February 28, 2005

Jody Evans in the Spotlight

I shot a future rockstar last Fall and now his talent is starting to get recognized. His name is Jody Evans and he's been chosen to compete in a Nashville version of American Idol called Nashville Star. As part of the efforts to capitalize on this much-deserved recognition his managers have developed some merchandise using my photos. It's exciting to see how my images have been adapted into posters, t-shirts and alike. Check it out at jodyevans.com/store

Take pictures, vote for Jody.

February 26, 2005

Home Again

One of the nicest gifts travel bestows upon you is the ability to see your own surroundings anew. Such was the case this morning when I arrived in my frigid home via JFK. Let it be said that 747s hold more luggage than your average plane. I watched bags stream down and around the carousel for a good 25 minutes until my bags arrived. I opted for the bus into the city because on the weekend, the A train is too slow. I noticed two things.

The first is we hide the inner workings of our infrastructure. Street lights seem to emerge from concrete without any wires bringing them power. It makes them look clean and neat but also sort of sparse and disconnected. This may seem like a small thing and in fact, it is but I think it's revealing of a larger idea. We, as modern folks living our modern lives are disconnected from the environment. Our world is overwhelmingly artificial. And even though I haven't been in the jungle for the past month and half, we've got the time and money to give that artifice a buffed up sheen. Cambodia has enough problems with their dirt roads let alone trying to make street lights look pretty.

The second thing I noticed was the absurdity of advertising that pollutes everywhere you look. From the second I got off the plane until now as I look out my window, I see advertising. Sure, I have some text ads on my blog. I'm not complaining. I just noticed that they are everywhere and this is surely affecting how we go about our day.

That's it for now. The photo was taken from the bus and I like it's mood. I'm home. This is my city. It doesn't care about me and I love it.

Take pictures of your home.

February 25, 2005

And That's That

I was gearing up for the full moon party on Koh Phangan when the word came to head back to New York. I had to miss the party. It'll just have to wait until next time.

In the last 24 hours I have been, in order, on a ferry, a beat-up luxury bus, an overnight train, a motorbike, a third class train, a regular metered taxi, a city bus, the Bangkok Skytrain (twice) and two water-taxis. I've changed my ticket to leave tonight and made reservations for a minibus to the airport where I'll catch my first flight to Seoul. When I arrive at JFK, I'll take the AirTrain to the greatest subway system in the world and ride it home. (I'm tempted to get in a tuk-tuk right now just to fill up my transportation bingo card but I really dislike them here. In Siem Riep they are really nice).

Anyway, that's it until I get home. It's been fun traveling and blogging. I'll be sure to sort through my photos and share more upon my return. And this is no way the end of my blog. There's plenty more to share.

Here's one to ponder. I leave Korea at 11AM yet I arrive in New York at 10AM (an hour earlier) on the same day. That's almost as odd as the lady-boy's mother-in-law making my pad thai...but that's a story for another day.

Take pictures anytime.

February 21, 2005

No Blogging On Beach


Khaoson Night

When I say Bangkok is dirty, I'm not kidding. The air is the problem more than trash. I am constantly clearing my eyes of little black things that form in my tear ducts. It's pretty gross. The humidity doesn't help matters either. It just makes your whole body feel the dirt. Diesel particulates are probably the main culprit but that's just a guess. The traffic is a disaster but unlike say, Hanoi, the automobile has a much bigger role to play here. Economic strength seems to equal more cars. If the Vietnamese start trading in their motorbikes for cars, look out!

The weekend stalled any decision-making in New York so I got outta dodge and headed for the beach. I rode the third class car about 5 hours south to what appears to be a nice little beach town. It's nighttime and I'm sleepy, I can't really tell. The reason for the fatigue is last night I decided to walk up and down Khaosan Road (about 300 meters long) for approximately 11 hours. From dusk 'til dawn I explored the dark hours of this tourist mecca and wasn't really surprised to find the usual whiskey buckets, puking kids, aggressive drunks and a whole bunch of lady-boy prostitutes. I saw what can really be taken as standard fare here; a one-armed, deaf break-dancer with a tattooed cross on his forehead, tuk-tuk drivers pounding Red Bull, an aussie born-again street preacher, thai punks, a japanese cowboy, and a drug arrest. I even ran into a deaf girl whom I photographed last month with the streetstudio. Only now, I learned she works as a prostitute. It was like a greatest hits of my night photography. How backpackers have transformed this street into such a place is beyond me. Let's just say the modern tourist is a new breed of traveller. Needless to say, I've censored what gets posted here.

