money is greatly appreciated.
Dear Gerry

Thank you for your application to the 2011 CIP Travel Grant program on  Oct 1. The jury assessment was completed, and the Board of the Edmonton Arts Council (EAC) considered the jury's report in early November.

I am please to inform you that based on the jury's report. The Board of the Edmonton Arts Council intends to recommend to Edmonton City Council that you receive a grant of $750 for your travel as described in your application, summarized as follows.....................

Edmonton Arts Council Board of Directors.

First Edmonton 1 Man Show?

On returning to Canada I accessed my website email and got some good news. I had submitted work for a show at the Kassa Gallery at the Jubilee Auditorium ( home of the Edmonton symphony, concerts, ballet, opera etc.), I found out on my return I got the show. At this point am not sure what the deal is, is it a 1 man show? A group show? How many photos? Will find out and post more details in the coming days.

The photographs in the show will be from my shoots in Klong Toey Slum in Bkk in 2010. Hopefully this will be my first 1 man show and will include over 20 large photographs.

Here is the email I received from the gallery while in Thailand.
Gerry, Hi.

I believe you are in Thailand now – I had hoped that my original email telling you that we’ve accepted your show would have reached you before you left, but, since I’ve not heard from you, I suspect it did not.

I am hoping that we can look at hosting your show in early 2013 in the Edmonton gallery – Can you let me know, when you return, if this will work for you?

Thanks, very much.

I expect to be getting several rejection emails in the coming months. I have applied to 4 high end Canadian Museum/Galleries and expect those to be rejected. I will post those letters/emails as well.

At least the news today is a positive. I have a group show in Edmonton in April, a one man show in Bangkok sometime in 2012 and a 1 man (?) show in Edmonton at the Kassa in 2013. Things at the moment are looking up, it will be a blast to print the photos for all those shows, will be lots of work but also should be loads of fun! 

Am looking forward to printing the work and seeing how people respond to it. I am happy the people I photographed in the Klong Toey will be seen. I did more photos in Klong Toey this last trip, hopefully  I can include a few of those photographs as well.

Back In Edmonton!

Flew into Edmonton at about 140am about 1 hour and 30 minutes late, a delay on the last flight from Vancouver on Westjet.

I was able to get 2 seats on China Airlines from Bangkok to Taipei, and 4 lovely seats on the flight from Taipei to Vancouver. I watched 3 movies, relaxed and read a book on art history, plus I slept a bit! The flight back to Canada was not to painful it was actually kind of comfortable! Now thats the way to do that!

Thai Barbershop

Had a wonderful haircut my last day in Thailand. The barber rescued a poor haircut I had gotten from a lady stylist earlier in the week. He spent about 1 hour, shaving, cutting and manicuring my military style cut with both an electric shaver and scissors. He even cut my nose hairs with a pair a scissors (did not realize I was so nose hairy!). At the end of the haircut he used a paint brush to paint a lubricant around my ears, neck hairline and side burns, after he did that he took out a fresh shaving blade and gently cut the small hairs in the areas lubricated. Just when I thought he could not make the haircut any better he massages my neck and arms for about 3 minutes. What a was a wonderful experience, this haircut sort of made me feel  like clay being molded by an artist.

I paid 80 baht for haircut with a 20 baht tip ($3.32). Got to visit this guy later on and have another haircut, also want to make his portrait with the 4x5 Linhof and available light.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No Old People!

One of the things that you notice in Cambodia is the lack of old people. I met and photographed a few older people but not many. I believe the reason there are not many old folks around is because most of them died during the Khmer Rouge period (1.7 million people died in 4 years). The Vietnamese invaded and ended the Khmer Rouge mass murder in 1979, so that means anyone in Cambodia over 32 years of age lived during that period, most everyone in the country has lost family members. Imagine that, almost every Khmer person currently alive in Cambodia has lost family members to the Khmer Rouge or maybe they were the Khmer Rouge soldiers doing the killing, how does a country recover from that level of genocide?

Currently in Cambodia there are war crimes trials going on but they are only going after the top 4 or 5 people (all old men). The current head of the country Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge member so obviously they do not want to open to many doors and let out to many secrets otherwise those in charge of the current dictatorship might be implicated.

2nd Day Of Photographing Ladyboys

The second day at the ladyboy bar was easier than the first, no groping this time! I managed to photograph 2 ladyboys, Khun Bo 27 and Khun Ae 28. Both of them were fun to shoot thou Ae was a bit harder to work with. I will try to photograph them both again if I do more white background photos (a third set after the 2007 and 2009 series) with the 8x10 next year.

I said goodbye to some of the ladyboys (Noy, Bo, Ae and Meow) at the bar and also said bye to young Nid (female worker I have known for 8 years), she looked tired tonight. The girls at her bar sit up front on the street night after night advertising themselves, how can you do that for 8 years like Nid has and still smile?

I am off to Bangkok tomorrow, then its off to Canada. I need to pack my bags, my film and my cameras (carry on bags only this time!!!!!). The flight home promises to be painful, 3 planes and about 24 hours of cramped uncomfortable flying. but its the price I have to pay, its the price that allows me the freedom to create the work I want to create, the work I have to create.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Talked To Young Nid

Young Nid has the eyes of a hawk. I photographed her 5 or 6 times through the years dating back to 1999. As I walked down the soi (road) of her bar she quickly recognized me, called out my name and waved  me over, I had not seen her since 2010 and only talked to her 1 or 2 times that year (photographed her once). She teased me for forgetting her birthday (November 17th). I asked about her house (she is building a house for her family back in her home town) which is not yet done (2 years of construction and counting). She looked older less tired than the last time I saw her, she is stll very pretty with a small rose tattoo over her left breast.

I might try to photograph Nid again in March, I have no time and little film left this trip. I hope she can finish the up country family home and get out of the sex worker world, she has worked the soi in various shortime bars for about 12 years now.

I Used To Work A Hotel

Meow 23 a ladyboy who I photographed today has only been working in the short time sex bar for 2 weeks, before the bar she worked in a hotel (regular non sex worker job). She told me she did not like working the short time bar but she had to make money, she kept her work in the bar a secret from her family. She showed me her photo which had a photo of her with one of her customers a handsome young Taiwanese man who did not know (at least thats the story I was told) Meow was a ladyboy when he took her, he thought she was a real women, Meow explained who she was and they had sex. The photo was of both of them hugging and topless.

