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 for the year long hiatus. I have been busy with the jobby job, but I have also been on some amazing trips. Will be posting those images soon.
So here we go.
Mary Ellen Mark passed away last week. She was absolutely one of a kind.
If you have not already, I urge you to go read the many articles and tributes pouring in from writers and artists and her peers.
Her love of teaching has sadly been ignored by the media. It was this personal touch with many of us that made her rise above the ranks of legendary photographers into a legendary mentor, affecting and changing an entire generation of photographers and artists.
The lessons I learned in the short time I spent with her, one travel workshop and one weekend workshop, have stuck with me and I am remember her words clearly like a bell. I can clearly see her influence on me in my proof sheets. She gave me so much in such a short time. I deeply regret not taking more advantage of her openness and giving nature.
I honestly do not know of anyone that could possibly fill the empty space that she left in the world.
And here is the crux of what she taught me, the lessons and goals I have each time I bring the camera up to my eye.
What I learned from Mary Ellen Mark and Think of Every Time I Shoot
These were the points from her quick appraisal of my initial portfolio review to start the workshop:
- My portraits are stronger
- I have too much noise in my street work
- I am losing the graphic elements and strongly designed frames of my portraits in my street work
- I need to add a 28mm to my suite of gear (I only shoot with a 35mm on the streets)
As she was going through my photos and making her selects, I had some of my own revelations:
- My street photos have become very literal, very straightforward
- I record and capture now more than I create, especially on the street
- My portraits reflect me controlling a situation and creating and the result is very different
- Because my candid street shooting has been my priority, I have been solely focused with the ability to get close to people and fire off that shot, in focus and properly exposed. In other words, speed and closeness have trumped other values
- I have lost the lyrical, weird, quirky aesthetic to my work, qualities that I used to have years ago
- There is a surreal, disconcerting to many of Mary Ellen’s images that I have always loved. I have never been a very strong surrealist and it is time to incorporate this quality into my work if I can
Mary Ellen’s Tasks for Me
The charge I received from Mary Ellen was simple and was repeated almost daily to me:
- Stop being safe
- Put my lens in different places
- Be bold
- Be conscious of everything in the frame
- Reduce the background noise
- Compose with strong graphic elements
- Take risks
I will do my best to honor her by doing great and meaningful work, to not suffer fools, to keep pushing in everything, and to keep shooting film.
Thank you, Mary Ellen. It was a blessing to spend time with you.
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.
- Leonard Cohen | On Conde Guitars
- Chiang Mai | Hill Tribe Area
- Bucharest | Gypsy Apartments
- Romania | The Shepherd
- 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
- Born Yogis
- Chiang Mai
- dougKIM photography
- Los Angeles
- New York City
- San Francisco
- São Paulo
- Washington DC