My guest house is almost smack in the middle of this place and thankfully, my room is basically a windowless cell and facing the back. Even so, I slept with earplugs. Khaoson has a rhythm all it's own. It moves in cycles of commerce. The morning brings fresh OJ vendors who are later replaced by Pad Thai carts who in turn are replaced by sidewalk bars. Space is rented from an unseen authority. Whoever it is is certainly running a tight ship. I got a kick out of this whiskey bucket bar touting it's ID policy.

Thai folks are a friendly lot. I moved from one sidewalk group to another all night. It didn't surprise me that the aggressive ones were the Europeans and Americans. In this case, a French guy who seemed emboldened by the fact his country had an embassy in Bangkok. I have no idea how that worked in his head. Even his friend eventually starting smacking him to shut up. Tres bien. The cops, who are just out of the frame got a kick out of the fact I was taking his picture. I can imagine New York cops threatening me with arrest for similar behavior.

Continued aggression of a more playful sort erupted up the block just as I came out of the 7-11 with a nice Magnum Almond ice cream bar. Two brits were slamming each other to the ground in some strange drunken test of strength. A bunch of kids selling flowers surrounded them and taunted them into more. While it was borderline playful, the sound of grown men smacking each other onto cement is really distracting and their behavior raised many passing glances but no real intervention. It was par for the course over here. People don't get involved in other peoples business. It's almost absurd. Back in Vietnam, admittedly more intense than drunk guys, I saw a motorbike accident and people just stood there as some poor guy lay motionless bleeding from his head onto the street. Beeping traffic just moved around and a good 4 minutes went by before attempts were made to help him. That's a long time when literally hundreds of people are within 25 yards of the scene.

Sorry, I got off the subject there. Back to Khaoson Road. So the night wore on and the eventual results of too much booze took their course. I was actually sitting with these self-described vampire kids when one of them started to get sick. By this time, it was the third person I'd shot puking. It was time to switch it up a bit. Sorry but, it's not like people puke in lots of different ways. Angles and other options are pretty limited. As always, I got right up in there and with some prodding from his friends, made him look my way. I think someone actually grabbed his hair and turned his face towards mine. I'll say it again, Thais are a good-natured bunch.

One of the oddest and more pleasant things Thai culture offers is their complete acceptance of gay men, transvestites and cross-dressers. (I'd say they were accepting of lesbians and alike but I haven't really met any). They call all these folks "lady-boys" and it covers everything from transvestite whores to a little gay Pizza Hut waiter. The former is what takes over the Police station end (ironically) of Khaoson road from about 1AM until 5AM. This overly eager camera happy lady was all about showing me what modern surgery gets a guy these days and I was happy to document it. On a more menacing note, a common ploy is to entice eager johns into a back alley for a what is sold as a sneak peek. Once in the dark, they knock them out and take their cash. Lady-boys are still boys after all. Of course, I was told this later sitting by my deaf prostitute friend using rudimentary made-up sign language so who really knows.

I took lots of photos last night but my free flickr account has a 10MB a month limit that I need to watch. If I have some extra bandwidth at the end of the month, I'll post some more. More than likely I'll just add a new page to my Night gallery at clayenos.com. And to anyone wondering if I have some sick fascination with drunk people, I don't. I started this Night thing when I was working day job. Shooting at night was my only option before (mundane) started. Oddly enough, the style I've developed and the subject matter has been well received so I continue. Of course, if it gets boring, I'll stop. So far it only gets more challenging and that's a good sign.

Take pictures.

February 20, 2005

Going Hue Back

In my rush to Siem Riep and the VII workshop I forgot to post some pictures from Hue, Vietnam. (Hue rhymes with way). I had taken an overnight train from Hanoi and ended up in this lovely little city with a grand forbidden city and good energy. I got a haircut from two different people in one shop and rented a bicycle to tool around town. I've found in Vietnam that if you find any busy street there is often a parallel "back alley" where the people live. It's a quieter alternate universe to he noise of traffic and commerce. I took my bike down just such a path and was pleasantly surprised by the resulting engagements. I met mischievous kids, old ladies, smiling families and was presented with color photo-ops galore. I spent hours on just one stretch less than a few hundred meters. Kids followed me most of the way making it a little hard to make candid images. No worries, it was still a treat.