In the room away from the street Meow is a nice polite person (no groping) but she did try some flirting tricks at the end of the photo session (sitting very close to me on the bed, looking into my eyes and asking "Is that it? No Sex?"), afterwards she helped me downstairs when I was looking for another ladyboy to photograph.

I want to understand more about the transgender ladyboy world, what are their true feelings? their true emotions?

Getting Mauled By Ladyboys

Went to a bar where I often photographed ladyboys here in Pattaya. While I was trying to find someone to shoot, I got mauled, grabbed and groped by 2 ladyboys I did not know. Another ladyboy named Noy who I had photographed before in 1999 and 2010 straightened the girls out and told them what I was really interested in (taking photos). When I talked to her about it (the groping) Noy explained to me that they did not know me and they were just working (chasing customers), I knew as much and said ok no problem. The groping stuff gets hard to handle sometimes thou, I spend half my time speaking very fast Thai and the other half pulling away hands from my groin. One ladyboy even got down on her knees and pretended to perform oral sex, not exactly a shy person.

I am now typing up these blogs in a cafe behind where I did the ladyboy short time room portrait sessions. I had another ladyboy named Bo banging on the window and asking to be photographed tomorrow, she had a strong face, will try to shoot her tomorrow my  2nd day and last day of shooting in Pattaya.

More To Come

I wrote up some blog titles (listed below), I will fill out the stories later on as I have more time and more energy, check back later if your interested.

Pattaya Farang The Zombie Stare

Not sure why but there seem to be more zombie like stares from male farang sex tourists, sex pats this trip to Pattaya than in trips past. I seem be seeing multiple farang staring zombie like into space even if they are sitting at a table with a Thai woman girlfriend-sex worker. For many of the farang here life must be pretty boring, they drink, they eat, the have sex, they drink, they eat, they have sex and maybe once in a while they gossip a bit with other sex tourists-sex pats (often bitching about Thailand and Thai people).

What kind of life is that? Its a pretty repetitive, a pretty boring, a pretty useless way to live. You might be better off being a real zombie! A dead, slobbering, blue skinned, stone faced, foot dragging creature of darkness, at least you might have a chance at a movie or TV deal : )

Pattaya The Farang City

Pattaya Thailand is a Thai city but at times it seems more like a farang city. It is a city of farang tourists, sex tourists and sex pats. Many farang males come to this city and never leave, they find an apartment or buy a condo, get a Thai girlfriend or just find one every night at a different bar, their lives here often revolve around drinking, eating and sex.

I find Thai people much more aggressive here as well, their is a hunger for money and quite often a rudeness an abruptness that you do not feel in other parts of Thailand. I also noticed this ruder type behavior in the bar areas of Bangkok. The sex scene hardens everyone (the sex worker, the sex tourist, the normal Thai workers around the scene), some people still smile, some people are still polite but there is more of a harsh edge to everything. After experiencing Thai people in the real Thailand the subtle changes in behavior I feel here in Pattaya are not so subtle!

After 2 days in Pattaya I am ready to get out of here.

Your Cold!!? Are You Kidding Me?

So I am walking around Poipet Cambodia looking for photographs. The weather in the streets is quite hot, but not melting hot its about 22-26 C. I am lightly sweating wearing my thin shirt and long pants but when I look at the Cambodians I am a surprised by their clothing. Many (most) Cambodians in Poipet are wearing a long sleeved shirt and also a  fall/spring (Canadian) style jacket.  Under a hot sun in 26C weather how the heck can you wear a hat, a long shirt and a heavier jacket like that?

Not all the people were wearing jackets, some were wearing short sleeve shirts and longer type shorts (knee length), I guess some Cambodian people can take the bitter frigid 26C temperatures without dressing up!

Bags Bags And More Bags

Both Cambodians and Thais are plastic bag crazy. Everything you buy has 2 or 3 bags, they have a plastic bag for this a plastic bag for that. If you go and buy som tum (papaya salad) on the street for 25 baht you get a clear plastic bag for the som tum, you get a smaller plastic bag for the kaow nee-owe (sticky rice) plus you get a third big white bag to carry everything in. If you go to buy some sautee moo (pork) on the street, you get one bag for the pork, one for or two more for the various sauces and then a 3rd to carry everything else.

Styrofoam is also a big seller here,  styrofoam containers of all kinds are used for all kinds of foods sold on the streets. You get styrofoam this and styrofoam container that  all carried in/with multiple plastic bags.

When I was in Poipet I saw the end game for these bags, they were strewn all over the place, on the street, in the gutters, half burried in the mud, flying through the air.  In Klong Toey slum, I saw all the used plastic bags and styrofoam containers floating down the canal, a floating smelly mess.

How long does this stuff last before it decomposes? In the old Thai way food was often stored in banana or other kinds of leaves and tied up with strings made from plants all of that stuff decomposed naturally. Now its all stryrafoam, plastic bags and elastics, that seem to never disappear.

I photographed children in Poipet living in shacks next to a field of this type of garbage, thousands and thousands of plastic bags and styrofoam containers. Going back to the old ways where storage containers decomposed naturally was a better way to do things, sometimes progress is not progress.

Gambling Next To A Slum

Had a hard time dealing with the wasting of money at the casinos after seeing the poverty in Poipet. In the casinos Thais, Chinese and others waste millions of baht gambling yet just 1/2 a kilometer away children live in abject poverty, they run through filthy, muddy streets and play in areas covered in garbage with open sores on their legs and arms.

During my 2 days of shooting in Poipet Cambodia I experienced poverty like I had never seen before, when I returned to my room after the days shoot I would walk through the casinos where I saw people blowing big money gambling. How f-cked up is that? Hungry children, children living in dirty wooden shacks next to garbage dumps filled with cockroaches and rats 1/2 a kilometer away and yet millions of baht is wasted playing games, something is really f-cked up with a world that allows that.

Pulling Carts/Wagons Across The Border

At the border area of Poipet Cambodia and Aranyapthet Thailand there is a lot of trading and the transportation of goods between countries, the products are shipped via wagons pulled by hand. When the carts and wagons go back and forth between Cambodia and Thailand they are often hauled by groups of men. Usually there is one person up front pulling (horse like) and multiple people pushing from behind. The whole scene looks like some kind of ancient Egyptian slave labor pyramid building type thing (it's like they are hauling blocks of stone while being whipped). The carts are old, often made of wood, the men who pull them have to work hard to keep everything moving forward especially when the carts are loaded down and over flowing with goods (overloaded actually).

