Saturday, March 31, 2012

Future Submission Idea

I  was thinking of the best way to proceed with my submissions. I have a list of 6 or 7 galleries/museums I want to continue to submit work to for their consideration (including the elusive AGA). My thinking is I will make continual submissions of the "Common Lives" work as I shoot it. This way I can get these higher in spaces and the curatorial people to at least take a quick look at this work through the years as it develops, maybe some thing will eventually click with them and they will want to show the work, or maybe I will just wear them down and they will take pity on me and show the photographs! : )

I will title the submissions "Common Lives" followed by the latest section I have added to the overall series of work. I could do "Common Live" Klong Toey Slum, or "Common Lives" Issan Portraits, "Common Lives" Laos Farmer or "Common Lives" Muay Thai Boxer  etc.

6 Foot Negative!!

I thought shooting an 8x10 camera produced a large negative, check this baby out, never seen anything like it. I wonder what the enlarger looks like?

Continuing With "Common Lives"

Been thinking a lot about what I want most with my photography, what I want most of of my photographs, what work I want most to create with the rest of my life. "Common Lives" is what I want to do, I do not want to do the gimmicky flashy photography that is so prevalent in this digi photo age. What I want is to do is to go back to the roots of photography to create using large format cameras/film and make darkroom silver gelatin prints. I want the photographs to pay tribute to my subjects but also be honest to who they are as people, I need the images to honestly tell the subjects story. It is important to be true to the subject, at least true as it can be, after all my portrait work is still my personal interpretation of who that person is. I need the body of "Common Lives"to work together and speak as a whole. I am thinking of expanding the project past Cambodia and Thailand to other countries in South East Asia, Laos and Burma.

I am 47 years old, 48 next week, I need to plan and use my time wisely. Hopefully I can get a grant from the Foundation For The Arts here in Alberta which would enable me to shoot the Issan Thailand portion of "Common Lives"starting early next year. If I can add to the series every year, if I can continue shooting actively until at least 70, then I can get this done, I can tell the story the way I want and need to tell it. First things first I need to work myself out of my personal debt and also get in better physical shape, next year "Common Lives" will continue, I can't wait!, its all so exciting!!

Step by step builds the cathedral.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Its About The Work Stupid!

I think I am getting a bit off course with all the gallery exhibition pursuit. What I need to do is to concentrate on making truthful, powerful and expressive photographs, the other stuff will follow naturally. Instead of worrying about the AGA or some other high end museums I need to just tell myself, "Work! do what you love, create photographs, feel and follow your heart it will take you to the right place."

Quote: Sally Mann

"There is so much passionless art in the post-modern world, I am trying to put a little affection back into photography."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Video: Hill Tribe Children

This short clip was made near Luang Prabang Laos at the end of my 20 minute photo session (poor failing light!) in a Hmong hill tribe village our tour van stopped at. I initially intended to photograph a Hmong home but could not find a house in any kind of space that worked. As I was walking along I attracted the attention of a local child, eventually I had this large group hovering around me, both adults and children. It is quite difficult to make photos with this many people around you staring and commenting on everything you do, everyone was so curious! It was especially difficult because the Hmong people speak their own language and I was not able to communicate with most of them, to get things done I just made lots of loud noises and dramatic hand gestures (they must have thought I was a bit crazy).

I would like to go back at some future date and make more portraits of the hilltribe peoples of Laos, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. Gosh the kids were so cute, these people live in more poverty than anything I have seen in other parts of Laos or Thailand. After the photographs were taken I gave some money for the children to one the parents.

Video: Crazy Rooster

Here is a vid of the crazy rooster that kept waking me up in Chiang Khong Thailand at 2am. Finally on the last day he gave me a break and woke me up at 445am instead. Sorry I could not get closer the zoom on my little point and shoot digi camera is not that good. The sound effect of the crow is more what I as going for when I recorded this, it usually started at 2am and went 3 or 4 times a minute for several hours, his friends in the neighborhood (another 2 or 3 roosters) would join in to make it sort of a rooster quartet.

Video: Chiang Saan To Chiang Khong In The Back Of A Truck

These vids were made in the back of a speeding rot song tao (taxi truck with 2 benches in the back). I  was on a winding very bumpy road that made me feel lousy but did not throw up like happened later in Laos, I was still feeling stronger here so was able to last it out. It was a bumpy ride but a nice view, often we would pass fields on fire where the farmers were burning the left over stalks from their crops.

Video: Loading Goods To Transport From Thailand To Laos

Everyday outside my Chiang Khong room I would watch goods being transported in small boats to Laos from the Thai side of the Mekong river. They would transport all kinds of goods from foods to building supplies, one time I even saw them take across a fridge! 

I ended up taking the 4x5 down to this spot and making several portraits of various workers. It was a bit tough shooting in that situation as I was trying not to interfere with their work. I am definitely getting faster with the Linhoff 4x5 camera, because of both practice and necessity.

Video: Photographing Drinkers In Klong Toey Slum

These 2 videos were made in March 2012 when I returned to re-photograph several of the drinking people I had previously photographed in November/December 2011. You can see some of the photographs I gave out from earlier shoots on the ground in the first vid. These people were very friendly, I grew to like quite a bit. I only had an hour or so with them this last trip but when I return to Thailand I will give them more free photos and hopefully take a few more.

African Sex Workers Alliance Link With A Photograph I Made

Not sure how my Cambodian brothel worker photo got attached to this story online but at least it is being seen and being used in a positive way to help abused sex workers. After being rejected yesterday by the AGA its good to see some of my photographs are being used in a positive way to help educate and raise awareness, now if I can just get the AGA to show the work, I'm set!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Double Rejection Letter From The AGA (Art Gallery Of Alberta)

" March 22, 2012

Gerry Yaum
Edmonton, Ab

Dear Gerry Yaum,

Many thanks for sending both packages of information on your work. I have shared these with our curatorial department who appreciated the opportunity to view your work. The AGA has confirmed its exhibition schedule for the next few years and unfortunately we will be unable to offer you and exhibition opportunity.