The Vietnamese are big on asking for money to be photographed and this woman was no exception. I don't really mind giving a few cents to anyone who is willing to pose especially when they look as cool as she did. Normally, I'd just buy something from them but the food she was selling was slightly out of my dietary and sanitary guidelines. Rule one is I need to know what I'm eating. As for sanitary conditions, I had yet to see a reasonable kitchen in Vietnam. I know I sound like a wimp and perhaps I am. Let's just say I have a profound new respect for the human immune system.

Moving beyond the back alley, I ended up in a small corner of town that is surrounded by canals that all seem to spring off the moat around the forbidden city. It's really quite cool. As I was riding around wishing everyone Happy Chuc Mung Nam Moi or Happy New Year in my best Vietnamese, I saw this blue house and this guy holding yellow flowers. It has color photography class written all over it. I popped off my bike and asked if I could make a picture of him. With much laughter from him and his family, the answer was a yes. I shot expecting a square so that's why it's cropped. The way the house was constructed and the general compositional restraints made the square the format of choice. It looks like I dodged the thing too much but that's actually what it looked like. I lightened his face only slightly. If anything, I didn't give this image enough attention. Maybe later.

This last image is one of those lies that photography is so good at telling. If I told you this guy who'd been scraping a wall of some sort of moss was a cheerful soul full of laughter and smiles you'd probably not believe me. Well he was. I don't know if he was old or a little retarded but his mannerisms seemed slightly off. The way folks were laughing at my taking his picture wasn't particularly unusual, it's just the way it all went down that gave me that impression. His expressions changed rapidly. One second he was laughing and the next he looked like this. Moments later is when one of the kids who had my other camera accidently formated the memory card. Maybe this guy is having a premonition of my misfortune.

Take pictures.

Two Generations

I'm in Bangkok laying low while work issues resolve in New York. I wish I could be in a less humid, less polluted, more photogenic city. I haven't been overly inspired by much photographically. Maybe tomorrow I'll ride the buses and she what I get. They seem crowded and fun. Heck, if you are in a dirty, congested place, you might as well dive in rather than fight it. Stay tuned.

Back in Angkor Wat, I had the pleasure of presenting a late-night slide show of the Sra Srong portraits to a bunch of folks that had posed for them. We sat in an empty field and watched the pictures projected on a bed sheet. The soundtrack was of the kids hooting and hollering with recognition of their friends, family and themselves. I wish I could have taped it for everyone to hear. What a wonderful thing it was to see and hear the reactions to my portraits. I need to do that more often; especially in remote spots.

Anyway, while I was doing some backing up from one USB drive to another (a painfully slow process) I started looking at some of my portraits more closely. Two struck me as an interesting contrast of generations. This older man is the reason I was in Sra Srong in the first place. I had seen him from my tuk-tuk the previous day and wished I had my studio with me. He seemed to already be in black and white. His hat, weathered face and matching shirt were right up my alley. I was so thankful that he appeared the next day, streetstudio ready. He hadn't changed a bit; same shirt, same hat. He was also exceptionally eager to pose. I made a bunch of him alone and then he wanted to be photographed with some of the ladies too. Good for him. It turns out, he's the ice cream man. Or rather the shaved ice man. He pedals around a big block of ice in a cooler, shaves off some into a cup and flavors it as you wish. If I could have, I'd have indulged in the treat. Ice, however, is a no no for us visitors. Too bad.

This guy was in Siem Riep. He worked construction or something. His clothing is quintessential Indochina. The adidas hat, backwards but still recognizable and a beat up shirt with an english slogan. In this case, New Fashion seemed perfect for what he represents. He is the poster-boy for the new fashion of the developing world. One of branding and irrelevant english text. It does not serve this guy well. He works too hard and too long for his efforts to be diluted by such irony. Antonin Kratochvil spoke to me and others of the t-shirt ruining the world. He's onto something there and he suggested that someone should do a project on t-shirts. Maybe someone will. There are lots of issues woven into that simple shirt and most of them aren't very promising.

Take pictures.