I have been told in the past that the reason they have to physically haul wagons like this across the border was because if you used a vehicle there were extra customs fees but if you dragged things across by hand in a large wagon then you did not have to pay those fees. The other obvious reason is most of the people who do this are very poor and cannot afford a car/truck for transporting goods, doing it by hand is their only option.

I shot a few flash night time shots of people hauling wagons back across the border before it closed at 8pm. In the future I might try doing a series of portraits on this subject.

Cambodian Seller Honesty

I bought several items while in Poipet Cambodia, the local sellers gave me the real Cambodian price, they did not try to drive up the price for the rich barang (barang is the Khmer word for a farang).

I got a big styrofoam bowl of Cambodian deserts (deserts in Cambodia are awesome) for 10 baht (33cents), the seller gave me a bigger bowl to balance out the 10 baht cost. Most Cambodians buy a smaller bowl worth for less money but when I only had a 10 baht coin the lady selling the desert used the bigger bowl to give me an honest deal, she could have easily given me the smaller bowl (I would have not known the difference) but she was honest with me, I paid more so got more.

Got To Improve My Khmer

I need to work on my Khmer, need to become much better at the language. I know there are some apps for my iPhone that I can download, that might help a bit. If I can get my vocabulary up to to 200 or 300 words, I could communicate on a basic level. If I can communicate I can understand more, and if I understand more hopefully the photographs will be better. I can also make friends more easily, and help in other ways besides photography.

Speaking is the key to everything it opens doors!

Old Man In 70s Working Hard (Khmer Rouge Survivor ? )

As I was leaving Poipet town my last day in Cambodia I came across an old man, old, heavily wrinkled, a bit frail but still hard at work. The man was working at a construction site, there was a foundation for some buildings nearby. He had a hoe/pick type tool with a long wooden handle and was digging, pulling and arranging the hard dirt along the edge of that foundation.

I took some far off shots then moved in and did some closer shots, when I was quite close I asked him his age and he told me, he said he was over 70 (not sure if he knew his actual age, birthday, maybe not).

When I saw him working with that hoe/pick it reminded me of Dith Pran's work in the movie "The Killing Fields". This man being over 70 had lived through that terrible time in Cambodian history, he could have done similar work, with a similar tool during the time of the Khmer Rouge when he would have been about my age or a bit younger (40s). What experiences had he endured, what hardships? As I watched him work I wondered  how many times and for how many hours he had swung that tool with heavily armed, black dressed Khmer Rouge soldiers nearby watching for weakness. Or had he been a Khmer Rouge himself? Had he executed men, women and children for the cause of the revolution because Anka (the Khmer Rouge term for the party/leadership) had told him to do so.

Kicking Game On Border

We all have a kid inside ourselves alive I saw a bit of that amongst the Cambodians near the border immigration building my last hours in Cambodia. When I got to the border I watched 8 or so men playing a kicking game, there were local men working the area along with 3 immigration police playing, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s.

The game involved a badminton birdy type thing made of plastic that you kicked into the air. The men laughed, joked, yelled and kicked this thing back and forth around the circle, some sessions lasted more than 10 kicks, they were pretty good at it.
It was fun seeing these usually official, usually rather stern govt officials acting out like 12 year old boys. with no worries, just having fun with friends. We all need to keep the child inside us alive, once we lose the ability to be childlike we lose an important part of what it means to be alive.

I made one photo with the 4x5 Banarama but a faster wider lens camera like the Leica would have worked better.

Children Crying Or Curious

While walking around Poipet I generally got two reactions from children, tears/fear,or joy/excitement. To many children I am a big white monster marching straight from the gates of hell, they look up at me, cringe and run to their mothers before bursting into tears. With many other children thou there is excitement, fascination and yells of "Hello!!!" when I reply with a my "Hello" there are giggles, smiles and shouts of joy usually followed by more "Hellos!"

Poipet One Big Slum Worse Than Klong Toey

The slum areas of Poipet Cambodia are far worse than anything I saw in Klong Toey back in Bangkok. Most of Poipet seems to be slum like, they have a few hotels, a few guesthouses, some nicer buildings but for the most part Poipet is one giant slum. I doubt I will be able to forget the children of the Poipet, its something I will think of often when I return to Canada. In my minds eye I can still see children laughing and smiling, yelling hellos to me as they run through garbage filled streets.

Children Living Next To Garbage Dumps

As I catch up on my blogs from Cambodia now that I am back in Canada the one thought that keeps coming back to me is of the young children I met in Poipet living amongst garbage in filthy slum shacks. I keep seeing their faces, their smiles, their large questioning eyes. How can children live like that? How can you grow up in that world? Even with loving parents that level of poverty has to damage your soul in some kind of long lasting way.

Four or Five children living in one slum home, open cuts on their feet, walking in the mud amongst the garbage with no shoes but still able to smile, still able to laugh and make toys out of the things they can scavenge. Their faces haunt my thoughts, what will their futures be?

Hopefully some of the photos I made of these children will have enough power to show others what I saw and felt, maybe the photographs can raise awareness of these forgotten lives, and promote compassion and understanding.

My one main hope is that the photos will lead to positive change, that people will react to the images and help in some way. Maybe they go to Cambodia and work with HIV orphans, maybe they donate some money to a Cambodian charity, or maybe they just spend a thanksgiving in Edmonton dishing out food at a local shelter, its all good!

No Hand Grenades Please

So as I am walking into the Casino of the border resort hotel I was staying at, I had to pass through both an X-ray machine and a metal detector. Alongside the metal detector was a sign with 6 items not allowed inside the Casino.

1) No Hats Allowed
2) No Photos Allowed
3) No Cellphones Allowed
4) No Knifes Allowed
5) No Handguns Allowed
6) No Hand Grenades Allowed

Damn!! I wanted to take my hand grenades in with me when I gambled but  I was forced to check them  with security!

 The sign was a variation on this one:

You got to wonder how safe a place is when they actually have to put up a sign that says no hand grenades allowed, is that actually a big problem? Do people really travel to casinos with their hand grenades?