With many thanks and best regards,

------- "

This one really hurts, my dream since a young guy was to have my work shown at the AGA (then called the Edmonton Art Gallery). You throw your heart and soul into your work, work for years creating it, study a culture, learn a language, go into personal debt to support the work, you might even endanger your life a bit along the way. You take all those efforts and make 2 submissions to your dream gallery the AGA and then get a 3 sentence rejection letter in return. Both the "Sex Worker" on white and the "Klong Toey Portrait" series were rejected.

I appreciate the AGA for taking the time to review the work and to send me the letter but its all still so depressing. I want the people I photograph to be seen and the AGA is a top Canadian Museum, the photographs would be seen by many many people if the work was shown in this venue. I also wanted my parents to be able to view the work in a wonderful first rate museum like the AGA, dad and mom are getting older (dad is 80) and time is running short for that part of the dream to come true.

I need to not get to to down, I need to put this into the proper perspective, the AGA shows Warhol, Monet, Karsh and Burtynsky so its a huge step up in weight class for me to be shown there (even if it is only in the RBC New Works Alberta artist only gallery) I cannot become discouraged, I need to push myself forward and double my efforts, to keep plugging away untill I get the work shown at the AGA and elsewhere. Step by step builds the cathedral.

I have 2 more show submission ideas in the works, "Ladyboy Sex Worker" and "Muay Thai Boxer". I plan on making those submissions to the AGA in the year 2012, after that work is rejected I will create new photographs and new submissions to show them. I am also trying to get some of the AGA people to visit my upcoming shows at the VAAA and Kaasa galleries. At least the AGA people took the time to look over the work, at least they have some faint idea of the works existence, it is a small step in the right direction.

I know what I am doing is the right road for me, I feel it deep down in my heart, I feel I am on the right track, telling the right stories. I have to keep at it and work harder, eventually the AGA and others will think the work is worth showing. When I do get the work shown I will have repaid the debt I owe my subjects, I will get their stories told, nothings going to stop me!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Good And The Bad

Well I am done traveling for now, am out of money, I might need to work a second job to catch up on all the bills. This last trip was filled with good and bad times. Vomiting for 8 rotations into various bags for hours on a windy road in Laos would fit into the bad category and basically anytime I was making photos would be in the good.

I feel pretty tired now that I am back home but need to finish printing, mounting and framing my April 19th show at the VAAA. After the 19th opening I will have plenty of time to rest and I can then start developing film from the trip. I have ladyboy sex worker 8x10 studio shots to do as well as 700 sheets or so of 4x5 available light work. I did not shoot any 35mm as I lost my Leica early on when I damaged the lens mount.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back In Canada

I am back in Canada! Very tired, will update the blog and finish unfinished blogs in the coming week, lots and lots to write about.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thai Comfort

As soon as the bus from Laos crossed the border into Thailand I felt more comfortable, sort of like I was coming home again. Laos I found was an easier place to travel and make photographs in than Cambodia but still it is not Thailand, in Thailand I feel like I belong, like a member of the Thai family.

Making portraits in Thailand is also easier, I can be understood somewhat in Laos but in Thai I am understood much better. When I was in Laos many people said I spoke Thai well (they were being polite) or asked me how long I had lived in Thailand, where I learned the language etc. I would need to spend several years in Laos to get the same level of comfort with Laotian. Much of the Lao and Thai language is similar so I was able to communicate, ask people to make pics, talk during the session etc. but it was not the the same as communicating with Thais. Compared to making photos in Cambodia Laos was quite easy, in Cambodia I only know a few words of Khmer so photographing is more difficult.

The other part of Thailand that I love is the conveniences, better roads, vehicles, stores. The prices are also probably cheaper overall in Thai. I found accommodations a bit cheaper in Laos, and transportation similar in cost but food in Laos was much more expensive, I can eat cheaper and better in Thailand.

Video Upload: Buddha Park Vientiane Laos

I went and photographed at a Buddha park in Vientiane my last day in Laos. The park was built by a single man who also created something simliar in Thailand after he had some kind of problem with the Laotian government. While at the park I also did some portraits of an older lady (Ngai Pod 60) who worked on the grounds as a gardener.

Here is the video:

Very bumpy, hot and dusty bus ride to the Buddha park:

Back In Klong Toey

Spent my first day back in Klong Toey slum today. It was fun to be back with people I know, lots of smiles, wais (Thai respect greeting) and talk. I gave back some of the photos I made up and people quite happy. As I walked around children asked to be photographed, others including a young mother with her young daughter also asked. I shot all my film early and wished I had brought extra film and a changing back to change out the holders. I shot 46 sheets in about 2 hours.

Tomorrow I plan on returning to some different slum areas and hand out more prints, I also want to shoot as much film as I can. I have over 100 sheets of 4x5 Tri-x left and tomorrow is my last shooting day this trip. I need to work hard and find subjects to photograph and create as man good last day portraits as I can. I might return to the Muay Thai gym area a second day if time permits.

Below is one group I photographed today, Boowan and Pit, two aspiring Muay Thai boxers.

Boowan 7 and Pit 7 Klong Toey Slum Thailand 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2 Nights In Vientiane

Traveled via VIP bus (red seated laydown cushion seats with pillows) from Van Vieng to Vientiane. This trip was throw up free (thankfully), a much less windy ride and I had extra time to recover and felt quite good later on in the journey. Halfway through the trip I even had some Laos sandwhiches which were very good as I had not eaten for almost 2 days.

