Vietnam | Remembering My Lai

The river wound through the outskirts of the town flanked by tall trees and small homes. Women pushed bicycles over a bamboo bridge and boats ferried families and goods across its banks. Further along, farmers worked their rice paddies as children watched over grazing water buffalo. Mountains rose in the distance. The sea bordered to the east. This was My Lai.

It had been a long drive from Danang. When we arrived, we grabbed sandwiches from a nearby cart and walked along the dirt paths that crossed through the farmlands. The same dirt paths American soldiers walked when they landed here 50 years ago and made their way through the villages killing innocent men, women, and children in what became one of the most brutal and senseless massacres of the Vietnam-American War.



Some of the trees still wore the scars, the grim carvings of American bullets. The Memorial Museum was built on the site of the massacre and the burned foundations of homes stood as testaments to the horrors of war. But things had also moved on. Restaurants lined the nearby waterfront and men drove the boulevard with karaoke machines balanced on their bikes, stopping for customers to serenade fellow diners. The seafood was bountiful and you could sit on a small plastic stool and drink beer and eat like royalty every night.

We were in My Lai doing a story on the survivors of the massacre. Those who lived through March 16, 1968. An estimated 504 people were killed that day and graves and memorials dotted the landscape, rising out of the rice fields. Most of the roads off the main highway were still dirt and gravel. Power lines cut through the paddies. There were gardens and shops and teenagers and large trucks transporting goods up and down the coast and if you didn’t know any better you’d never know a war was fought there. That people died there. Were killed there.




Five hundred and four people. Shot, stabbed, and raped. Beaten. Gutted. Massacred. The American soldiers had spent weeks being haunted by ghosts in the jungles and when they found living flesh they were frightened and they reacted and they reacted poorly.

Do Tan Thanh lost his eye and arm and most of his leg. When he was brought to the hospital they assumed he wouldn’t last through the night. Tran Nam, just a young boy at the time, lost his family. Truong Thi Le held her daughter and watched her die in her arms. Pham Thanh Cong took a bullet to the side of his head and lived. Pham Thi Thuan and her daughter Nguyen Thi Lien survived together after being buried with dead bodies as they fell into a ditch. Pham Dat and Ha Thi Qui and Nguyen Hong Man also made it through, somehow. By luck or strength or accident. They all carried memories of gunfire and chaos and darkness, of helicopter blades cutting through the morning sky.

And they all invited us into their homes and offered us tea and sat with us and shared their stories. And in the grief there was no ill will, just a desire for the world to learn from its past mistakes, for history not to repeat itself. As unlikely as that ever seems to be. Anger would have been understandable, but tenderness was heartbreaking. So for several days we listened, broken.


In the end we moved on as well, like so many old memories. We collected their stories and promised to tell them as plainly and truthfully as we could. Though everything will forever fall short of what they deserve. We build our narratives on these small condolences because these narratives are our best weapons against the past. And we scratch these stories onto pages and release them into the world in the desperate hope that they’ll have a fraction of the gravity the 504 names scratched in marble in the My Lai Memorial Museum have.




Back in town the lights were coming on along the riverfront. Women waved us into their restaurants and young couples sang Vietnamese love songs out of busted speakers on the backs of motorbikes. A small market sprung up. The air was alive with neon and possibility. As we dined a group of men came over with rice wine and small tea cups. They were celebrating. They poured shots and in their best English asked where we were from. When we answered America they smiled and said, “America!” and lifted their glasses high and drank deep.

You can read Shaun Raviv’s wonderful and moving story for Smithsonian Magazine HERE.

Hardcore Rehab at Tham Krabok Temple

penthouse-australia-bangkok-monks-1
penthouse-australia-bangkok-monks-2
penthouse-australia-bangkok-monks-3

Rehab is murky and sweaty and crowded with strange smelling men and chanting monks and stray dogs and everyone is drinking foul liquid to make themselves vomit at least once a day… Or at least that’s how it is at Tham Krabok temple, a few hours outside of Bangkok, Thailand. Known for a bit of a take-no-prisoners approach to cleaning up, the temple has been brewing up a secret concoction for detoxing via the purifying beauty of, well, throwing your guts up. The patients imbibe the foul, swamp colored liquid and then heave noisily into buckets and drains for the during of their stay. Ideally, they leave Tham Krabok changed in mind and body and free from the bondage of illicit substances. Apparently it works. And work brings freedom. Here are some tearsheets from a story I photographed at the prison. The writer recounts things with much more elegance, so alas. For now, we’ll have to do with a few pretty pictures of grown men puking.

Website Updates

A boat ride on a river in Hanoi, Vietnam.

I just finished an enormous overhaul to my photography portfolio site. Updated galleries, new images, better toning, and a more comprehensive overview of my work in general. Or at least I think so. I’m still tweaking it a little, but I like it. There are a lot of new tearsheets from recent assignments, and a new documentary section on Vietnam in modern times. Check it out if you have a minute.

Laos | On the Road with PATH

PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 01

A few weeks back, I was in Laos covering a Japanese Encephalitis vaccination campaign with Seattle-based NGO PATH. We were working out of Xiangkhouang Province, near the historic Plain of Jars, as well as in the capital of Vientiane. Basically seeking out human interest stories amidst the vaccination effort, trying to find families who had been affected, nurses who had cared for patients, etc. We ended up with some truly heartbreaking case studies, and met two families in particular who had been devastated by the disease.

The photos here are a glimpse into the trip, from the towns we passed through to the people we met and the vaccination efforts and more. It was an eye-opening journey, and one that I won’t soon forget. Hopefully the work we were able to do will further hinder the spread of the virus, and make the country that much safer. For more information on the campaign, check out this post: Vaccines in Laos.

PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 02
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 03
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 04
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 05
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 06
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 07
An early morning market in Khon Kahndone Village, Xieng Khouang province, Laos.
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 09
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 10
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 11
PATH NGO Phonsavan Laos 12
Pha That Luang stupa in Vientiane, Laos.

One Photograph | Cutud, Philippines

Good Friday

Blood soaks through the white jeans of a devotee walking the streets of Pampanga province in the Philippines as he whips his back with bamboo splinters in the heat of the midday sun to atone for sins real or imagined during Holy Week. So it goes.