I Have No Money, So Have No Wife

Met a young man of 30 in the Wat along the main road of Poipet Cambodia. He did not speak English but we spoke Thai to each other for 20 minutes or so. He was a big man with an imposing face, 30 years old named Seelot.

I asked him if he had a wife, he said he did not have a wife, because "I am not handsome and had no money." He said that with a  sad and melancholy expression but spoke very softly and politely (belying his rather harsh face, bushy eyebrows and large imposing body), I offered him some money for food he took it after initially refusing with a shy smile.

How can people like Seelot stay so positive when they live in situations like this, no wife, no family, no money, no education, no future.

Handing Out Money

Handed out small bits of money to many people and many children  during my 2 photo walks in Poipet. The money is small but maybe it will help the people a tiny bit. To give a bit of money to an honest man or a mother with a large family, or to a young child is a two way street of goodness, it helps the person a tiny bit and it also helps me, we all need to put others before ourselves. I am much to selfish a person but for some small moments over those 2 walking photo days I felt like I brought a tiny bit of happiness to another person. It was not only the money, it was also smiling, laughing and joking. It was about sharing a bit of friendship time with these people that mattered. The Poipet children's eyes were filled with such wonder when they looked up at me, the older people often smiled or shouted and waved hellos.

My main hope thou is that the photos will live and speak of the lives of the people of Poipet. I hope the photographs will be seen, felt and understood, that they will help in some small ways to lead to a greater understanding and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Quote: Dina Cambodia Border Immigration Policeman

I foolishly joked about money with a Cambodian border policemen, Mr Dina. Its easy to joke when your some smart ass Canadian tourist, not so easy to joke when your a poor border immigration man making $100 a month (not counting corruption money taken from foreigners getting visas).

The joke was a standard one I do with people, am not serious about it but in this case it was inappropriate, I have to think before I blab next time. I was talking with the policemen at the border checkpoint about going back to Canada to work soon, and how I had no money left to stay longer in Asia, the standard joke is I hold out my hand and say "If you give me some money I can stay longer!" I say it in a joking way with a smile on my face. Usually I get a grin, or a giggle and a slap on the shoulder or something similar, this time thou Mr Dina's reply was:

"How can I give you money? Cambodia is a poor country."

When he said it he looked straight into my eyes with and honest but sad expression.

Dina worked with an NGO before becoming a border policeman, he  learned his English with American and Malaysian teachers, he now makes a $100 a month checking passports at the border, he works 365 days a year without a holiday for between 13 and 15 hours a day.

My work in Canada pays me much more and I work one week on, one week off, 12 hour shifts. My job allows me the money to chase my photographic dreams, to travel and to experience the world. This man barely has enough to support his family ( he has a wife and a 6 year old daughter).

No more stupid jokes Gerry! Be mindful of who your talkig to, try to put yourself in their shoes.

I also think I accidentally stole Dina's pen! When I got back to the room I realized I had a unknown pen in my pocket! Damn!! I have to try to give it back to him if I return to Poipet next year, maybe I can bring a gift for his daughter as well.

Higher Comfort Level

I had a much higher comfort level photographing in Cambodia this trip compared to trips in the past. I think my friend Larry has helped me to become more bold in my approach. Larry is a lion in his pursuit of photographs, he is not shy, he is polite, courteous and generous but aggressive, I tried to follow his example this trip.

I still did things slowly and politely but I was more bold in my approach, I got out earlier, I entered shops, homes and other areas I might have been afraid to do in the past. I approached people politely with a smile but was much more tenacious, more daring in pursuit of the photograph. I even spent time talking to and made a few photographs and friends with Cambodian immigration police.

People Here Much Poorer Than Thais

Traveling from Thailand to Cambodia the first thing you notice is the increased poverty, the moment you cross the border there is a dramatic drop in the quality of the buildings, the roads, the way people dress etc.

In Bangkok I had to make a special trip across the city for 1 hour to photograph in Klong Toey slum. In Poipet the whole town is basically poor and slum like, you have a few nicer buildings, guesthouses and hotels but for the most part the entire town is impoverished, most of the town is a slumlike worse than anything I saw in Klong Toey.

Just like Klong Toey , maybe even more so, I found the people of Poipet extremely friendly and outgoing, they want to talk to you, say hello, smile and wave, they offer you a drink or a place to sit near them, they make you feel welcome.

Bolder And More Aggressive

I was bolder and more aggressive with my photography this trip both in Thailand and especially Cambodia. In the past in Cambodia I have been fearful at times, afraid to approach people and make the photos that needed to be made. This trip things flowed more easily, I approached and shot more aggressively while still trying to maintain a proper politeness and respect for my subjects.

In the future I need to ramp it up even further, I need to really push myself.

Acting Out Instead Of Speaking

In Cambodia I found photographing without Khmer language skills (only spoke a few words) difficult but not impossible. I went into acting out mode, using smile, laughs, nods of the head, hand gestures and various vocal sounds to get the photographs. When I am in Thai I talk extensively, I could not do that in Cambodia (unless they spoke English or Thai), I was forced to use my wits, to  act out what I wanted, I had to try to communicate without words.

I think the photos will be OK but I missed speaking to people. I need to learn more Khmer. I do not only want to make photographs, I also want to understand more about my subjects lives, language is the key to getting to that next level.

Nurturing Our Mind For Disasters

Read this in the Bangkok Post while in Cambodia:

Nurturing OUR MIND for disasters

While we are all concerned with the floods and looming natural disasters, PHRA PAISARN VISALO points out the dangers of a wrecked mind, which can bring us more and greater damages than any disasters could. Here the scholar monk shares some guidelines to help us cultivate our mind to better cope with life's crises

There are many causes that lead to a wrecked mind. Aside from greed and selfishness, there is anger. In a face of anger and hatred, we can hurt those we love and are close to us. Husbands hit their wives. Children hurt their parents. Siblings are caught up in feuds with one another. And not to mention others, with a wrecked mind, we can even hurt ourselves. There were those who ended their lives because they felt neglected by their lovers. Some, feeling enraged, took their lives to avenge their parents. Despite a comfortable affluent life, many decided to die. For some cases, they may survive the deadly thoughts, but still the uncontrolled rage causes them to fall fatally ill. There have been people who suffer from strokes and become paralysed for life as a result.