February 18, 2005

Streetstudio Siem Riep

I've been lugging around my studio all this time in hopes of shooting some monks at Angkor Wat. That didn't happen. The only monk who posed was in Laos. No big deal, that's the fun of the streetstudio. It's all random. Another unexpected result of having my studio with me was it's popularity with the other folks in the workshop. I shot twice during the week and then after the official work was over, two more folks wanted to come shoot with me down by the old market. Off we went.

After doing this sort of thing so much on my own, it's at treat to share the experience with others. I've mentioned this before; sharing reminds me of what makes it all so special. After hours in the same place, you gain a certain credibility and you move beyond the camera toting tourist. This was made most clear by the numerous begging amputees that work the old market. Just by chance, they were in the corner where we began to set up. The clanking of aluminum and the sight of three white guys bumbling about got the usual curious crowd. Thanks to my now Streetstudio-certified tuk-tuk driver, (he'd been with my on every setup) everyone was informed of what we intended to do. It looked like a winning location had been found. Once complete, the first of several of these maimed folks began to pose. They never asked for money, they were happy to be photographed. They stood as any other person would; handsome and proud.

It was hours later that the real appreciation sank in. As a few of the guys made their rounds back to our corner, I waved and smiled to them. They returned the gestures with equal enthusiasm. I continued watching them work. They stuck out their hands as the tourists did their best to ignore them. One guy had only one arm and it was badly twisted; looking and working a bit like it was on backwards. It occurred to me that our little time with those unlucky folks had been a moment of real recognition. A moment where they hadn't been ignored but rather given absolute attention. We spent real time and effort trying to portray them as best we could. I don't think I'm overstating the significance of this. These are folks who spend their day being ignored, shunned and rejected. For a few simple minutes, we provided the polar opposite experience. What a treat.

As you spend time in one place, the patterns of traffic and pedestrian movements become more evident. Often, what had seemed chaotic becomes routine and looks go from curious about you to preoccupied with their own affairs. As we'd been shooting, I had paid little attention to the tiny girl glinting around the setup. She'd been there for about an hour but hadn't said a word. She just seemed to be singing to herself and playing her own little games. She didn't want to pose at first but then came around to it. She was an adorable girl in a blue hat and pretty dress and she was a delightful, playful girl. We played a simple hide and seek game, I picked her up and spun her upside down. You know, kid stuff. I can't tell you how old she was. She was tiny but her face looked old. I later asked her if she was hungry and she was. She walked me, her hand in mine, to the market restaurant where my tuk-tuk driver was having lunch. She picked out her meal like a kid pointing into the window of a toy store. I'll tell you, that's the best $1.50 you can spend. I asked my driver to ask her if she had any parents. The answer came back as a simple, "No." He said she lived with the monks across town. I left her to eat and returned to the shooting. She reappeared later for more playfulness and when it was time to leave, popped into my open arms for a big goodbye hug.

This is one from Sra Srong but it's appropriate to show as an example of friendship through photography. This little guy and I met minutes after arriving in his village. He let me commandeer his bicycle for a ride to a far off temple. He popped on the back and off we went. He told me his name was Spiderman but quickly changed it to John Kerry. Playing along, I introduced myself as NyonNyam (the Khemer word for smile). All that evening, the two days I setup in the village, and the last night I was there, we saw each other. That last time, my motorbike apparently passed him on his bicycle. He saw me and called out but I didn't hear him. When he got to town and I was still there, he told me of our close call through his little stutter and bright smile. Safe to say I have a new friend and his name is John Kerry. If anyone is headed to Angkor Wat, keep an eye out for him and tell him NyonNyam says hello. He sells violins from time to time and probably postcards too. He rides a bike that is still too big for him and he stutters. Hey, maybe he could be our next president.

Take pictures, make friends.

February 17, 2005

Seeing Digital

Take Pictures is all about inspiring others to make and share better photographs. I firmly believe in this medium as a powerful and expressive voice for any individual who engages in the mindful process of photography. I have spoken of the digital era's profound influence on everyone's ability to make more and better pictures. As is the case, however, what we are more likely to encounter is more mediocrity. It's no one's fault, it's simply that everyone has a camera and everyone is taking pictures. In the past, one person in a group (not including Japanese groups) would have a camera. He or she was the photographer and at any given event, they'd be taking pictures. After a time someone considerate would take their camera insisting they should be in a photo." That's familiar territory for me. I was always the guy taking pictures. Today, I am still that guy but now everyone else has a camera too.

