Travels in Japan

I’m starting this year slowly, considering things a bit more. It’s a nice place to be in life, being able to pause like this. Next month things will get hectic again, but for now there’s a kind of calm. And I’ve learned to embrace that when it comes along. To that end, I bridged 2017/2018 with a trip to Japan and limited myself to shooting one roll of film per day. Twelve frames out of my old Rolleiflex camera. It was meant to slow me down and make me look at what I was photographing a bit more.

We spent Christmas day in Kyoto after a few nights in Osaka, walking through crowded streets and markets and temples and bamboo groves in the early mornings before the crowds descended. Then a few days in Kurashiki where we saw a young baseball team practicing drills and exercises at a temple in the town center. Onto the strange suburban sprawl of Nagahama and finally into Tokyo for New Year’s Eve in a small bar with an amiable bartender singing songs and pouring whiskies. There were other places and moments as there always are, but I’m going to keep this nice and simple and leave off with some selects from those film rolls. I missed more frames than I caught, but I guess that’s always the way. Alas.

Ten Years On

Fair warning, this is going to be a long one. A kind of purge. A meandering document of nothing in particular, of everything in general. Of the past 10 years of work and life and some incidental happenings along the way. Plus way too many photographs.

I arrived in Vietnam 10 years ago. In that time, I’ve been a sub-editor at a State-run newspaper, an intrepid (and incredibly unqualified) television host for a local travel show, an Art Director for an ailing luxury lifestyle magazine, a property-related photo retoucher kind of guy who—you know, I actually had no idea what I was doing on that one—and a Photo Editor for a city publication. I’ve also been a freelance photographer for a large portion of those years. Full-time since about 2011. It feels like forever, but in reality it’s barely the blink of an eye.

In all that time, I’ve grown older. I have more grey hairs now, more laugh lines. Sometimes my back hurts. I’ve seen myself change, for better and worse. I’ve lugged film and large-format cameras across continents. I’ve broken cameras and lenses. Dropped things. I’ve lost hard drives and once threw a binder of negatives into an abandoned well in a fit of sadness, rage. I’ve made an incredible amount of friends along the way. I’ve also hurt and lost people. I’ve attended weddings and funerals, though thankfully mostly the former.

Over the years, my work has taken me across the world. Fashion shoots on the rolling windswept plains of southern Scotland and in the glittering bazaars and spice markets of Kochi, India. Portraits of artists, activists, and everyday men and women. The death and mourning of Rama IX in Bangkok. The dog meat trade in northern Thailand. Travelogues in Laos and Cambodia and along the Red River in Vietnam. Urban farmers. Agent Orange victims. Traditional medicine. Transgender women and war survivors. I’ve spent time in leper colonies in Shan State and with inmates in Klong Prem prison. I’ve hunted sea urchin in Hokkaido and climbed volcanoes in the Philippines. I’ve crossed the steppes of Mongolia on horseback. I’ve seen mountains on top of mountains in Ha Giang province. I have been—and try to remain—in love with this world and the people in it.

In short and in retrospect, I’ve done more with my life than I ever imagined I would or could, and I’ve set a bar to surpass over the next 10 years. Going through a decade’s worth of photographs for this post, I tried to include a little bit of everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Selects and outtakes and others that I’d long since forgotten about. Some never seen before, some thrown out and resurrected. Hundreds of images amongst hundreds of thousands, most of which only exist in digital graveyards or in my archives at this point. There’s no rhyme or reason here, no timeline. No delineation between travel, fashion, commercial, journalism, or personal work. I wanted everything to coexist, to see what threads emerged. I wanted to look for consistency, not growth. And I wanted to have all of the pieces of this complicated fabric laid out, so I could more readily see where I need to go from here.

As we turn more to our phones and computers and digital cameras, as we snap and tweet and post and like and comment, as we get lost in countless apps and group chats, as we look down more than up and around, and as we become more connected and more inundated and more confused than ever before, I want to take a step back. Consider my images more. I want my photography to feel tactile. There. An intimate part of something much larger. I want it to inspire awe and wonder and empathy. I want it to show our current world, but also evoke the past. I want it to be free from the confines of tradition and journalism. I want it to be ugly and relevant. I want it to be different, which is maybe the most difficult thing. And so with that, here are hundreds of wonderfully imperfect pictures, and here’s to another decade. And here’s to you.

