“Chasing the Light” is something as a photographer I have always done. Way back when, in my early 20’s back when I was slim and had dark brown hair, my passion was street photography.
The US Navy sent me to Syracuse University in the middle 70’s to learn photojournalism. After finishing a one year course I was sent back to the fleet. I soon found myself wandering most of the ports of Mediterrean, Africa, South America and the United States. I called it my job but what it really was, was my passion. Exploring exotic places with cameras. The photos and stories were sent off to official publications, the lessons learned filed away in my mental rolodex. One of the keys to what I felt was good shooting involved a concept I still work under, I call it “Chasing the Light”. It works like this.
1. Prepare all your gear before you sleep. Dust all your lenses, check the batteries, replace if needed, and assemble your research. Where, what and how you might want to photograph.
2. Get up at about 5am, arrive on location or starting point and begin walking.
In Bangkok and other places in southeast Asia early morning is when most of the shopping and really hard work gets done. People are moving around. By 9am the tropical light is very hard and contrasty plus it is just to hot. Usually around 1800 it begins to fade to golden light with soft shadows. This is nothing new, my photojournalist buddies have been doing this all their careers but it is surpring to see others dragging around in the middle of the day looking for that perfect image.
So this series begins and as time goes on I will talk more about other things that make your images better such as “Entire to Detail” shooting.
I love working and walking in early morning fresh markets of Thailand. Plenty of fresh foods and vegetables and plenty of new faces to photograph. These are the real people of Thailand, the working men and women who make the “Land of Smiles” what it is. A quick tip, make eye contact, and ask if you can take their photo. I usually hold the camera up and mouth “OK”. Works most everytime.
Today I live in northern Thailand where 90 per cent or more are true believers in Theravada Buddhism, which originates from Sri Lanka. It is a peaceful religion, the Buddhist monks make their rounds each day and the community takes care of them with offerings of food and flowers. One aspect always calls me, that of the young novice monk, head shaved, walking the streets carrying a begging bowl and in bare feet. In the past, tradition held that these young novice monks performed house keeping duties at the temple and in turn gained the opportunity for a basic education. In Thailand today the state provides basic education. Like any system there are structures, all Thai men are expected to serve as a Buddhist monk once in their life.
For me the opportunity to photograph them as they make their morning rounds is always greeted with enthusiasm.
for more information on Buddhism in Thailand check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_Thailand
“Keep shooting” is the good bye phrase I use with my photo buddies. For me “Keep Shooting” is like religion… best practiced on a daily basis. So when I found myself awake early, like always, on a road trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I decided to be religious. For this old lady, the blue shirt identifies her as a member of a club that meets every morning at a local park to swap stories, exercise and see who is still alive. But before she would meet them she had a stop at this small Buddhist shrine to offer her prayers. “Keep Shooting” was my prayer…
In the travel brocedures young tan couples frolic on the beaches of Thailand or enjoy the sensual pleasures of its nightlife. Bangkok, the sex capitol of the world is a fast and loose place where as I have experience there is not much to hold you back. Contrast that with my current life upcountry Thailand where family values once seen in America and respect for elders is still much in vogue. As just a photographer now, no big corporate media company backing me, I find simple shooting pleasure where I can. The people of northern Thailand amaze me still. Where on the planet could I just stroll into a religious ceremony unannounced, carrying cameras and be allowed to photograph gathering smiles from all. Such was the case last night when I stopped at Wat Sung Men near my home in Phrae to see about photographing Vesakha Day. Buddhist in Thailand gather on this date to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition. The event usually falls on the full month of the fifth or six month. I have photographed this ceremony before at the huge temple complex of Wat Dhammakaya on the outskirts of Bangkok. More than 100,000 Buddhist faithful usually gather for this event. Last night there were about 100 gathered. It was all local people and their warmth and charm were apparent. You can see more at: http://www.lightrocket.com/davidlongstreath
“Giraffe Women of Northern Thailand”
Way back when I was a photojournalism student at Syarcuse University one of my professsors installed in me what he felt was the number 1 attribute for a good journalist…”Curiosity”. When I think about it, the mechanics of shooting an image are just that, f stops and shutter speeds. All the gear in the world does not now or in the past make up for a mind that begs the question,
“Where am I going and what will I see when I get there?”
Once I arrive at a destination, new or old, I am the same again as a young boy at Christmas. I can’t wait to unwrap all those packages and explore. Thailand and much of Southeast Asia has for 15 plus years and continues to stir my curiosity.
“Where am I going and what will see when I get there?”