The cliche image of the man with sandals, dark socks, shorts, a tacky shirt, a camera around his neck and a funny hat still rings true but it's gotten slightly out of hand. Alexandra Boulat and I were taken back at the sheer number of people making snapshots at Angkor Wat. We wondered what the heck they were doing with all those photos. She said, "they can't possibly be looking at them all." I'd have to agree. She quoted Susan Sontag's line about hunting and collecting. I can't remember it exactly but it's from her essay On Photography. (looking for the quote I found this article which refers to it.) My issue is not so much the quality of the image or the audience for them, it's that the process of digital photography interrupts the experience.

The sunrise at Angkor Wat is a lovely thing in and of itself. 9 of 10 digital camera users have no idea how to get a decent shot of such a thing. Flash bulbs popping is the first clue that it's not happening for them. Then they spend whole minutes staring at their cameras trying to figure out what they've got and how to get it like the postcards. Forget it. Buy a postcard. That's why they have them. What in the world is everyone doing? Are they really trying to make their own postcard? Are they not watching the misty sun rise and seeing that it has no postcard potential? Are they not sitting and enjoying the moment without trying to make a 4 megapixel masterpiece? I don't mean to sound condescending. The point is, put the camera down sometimes. Stop trying to recreate something that doesn't exist in the moment of your experience. Make your images personal interpretations, not attempted recreations. Turn the camera 180 degrees from the "action" and I'll bet you get a more authentic and original photograph. Separating your photos from the billions of digital images is done by making your vision distinguishable from everyone else's.

I watched a crowd of people jostling for space near a reflecting pool by the central structure of Angkor Wat. Everyone was trying to get that lovely double image of the real temple and the mirrored in the water. This time of year that pool is a fairly mirky mess but it doesn't stop everyone from being there for "the shot." In another temple, I saw guides pointing people to a certain place for "the best photo." Imagine if it was that easy?! It's bad enough that Angelina Jolie and Tomb Raider sets are the draw at some temples, now the whole thing is being reduced to photo-ops everyone else already has. It's a funny thing to watch. And one morning, that's what I shot. All the photos posted today are from the same morning at Angkor Wat. Nothing amazing, just my take.

Take pictures mindfully.

February 15, 2005

The Antonin School

One of the unexpected pleasures of the workshop was working in a style I was previously unaccustomed. In jest, I called it the Antonin School, after one of the instructors, Antonin Kratochvil. His advice to me was to "catch the devil by it's tail." Make of that what you will. I interpreted it as a looser style of image-making. One where the camera became a foggy reflection of my experiences; where literalness and preconceived structure play second fiddle to emotion and chance. It's odd to talk about photographs like this but it is one of the pleasures of the medium. Almost every time the shutter of a camera is snapped, something comes of it that is unexpected. The Antonin School thrives on that. I tried to put myself in situations where the frame could accompany me through an set of experiences that I would later interpret though careful selection. I was also going to work in black and white, something I hadn't done for a while and missed. This devil needed to be in color but it looks cool in black and white too.

To think of this kind of work as photojournalism was odd at first. Instructions like "get loose" and "let it flow" were not the kinds of phrases I immediately associated with hard hitting and relevant photography. Sure enough, however, the world of photojournalism is as aesthetically deep as photography itself and these VII guys know it. I set off to make photos and to experiment with a looser aesthetic. My night stuff had given me plenty of experience with spontaneity but bringing that sensibility into the daylight, focused on new issues was really fun. I had been interested in the tourist experience so I headed to Angkor Wat for sunset. Thousands upon thousands of camera touting tourists flock here for this daily solar event and I knew it would be ripe subject matter. This has got the strange feel of an earlier era. I think it's the way he's holding his camera that makes it feel like it might be an old movie camera. You kind of have to know Angkor Wat to recognize it's distinctive spires blurred in the upper left. Either way, I like it.

Later that evening, while shooting my normal flash-assisted night stuff, I switched gears and play with the Antonin School. The lights of the disco offered all sorts of latent images. I held the shutter open for half a second and hoped for well timed lighting effects. I got to the middle of the dance floor. I danced as part of the scene. No voyeurism. No passive observer. I was in it. The oddest thing about the dance floor was the way the genders interacted with each other. Almost exclusively, the men danced with men and women with women and it wasn't a gay club. Perhaps as the night wore on, things mixed up a bit but by and large, this is what I saw. I snapped this one when a man had made an unwelcome advance towards another dancer. It's a ghoulish image that speaks way past reality.