The big meal in Laos for the farang backpacker is the sandwhiches, ham, chicken, bacon and cheese etc, they are served on French style baget bread with all fresh incredients costing between 10 000 to 15 000 Kip ($1.25-$1.87 CAD). You see backpackers all over Laos wolfing these babies down. The other popular backpacker meal is all you can eat buffets for 20 000 to 40 000 Kip ($2.50-$5.00 CAD ). One day I saw a tatooed male backpacker in Luang Prabang eating a 4 inch tall plate of buffet cold greasy noodles. I am not sure how the local Lao seller can make a profit, it seems some backpackers save on food costs and have one huge all you can eat meal a day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back In Bangkok

After a 2 hour bus ride (over 1 hour waiting in line at the border to get my passport stamped) from Vientiane Laos to Nong Khai Thailand and a 3 hour wait for the the VIP bus in Nong Khai for Bangkok I boarded the bus at 8pm, 9 hours and 30 minutes later I was in Bangkok. Pretty exhausted right now, leaving Thailand soon but still have much to do and want to shoot more film before I leave. Will update the blog later as I have time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Very Sick

Boy just went through (hopefully its over) a long bout of sickness. I have not vomited for 12 years or so (think it was 2000), that record is now smashed. Two days ago after eating in a nice semi expensive restaurant I had used before I came back to my room feeling bad, the feeling got worse over the next 2 or 3 hours then in the middle of the night I woke up ran to the washroom and vomited everything up. Boy its fun to see your food for the second time, its not quite as good looking on the rebound. Not to get into to much detail here but I had 4 regurgitation's that came out in Lucas vision super sterero surround sound.

The next day I had a van booked to come to Vieng Vang Laos (on my way to Vientiane) so I was sort of forced to take it even thou I was feeling very poorly. This ride turned out to be the ride form hell, up and down mountains with very curvy roads. I am not that good on curvy mountain roads but always manage to not get sick, not this time! I ended up going through 8 rounds of vomiting, the last 5 had basically nothing come out as I had emptied the old stomach, just dry loud empty heaves.

I think I horrified the Laotian bus driver who was sort of a grumpy guy to start with, he was trying to pick up one of the female Laos passengers (got her phone number) I am sure my ralphing noises did not help the seduction process, maybe that is why he was making such sour faces at me (even later when I apologized to him). The farang backpacker passengers were much kinder (from Spain) they told me no problem when I apologized to them and even inquired about how I felt many times, one girl behind me said she was "I feel so sorry for you!".

It was a nasty experience but I kept thinking about Purb (Laotian farmer I met recently) and what would happen to him with a similar sickness. I had access to good medication, to clean showers, toilets, I do not have to work and help support a family of 9. What would he have done in the same situation as I was in? Gone to work? Gone without medicine so he could buy something for his children? I had it relatively easy in comparison.

On to Vientiane, going to take lots of tissue and plastic bags! Ralph!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Back To Muang Pra Baung

After 3 nights in the outback of Muang Noi I am back in the formal capital of Laos Luang Pra Baung. I am staying in a guesthouse with a/c, a TV a wonderful hot shower and and small fridge, this room feels like a 5 star hotel! Gosh hot water feels good in a shower!

Will be back in Bangkok in about 4 days.

Dinner With Purb's Family

After photographing Purb's family 2 times (wish I would have had more loaded film holders and better light for those shoots!), I was invited to dinner. We sat at a small table outside in the night air next to the small family home which slept 9. Dinner consisted of fried seaweed, sticky rice, a salad with a great dressing, some fried eggs and desert stuff I had brought. Purb's family is very poor but they went all out for me, setting the table with a table cloth and providing everyone with green cloth napkins. Dinner was at about 730pm but it was very dark, it gets dark in Muang Noi Laos about 6pm. We ate under a single light bulb hanging from a small rope, the light attracted dozens of buzzing insects.

As I have said before the poorest people are often the most generous and hospitable, this was proven true again tonight.  I ended up giving some money to the family at the end of the meal, hopefully some day I can return with the photos or I might try to forward them to Purb via an Australian friend of theirs that travels to Laos often.

I often think back to eating under that light in Laos (this blog was written when I returned to Canada), my life in Canada is so different, than that meal that night.

What are Purb and his family doing now? What has changed in their lives?

Water For Purb's Family

The Purb family water supply came from a local creek which they would also boil as an extra precaution. I was told that water from the nearby Oo river was not safe and Lao people threw everything into it, I guess factories from Vietnam also heavily pollute the rivers water.

Traveling Only For The Sake Of Traveling?

One thing I noticed about the backpackers I saw all over Laos was that they were traveling just for the sake of traveling. It seemed that most I met were looking for the next party, the next place to drink and the  others were just traveling for traveling sake. Why not volunteer locally? Why not create something, write a book, paint a picture? Its fun to travel and see things but I always feel there should be another level to it, should try to more than just travel for the sake of traveling.

Monks And Worker Portraits

On my second last day in Muang Noi Laos I did some good portraits. First I walked to local temple where I photographed some workers, then after that monks from the temple. I photographed one older monk who was 76, the rest were novice monks (short time monks who might only be in the monk hood for a few months). Later on I photographed 4 young men (14 year olds) on a jungle path.

Quite exhausted with sweat pouring down my face I came back to my room to find Purb waiting for me, he asked me to photograph his family. Problem was I had only 4 sheets of unexposed film loaded and it was 5pm with the light fading rapidly. I hurriedly grabbed my gear after a quick shower and followed him to his family home (10 minute walk). I made the most of what light I had and shot the 4 pictures.

One rather embarrassing moment came after the session when I managed to break the back rest of a plastic chair I was given, knocking over my tripod mounted Linhof in the process(fat boy Gerry!). I guess I have to work on bringing down my weight a bit, now am 230lbs, which is huge for plastic South East Asian chairs. I gave Purb some money for the broken chair and walked back home in the dark completely spent, a long hard but rewarding day of portraits.

A Quick Snack, Deep Fried Frogs!

On my last full day in Muang Noi I went to photograph Purb's family again (only had 10 sheets of film wish I had more). I did the family pictures in an open leafy area not far from their house, the area was surrounded and shaded by beautiful Teak trees.

