Tag Archives: Travel

Eating an elephant?

Travelling hopefully with my camera will have to wait for a while as I return from the humidity of Asia to the icy blasts of England! All good things have to come to an end and like Loi Kratong, my trip is over.

I have hundreds of images to consider. A story of human trafficking to better understand. I continue to wonder, how do I share the issue in a meaningful way? What is the purpose of the trip and my photographs?

The old saying is ‘How do you eat and elephant … one bite at a time.’ And that is what COSA is doing. And wthout a doubt, they are doing a wonderful job, but they can only nibble away at a massive problem. There is absolutely no question that a few dozen girls saved is better than none; but what of the millions of others? And we are talking about millions of people, not just young Thai girls. The UN’s International Labor Organisation estimates that worldwide about 2.5 million people are victims of trafficking and over half of these people are in Asia and the Pacific. It’s mind-boggling. They are trafficked for many purposes: labour, farming, factory work and of course, sex.

Every country in the world is affected, people are taken from or transported to almost anywhere. We don’t ‘see’ it, not through lack of compassion I’m sure, more likely through lack of knowledge. It’s hard to believe that so many people are treated as commodities to be bought, sold and disposed of.

But, as with all ‘BIG ISSUES’, there is no point being overwhelmed by the odds against effecting major change … small steps, small bites of the elephant is a start …

So back to the end of the festival … Chiang Mai was a rubbish tip for only a few hours, an army of cleaners hit the streets and things were back to normal. Grudges, sins and regrets consigned to the River Ping and a new year beckoning … and for me, elephant hors d’oeuvres to taste …

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Keeping it simple …

I find photographing people an exciting, challenging and sometimes stressful pursuit. The initial approach with a smile, camera at my side … judging the degree of openness in the potential subject and then hopefully successful capture and sharing of the image. Some laughter, a little shyness and a joyful shared moment if all goes well.

Some days I’m on a roll and find it easy, even when people decline (politely or otherwise), on other days it requires plucking up of courage and sometimes pure brass neck …

I’m getting more confident and enjoyed watching and learning from my travel companions … all of whom have their own style … each one created some wonderful images as we travelled through Northern Thailand. It was fascinating to see the different perspectives we took.

Yesterday I took a day off. My last day and I wanted to seek out inanimate, static and unresponsive objects … they couldn’t object and I needed to relax! So I wandered through the back streets of Chaing Mai looking for shapes and patterns, colours and contrasts and incongruity.

Here is my different take on Chiang Mai ….

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The elderly matter too …

Downtime back at the Baan Suu Yuk Shelter so I’m playing on my iPad. Frustrating not to have access to Lightroom and a 24″ screen, but wondering if simplicity is better? Snapseed does a pretty good job and if the photos are well taken then I shouldn’t have to process much? Right!

As well as lots of lovely children, we met many real characters on our travels. Not least of all the elderly man smoking what I believe was some form of hallucinatory drug. It certainly had an extremely pungent aroma and given the level of “chill” it induced, well I have to make some assumptions! We were at an exorcism when we met him. That is a whole other story …..

There were so many fascinating people, all with stories of hardship etched on their faces. But without exception they were patient and welcoming (stoned or otherwise!) and happy to have us record their images.

Here are some of the more memorable …

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It’s all about the kids ..

This trip has made me think even more about what’s appropriate to post when meeting and learning about other people around the world. In the UK we are all about privacy and model releases and respect for our subjects, yet somehow that seems to be thrown out the window as we travel in other countries. It’s as if everyone is fair game for the photographer. People are often treated as if they were animals in a zoo, there for the pleasure of the traveller rather than real people.

Exploring other cultures is a rich and varied experience and as I’ve said before, one you hope is rewarding for the people, you encounter as well as yourself. We have certainly tried to ensure that on this trip, requesting (with sign language mainly!) permission to shoot, sharing the images afterwards and ensuring there is full engagement where possible. People in the hill tribes have been open, friendly and hospitable. One girl in a market gave me bananas as a thank you for taking her photo. People always laugh or grimace with wry humour when shown their image. They laugh at us, a lot! A woman behind me muttered “photo, chicken, photo” whilst shaking her head in bemusement. Sometimes we are the entertainment I suspect.

The tribes here are migrants from China, Burma and Laos mainly, having settled in Northern Thailand over many generations. The Akha, Karen, Yao, Lisu, Lahu and Hmong among others all have their different identities, dress and food. Some get along, others don’t. In the main though their lives are hard, much harder than most of us can imagine. Their food, while delicious, is hard come by and tends to be rice based .. or just rice. They scrape a living, have limited or no access to education or medical assistance.

But the people we met were generous and friendly. The kids were delighted to have us to play with. They loved being photographed and seeing their pictures. Their parents looked on with amusement. I hope they know we are taking these images with love and a good heart …

Ultimately the trip is all about the kids …

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Baan Yuu Suk …

Morning of Day 4.

Just starting to feel settled in Baan Yuu Suk when “it’s off we go”! Truck is loaded, we’re set .. excited, anticipatory and ready. I think.

No idea when we’ll have access to wifi so I plan to take notes each day and post retroactively.

Here are some images from around the shelter.