Fear, too, can wreck our mind; and leads us to disastrous situations. Gripped by fear, we become terrified; the mind produces all kinds of thoughts which put us in sleepless nights and loss of appetite. Some people become panic-stricken after learning from a doctor that their prognosis of cancer is three months. Unable to accept their impending death, they became so anxious and so depressed that they cannot sleep or eat. Only twelve days later, they died an agonising death.

Succinctly put, our mind is wrecked because we are unaware of ourselves; our thoughts and feelings. We allow anger, greed and fear to take over and misdirect our mind, which in turn drives us to do anything, including hurting ourselves. On an impulse, some jump off a building, jump from a bridge or jump into the street to get run over by a car _ or get a gun to end their life as well as others.

Therefore, what we need to do in times of disaster is to compose ourselves. Do not fret or become so frightened by external dangers that we overlook the ever-greater danger that lies within. The mind, which should be the source of happiness, can turn into our worst and most fearful enemy. Remember, nothing hurts us more than our own mind, according to Lord Buddha; ''The misdirected mind brings about damages far greater than our enemies can do to us.

Enemies or those who hold grudges against each other do not cause as much harm as a mind that is misdirected and strayed from dharma. Or as I put it, a wrecked mind. Thieves may steal our precious belongings, but they cannot take away the happiness from our heart. Likewise, those who scold at us, no matter how hard and harsh their words are, cannot hurt us if we do not allow them to. But because our mind is misdirected and wrecked, then even a few trifling words can drive us into insanity and self affliction.

There were people who committed suicide after hearing undesirable remarks, though not ruthless. For instance, when a mother said to her child, ''I can't afford to get you a mobile phone'', or when a dad said, ''If you fail the exam, I'll cut you off from the family''. These words can get some people to end their lives. Are these words too belligerent? I do no think so. But because the mind of the listeners is misdirected, then anything detrimental can happen.

Therefore, maintaining the equilibrium of our mind is very important. If we learn to nurture our mind, then we will not be fearful or worrisome in the wake of disasters. Yet, this does not mean that we would be indolent, doing nothing. In times of disaster, we should be vigilant, making all preparations needed. However, in a fright-free manner.

We also should keep in mind that disasters are beyond our capacity to control or predict. Thus, we should be prepared to cope with them at all times; not only natural disasters, but also man-made calamities, such as a fire outbreak. Even if there are no present disasters, our mind, that is calm and poised, can help us face the natural courses of life, such as sickness, loss, and death.

These are some guidelines on how to take care of our mind.

Be constantly aware of our thoughts and feelings...
Do not let fear, anger and greed occupy our mind. When we hear the news or rumours about natural disasters and all the doomsday predictions, be very mindful. Do not be frightened. Scrutinise all the information to get to the truth; otherwise, we may fall prey to the rumours and be a part in disseminating untruthful news. We should persistently follow mindful awareness practices and incorporate these practices in our way of living. This way, our mind will become calm and firm, unwavering with any incidents that come into life.

Be in the present moment.

Do not be worried about the future or things that have not yet come. Being prepared for plausible danger is good, but if we are too obsessed with it, we could suffer from groundless fears. After we do our best for disaster preparation, we should then give our full attention to the present moment. Live in the moment and take joy in the things we have right now. Do not be too concerned with the future that we become restless and stressed. In doing so, we not only bury ourselves in misery but we also throw away the joy that exists in the moment.

Accept everything that has happened

There is no use in complaining, throwing a tantrum or denying incidents that have already happened. Doing so would not improve the situation; on the contrary, it exacerbates our suffering. What we should do is accept the situation and reflect on a way forward. How can we solve the problem? How can we reduce the damage?

Yet, when we do our best to alleviate the circumstances, we need to let go of the results and the loss that has occurred. Things can be lost, but we should not lose our minds. Remember that as long as we still can breathe, we can still regenerate our lives and earn things that have been lost.
Suffering does not stay with us forever, it will disappear one day.
Contemplate on death and dying

We all die ... and we can die at any moment; this is a truth we should always be aware of. Actually, death is close to life _ more than any disaster. Without natural disasters, we still die.

We never know when death will knock on our door; it could be today or later tonight. Then we should ask ourselves these questions ... if we were to die today, are we ready to leave this world? Have we done enough good merits in this lifetime? Have we finished all our important businesses? Are we ready to let go off everything _ our possessions, children, parents, lovers, including our physical body?

If we do not feel that we are ready, then, don't waste time. Treat others with care and constantly be aware that today could be our last day with our loved ones. Do not pass the chance to treat them well while we still can.

Be generous and kind.

The more obsessed we are with ourselves, the easily prone we are to suffer. But the other way around, when we think about those who suffer more than ourselves, our predicament becomes small and, thus, tolerable.
Take this story for example. Nine days after an earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami, in Japan earlier this year, a volunteer went to the hard-hit areas to distribute some provisions to the tsunami victims. That day, the queue was very long and the volunteer saw a nine-year-old boy at the end of the line.
He approached the boy and learned that the boy had lost his parents in the tidal waves. And all that he had left was the T-shirt and pair of shorts he was wearing. Determined to give his jacket to the boy, the volunteer took off his jacket. While he was doing this, the food packet he had kept for himself fell to the ground. He picked it up and also handed the packet to the boy.
The boy accepted the food, bowed and said thank you. But he did not eat the food. Instead, the boy walked towards the front of the line, placed the packet of food on the tray reserved for distribution, and walked back to the end of the queue.
To his amazement, the volunteer asked the boy the reason why he did not take the food for himself. The boy replied: ''There might be many more people who are hungrier than I am. I put the food there so that it can be fairly distributed to all.''

Undoubtedly, this boy was suffering, but he was kind and generous to others. Feeling empathy for others will enable us to be tolerable to our own plights.

If we allow our mind to be wrecked, it can harm us more than any person could. On the contrary, if we take good care of our mind, it will become our best and noblest friend. We would find happiness even in troubled waters and transform our miseries into bliss.

No one and nothing can give us such a noble gift but a mind that is fixed on the path of dharma. As Lord Buddha said: ''No mother, father, nor relatives can do this for us, but the mind, well trained, can deliver this to us''.

If we fix our mind on the path of dharma, we will discover the noblest things that our parents cannot make for us.

This great flood is another lesson that shows us the nature of impermanence. It is telling us that nothing genuinely belongs to us. One day, all that we have and possess will be gone. The more we cling on to them, the more suffering we will have. Additionally, take this as a warning from nature; the future would see more great disasters, both at a national and global level.