As I made the portraits most of the rest of the family sat around watching me. I have gotten used to having 5, 10 or even 15 people watching my photo sessions, the view camera and tripod tends to attract a crowd. When I took a break I walked over to where the family was and the mother of the home (Purb's Mom) told her grandson to give me something he came back with a little tomato and gave it to me. I tasted it and it was very sour, I made a face as I ate it and everyone laughed or smiled (Purb's wife, mother, and 3 children were there there along with his younger sister). After the tomato the mother said something else and the little boy went away and then came back with a little fried frog for me to eat, it was the whole frog complete with head and eyes, it was small, oily looking and shriveled up blackish thing. I did not really want to eat it, I was worried about how it would affect my already problematic stomach issues, the area was also not sanitary, the boys hands, face were dirty etc. I thought thou it would be impolite to not eat the food, I looked at everyone watching me and waiting for me to try the frog, they all had expectant eyes, especially Purb's wife who was watching me closely. I decided it was best to be polite and give it a try, I chomped down on one of the little legs and it actually tasted pretty good, like very deep fried meat. I ate the second leg and then the body of the little frog up to the head and told them it was very good. The mother then to my surprise said something else and the boy came back with 2 much larger fried frogs! These were much more oily and less delicious looking (bigger head and frog eyes than the first little guy, always had a thing against eating food that could look at me!), I thanked them and took the frogs and placed them in my vest pocket for later (did not eat them but did make photographs which I will put on the blog later).

How come the poorest of the poor are often the most gracious hosts? The kindest people seem to me to often be also the poorest. I have often received food, drinks and friendship from poor people all over Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Inner Mongolia), its part of the tradition of the various cultures to be hospitable but it also speaks to the natural goodness, the true kindness of the individuals.

Here are a few digi shots of the fried frogs I promised, the one I ate is on top (ate the body but not the head!).

(this story reminds me of my chicken foot story from a few years back, check out the link)

Purbs Family

I met Purb as I was photographing along the Oo River. I had been photographing children who were playing in the water when I saw Purb, who I also photographed. Purb was a local farmer who I got to know over the next few days, he was looking for investors in a guest house he was building and also sometimes gave rides to tourists for money. I ended up photographing several members of his family (sometimes in poor light) and also had dinner with the family on one insect filled night.

Screams Of The Doo-Keh And Other Animal Sounds

I have travelled in Thailand and Southeast Asia many years now, I have heard many animal cries in the night but nothing prepared me for the close up call of a Doo-Keh lizard. I was trying to fall asleep in my pitch black Muang Noi Laos room when I heard the very loud cry of a lizard which seemed just feet away.


The first time it happened I jumped upright in bed, it sounded like the thing was calling from under my pillow. I had heard these lizard calls before during my travels  but never up close and personal like this! I think he must have been in the rafters above my bed somewhere because the little guy could have woken the dead. Now I understand why Thais call the lizard Doo-Keh.

The rest of that night and the next night as well Mr. Lizard let out his ear shattering cry every few hours.

Hmm Spiders, Lizards and Roosters, this is a real wild kingdom like trip.

Yikes There Is A Huge Spider In My Toilet (Bathroom)

Here's a little hint on how to make a 47 year Canadian man jump and squeal like a little child, put a 4 inch hairy spider on his bathroom wall! Even better you can make the bathroom nice and dark and shut off the power for the room after 10pm. The spider could live in the overflow drain of the sink and make appearances all over the bathroom (under the toilet seat??) at different times of the night. To top things off you could make the man search for the spider with a cheap little Chinese made flashlight in the middle of the night when he needs to take a pee, as a final touch why not put the spiders big nest filled with dead insects directly above the doorway of the bathroom (toilet).

Photos to follow!

Swinging In My Hammock Above The River Oo

I had a very nice 2 hours swinging in my hammock above the River Oo, reading a book about Cambodia and relaxing. Far below from where I was perched (in my guesthouse at Muang Noi Laos) I watched as children played, people bathed (dressed or partially dressed), dogs ran about and roosters crowed. The fishermen would come back in their little boats at mid afternoon with their catch, at the first approach they would use their load roaring engines before shutting down and silently drifting the last 30 feet or so to the sandy, muddy bank.

At 1230 am I saw a large bus boat motor in loaded down with the latest 18 backpackers from Nong Kiaw. The backpackers come from a variety of country's within a short time I would hear English, German, Chinese, Spanish Japanese, French, Polish and Russian (especially English and French).

But back to my little hammock, there is something beautifully peaceful about a hammock, I am sure I will miss that quiet reading time later on when I am back in Canada. I will miss the wonderful view, I will miss watching that different world and I will miss the soft relaxing feeling of just hanging there floating and at peace.

ATM 1 000 000 Kieb Withdrawal!

15 000 000 Kieb For Rice Farm Family

Communal Farming Help

4-14 Year Old Boys Potrait Session

Smoking After A Meal? What's The Deal?

Hooked On Toys And Missing The Moment?

What's the deal with people being so hooked on their gadgets they lose the ability to live in the moment? I saw several times this trip where people missed out on something beautiful because they were distracted and  focused on their cellphone toys. Sometimes we should just chuck all the flashy gizmos out the window and  enjoy the natural beauties right in front of us.

Oreo Potato Chip And Coke Diet

Topless Farang Girl Buried In Laos

This is a story i heard second hand, the story was originally told by a local Laotian girl who could speak Thai. The girl who told the story lives in a Mekong river village and was on the river boat traveling study in a nearby town.

I guess a year earlier the local people found a farang girl (western girl) floating in the river, she had on shorts but was topless. After body of the girl was discovered the local villagers reported it to the village head then simply buried the body. No one seems to now how or why she died, what the circumstances of the death were, was it a murder? robbery? rape? or simply some kind of accident? Many back packers in Laos travel for years at a time, many travel alone, it is possible this girls family wherever she was from knows nothing about her fate. There are definite dangers for farang backpackers here, I have heard that many die in boating (Kayaking) accidents or during the rabid drinking parties that go on here, quite often the backpacker will just disappear forever.

The Joys Of Watermelon

On my first morning in Muang Noi I saw a young Laotian child, a boy of about 10 walking with 2 big pieces of very red dripping watermelon in each hand. He was walking and eating first from the right hand then from the left hand, he had a grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear. Am not sure why I am writing about this, it just seemed so joyful, he did it with such abandon,such happiness, it spoke to me of the joys of youth. I can still see him running along with this watermelons, chomping away.

