I remembered the view from Mount Phou Si–the Nam Khan river and the surrounding mountains flanking the town, the quiet boulevards and temple roofs. From that vantage, Luang Prabang hadn’t changed much in the past decade. Monks still collected their alms at dawn and the night market still covered most of the main drag from dusk onwards. The waterfalls still fell. And sitting along the Mekong with a book and a fresh coconut remained the perfect way to pass an afternoon. You could still buy buffalo bile and skewered rodents and a variety of fermented fish pastes at the morning market. You could still hear the natural world and feel at peace.
I was able to return to Luang Prabang a few months back to work on a travel story about the evolution of Lao cuisine and to take a few photographs for a local textile company. I spent my time with writers, weavers, chefs, gardeners, market sellers, and cheesemakers. It reminded me of why I fell in love with the town so many years ago, this verdant Eden in the mountains of Southeast Asia. Life just feels closer to the earth. Whether it’s the musical chants of monks carrying through the night air or a local fisherman digging up river crickets for breakfast, there’s something real and authentic and a little weird about it all. And then, in the early evenings along the water, it can feel like everyone is pausing to take in the sun setting gold and reflective off the Mekong. The air is clean and strong and there’s a collective sigh and smile and it’s just a perfect way to end the day, decade after decade.
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.
From the temples of Ulawatu to the shores of Seminyak and into the mountains and rice fields of Ubud and beyond, Bali is a land of many splendors and wonder. It’s a bit of a cliche to say at this point, but it does feel like a magical place, despite the mass amounts of tourism that simultaneously give reason for and benefit from this magic. I went in not expecting to be moved by it, but I was wrong.
More than anything, Bali manages to retain a bit of mystery while being a completely open book to the casual traveler. There’s an element of history and spirituality to just about everything–archways carved from volcanic stone adorn traffic stops and temples and altars jut out from every corner on every street. The ground is littered with offerings and there’s a constant smell of incense mixed with rotting fruit. Large waves crash against wide stretches of sand in the south while to the east in Tulamben Bay you can walk directly into the water and dive to a nearby shipwreck.
Kuta and Seminyak are where the kids go to party. Jimbaran is known for its seafood and five-star beach resorts. Ubud is a land of hidden waterfalls and monkey forests and villas cloaked in overgrowth and orchids. And everywhere else feels just as unique and different as all the rest. No amount of photos would ever really do it justice, so here are just a few. Outtakes and selects from a few assignments I had while there. It took nearly a decade of living in Asia to finally arrive, but it was well worth the wait.
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.
I’ve been away from home nearly three weeks now and aside from a few days next week, I’ll be gone for another three before I can put my feet up and relax for any significant amount of time. I’ve been haunting about and working in Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. And come May I’ll be in Singapore as well. As always it seems, the blog has taken a bit of a backseat. There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline and I miss just casually posting here and I’m trying to get back to that, to make it routine again. For now though, I’ll leave you with a few simple photos from the countryside around Ubud, in Bali.
I’m trying to loosen up a bit and change things around. It’s been nearly 10 years since I moved to Asia and I find myself skipping past things these days without giving them a second glance. Things I would have stopped for years ago. Things I would have photographed. These things normalize and we change and grow and stop being amazed by what quickly becomes commonplace, even in a part of the world as inspiring and outlandish and wonderful as Southeast Asia.
These days, I’ve gotten in the habit of leaving my camera at home when I’m not working. To clear my head, or so I’m not always be seen as a photographer. Which is all well and good and necessary, but I’ve started to crave that clutter again. I miss stopping for things. I miss those random images you collect at the end of a day walking around a city. I miss going through photographs and being surprised. And so I’ve been trying to remedy that.
Street photography means different things to different people, but at its heart I’ve always thought if it as a spontaneous kind of action. Photographs of things that moved you in one way or another at some time or other in some place or another. It’s people, places, and things. Decisive moments. Random objects. The way light falls against a building or how the colors in a frame all interact together. Street photography is simple. In a way, it’s whatever you decide it is. And so I’ve been doing more street photography, which simply means I’ve been taking more photographs. Streets have often been involved.
And so here are some things from Hong Kong. I’m shooting film, because it feels more spontaneous and I like not being able to see what I’ve captured until the rolls come back from the lab. These were all taken with a Lomo LC-A and a Leica M7, two of my favorite 35mm film cameras for their simplicity of design and user friendliness. I try to have at least one of them on me at all times these days. Because I’m embracing these things again, and you never know who or what you’re going to run into.
There’s something self-aggrandizing and myth-making about year end lists. They usually mean a lot more to the author or photographer or whoever than to the audience they’re intended for. But so it goes. In the end it’s as much of a review as a showcase. I like looking back over my work, seeing what worked and what didn’t, what can be improved upon, what themes ran through, and what growth. I don’t believe in top tens or bests ofs; I’d much prefer a bludgeoning. So here are some images all taken in 2016. Probably a hundred plus. From distant shores and islands to mountains and temples and cities and everything else in between. Some work and some personal. Some that have made it into my portfolio and others that have fallen onto the cutting room floor. In no particular order. But all here now. So behold. And thank you. I don’t say that enough.