It’s always a nice surprise to be surprised by a place. Which happened for me on a recent trip to China. I was on assignment in Dali City, in western Yunnan province, and I was staying with a friend of a friend, in a small hamlet surrounded by farmlands about 15km outside of the old town. Everything about it just seemed to click into place: the location, the pace of life, and the solitude. The narrow lanes were empty most of the day. There were no English signs in sight. And at times it seemed as if dairy cows outnumbered actual residents. These are three quick shots from the neighborhood. From a nice morning stroll.
A few weeks back I traveled to Son La Province in the northwestern mountains of Vietnam to work with an NGO, the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, taking photographs of amputees and children born with clubfoot, and showing the care and services they were being provided with. It was a four-day assignment that consisted mostly of driving. My iPod died on the first day.
I spent a lot of time taking pictures through windows, because I was bored from the long hours in the car and because I wanted to capture a sense of the place, to show the remoteness and isolation where these patients lived. Most of the families I met lived in areas that would conservatively be considered “off the grid”. Like two and a half hours from the nearest highway on small lanes that were half washed away from the previous day’s rain. There were times we’d need to give up the drive completely and continue on foot, or hire passing motorbikes to take us the rest of the way.
There were no addresses or street names or anything like that. We would pull over and ask people if they knew who we were looking for, and if they could point us in the right direction. We’d do this until our circle got smaller and smaller, finally honing in on a single house. Most of the villages had names, but no names that you or I have ever heard of before. Poor backwaters surrounded by rice fields and dirt paths. Everyone was a farmer. The more well-off owned pigs or chickens or goats. Every now and then some cattle.
For me, that seclusion and the inherent obstacles in overcoming such rugged distances were an important part of the story. So I tried to show a bit of that here. This is a long and meandering edit, but I wanted to see all of the images together to figure out what kind of coherence they held. I’m trying for broad strokes, to show not only people, but their relationships with their environments as well. That mirroring and reflection.