Nong Kiaw To Muang Noi By Riverboat

Old Style River Washing

Laos Children Walking Home For Lunch

Thailand Versus Laos

Thailand and Laos are similar in many ways but also very different. Thai is understood by many Laotians because of the heavy influence Thailand has in the region. Thai television shows, music and movies dominate the airways in Laos. I often saw Laos people listening to Thai music or watching the latest TV drama. The biggest difference between Laos and Thai is the level of poverty, Laos is much poorer than Thailand. You also do not see any chain stores of any kind in Laos, no McDonalds no 7/11s anywhere. Laos is a communist country so gas stations and many other stores seem to be controlled nationally. Another thing I was surprised at was the lack of farang male and Lao female relationships. Thailand you see male farang holding hands, hugging and kissing Thai girls everywhere but in my 12 days in Laos I only saw a farang with a Lao girl 2 times and one of those times the girl was a sex worker.

Way Behind With Blogs

Spent 3 days up country in Laos without Internet access so am way behind in my blogs. I will write up the titles now of possible future blogs then fill them in as time allows. If your interested come back and check them out later. I will also be adding video and digi pictures when I get home or get better Internet access possibly in Bangkok.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hmong Children

Later in the day I went on a short tour to a local waterfall which was very beautiful and to a small Hmong hill tribe village. I made a number of jungle shots at the waterfall and also a few water pictures (nothing to exciting), afterwards we stopped at the Hmong village where I wanted to shoot some buildings but because of the congestion could not get a good shot in the time allowed, the children of the village quickly found and surrounded me, so for 15 minutes I made as many portraits as I could as everyone crowded around me (probably 15-20 people) yelled out, laughed and made comments. I could not communicate with my subjects and the light was poor, I could not ask people to stand still so I shot at the fastest shutter speed I could gamble to use. I shot all pics at 1/8 and F8 with a reflector in late day (5pm) overcast light. It was fun to shoot the pictures even if nothing turns out. I used mostly hand gestures, smiles and loud noises to get the photos made. I gave the father of several of the children some money to split amongst the little ones.

I would very much like to go and shoot more photos in the hill tribe areas of Laos and Thailand, to shoot with a 8x10 camera might even be more rewarding. I only had 20 minutes (what the driver told me was allowed) to make my pictures, most of the group returned to the van after 5 minutes and were waiting for me. I wish I could go back and travel the Mekong stopping where I wanted to for how long I wanted to and make hundreds of portraits.

I have s short video of the group that watched me during the photo session and will post it later when I have better internet access.

Buddha Statue Builders

Went out after breakfast and photographed at a local business, the business was the construction of Buddha statues for neighborhood Wats (temples). I did a number of portraits of 2 of the artist/workers who were applying cement to a giant Buddha head and also did some shots of the Buddha head alone.

It was fun to photograph the workers and the language stuff came in quite handy again. Even thou Laos is different than Thai I can make myself understood here for the most part. I also got the group men workers to laugh so I guess I can tell jokes here. I was photographing the heads and workers when 3 youngish farang girls walked by on the nearby sidewalk, one girl talking loudly said to the others " I used to be able to drink for 3 days straight without sleeping or eating but now I can't do that anymore!" I kind of giggled when I saw them and heard that but when I turned around again to the 8 or 10 Lao men in the outdoor shop area I realized they did not understand what the passing girls had said. I relayed the story in my broken Thai and they all laughed out loud repeating it amongst themselves several times, they thought the story was very funny.

After the drinking farang joke story we were all friends and making photos became very easy, later when they sat down to eat as a group they asked me 2 times to join them. The men also gave me a glass of water to drink, they were very nice fellows, I downed the water quickly as I was quite thirsty with sweat running into my eyes but declined the food as I had just eaten. Thais, Cambodians and Laotians are all very sociable and friendly and very generous with sharing their meals.

Nice Backpackers

Met a 2 backpacking couples today that were very nice. The first 2 were from New Zealand and Holland the second who I spoke to in the tour van were from Australia. These backpackers seemed much more mature, not the wild drinking kind but instead nice quiet people interested in exploring Asian cultures.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Drunk Quotes

Rambling conversation from a drunk Canadian girl next to me in the Internet cafe.

"I did the fire limbo, I got under it and bang I my knees hit the ground and I cut my foot. If you want to find a party you can find a party, all you do there is party. I am not chasing the party but being young I want to have fun and party but the best party was at don vet, its a chill party, you can get and do anything you want. Here you can go to one bar and then go to the beach, if you did not want to party you could not because everyone wanted to party. After 3 days you have had enough my body is all scraped up. If you go past the first 4 bars you can have more fun you can have real fun. As soon as you get there one girl that is partied out will give you a bracelet, then you can have a shot for free, then you chug a bucket and you get a free bucket, we got pissed drunk everyday. The booze is cheap and the girls are easy. The girls are everywhere and their ready."

This rambling talk goes on and on, party, booze, drinking, sex, tubing, zip lines, slide etc. The drunk Canadian girl came in to order a beer (she does not need another beer) from the girl in the Internet shop and is sitting out front talking to 2 Swedish guys....F-ckin this party, F-ckin wasted, loaded, party crap. Meanwhile the 2 girls working the shop are waiting to go home (different lives), better close up this blog for now, besides the drunk Canadian girl is driving me bananas.

How sick is it to come and visit all the great cultures of south east Asia and waste all your time getting drunk! There is so much you can do here that will help you grow as an individual, you can do so much here to help other and what do you do? Spend your time vomiting into a toilet bowl.