One of the best visual packages for me are the Long Neck Karen women or”Padung” of northern Thailand. Members of an ethnic hill tribe they are mostly today housed in camps along the border with Myanmar where they have fled war and persecution. Once called “giraffe women” they continute the landstanding practice of wearing brass rings around their necks, which over time pushes down the collar bone and upper ribs to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to part of the neck. It’s a strange custom, many myths abound as to why, the women are less attractive so slave traders would seek others or perhaps to ward off the bite of a tiger. The “Padung” however consider the rings and the apperance of a long neck to be a sign of beauty. But how do they get them on?
I have a saying I share with friends at the end of emails, “Keep on Shooting”. Many of the images you see on my blog and in my IMovies are the product of this notion because I have always felt that once you put your cameras down, “you loose them”.
The daily act of picking up the gear, looking through the viewfinder, adjusting exposures and lenses is all part of staying engaged. That of course leads to shooting. In the case of the three images shown:
A Buddhist monk cradles his begging bowl and flowers while waiting for the faithful outside Wat Bencha in Bangkok. “What was I Thinking” when I made this frame was part of a process called “Entire to Detail” shooting that was taught to me back in the mid 70’s by my good friend and mentor Frank Hoy. Frank was big on making sure you had a shot for what he called the “bag” that one image that when all else failed you had at least a record of the event. Then what he taught me was to go inside my mind and search out the details, the finer points. the silver begging bowl, the hands cradled over it and the lotus flowers all combine to form an image of peace and faith.Contrast this against the image of the novice Buddhist monk as he walks barefoot through Bangkok’s China town with his begging bowl slung over his shoulder like a school bookbag as he carries orchids and pamphlets. Shooting head-on does not really say much about the young novice however from behind and high you get a sense of urgency of mission ad he makes his rounds. The fact that it was dark adds to this, the fact that he looks very young and is ALONE. Wide lens, a Canon 24mm shot at f/4 or less, renders the background to just there.
The wrinkles, the white hair, the pushed down glasses, a beautiful portrait shot with a Canon 300mm f/4 at f/4. Faces to me either grab me or I move on. This one was a no brainer. Soft light and no backbround forces you the viewer to just look at this senior Buddhist monk. When I shot this I was thinking “nice older face, no background, soft light, it should pop right out and it does.
Be sure and check out the iMovie, “LayersofThailand” s1 to see how some of these moments were packaged into a show.
New concepts taking shape at LayersofThailand.com. It’s all about sharing the images and the knowledge from the adventures and journeys I take in Thailand and Southeast Asia. For now, I am assembling images in IMovie, a dash of “Ken Burns” some cool music and collection of images from recent and past events. Never more than two minutes, after all people are busy. The rainy season is here, the long days 100 plus temperatures are fading and best of all new landscape filters arrived from Ebay with the clouds. I am excited to beging shooting these long exposure, tripod images of the region. More than once I have looked at a scene and added a mental note, “better in the rainy season”. “LayersofThailand” s1, show. Come and join me as I detail just “what I was thinking” when I made the shot.
After years of booking hotels and bus tickets to Yasothon, Thailand, I finally made the journey, 12 hours on a bus from my home in northern Thailand to the “Rocket Festival”. In the travel world this festival has always been a “must attend” for travel photogaphers like myself. I arrived at 2300 hours at the Yasothon bus terminal, no taxi’s but as always here in Thailand there always seemed to be someone ready to help and in my case an older motorcycle taxi driver loaded me on his bike and off we went the the JP Emerald hotel. The people at the hotel were very helpful, the room a baragain $25 a night and breakfast everyday. I was walking distance to the street festivals, plenty of loud music, drinking and more loud music.
Raw Friday features all-night performances of “Mor Lam Sing” very loud music that continues into the early morning hours. “Mor Lam Sing is a type of music that is popular in the Isan area of Thailand. The songs are usually about something sad, lost love, sick water buffalo or no good luck with the lottery. I failed to understand it but the locals are having great fun and after it is about their culture not mine.
Saturday was street parade day. It features traditional dance and plenty of women dressed as men and men dressed as women in traditional costumes sitting atop decorated floats. The parade last most of the day and as night comes the loud music gears up and the party continues. Did I mention it was hot. Daytime temperatures are in the low 100’s and humidity is up there as well.
Sunday is all about the rockets though. It’s called Banfai and the rockets are launched in various categories, height, distance travelled, and extra points for beautiful vapour trails. What I love about living and working in Thailand is for the most part once you move beyond Bangkok all measures of control slip away. Such is the case at festival, there really isn’t any which means if you want to photograph the event no one is stopping you. Plenty of photographers, no police or officials moderating and everyone having a good time. There have been accidents though, in 1999 a Lan120 kg rocket exploded 50 meters above ground killing five people and wounding several.