Diary 01 | Ways of Seeing

It’s been a strange few years. Since the start of 2020, I’ve lived in Charlottesville, Bangkok, Sydney, and New York. Three continents in as many years. Then, in March, I moved back home to New Orleans. I’ve felt uprooted and unbalanced for a while now, but things are starting to settle in. I’m starting to settle in.

I mention all of this because I think my photography has suffered for it. I’ve been preoccupied and distracted and I’ve lacked focus. I’ve been lazy as well, and I’ve used the past few years as an excuse for that laziness. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. It’s much more difficult to dig your way out of it.

So I’ve been trying to change the way I see things, to relearn some things about seeing, and to recapture some of the wonder I felt when I first picked up a camera. I’ve been photographing clichés. Reflections in puddles. Landscapes out of plane windows. Temples and riots of wires above old shophouses.

As artists, we’re often told to kill our darlings, to not fall in love with a thing because of our experience with it. But I’ve always found those platitudes disingenuous. All art is personal. Some clichés are really beautiful. Show what you love and hope that it resonates with even one person.

I didn’t set out to make these photographs anything more than what they are–a document of the past nine months. I tried to pay particular attention to things I would normally walk past. I tried to point the camera at anything even remotely interesting. I tried to see in layers and to simultaneously embrace the obvious and move past it. I took a lot of bad and boring photographs. I love them all.

There’s no narrative here, no through line or connecting thread. Just a small collection of small pictures. Personal, but also maybe more than that.

Sydney Seascapes

I take a lot of walks in Sydney, mostly around the many beaches. It’s nice being in a city so close to the ocean, like living on the edge of a calming abyss. Here are some simple photographs from last weekend, nice and contemplative, around Bondi and Manly. Surfers waiting in the waves and all.

Back to Bangkok

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.

Buriram Before

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.

Sketches of the Former World

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.