Photos In Pak Baang

This morning I got up a bit late and dashed out of the room to make a few photos before I had to go to catch the morning slow river boat to Luong Pra Bauk. First stop was about 100 meters behind my guesthouse where I saw several hilltribe homes way up (way way up) on a nearby hill. I did not have time to climb up and make photos but thought I would do a landscape shot of the houses, trees etc. As I was setting this shop up I saw workers building nearby with brick. I went to where they were working and started to set up for a portrait. I tried speaking to them in Thai but that went no where, eventually I realized that these construction guys were manderin speaking Chinese. Not sure why they were not using Lao workers but for some reason the workers from from China. I know that China has several business interests in Laos (both Communist countries) maybe they imported workers from China to construct this building. Eventually I was able to photograph 4 or 5 workers doing various things (carrying bricks, hammering stakes, mixing cement). I was struggling to find any words of Manderin that would help me the only thing I came up with was sort of a pathetic Thank You, SHEY SHEY(think thats thank you!).

On the same site as the hilltribe house and the Chinese workers I made several potraits of 2 young hilltribe boys standing in barefeet on a mound of dirt., gave them 20 baht after.

By the time I finished at the construction site it was 855am, my boat was supposed to leave 830-9am but I was unsure if had missed it. I hurried down the road with the Linhof on my shoulder and came to a beautiful if smoky (fires in the area) view point, made a few pics there of the viewpoint and also of a big sign with the Lao leader on it and an old hut with a man on one side looking down at me.

I looked for the boat from the viewpoint high above but saw nothing! Damn I missed the boat! There were no farang around either so I thought I was done. I walked father down and was about to look again for the boat when I saw a young Lao boy with a hat on leaning on a truck. I thought screw the boat got to get this portrait! I asked him to pose and did 3 quick shots, as he was driving away I asked him and he told me his name. Just as I had finished with the hat boy I felt a tug on my sleeve and a boy pointing down to the river. I looked down and low and behold there was the boat loaded with farang waiting for me!!! I grabbed my camear bag and my tripoded Linhof and ran, trot trot trot trying not to fall down the hill. I went from a happy relaxed guy making pictures to a frantic running dude. When I got to the boat, I realized I did not have to run, people were still standing around and the boat did not leave for another 10 minutes.

I was very happy I made the portraits it helped me get through the 8 hour boat ride that followed. A very quick photo day but a good day.

Wandering The Hilltribes With A 4x5 Or 8x10?

The Value Of A 2nnie

My last night in Chiang Khong at the internet cafe I gave a twonnie (2 dollar Canadian coin) to the security guard at the hotel Internet cafe. I gave it to him because I thought he might be interested in this rather pretty coin with the polar bear on it. With my western (rich guy) perspective on things I saw the coin as interesting keep sake for him, that's how I would have taken it if someone gave me a coin back home (work nighttime security). The Thai guard took the gift from a different perspective, he immediately asked its value in Thai baht and when I said about 70 baht he got very excited and thanked me 2 times with hands in a high wai (sign of respect and thanks).

I try to see things, to understand things in terms of the way the locals do when I am making their portraits but I am still the spoiled rich guy who see small money as an interesting keepsake, not for what it can buy.

To Thais, Laotians and Cambodians even small money is something of value that can buy food, pay the rent or help the family.

11AM Lets Have A Beer!

So on the second day of my boat ride down the Mekong the drinking amongst the farang started at 11am, the drinking was slower than the day before and they drank less but they still did their fair share of drinking and smoking during the 8 hour voyage. I wonder how much booze is drunk by farang in southeast Asia? Today when I was having my lunch in Luang Pra Bauk I saw a middle aged western lady drinking from a wine bottle size bottle of Lao beer, after here meal she took the bottle out and was drinking it as she walked down the street.

Peoples reliance on mind altering drugs is scary, it seems they cannot enjoy themselves or it at least seems like they enjoy themselves a lot less if they are not pissed or partly pissed.

The Beauty Of The Mekong River

Traveling down the Mekong river is a very rewarding and beautiful experience. The river is filled with rock formations, there are rocks everywhere at times its like floating through the dynamited mountain roads of Western Canada, on each side of the boat the rocks can rise up 2 stories tall.

The other thing about the Mekong that I have not seen on other rivers is the amount of sand that lines the shoreline. In many places the sand extends for hundreds of meters in each direction, sometimes you see sand ridges that are 6 to 10 feet tall.

Another unique feature was the various hill tribe villages that you passed along the way. You would be floating by and see up on some high hill (almost mountain like) a series of wooden or grass type homes. Often there would be people walking cattle or water buffaloes on a small path along a mountain hill. The other thing that was quite cute was maybe 10 or so times there would be naked children bathing at the rivers age, they would jump up and down and wave at the passing boats.

The smoking and drinking on the boat got tiring but seeing the wonderful Mekong and catching glimpses of hill tribe peoples lives was very rewarding, the positives made up for the negatives.

Have And Have Nots 2 Different Reasons For A Boat Ride

Seizing The Moment And Chasing A Photograph

I am getting better at seizing a moment I see and chasing down the picture. Several times today I saw portraits with people in Pak Bang and even thou I was nervous about approaching them (especially several Chinese men workers at a construction site) I chased them down and got some decent stuff.

I need to chase down more of the photos I see and not be afraid to approach everyone I find of interest, there is no harm in trying to get there picture the worst that can happen is they refuse to be photographed. I think I am following my friend Larry Louie's example in this, he is fearless in pursuit of an image, I need to be more like that.

When the opportunity presents itself I need to seize it!

Will Try Learning Masking

Reading a lot about masking in a book on my E-Reader (Way Beyond Monochrome). I will try to do some of the masking techniques to improve my printing when I return to Canada.

Types Of Masking

- Unsharp Masks
- SCIM Shadow Contrast Masks
- Contrast Reduction Masks
- Fog Masks

I want to become a world class printer, this is an important step in reaching that goal.

Morning Photos And Running WIth My Linhoff

Arrived Pak Bang Late

After a long painful and late starting journey we arrived at Pak Bang Laos after it had gotten dark. The boat had no lights of any kind in the interior, running lights or headlights. The Laos men were frantically calling out "Go left or go right!!" as the boat captain was steering through the dangerous waters of the Mekong (filled with rocks and shallow areas). I ended up staying in a semi clean place for 300 baht ($10) with a noisy fan and leaky toilet. A tiring tiring day, and a long journey breathing in the smoke of the multiple farang backpacker smokers in front of me. Of the 16 people sitting directly in front of me 9 were smokers including the guy  front of me.