Making images like this is tied up with chance events. To be as good as Antonin is at this, you need to practice and continue to drop preconceptions of an experience. He can take this style to the rioting streets of haiti or to a celebrity portrait session. It perfectly suits his demeanor. I hope to continue with this style as it suits me too. I worry only about it's commercial appeal right now. I don't have a thirty year career of shooting like this and at first glance, it isn't exactly Vanity Fair material. Of course, Vanity Fair hasn't perked up for my existing stuff either so who knows.

Man, I feel like these blog entries are getting long-winded. Sorry about that.

Take pictures differently.

February 14, 2005

Siem Riep Night

So one of the things I worked on for the VII workshop was a little story about Siem Riep at night. I hadn't intended to shoot this stuff. I had heard about some of the nocturnal activities of the place and decided to go see some of it myself. I have a little experience shooting at night so it wasn't totally out of my domain. I was surprised how this rather little town has such an obvious dark side. From glue sniffing children and transvestite prostitutes to the standard drunken backpackers. Right off the bat I found a backpacker bar called Angkor What? that had the distinctive smell of places I've made lots of similar photos. This photo is of some folks drinking Mekong whiskey and Red Bull from buckets. Five bucks, straws included.

I soon tired of the backpacker scene and wanted to see some Cambodian nightlife. It was Chinese New Year so there were parties to be had. I walked down a dirt road to a Disco/Massage Parlor. This is the first photo I made as I walked into the thumping dance hall. It's a guy who I later learned runs a few souvenir shops. No doubt that is a lucrative business in a place that saw a million visitors last year and is projected to double that shortly. Thinking I'd covered the scene I went home.

Despite some fatigue I went out the following night. I needed more establishing shots for my assignment and it didn't seem like it would be a long one. I ended up across the street from Angkor What? with a bunch of kids who before long had my camera and were climbing all over me. It seemed innocent enough until another group of kids arose from their sleep among us. They held in their hands plastic bags and I knew I was in for a different set of imagemaking. These were kids addicted to glue sniffing and they use the bags to facilitate their high. Ironically, earlier in the night all workshop attendees had seen dozens of James Nachtwey's images of similar addicts in Jakarta. Now here I was with the same subject right in front of me. It's a tragic thing to watch young kids destroy their lives.

After some time with those kids, I was ready to continue exploring. What was going to be a quick night had turned into a test of endurance. I headed over to a bar that I had seen earlier. It's a bar but really it's just a pickup joint for prostitutes. When I arrived it was closed. I knew it was late now! Outside was one lone woman who asked me if I wanted to "boom boom" but I said I just wanted to make her portrait. She was not 100% with me but didn't object to my shooting her though she didn't think my lens made for a very flattering portrait. She's probably right but then I wasn't exactly in Streetstudio mode. Two tuk-tuk drivers watching the whole thing were pleasantly amused and I was increasing amazed at the nocturnal scene of Siem Riep.

From where I'd been sitting I could see the lights of another bar down the street and I headed that way. It was another backpacker bar. I was well received by a bunch of folks who'd clearly been whooping it up most of the night. Within seconds I was getting my middle fingernail painted and engaging in the standard backpacker pleasantries of "where are you from?" and "how long have you been here?" It was a group at the end of their night and this photo starts to get at that. Nothing controversial, just representative.

I scooted back to Angkor What? and the glue sniffing kids to make this last photo of a few of them sleeping. It's in the details that this picture really works and the small version is a little limiting. There are four kids in that pink "sheet." It was completely dark. I could make out that it was sleeping kids but nothing more. I just lifted my camera over them and let the camera and flash do their thing. It was a sad end to my night of nighttime photography. Soon enough, a moto-bike driver was taking me back to my hotel but not before I declined his invitation to take me for a "massage boom boom."

Siem Riep is clearly a 24 hour town but those early hours aren't the ones in postcards. In one night I'd been to a fine french dinner, drank chinese stout with a bunch of guys on the sidewalk who didn't speak any english, been pissed on by a baby girl that lived on the street with her mother, crawled on by kids, let a glue-addict make a self portrait with my camera, advised new arrivals of temple logistics, chit-chatted with a transvestite prostitute, had my middle finger painted and this was a quiet night. The next day, James Nachtwey saw me come in for a review of my work and he jokingly yelled from across the room, "where did Clay find himself last night?" Little did he know.

