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.
Some serene scenes from across the United States along Interstate 80, following road cuts and rocks scars, old pioneer trails. Various American migrations. Some ups and downs. All in all the project is still percolating, incomplete. There’s a lot to say and a lot of time to say it, but I’m just putting a few images down for now, seeing what they look like. Starved Rock, Winterset, the Old Lincoln Highway, Land’s End, the Great Salt Lake, Snake River, and more. My thoughts are a chaotic deluge at the moment, an entangled beginning. More later.
The days are stretched and sagging at all ends. I get up in the mornings and try to write, exercise, read something, check the news. Normal routines that feel like anchors in a shiftless sea. I listen to podcasts, watch shadows crawl across the morning floor, walk for miles in the same three directions. I procrastinate, make the same excuses I made when I was busier. I call and text with friends. I watch television and play video games and draw in small notebooks. I have a palette of watercolors I haven’t touched in over a month. It’s an elastic era. It’s hard finding motivation when every day is the same blank slate over and over again.
We venture out and see the few friends we can, when we can. We make little road trips up and down the east coast, scurrying between places of safety, never unaware of our surroundings. But mostly it’s nothing. It’s exhausting work, doing nothing. I’ve picked up my camera a handful of times. I’m using this time to think, I tell myself, to absorb and process and find new ways of seeing: a spiderweb filled with leaves, virescent lawns, ornate mailboxes, shimmering reflections on still water. The woods.
I’ve been in Virginia for nearly two months, and will likely be here until July, at least. It’s not all bad at all. I’m remembering a lot of things I’d forgotten over the years, finding peace and solace in small moments, letting the days stretch and sag, riding them out with deep, even breaths.
A collection of Polaroids from the past several months of travels and assignments. Street scenes, small details, car windows, cityscapes, and more. From New York and San Francisco to Osaka and Saigon, and a few places in between. Simple and casual.