Still Life in Virginia

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.

India | Outtakes from Kerala

This is how it usually happens in India. I get sent there on an assignment and I stack a few extra days on either end to explore a bit more of the countryside. I take thousands of photographs and dig myself into corners and poke my nose where it does and doesn’t belong, and in the end the magazine publishes around 10-15 final pictures and I’m left with more outtakes than I know what to do with. Photographs that I love, that I remember taking, that bring back very real and visceral experiences for me. The smell of a curry and the way a light flared down a side alley. A cat jumping from crate to crate at the fishing docks. A rickety river bridge and a boy floating in the water below. Sweet street side masala chai. A talkative guesthouse owner. A barber. A painter. A sweets shop employee.

Oftentimes the outtakes become my favorites. They’re the more memorable photographs, the imperfect ones, the ones that didn’t quite fit into the original story’s narrative arc. They become the underdogs. They’re simple images of meals and streets and people I’ve met along the way. They’re inconsequential and they’re numerous and they’re the reason I take on these assignments, knowing I’ll come home with stacks of treasures and memories. So here are some treasures and memories from the state of Kerala in southern India. One of the softer and more accessible points in the country, but no less magical for it.

Sri Lanka | Finding Eelam

The landscape burns out and flattens the farther north you travel. The rolling hills of lower tea country turn to shallow wetlands and the ancient cities crumble into nothingness as the train travels on its long slow route out and away from Colombo. The sun shines golden and harsh. The trees are a pale green.

On the Jaffna Peninsula the light refracts off the dusty streets and shallow blue waters, scattering and illuminating. It’s a strange land, far removed from the more touristed corners of Sri Lanka. The civil war that raged between the military and the Tamil Tigers for over 25 years decimated the economy and the population and the countrysides and for decades Jaffna was little more than the forgotten homeland of the few. Buildings crumbled. Time passed. Life found its way.

This trip was little more than a research mission wedged between a vacation in tea country and a job in southern India. I wanted to see what the landscape looked like 10 years after the end of the war. Earlier, our train ride to Ella was packed with backpackers with little room to stand or sit. The ride to Jaffna was comparatively empty and had no more than a handful of westerners on board at any given time. It felt like traveling to the edge of the known world. In a way it was.

I saw the fabled Elephant Pass and Hindu temples built on the sandy shores of small islands, their caretakers stewing lentils in large pots as the waves crashed behind them. I met worshippers at Nallur Kandaswamy temple, fishermen steering their boats home in Palk Bay. Musicians and families and friendly old men in Point Pedro. Shopkeepers and cricket players in the town center. Lovers and soldiers haunting the more shadowed corners of the fort. The ocean-fed waters of Keerimalai Springs.

The whole of the Jaffna Peninsula is a magical place. Still recovering from a generation of carnage, but like all places that have seen terrible years and terrible rulers and terrible saviors, the air there is of optimism and peace, not of war’s wreckage and exhaustion. It’s a flat and sunburnt land and its golden and harsh light does shine brightest. Thus.

In the Hills of Sri Lanka

From the verdant hillsides and rolling tea plantations of Ella and beyond to the temples and lakes and busy streets of Kandy, there isn’t much about this part of Sri Lanka that hasn’t been written about before. I was lucky enough to have some time for a quick stopover earlier this year on my way to an assignment in southern India. These tourist trails are well-worn and at times a bit worse for wear, but the overall sensation of being in the mountains is still overwhelmingly positive. The air is cooler in tea country and the sun just a bit more golden in the early hours when it crests over the distant horizon. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the 8-10 hour standing room only train ride up from Colombo.

This isn’t much of a narrative post. There are plenty of other blogs that can tell you about how to travel in Kandy and Sri Lanka. It’s an incredible country, but one that defies easy description, even in its most innocuous and traveler friendly form. So in lieu of any grand statements or ponderous observations, I’ll leave you few viewers with a few photographs from the trip. The world is a beautiful place, and I’ve always had an easier time of showing than describing it.

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.