Take pictures at night.

February 13, 2005

Ankor Wat (mundane)

One of the things that hits you when you arrive in Siem Riep. the main town for access to the Angkor Complex, is the hotel business is booming and that place is rapid transition from sleepy city to bustling tourists mecca. I called it the Vegas of the East. Not in the sense of gambling but in the way it is being built around the visitor experience. I knew this would be something to explore photographically during for my seminar. I am always sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of modernity and culture clash so it wasn't a big stretch. What was a surprise was the response to my mundane diptychs. Who'd have thought a bunch of war photographers would get such a kick out of these things.

I was didn't really think of these as photojournalistic works. It has been my "commercial" work. The stuff I made with a little more advertising savvy and cleverness rather than hard hitting or serious. It is a formal exercise that I started out of boredom working 9 to 5 and being surrounded by the mundane details of the corporate landscape. Now I was trying to make them speak to a larger issue. The tourist onslaught and the contrasts of Angkor History and Modern SIem Riep.

What a thrill it was to share my early sets with my teachers and hear their positive responses. To be impressing the likes of Gary Knight and James Nachtwey is something I never imagined doing. "This guy is smart," said Alexandra Boulat as she chuckled. I thought, Holy Cow! Maybe I have something here. The problem of course is they are a pain in the ass to make. They process is as much a part of taking the pictures as it is, assembling the pairs. It is, if you will, the latent image of the digital era.

The week was such an indulgence of photography. I experimented with new stlyes, I shot with my Streetstudio three times, I shot mundane stuff all the time, I broke out my flash and shot until 4AM two nights in a row. I slept little, shot more and loved every minute. By the end of the week I perfectly burned out but my assignment was complete. So that's that. I'll share the night stuff tomorrow or the next day and some experiments after that.

Take pictures.

February 12, 2005

Seminar Over, Travel Resumes.

The VII Workshop ended last night with the sharing of work. I will post mine shortly. Work back home remains elusive so I will remain in Siem RIep for a few days more before figuring out my next steps. Stay tuned. Pictures will be up shortly.

By the way, James Nachtwey, one of my teachers this past week just won World Press Photo's first prize for contemporary issues photography with this image.

Take pictures, win prizes.

February 08, 2005

Streetstudio Siem Riep

It's not actually Siem Riep. It's a small village within the larger Ankor Wat temples. It's the only one within the grounds of the protected area. I broke out the studio to make a few portraits with one of my seminar colleagues who wanted a little practice approaching strangers. What better way is there than with the streetstudio? The Cambodians are sky but friendly bunch and this little village was ripe with great subjects. The woman were the hardest to convince and as usual, the kids were always ready.

I went black and white with these just for the heck of it. I am playing with lots of styles while I'm here and just swimming in photographic exploration. It's been fun. The heat of mid-day affords some down time so that's when I did these. It's not exactly photojournalism and that's what I'm supposed to be exploring here. So far so good on that front.

I haven't much to write as I am less into it with all the other concerns at present. On a personal note, I may have to return early for some potential work so this blog will stop being a travelogue soon. Sorry to those traveling with me vicariously. Such is the life of a freelancer. Cross your fingers the work comes through. Travel isn't exactly a good way to genereate revenue.

Take pictures.

February 07, 2005

Angkor Wat

I am attending the seminar right now. Stay tuned. I'm not bogging much this week.

Take pictures.

February 06, 2005

Mundane Vietnam

Upon arriving in Halong Bay, I was struck with the emptiness of the hotelscape. I wandered the "town" around my hotel. I went from one hotel to another but didn't see the hordes I'd gotten accustomed to in Hanoi. Where were all the tourists for these hotels? Certainly all the hotels existing and under construction were "not for nothing." It was time to shoot some mundane photos.

The hardest thing about these shots is finding a pair. When I'm licky, they fall into place without much trouble. Some of these did, others were more difficult to match up. I think my favorite is the one of my Dinner and my hotel room art. It's classic mundane. I had fried rice too. It came after the fries...my kind of two course meal.