Is it true or not, that our loss today is still considered trivial when compared to the loss that will happen to us in the future, especially, when we are to leave this world? When that fateful day arrives, no matter how much we possess, we will lose them all, including our breath.

Achilles Twist, Painfull Walking

When I was walking on the uneven ground at the back of a temple in Poipet during my first day of shooting I badly twisted my left foot, twisting and pulling my Achilles as well. I was not so bad immediately after it happened (maybe I was warm from the walking, adrenline etc) but later when I got back to room it really tightened up. I could hardly walk after I rested it, I had to do a tiger balm and cold medical tiger balm treatment  (stuff bought at a shop in the casino) when I got back to my room. I wanted to return and do another set of nighttime Poipet border portraits but could only walk with pain so decided to rest it, and give it another shot the following day. The next morning I felt surprisingly better so was able to go out 2 times that day both at mid day and also late at night with the Banarama 2 and flash.

I bought 10 of the larger cold medical compresses to use in Canada, hopefully by the time I return to Thailand (March?) I will have less pain in my Achilles and can walk longer and harder with more equipment.

Skinny Kitten

As I photographed a dog behind a slum shack in a temple area of Poipet I heard the growl of an angry cat. I looked around no cat! Continued photographing the dog, more growling! Geez that sounds like a cat! Where is it? No cat! More dog photos and more growling??? What the hell? What's the deal? Finally I spotted just below the dog on the muddy ground surrounded by garbage, broken boards etc. a tiny tiny skinny skinny black kitten! This kitten was so small, so thin so ragged looking it seemed to almost not exist. It was like a 1/2 kitten or a 1/4 kitten, somehow it did not seem real. I tried to photograph it but it was so small, and looked so fragile that it was hard to shoot. I watched this little kitten for 5 minutes it kind of wobbled and stumbled about looking for food and water, at the same time it continued growling at the dog which was maybe 100 times its size! Cats have attitudes no matter how small they are! He might have been a weak tiny scary looking little thing but he was going to kick some ass if that dog came to close.

Wat Slum Children

Everywhere around the slum houses of Poipet I saw children. Some of the cutest faces you can imagine, with some of the most beautiful eyes I have seen. The girls often had their hair tied up in strange ways with elastics. The boys found things to play with amongst the garbage, old tubes became kung fu fighting spears, an old piece of wood became the latest automatic snipers rifle.

Behind one temple I photographed a number of children around some slum style homes. They all gathered round me as I photographed asking questions and mugging for the camera. I showed them how to use the Leica and they all got excited, everyone wanted a turn with the camera.

One girl of maybe 6 years old quietly worked in the back area of her home washing dishes as the others played. Another girl of maybe 11 came up to me with big eyes asking where I was from. Boys looked up at me (am 6 foot 2) like I was some kind of alien type being, they touched my arm, maybe to see if I was real.

I hope some of the photos made that day turn out, I want to return and hand out free laminated prints.

Wonderful Smiles

You got to love the smiles. Everywhere I walked in  Poipet I saw smiles, a smile from the guy welding, a smile from the fruit seller, a smile and nod from the old man that just passed, smiling children everywhere.

Got to love that!

Please Sit Down!! Have A Drink!!!

My last day in Poipet I was walking back to the border nearly out of film when I got called over to a table under a rickety roof. At the table was a group of 5 Cambodian men drinking whiskey. One man smiled and offered me a chair and glass of whiskey, the others encouraged me to have a drink.

I had to tell them I did not drink (did that in Thai, not sure they understood). Nice fellows, I dislike the whole drinking thing but it would have been nice to sit down and share some time with these guys.

Cart Pulling People

My last night on the border I did a series of flash with Banarama 2 portraits as people were pulling large wooden carts back to Cambodia before the border closed at 8pm.  I guess if they are late and the border is closed the only way they can cross is if they pay a bribe to the Cambodian border polite of 100 baht. Most of the photographs I made were shot between 6pm and 715pm.

Not sure the photographs will turn out as I was shooting in darkness with a flashlight mounted to the Banarama 2 (CSI like) and focusing on a moving subject moving towards me at 1/125 and about F 8-F11. Will see how it turns out, will probably try these type of moving portraits again next trip as well.

This type of labor is like some kind of ancient slave work, to pull those carts/wagons back and forth day after day must be unbeleivably hard, could not imagine living that kind of life. I am so lucky to have what I have and to be born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

A quote I read from Sebastiao Salgado rings true here, these people might be materially poor but they are spiritually rich. They do not want or require my pity, I can learn from them, I can learn to become a spiritually stronger person. I have the silver spoon in my mouth but do not have same spiritual, cultural and traditional strength they have.

Lying Visa Guys

100 Baht Visa Corruption Fee

So wanted to tell a story about getting a Cambodian visa at the border area between Aranyaprathep Thailand and Poipet Cambodia.

I took the Thai casino gambling bus to the border region just past Aranyaprethep Thailand, I counted 15 steps (surprised it took so long) from when I walked out of the bus until a Cambodian tout guy tried to get me to buy a bus trip or Cambodian tourist visa from him. On the walk to the border many different men approached me trying to get me to buy a visa or bus ticket to Siem Riep or Phnom Penh (probably over 10 men/touts). They told me I could not get a visa at the border (a lie) and that I had to get it from their shop (where they make a commission off you, maybe adding another 25% -50% to the total cost). Eventually I weaved my way through the tout guys and made it to the border and the official Cambodian immigration police building.

Inside the building there was a big painted sign mounted to the wall listing the official price for visas. The visa I was interested in was a tourist visa costing $20 USD (if you pay with Thai baht they charge you more than $20 USD). I took out my $20 I had ready for the occasion, filled out the required form and went to the  visa window. The immigration policeman said to me "100 baht more" when I asked "Why?"a he pointed down to a piece of white paper in a clip board on the counter where written with a blue felt pen was the following:

Tourist Visa $20 USD

(+ 100 baht)

 (the immigration border police wrote up the piece of paper themselves)

The 100 baht $3.32 CAD is a corruption fee you pay that the immigration police divide up at the end of the day. They make 100 baht in personal profit for every visa they issue to a foreign tourist. If I had gotten the same visa in Bangkok I would have only paid the $20USD.

