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 been trying to keep a camera on me most days these days. Usually a small compact or something that fits snugly over my shoulder without adding too much weight or occupying too much thought while I’m out and about. More of a simple exercise in simply seeing the world. I’ve been trying to capture more movement, to see my surroundings more as a cinematographer might. Reading more film theory and editing concepts and trying to apply that to stills and street scenes from daily life. Studying rigid forms in an attempt to be a bit looser I guess, mostly with the belief that art is a kind of struggle in contrasts. Blah blah blah. So anyway, here are a few photographs from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Hong Kong. All shot on black & white film since the break of 2017.
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.
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.