Simmilar to the textures, once on the lookout for mundanity, it pops up everywhere. That said, it's hard to really get it right and out-takes abound. I've tried to share the strongest ones here. My process begins with making the photo. I know it's going to be a square so framing is important. I am attracted to the symmetry, colors, simplicity and sometimes the absurdity of the subject. They're representative of a place but that's somewhat muted. It's fun to know this is Vietnam but it's not the one represented in the brochures or in-flight magazine. Anyone who has been to Vietnam knows why there are Pringles in this one. For me, they stand out as a strange glimpse of food from home and are available everywhere the tourists trek.

I then build a big photoshop file and mix and match individual photos if their isn't some obvious or preconceived match. To get these 5 pieces, I must have a 50 layer photoshop file. I probably have another 4 that I'm just not showing and some that are really cool squares on their own but I can't find a pair yet. I shoot full frame mundane shots too but I have never really done much with those. They are more like boring postcards. Maybe some day they'll see the light of the web.

Joel Sternfeld would love today's Vietnam. It keeps presenting these strange landscapes with a certain emptiness and symmetry then dots it with people engaged in their day. It feels like a set. While chaotic at times, there seems to always be room to breath visually. I can't put my finger on it. It's partly the brick and cement building style, the utilitarian nature of those structures and the odd feeling that it's all going to vanish the same way America's 1960s new suburbia has just become sprawl. Don't get me wrong, I like it. It's lovely and comfortable. It's just odd.

Vietnam is on the verge of something. It's young and eager. Can that show up in a landscape?

Take pictures.

February 05, 2005

Halong Bay

I'm shooting more than I can post. Either I start posting two a day or just return to some things later. Part of the problem is writing enough to go with the pictures. I need to find a simple way just to post the photos without having to write around them. As my friend Joe says, I need to keep my blog tight.

So today I left Hanoi for Halong Bay. It was lightly drizzling most of the trip. I had a good seat in a small bus that made one stop before arriving at my destination. At that stop I got out to walk around a bit with my cameras. Immediately, I was a sensation. A bunch of guys waved me over to them. (The hand gesture for "come here" is different than in the States. Here they use what looks like a floppy goodbye motion. It's not the first time I've seen it, but I always get a kick out of it. Everyone looks like they are saying goodbye to me even though they want the complete opposite). I approached them with a smile but they didn't seem to want anything. We couldn't exactly hold a conversation. After a few minutes of similar interactions with a group of squatting women and some folks in the middle of the street I returned to the original group of men. This time they wanted to see my photos. They had been watching me the whole time and laughing as I stumbled about from group to group. I shot these four shots in rapid succession. It's about a 270 degree panorama made while pivoting on one foot. Some browsers do a crap job with wide images. Download the big image from Flikr so you can scroll back and forth. It's more fun that way. Personal space issues are clearly different in Vietnam. Also, the exposure is a little under. If you are have a bad PC monitor, the shadow detail will be lost. Sorry.

Halong Bay is one of those places I think I first saw in James Bond film. It's a series of over a thousand limestone mountains rising from the Gulf of Tonkin and is only accessible by boat. Lucky for me, getting off the bus I was met by a tout who proceeded to sell me a huge hotel room for five bucks and a private boat trip for eighteen. Off we went. This is the shot out one of the windows of the boat. See? Pretty.

This is a well trafficked tourist destination but having my own boat made for a rather luxurious and personal experience. The weather could have been better for sightseeing but I wasn't complaining. From time to time, these little boats scoot up along side you to sell stuff. While it looks like this young girl is asking me to buy one banana, she is, in fact, asking me for a dollar to take her picture. No doubt the littlest one in the boat is going to learn that trick fast. I gave her 5,000 dong over the objections of the captain who wanted me to give her 2,000. It's 15,000 dong to the dollar.

I can't decide if this shot is better in color or black and white. I like all the muted colors and how they work together but the simplicity and directness of the girl's gesture is made more striking by the black and white. I am posting them both just so you can see my dilemma. Every once in while I run into this. The basic rule I use is, color has to be part of the story. It has to play a role beyond simply descriptive information. It has to be part of the decision making, right up there with composition.

Heading back to port, I hopped up on the roof when I noticed the Vietnamese flag fluttering about. It was a gorgeous red against the gray skies and pales blues and greens of limestone and water. I may have dodged the flag a little too much in the "darkroom" but you get the idea. I'm on an old mac laptop that isn't exactly a precision Photoshop environment. Tomorrow I'm posting some mundane images from the little town of Halong Bay or wherever I am. It's more like empty hotelville.

Take pictures sightseeing.