Don't Be Late For The 11AM Boat It Leaves At 1230PM

Crazy Rooster Part 2 With Video!

In Luong Pra Baung Laos

Arrive in Luong Pra Baung Laos this evening. I now have Internet access so will be posting a number of blogs in the coming days to catch up.

This place is backpacker heaven, trying to get away from those folks and see some of the real city. I am speaking Thai here and being mostly understood, today I learned how to say thank you in Laotian.

Thais say KHOP KHUNE KRUP (for men)
Laos say KHOP JAI or KHOP JAI LAI LAI (thank you very much)

I will write the following blogs as I have time in the coming days.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tomorrow To Laos

Well got to unload and load my 4x5 film, pack my gear then head to bed, tomorrow I am off on the slow boat to Laos! Robinson Crusoe just found religion, will read a bit of his adventure tonight before nodding off.

Portrait Photography Intimacy

Making so many portraits lately has got me thinking more of the process and the end result outside of the actual image. There is a certain closeness a certain intimacy that happens between the photographer and the subject in a portrait session. You are staring directly at each other and interacting in a close and personal way. I have noticed afterwards that there is a shared secret, a shared feeling that lives on past the exposure of the film.

Today I photographed Chao a 47 year old maid (head shots) in my hotel, she giggled and smiled, had a hard time holding still but was happy to be photographed, several hours afterwards she laughed, smiled and said hello when she saw me again (previously she had never looked up from her cleaning when I was around). Then later in the day I was walking along the river and saw a man sitting with friends who I had photographed the day before (Soopap 58), he nodded and smiled at me as I passed. A lot of this is because we just know each other a bit so they feel more friendly towards me but I am convinced its more than that.

The intimacy, the personal nature of the photographic portrait experience leaves a bit of a lasting bond between the photographer and his subject, a bond that lingers after the session is over. When your photographing with a large format camera, a tripod, reflector, sheet film and spot meter the process is slow, the interaction with subject expanded, the working together to create the image makes the whole process quite magical. The more I do this kind of photography the more I love it, I am hooked and as long as my health lasts I will continue to make this type of photograph, I will do it for the rest of my life.

The Crazy Rooster!

So I have slept in Chiang Khong 3 nights now with 1 night to go. Every frickin morning at 2am a crazy rooster outside my room starting CROWING! Its pitch black outside and this little sucker starts a hooting. I was counting the crows last night (after all I had nothing else to do, I couldn't sleep), he was doing 3 or 4 every minute. Last night Mr Rooster started exactly at 2am and kept the 3 or 4 crows a minute going until 330am.

I am not a farm guy but I thought that the whole rooster thing was that they crowed when the sun rose not at 2am in pitch darkness (not even any moonlight). Maybe this feathered KFC dinner in waiting (or is that only hens?) has some physiological, psychological, philosophical issues that makes him want to spout off.

Looking forward to my 2am wake up crow tonight, important update to follow, cocka doodle DOOOOOOOOO!

A Moment Caught In Time

I was thinking today of my photograph from December 2010 of the young monk (Pra Kao 15) from Wat Loo-ung in Chiang Khong, Thailand.

I made this photo and another variation of (a closer head shot) just over 1 year ago, so much has changed since then.

That moment in time is gone forever but in a way it lives on in the photograph (possibly for hundreds of years in the Alberta art collection), such is the power of photography. That short moment in time now has a life of its own that's recorded, remembered and preserved. The young monk boy Kao is now not a monk any longer, he has returned to school to continue his studies, the temple wall behind him in the portrait is now painted a bright white, only the bench remains, everything else has forever changed.

You got to love photographs!

Insect Bites

This trip I have been wearing long sleeve shirts, long pants and sandals (bare feet) as well as a photo style vest (first time wearing the vest). The long pants and long shirt help protect me from the sun and help a bit with the mosquitoes, thou today the mosquitoes bit right through my pants.

The biggest problem I have been facing is mosquito bites to my feet, toes and ankles, I counted 25 bites this morning, bright red bumps. The worse part is the bites stay VERY itchy for days afterwords. I think they are mosquito bites but they might be bites from some kind of other insect, Thailand is full of little things that bite you. I have resorted to putting mosquito repellant cream on my feet and toes, the scratching is driving me crazy, I did not sleep well the last few nights because of the itching.

One More Day

Decided to spend one extra day in Chiang Khong Thailand to battle my stomach problem before heading into the unknown in Laos. Ended up resting most of the day but I did shoot 30 sheets, some heads of 3 people and some shots of an old stairway and dead trees. Feeling a bit better, doubt I will eat much tomorrow as the problem seems to get worse when I eat. Tomorrow I will be on a old slow river boat for 6 plus hours so I need to be a bit more careful with what I eat and when.
Wonder what the boats washroom facilities are like! Photos to follow : (

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Floating Down The Mekong And Laos

Well early tomorrow morning I cross to Laos and then onto a slow boat down the Mekong river for 2 days with stops in a few different places to sleep. I expect the Laotian part of this trip to last 7 or 8 days after which I will reenter Thailand at Nong Kai (Issan Region) and travel south to Bangkok. On returning to Bangkok I will try to spend a few days in Klong Toey slum,  I still need to hand out the free portraits from last trip and hopefully make a few more!

Before I fly back to Canada the land of snow and ICE hockey I might also try visiting some place in central Thailand. Things are going pretty well photography wise now, my only concern is the stomach illness, hopefully I will not be a problem on the boat or in Laos.

Not sure about how much Internet access I will have there so it might be a while until the next blog entry.

