When I was in Chiang Mai, I did not find a fixer so instead I hired a normal tour guide to drive me around the northern hill tribe area. For the most part it was a great and fruitful couple of days, visiting villages, following whim and taking chances. There were a few times where he tried to take me to touristy shit: elephant training camps, waterfalls, etc.
The one place he did take me to that was a complete tourist trap was a Padaung Karen “village”. It was obviously a piece of show because there was a gravel parking lot to accommodate buses, lots of signage in english, the people springing up when I came by in the wooden shacks, tribal wares on display.
It was only afterwards that I did some research and realized how much controversy surrounds these “longneck” hill tribes. Please refer to this article on CNN for more information.
Putting these images up in the hope that people doing research for their trips to the hill tribes area can find this and stay away from any longneck villages. There are plenty of tribal villages to visit which are authentic and you can participate and contribute, even spending the night and doing work for and with them.
It’s a fine line. Did I document a people that are disadvantaged or was I exploiting these same people or was I even documenting their exploitation?
Apologies, as this is a bit out of order, being placed in the middle of the Bangkok series, but I have just returned from a trip to Bucharest, Romania where I had the great fortune to see Sir Richard Bishop perform at a club, thirty-one years after I had seen him for the first time at a hardcore show in DC.
I’ve posted the introduction to his interview below, but if you should read the article in it’s entirety here, at The Attic. A very nice piece of synchronicity.
It was 1984 in Washington, DC, at the height of that city’s legendary hardcore punk scene. We were young, aggressive and frustrated, and though not dumb, the amount of things we didn’t know were huge. We had no idea how important that punk scene was in DC. We had no idea that we were in the last year of hardcore punk, that the next year, the scene would just collapse into fragments. We had no idea we would survive and grow old and sit in chairs at desks for decades to come. And we had no idea that the visceral, instinctive and emotional wave of hardcore punk that surprised us and filled us with ideas and growling intensity was a feeling we would never feel again.
One of the great surprises was at a JFA show in DC in 1984 at the 930 Club. The small club was packed as usual for a well-known out of town band, a band whose logo was easily drawn on jackets, skateboards and walls. None of us knew the opening band, but back then, we had no information except for paper magazines and we were hungry for most any music. The opening band came out and the guitarist with his head wrapped in an Arab keffiyeh head scarf, started to sing in a high falsetto, like a feminine muezzin, chirping out a call to prayer. This went on for minutes. No accompaniment. This was at a time where hardcore punk fans would abandon their favorite bands for daring to play a song less than faster than the speed of light.
People started to leave. A few here, more there. Than a constant stream of people headed for the door. Hardcore punkrock took in and embraced many different musical flavors (The Pogues and The Butthole Surfers for God’s sake) almost because there was no place else to go. But a challenging avant-garde, experimental trio? Sometimes, people just wanted to thrash. For the few of us that stayed, and it was a fair amount, we were enthralled for next hour. All I remember thinking was, Who the fuck are these guys? And where the fuck are they taking me?
During one sequence, the drummer was standing, sticks just barely brushing the cymbals, in a trance, the band letting the tension build. When the break finally came, the drummer descended on his kit and I saw a drumstick shatter but did not see where the top half went until the guy in front of me turned around, blood streaming from his face. We filled in the gap he left and closed ranks to get closer to this crazy band. Who were they, I asked someone after the show. Sun City Girls. I bought their album that week and drove my friends nuts with it for months. I don’t even remember JFA playing.
Thirty-one years later, I was in Bucharest for a week, there to photograph the people and the streets. This musician I had met that night before took me to Club Control to watch a free, improvisational duet of violin and percussion as she was friends with the violinist. This show was an unexpected choice and I was enjoying the performance and oddly proud of the size of the crowd in attendance for such an experimental performance. Then some guy named Sir Richard Bishop came on. I had assumed it was going to be a DJ since it was a club. I had no idea. Bishop brought out a gorgeous small body 19th century guitar and started off with a song, heavy in the Phrygian mode, playing fully off of the North African mode. Unexpected again. I heard his voice in between songs. Definitely American. At times, percussive and at times, trancelike, I sat on the floor beneath the bar and let myself get taken along for the ride.
It was afterwards, outside in the terrace that I found out that it was Richard Bishop from the Sun City Girls. Well, look at that. We had both survived.
Before I left my hotel, I scouted out the neighborhood I wanted to explore that day. On Google Maps, it looked pretty simple. Take the BTS to Victory Monument stop, proceed in a northeasterly fashion to the area I was going to explore.
What of course happened, is that I became stuck in this interim neighborhood for almost two hours, sweating my ass off, going down streets that turned out to be dead ends a few minutes later, going into parks that had no other exit but the one I used to enter, jumping concrete barriers to cross highways.
Frustration, copious sweat, and a lot of backtracking.
Such is the life of a street shooter when you try to leave yourself open to chance and whim.
But because of this meandering and exploring, I found some great opportunities and such hidden treasures, some of which made it onto film. A very strong shot which will be posted next, was only possible because I became so helplessly lost on these crazy streets.
Such is the way. Enter a crossroads and like the wandering samurai, toss a stick in the air to see which path to take for the next few hours, the next day, the rest of your life.
This shot below is nothing unusual or worth nothing except for the fact that it was the exit I found, the only way to leave the neighborhood I had been trapped in for hours. I was so elated, I took a shot.
Boy, things have changed. While in Thailand, I met this model online and we agreed for a quick, informal shoot at night. Sent her the link to my work. When we met, she asked me, “I saw your site and I have to ask: do you really not work with a retoucher at all?”
Brave new world.
Apologies for the long absence. Got busy and lazy and fell behind in editing my film after a couple of trips.
I am back now and these Thailand images are from January of 2015.
- Chiang Mai | The Chinese Monk
- Thailand | Chiang Mai
- Thailand | Chiang Rai
- Werner Herzog | On Celluloid
- Chiang Mai | Hmong Hill Tribe
- Chiang Mai | The Karen Hill Tribe
- Arthur C. Clarke | The HAL – IBM Myth
- Chiang Mai | Palong Hill Tribe
- Ridley Scott | Kubrick Footage in Blade Runner
- Chiang Mai | Longneck Hill Tribe
- Louis CK | Leica Shooting, USO Tour
- Chiang Mai | Akha Hill Tribe
- Louis CK | Leica MP
- Bangkok | Siyamon
- Bangkok | Siam
- Born Yogis
- Chiang Mai
- dougKIM photography
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- San Francisco
- São Paulo
- Washington DC