Hellos From Strangers

Everywhere I walked in Poipet I heard the cry of "HELLO!!!". People of all shapes and sizes, children, teenagers, middle aged and even some old people said "HELLO!!!" to me as I walked past. The kids did it most often and were very happy when I replied with my own "Hello".

I had heard the hello stuff quite often in Thailand but that was mostly from children, in Cambodia there were no age barriers, everyone yelled it out, sometimes 2 or 3 at a time.

In Poipet

Arrived in Poipet on the 12th of December, I got a room at the casino area of the city. The border area is set up for Thais to gamble. 10 or so casinos were built just over the border of Thailand (casinos are illegal in Thailand) in Cambodia. Thais from across the country travel via cheap tour bus to the border then stay in nice clean rooms at these resorts mostly worked by Cambodians (who speak Thai and some English). I did the same thing as the Thai gamblers, got a cheap bus ride (200 baht 100 baht for Thais) to the border then stayed in a cheap room (600 baht) a night, during the days I crossed through the border check point and walked through Poipet making photographs.

Walking through the back areas of Poipet I saw poverty like I have never seen before, children with open sores running though muddy, filthy garbage filled streets. Families living next to garbage dumps in wooden shacks full of holes, most of what I saw was much worse than Klong Toey slum in Bangkok.

I have to think about all I saw, have to write in more detail later, feel tired today, feel overwhelmed by the experience.

I am so lucky to be born where I was born, I can still see the faces of the children living in the slum shacks of Poipet, still see there eyes filled with wonder as they saw me walk past, still see how some were scared, how others yelled "Hello!!!!!!!!!!!" with big smiles. I hope the photos I made do justice to the people that allowed me to photograph them.

Back In Thai

Got back to Thailand today after 3 nights in Poipet Cambodia. I will be updating my blog over the coming days, I have many stories to tell.

Today I took a 4 hour bus ride from the Casino area of Poipet Cambodia to the bars of Pattaya Thailand. I did photographs of 2 ladyboys in a short time room. Khun Meo 23 originally from Ayuthaya Thailand and Khun Gogo 27 from Khon Khean. Shot about 22 pictures of each ladyboy in a short time room using the Banarama 2 and direct flash. I plan to shoot 2 more tomorow before returning to Bangkok on the 17th.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Going To Cambodia

Ate a bit better last night, feel more energetic now. I am off to Cambodia tomorrow where I will spend 1 night and 1 day. I have to go to the border for a visa run but want to also shoot my Leica'sand my Banrama 2 in the country. I will probably not take my Linhoff so I can save on weight but the compact Banarama 2 and the small Leica'sI will be with me.

In Cambodia there is a temple I visited back in 2009 that I want to visit again, the monks there were very nice so making some portraits of them should be fun. I also want to photograph an outdoor barbershop in the area near the border.

Barbershop, Poipet Cambodia 2009

I have never felt comfortable in Cambodia like I do in Thailand so I also need to work on my comfort level. In the future I want to travel extensively in Cambodia making photographs.

After Cambodia will probably go to Pattaya for a few days to photograph Ladyboy workers. My show in 2012 in Bangkok will include photos of ladyboys so having more ladyboy photos is a bonus. I would like to try to get access to their homes and make some portraits in the home environment, photographs outdoors on the streets would also be effective, if nothing else is possible (if I cannot gain access) I will make some more shortime room portraits. I have 30 sheets of color 4x5 film left so will probably use those sheets to do ladyboy portraits withthe Banarama 2.

My trip is coming to an end, I need to bare down and make some effective images before I leave.

3 Legged Crippled Dog

When I was walking to the cafe today I saw a 3 legged dog (well healed) with one or two of its remaining legs bent in odd directions, he limped around rather quickly in a crippled sort of jutting left and right sort of way.

The thing I thought was rather amazing was that the dog was still acting the same, it acted like a normal dog, barked and chased the other healthy dogs, it behaved and lived life like it had not been injured. In Canada a dog like this would no doubt have been put down, but here in Thai it was not, the Thai way turns out to be the right way.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I watched many people today, talked to them, photographed them and said my goodbyes. There is a real boredom in the slum, each day slides into the next without much change, the hours pass by, the people mostly stay the same, the things they do never really change.

I said my goodbyes and will go on to do different things in a different part of the world, my life has change, a bit of excitement and adventure to it. What will Khun Dang do tomorrow? Khun Ot? They will wake up try to find a way to get money for liquor, they will get drunk, joke with each other, look at life as it passes them by. The people in the gym have it better, the young boxers can train and work at their craft, go to school try to improve there lives. The trainers will continue to train, their love of the sport is obvious but their lives will not change, they will get older and will be doing the same thing 10 year from now that they did today only a bit slower and with greyer hair.

When I said and waied (putting your hands are put together at the face, a greeting used by Thais) my goodbyes today, I saw the boredom in their eyes, I saw the limited future they faced.

I keep thinking of when I said goodbye to Khun Bong (a trainer at the gym, a good decent hard working man), he had a look of quiet resignation, a look of acceptance. He waied me, stared straight into my eyes with a solemn expression and said "chock dee" (good luck).

Got To Make More Free Photos

The free photos I gave away this trip were a hit. I have several photos now posted up at the gym. The ones I gave to people in the slum homes were also appreciated. I need to make up more gift photos in the coming months, I can give away these photos later when I return to Thailand.

I also have to work on my Thai people photo album, I need to make a photo album of at least 10 portraits than I can use to show people before I photograph them (sort of a sample book of what I am doing). I only had 3 different subjects to show this trip, next trip I need to show a variety of faces in a variety of poses, situations. If I can show people the work before I photograph them they might be more into posing.

Only one person this trip refused to have their photo taken. With a better, softer, politer approach I could have probably gotten permission from this man as well (a homeless man eating on the dirt along the canal). I have to create a nice photo album book to show people, work on my approach with strangers and work on being as polite and soft as I can with my subjects.

Banarama 2 Handheld No Flash

Starting to shoot the Banarama 2 more now without flash, handheld. I shot a couple of portrait sheets today and also 4 or 5 landscape sheets using the camera handheld. If the subject is focused at infinity you usually get everything in the negative sharp but the close up stuff can have a shallower depth of field (F stops of F8, F11), I am getting a feel for what works and what does not work now. I love the cable release on the new Banarama 2, it allows me to trigger the shutter a bit more gently.

