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.
I’ve spent more time recently moving back to films in a continued effort to slow down and consider what I’m doing instead of just spraying thousands of frames and editing to get the best of the bunch. I don’t post as much as I used to because I haven’t been shooting outside of assignments for a while now. But I’m slowly getting back there, and it’s a nice path. I’m just trying to figure out how to navigate it in my own way. Without guideposts or hashtags. Digging into the crevices. Finding what’s left of what used to be a very tactile medium. Here are a few Polaroids from a recent fashion shoot with Sula Clothing in the UK just outside of Brighton. The sun was warm and the barley fields were swaying lovingly in the wind. The clothes were gorgeous and the model was amazing and for a few days there everything was right with the world.
Just a few quick Polaroids from a motorbike trip into the mountains of northern Vietnam near Pu Luong national park, a few hours southwest of Hanoi. A simple, soul-affirming kind of drive along small dirt roads and over rickety bridges and chaotic highways. It was a wonderful way to end over a month of assignments that took me across Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. More to come once my film gets developed. So for now.
A lot of expats and travelers in Southeast Asia like to rag on Singapore. They say it’s too clean, too orderly. It’s boring and polite and polished. Nothing but soft edges. But I’ve always thought criticisms like that said more about the person than the place. Singapore–like everywhere else in the world–is largely what you make of it. It’s a complex and complicated place, capable of being just about anything.
Little India on a Sunday is chaotic and wonderful, with energy pulsating through the crowded streets. Chinatown fills up with old men playing chess and gossiping as they sit idly about. Hawker centers dish out world class cuisine day and night. Locals and tourists alike browse through the Gardens by the Bay and the old colonial promenades downtown, and at night restaurants, cocktail bars, speakeasies, and clubs all come alive until the early hours.
I’ve been back and forth to Singapore several times this year, and I haven’t once had to repeat a single night out. There’s always somewhere new to go, some place new to try. Something newly opened, etc. So don’t be so quick to judge–it’s one hell of a place. Here are some outtakes from a recent travel assignment. People, places, and things. And some of the best food I’ve had in recent memory.