Listen: I’ve been taking long walks through the city to try and rid myself of the doldrums and bad thoughts that too much time indoors can inspire. I’ve taken to taking my digital camera and a single 135mm lens along with me.
I began to wonder if I could find the essence of Bangkok in its details. If all of the small things could add up to one magisterial whole. It’s a work in progress that may never progress past what it is at the moment–a good reason to go outside and walk and try to see things a bit differently, to notice again all of the small and large scenes that often pass by unseen. But I’m enjoying it, counting steps and pointing my camera at so many clichés, occasionally finding something unique and worthwhile.
This summer I took a number of road trips across the continental United States. I drove over 20,000 miles mostly along Interstate-80 and on various highways and dirt roads that branch off and away from it. I followed the old Lincoln Highway and pieces of the Oregon and Mormon trails. I followed the settlements that followed the mountains and game trails and most other migrations. East to west. I shot 150 rolls of film and developed them along the way in campsites and cheap motels. It was a wonderful experience and one that I was lucky to have.
These are some of the photographs I took along the way. I only brought black & white film with me, so it was nice to also have a digital camera for those small moments I wanted to preserve. An old Amish homestead in Wyoming. Carhenge, Nebraska. The carvings at Worden’s Ledges. The Great Salt Lake and the Canyonlands of Utah. Vast expanses of deserts and plains. The grandness and diversity and beauty of the land is hard to overstate, in all of its natural and manmade forms. I just wanted to share a few of these scenes. They aren’t meant to be precious or profound, but they’re still well worth hitting the road for.
I barely recognized my apartment when I walked through the door three days ago. It felt more like walking into an old memory jogged loose. I was away for nearly 8 months, and being back is a bit jarring. Even after two weeks in state quarantine, it feels like I’m being eased into an older, forgotten life. And I’m still getting used to it.
I spent the better part of this year living an alternate reality and I’m still trying to remember everything I forgot about this one. There are books on my shelves I don’t remember buying. My refrigerator feels smaller. I can’t find things in the kitchen. Are these even my bedsheets? Where did I put all my Polaroids? There’s dust on the tabletops and even my hardiest succulents have given up their ghosts. I imagine some archeological digs are less confusing.
That being said, it’s nice to be back in Bangkok. It’s one small step toward normalcy, regardless of where the next steps may lead. I’m still gathering most of my thoughts, but I wanted to post something about being home. Or home-ish. It’s harder to tell these days.
These photographs were all taken before I left at the start of this year. But they feel a lot older than that now. Time capsules. Old memories jogged loose. So it goes.
Earlier this year, I traveled to the little-known province of Buriram, in northeastern Thailand. It’s a quiet, rural region residing on the Khorat Plateau–largely featureless and dusty, with cool morning air and a sun that sets golden and warm each evening. A thousand years ago, Buriram was the far reach of the Khmer empire, and several well-kept ruins–including Phanom Rung, on the edge of an extinct volcano–serve as reminders of its rich past.
We were there on a magazine assignment that fell dead in the water once the pandemic hit, though we had no way of knowing it at the time. We spent a week hovering around the main town and the Cambodian border, where most of the ruins are located. It was tough to photograph, and I imagine even tougher to write about, because it’s a place where nothing really happens. A few golden buddhas. An occasional monk in the forest. Lots of gold-flecked statues. A night market that felt sleepy by 8pm.
That isn’t to say it was unlovely. It may be the only place in the world where you can stroll through the preserved, sprawling ruins of an ancient empire utterly alone. We explored forest temples and countless crisscrossing streets in the town proper. We never found much, but in hindsight, maybe that was never the point. It was a strange and prescient place to be just before the world inverted itself.
I like to think it’s alone in being largely unchanged in the world, but I’m sure that’s not entirely true. The pandemic has touched everyone and everywhere, even the remote corners of the world where places like Buriram thrive. Things I found boring at the time are turning more beautiful, and Buriram stands as testament to a way of thinking I should return to. It was an intimate and privileged glimpse into a place not many people will get to see for a long while longer. Maybe it wasn’t much, but it was generous in its way. It just took me a while to see it.
It’s not a leap to call this a strange year, and one that I’ve been largely absent from. I spent the majority of 2020 in the United States, far from my current home in Thailand, simultaneously feeling anxious about the world and rediscovering a lot of what I love in it.
It’s been hard knowing exactly what to say and post over the past few years, and so this blog has been pretty dormant. As traffic moved to other platforms, I got lazy about posting here. But I’ve always enjoyed this space, this format. I can see my images in different ways and forcing myself to write is great mental exercise. I haven’t been doing it enough and I feel worse for it, less imaginative.
So I’m trying to figure out what I want this to be again. With a smaller audience, it feels more freeing, more personal. I’m still not entirely sure what will come of things, but I’ll try to post more regularly and find some kind of voice again. Some new direction, or just a branch off the old one.
These images are taken from my journals and sketchbooks, where a lot of my photographs find second lives. I’ll talk more about those in another post, but I don’t want to make this one too long-winded or meandering. So for now.