Said Goodbyes

I said goodbyes to the men in the drinking park slum area (Khune Dang, Ot, Gop etc) and also to all the people at the Muay Thai gym today. I will be doing a Visa run in the coming days and will not return to the slum this trip.

I have 9 days left in Thailand and expect to shoot my remaining 150 sheets of Tri-x 4x5, 30 sheets of Portra 4x5 and 33 rolls of 35mm Tri-x in rural areas or small villages of Thailand and parts of either Laos or Cambodia.

Banarama 2 Working Flawlessly

Shot only the Banarama 2 over the last 2 days. I have put maybe 75 sheets through the camera (Tri-x mostly and a few sheets of Portra). The camera has been a joy to use, I am still getting used to handling it in the field, and figuring out the most efficient way to carry and tranfer the film holders, dark slide efficiently etc.

Today I used the Banarama 2 in the gym and also in the drinking man area of the slum. I photograhed 4 different men in the drinking area/park and then photographed 10-15 people in the Muay Thai training gym. I shot mostly with the flash but also did several lanscape and a few portraits hand held without flash (F8 at 1/60).

One thing that worked quite well today is I used my new mini backpack for the first time (the backpack that was my check in bag that the original Banarama was stolen from!!). The backpack is one of those light weight one shoulder strap packs made by Lowepro. I cannot carry as many holders (16 versus 24 in my larger bag) but its so much easier to access the film holders without taking the bag off my back. I can also walk much longer and faster as the whole set up is much lighter, maybe 1/3 the weight of carrying the Linhof with tripod and holders, lens etc. I can shoot and transfer holders with one hand without taking the back pack off. Having the back pack strapped to me at all times might be a bit safer in the slum areas and also it helps keep dust and dirt away from the film.

As I gain experience with the Razzle cameras (have a 90mm and a 150mm close up focus cameras being made by Dean Jones) and backpack, I will be able to shoot more and more quickly and efficiently.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Muay Thai Gerry?

Thinking of doing some training in Muay Thai, watching some of the beginner people do it makes me want to give it a try, not sure how my 47 year old body would respond thou. I would have to lose some weight and work on my conditioning before giving boxing a try. Wouldn't want to be punched in the head but to work on my overall physical condition it might do the job.

A fun sport with Thai people that would allow me to get in better shape to carry my camera gear, sounds like a win/win.

Tomorrows Stuff

Want to take the Banarama 2 down to the slum again tomorrow and photograph in some of the same locations as before, the drinking men, the garbage collectors and then go back to the gym. I plan on traveling lighter with a light backpack, will have to load films a few times tomorrow. Hopefully can get out a bit earlier but  have to get back to the room, wash my clothes and also load film before I can sleep. There do not seem to be enough hours in the day to get things done.

Kind of looking forward to getting back to work in Canada and slowing down, these vacations in Thailand, wear me out!

Photographed At The Gym

Made 48 or exposures of 4x5 film at the gym today using the Banarama 2, I shot mostly Tri-x but did do about 10 sheets of Portra 400 as well. I am a bit unsure of the exposures using the flash, photographing everything up close at F16/125 and everything farther away at F8 to F11.

Talked to a farang man training out at the gym Philip 49 years old from England. Philip is a Muay Thai aficionado, loves the sport, trains in Muay Tha and studies it history, techniques, strategy etc. I believe he is also a TV commentator for the sport. I learned many things I did not know from Philip today, he speaks pretty good Thai as well (probably better than me). Took a few photos of him, will send him some scans later if they turn out.

Taxi Time

Spending lots of time in taxis stuck in long never ending lines of traffic. Everyday I go down to the slum its at least 1 hour there and 1 hour back. Today coming back it was more like 1 hour 45 minutes as I had a hard time getting a taxi in the rain.

Sitting in the very noisy buses with no a/c is even worse, not sure how people deal with this on a day to day basis, I know it just wears me down! At least the taxi rides are not to expensive, 1 hour in a taxi runs about $4.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Michelangelo Buonarroti On Landscape Painting

From the book "Michelangelo and the Popes Ceiling":

" Michelangelo had no use for landscape painting, deriding the depictions of natural scenery by Flemish painters as works of art suitable only for old ladies, young girls, monks and nuns."

Quote: James Earl Jones (Actor)

"What you have to do is reach peoples hearts."

Photographed Nit

I photographed Nit 52 again last night, I think this might be the 8th or 9th time I have photographed her through the years (dating back to 1999). Nit started out working in Patpong way back in the late seventies, she was a go go dancer at 16-17 years of age there. Now Nit gets customers anyway she can, at 52 here customers want special services.

I photographed Nit both outside on the street and inside a short time room. She is a nice person but very held in emotionally, very subdued, very hard to draw out. She seems to have reached a point in her life where she is worn down, tired and going through the motions. Her life might make a fascinating book/movie, what has she seen? experienced? learnt? But to get her to talk about that is another thing, she seems to just to forget it all, I guess if I was living her life I would want to forget it all to.

The Banarama 2 performed flawlessly.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Banarrama 2 Is Here!

I got the Banarama 2 in my sweaty little hands today. I had to go to the post office and pick it up after paying a $60 tax/duty fee. The camera looks great, I mean really great, even better than the original Banarama . Dean Jones went out of his way and really came through for me, I owe him big time.

I have about 11 days left to shoot the camera. I plan on heading out and photographing Nid an older sex worker (50 years old) I have photographed her 6 or 7 times through the years dating back to 1999. Nid used to work the go go bars of Patpong in Bangkok back in the late 1970s and 80s as a young women. I usually try and meet up with her at least one time a trip and make photographs, I want to photograph her outside on the street with the Banarama 2 this time and flash. Will try that tonight.

 I feel lousy after traveling all over Bangkok in taxis today tracking down the camera, got motion sickness in all 3 taxis I was in, the heat and noise here is also getting to me, I must be getting old! Need to go back to the room and get a nap after I have some food, have not eaten today. After the food and nap hopefully I will feel better and can make some decent photos of Khun Nid.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Khun Liang Ewe Exhibition At Kathmandu Gallery Bangkok

The photographer I wrote about who was showing at the Kathmandu Gallery is Khun Liang Ewe, here is a link to the show and a photos.

Photograph by Liang Ewe

Photograph by Liang Ewe