8x10 Camera Now Not So Frightening

The more I shoot the Linhof 4x5, the more portraits I make with the Linhof, the easier this view camera portrait thing seems to be. The thought of using an 8x10 camera to do the same work but on a larger and slightly more difficult scale (hope its only slightly!) seems not so intimidating now. I am quite excited by the possibilities of making 8x10 portraits with either the Deardorff or the Masterview in the coming years. I will start off with the 5x7 Linhof as I have lots of Tri-x 5x7 to use up but eventually I can see myself using 2 cameras to make my portraits the 4x5 Linhof and one of the 8x10s.

"Ain't Photography Grand!" its all so exciting and rewarding!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess I need to admit in this blog I also do photography for selfish personal reasons, I find photography so rewarding, so expressive, it gives meaning, happiness and purpose to my life.

Todays Work

Continuing to battle some illness but did some better work today I think. I got up late but still ended up shooting about 50 sheets. I photographed 8 people and did a few abstract tree type shots. I visited the temple where I made the young monk photo last year.

I talked the senior monk at the temple who gave me the young monks name and age, I will add this info to the title for the photograph in the future. I photographed this senior monk as well, he was sweeping up the grounds and has been in the monkhood for 21 years.

Later in the evening I also photographed 4 young Lao men 16-21 who were working in the river port area loading cardboard onto the back of a truck. I guess everyday they transport this cardboard to the Thai side of the river then load it on to trucks for recycling. I am not sure if the younger ones go to school yet, it did not seem so as they had workers hands, tough skin, covered with cuts, bruise and dirt.They also had nice friendly faces filled with youthful enthusiasm, I wonder what their futures hold? I think I made some good portraits their but do not want to jinx it, I hope I did them justice. I wish I could have spoken to them with a bit more depth, we had trouble communicating as they spoke little Thai and I speak even less : )

I did learn one important Lao language sentence from them, how to say "Can I take your photo please?"

In Thai its:

Koh Tye Roop Dai Mai Khup?

In Lao its:

Koh Tye Roop Dehh!

I need to learn more Laotian in the next seven days, everything I learn will help the photographs be better.

For you folks taking notes : ) if you want to say "Take photo?" in Khmere (Cambodias Language) its:

Tod Roop?

So Roop means "Picture" in all three languages, there are lots of connections between the countries/cultures here.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Got an Kindle E-Reader a few days before this trip and downloaded a bunch of books before leaving. I love this thing! I am currently reading 5 or 6 books some light fiction Jules Verne (20000 Leagues Under The Sea), Conan Doyle (Sherlock Homes Valley Of Fear) Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), some not so light fiction Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime And Punishment) along with some non fiction History of Cambodia, History Of Vietnam and an educational photography book. All of this comes in one small light package, got to love that!

Farang In Chiang Khong

Met some nice farang (westerners) here today, talked to 3 French men, 2 of who had travelled for over a year and a half in New Zealand and Australia before arriving in Thailand a few days back. Invariably the farang here dress in 1970s hippy style, dreadlocks, tattoos, loose cotton tye dyed clothing and baggy pants or skirts with flip flops and a cloth bag are the norm. I always feel the farang I see in places like this are on their way to Woodstock. Most I meet are nice friendly and people. I rarely see the backpacker farang interact with local people, they are a distinct tourist group that tends to only hang with others from the same sub species. Its like they are in Thailand but not in Thailand.

Better Day

Slept in and then had an afternoon nap getting up at 4pm before going out to make portraits. The long sleep helped my stomach problem, felt a lot better later on in the day. I wandered down to the area outside my hotel where goods are transported between Thailand and Laos across the Mekong river.
The goods include coke, sprite and other groceries, building materials, today I even saw a small refrigerator. All this stuff arrives via truck or motorcycle which is then loaded onto shallow wooden (dangerous looking) long tail style fishing boats and taken to the other side of the river where it is sold in Laos.

I walked down to this port transfer area and did portraits of 5 or 6 different men who were loading or working around the port area. They were all cooperative and I tried to photograph them as quickly as possible so as not to interfere with their work to much. I did on average 4 photos per subject. I was a bit nervous doing these portraits again (had not shot any since December) but things soon fell into place and I regained my comfort zone. The language skill stuff came in quite handy as always. There are many farang (westerner) tourists around the port area who sneak a picture or two (hmm 4 hippy style backpacker farang just walked by to the 7/11 as I was typing this) but for a farang man to speak and joke in passable Thai is surprising to the subject and they tend to open up more easily to the idea of being photographed. I am not sure how photographers in foreign lands can make such wonderful portraits without speaking the language of the subject but I find it of great benefit to speak Thai when photographing Thai people. I worry about the the coming days when I am in Laos and cannot speak Laotian, I need to try to pick up some words as best I can to help the photographic process along.

It was a short day of photography today but I think a good day a day to work out the kinks before I move into more serious portraiture tomorrow. My plan tomorrow is to do a morning light series of photographs and then in the late afternoon light do a second series. I have 15 4x5 holders with me so can do 30 pictures in each session. Hopefully I can photograph upwards of 10 people tomorrow.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Heading To Laos Soon

Plan on spending 2 days in Chiang Khong Thailand making portraits before heading to Laos. I will visit several historical sites as well  travel a bit on the Mekong river. I hope to make portraits through out Laos before returning to Thailand and eventually Bangkok.

Am feeling a bit weak now, after some sickness over the last few days and carrying all my HEAVY equipment in vans, taxi trucks etc. The traveling and sickness wore me down a bit, hopefully a good nights sleep should set me right. I need to make some portraits soon, feel rather lousy when I am not creating new work, and for the last few days I have done almost no photographs. I photographed some trees yesterday for fun but need to do portraits, portraits and more portraits soon.

Chiang Kong

Left Bangkok a few days ago, but did not have internet access until now. Today I returned to Chiang Khong Thailand after a 1 hour hellish rot song tao (taxi truck with seats in the back) ride. Chiang Khong is the place is I made the young monk photo. I plan on having a good nights sleep to recover from the last few days. I felt sick before I got in the truck and after that 1 hour dusty, noisy ride with no shocks and some strange farang girl smoking cigarettes across from me I felt really bad. The plan is to get up tomorrow and go in search of portraits and some landscapes.