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Jump seat, a whole new experience …

Ah, did I jinx my trip, musing on the wonders of Club? Here I am on a jump seat. A completely novel and not necessarily welcome experience. I’m facing the economy cabin and trying to avoid playing footsie with the two burly chaps directly opposite me. The crew have been lovely, champagne has been plied (!) … and I’m extremely grateful to be on board at all.

Such a busy flight, lots of staff travelling, in fact most of Club are staff. Damn them all! I enjoy and appreciate the privilege of travelling cheaply, so don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, merely observing my situation!

Okay, worst thing is … no movies. Shame! Would have loaded a couple on the iPad had I known. Fortunately I have some books and many of Stephen Cotterell’s 121 podcasts. … forgive me Stephen but not quite the same!

Secondly, the friendly pilot whom I hoped would take care of me has other (clearly more worthy) jump seaters to look after, including a beautiful young Thai girl. Oh well, those days have gone for me, let me think … no, they were never there!

Next, seat is upright and will stay that way. I shall look upon the slumbering punters with envy later.

One good point though – I hate being enclosed, can’t cope with middle or window seats … no-one on either side! Still slightly spooked by looking at everyone though, so have taken off my glasses. Just a friendly blur. No, not the champagne …

Also realised, I will be the annoying person with a light on while people sleep, as I write, peruse my iPad or read. Plus I’ll look quite unpleasant, like the old joke when you light your face from below and look like a monster … hah! Revenge at last…..

A bit later … Stephen’s 121 podcasts were actually a real success. Thanks!

Two hours in, it’s freezing beside the exit door, really cold. A glass of Chardonnay just to make it fun and to wash down a rather tasty Pad Thai supper.

10 hours later. An uncomfortable night for sure. But thanks to a kind crew member (Alan) I ended up with one blanket from economy (less than useless), two from Traveller Plus, slightly better, a quilted blanket from Club and finally (on top) a proper duvet from First. So was very wrapped up, but kept nodding off and waking up as my head lolled in awkward angles. No headrest and no lumber support. Nice.

Still, now in Bangkok, the adventure about to begin for real …

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Nervously travelling ….

Nervous …. I’ve travelled a lot, yet this trip has me a bit jittery!  I’m on staff travel for the flights (thanks to my lovely boyfriend).  Great news from a financial perspective but nerve-wracking otherwise.  Will I get on the plane at all?  If I do, will I be crammed down the back or have the delights of Club?  Will I be in a jump seat … please no!  I’d love to be able to say “just get me there” .. but really I’m thinking “pleeeease get me there in some degree of comfort“!  Bizarre, given I’ll mostly be roughing it for the next three weeks!

Flying doesn’t scare me really, it’s the claustrophobia of being stuck in a middle seat or at a window.  My first ever long haul flight was from the UK to Singapore.  The company I worked for didn’t care much about their staff so I was in economy.  Some bright spark told me to choose a window seat so I could see the world as I flew (right … during the night?!)  However, young and naive, I did so and was rewarded by having two VERY LARGE Australians beside me … they slept the whole way.  Getting out of my seat involved some complex mountaineering and it was the worst journey I’ve ever had … although I do recall having a panic attack on a domestic flight … enough said, that was more embarrassing than anything!

Sooooo, packing done … I’m at Packing Plan V9.3.2 by the way and it could change even yet.  Probably have far too much.  I leave tomorrow.  Am nervous.

 

 

What to take … decisions!

My Thailand trip draws ever closer and I’m getting down to the nitty gritty of what to take.  Having the right camera gear is essential of course; it needs to be minimal for carrying yet enough to deal with all situations.  My 5D plus 24-105mm lens plus the 50mm is enough I hope.  Might need flash and will definitely need batteries, chargers and lots of memory cards and iPad.  Plus a back-up in case of disaster ….  and my new Canon GX1 is charging as I write …. it’s a cute and powerful compact camera that cost an awful lot. Expecting good things from it!  It will be superb to have as a more discreet camera when meeting people uncomfortabe about being photographed and it will (almost) fit in my pocket making it great for casual street photography.

The biggest challenge is to decide what to take to wear, wash and attend to other personal needs!  I’ll have to carry everything and travelling light is not in my nature.  Do I need a new backpack … should it be designed primarily for camera gear or personal gear?  My head is reeling from searching websites to figure out what’s best. Ah well, as long as I have camera, passport and money – and my Malarone, I should be fine!

Research into the issues we’re going to come across is really important too.  Human trafficking is rife in Northern Thailand and we will see how COSA (Children’s Orgnaisation of Southeast Asia) run by Mickey and Anna Choothesa provides support to victims of trafficking. They work with local communities to help educate people that there are better ways of securing economic security than having their daughters work as prostitutes.  Fortunately our trip is prefaced with two days of workshops to teach us about the issues, the culture, to introduce us to the girls and their families and to prepare us for phootgraphing the people we meet.

A recent talk I attended by PhotoVoice.org during the Brighton Photo Fringe, promoted particpatory photographic projects – giving people an opportunity and a vehicle to have their say – by offering them cameras and training in photography and how to create a narrative.  There is always a danger that photographers like me are going to go into a situation with preconceived notions of the images they expect to find and thus perpetuating sterotypes.  It will be a challenge not to do this, to ensure that we first get to know people and their situations and to then senstively record their stories.

Certainly a lot to think about and only three weeks to go …..

Street photography in rainy London … looking forward to better weather in Bangkok!