New York Interlude

Travels in Chiang Mai

A few months back, I traveled to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to work on a story about betterment and meditation and health for Lufthansa Magazin. I spent three days walking the old town, visiting temples and eating delicious food and meeting a large cast of characters–both teachers and students–responsible for giving the town its new claim to fame as a healthy, hip, nomadic travel destination.

From Muay Thai to meditation, from massage to manic displays of freeform dancing, I tried to document as much of this alternative travel culture as possible. Vegan restaurants, energy harnessing workshops, and transcendental meditation classes were everywhere it seemed. Yoga retreats miles and miles away from anything. Dreaded men hula-hooping on quiet streets at dawn. And it’s easy to get down on western travelers coming to Asia to find a part of themselves or to capture some kind of fleeting bliss in a holy house on a mountaintop somewhere, but there’s another part of it that’s kind of endearing and completely without cynicism.

It was a pleasure meeting all of the people I photographed for the story. They believed in what they were doing, and they believed in Chiang Mai. Whether they had grown up there, been in the region for years, or just arrived, they were passionate and thinking about the future, for themselves and for those that showed up on their doorsteps, day after day, inquiring within. And in the end, what more is there?

Bangkok | Outside the Gates of the Royal Cremation

We were all stuck along the sidewalks and roads, jammed into cafes and buses. Some fell asleep waiting. Others watched on their phones. Everything was happening a mere two blocks away, but it may as well have been miles. The royal funeral procession and cremation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej had been in its planning stages for over a year, since his death in October 2016. And with the country in mourning for just as long, I never expected the day, when it finally came, to go any differently. And so we waited together and apart for nothing really. Distant canons and a plume of smoke seen over the rooftops. Blockades and volunteers tasked with little more than saying you can’t go there or you can’t stay here. The crowds prayed and burned sandalwood flowers at temples nearby as the sun beat down and others passed out from heat exhaustion. All for a hopeful glimpse that would never really come. The procession was long and glitzy and beautiful but I didn’t see a single bit of it save for on the various screens they’d set up around the city. Which was just as well. I’ve always preferred to be on the sidelines of history. So here are some photos from the sidelines.

Things in Hong Kong

As an addendum to my Things in Japan post, here’s another small little photo essay from Hong Kong. I’ve been enjoying walking around more in the cities I travel to. I used to do nothing but walk, but I’ve lived in Asia for 10 years now and things start to normalize after a while. You lose your sense of wonder and become detached. You watch more television and instead of going and exploring, you sit in front of your computer and answer emails and worry about your income over the next three months. The small things that gave you pause now feel simple and routine. These aren’t good ways to be. So there’s always this push and pull with creativity. You’re always battling yourself and your own worst impulses. So in Hong Kong I walked. Sometimes I would end up in familiar neighborhoods, and at other times I would find myself in a completely new area of the city. I tried not to check my phone. I tried to just wander, with the thought that if I found what I was looking for, then great. If not, then great. So here are a few quick images. Simple things. I was looking at patterns and density with small glimpses of respite within. Nothing much more.

Things in Japan

There’s something satisfying about walking around a city with nowhere to go and nowhere to be, no time to adhere to. Just a small camera slung over your shoulder as you explore the nooks and crannies and alleys and get lost in the mazes of downtowns the world over. It had been a while since I’d done that. Just walked. And so while on assignment in Kansai prefecture in Japan, I did just that. I was there shooting a piece on the Northern Soul revival in Kobe, but I spent a few days in Osaka as well, rummaging through record stores and drinking in basement bars and stuffing myself full of ramen. I made it a point to go out every afternoon and just walk with my camera and take photos of all the little things I often pass without a second glance. And while none of these frames will be hanging in the Whitney, they do come together quite nicely to paint a portrait of a city and country–one that’s colorful and chaotic and calm all at once. It was nice, and made me want to go out more often. So that’s nice.

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