A Prayer for Burma

Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010

Once again the self-elected military rulers of Burma put on a show for the people by having a “Democratic Election”. The first in 20 years. The choices; one despicable military general or another even more despicable military general. The foreign press was not allowed into the country and the ruling junta was accused of shutting down internet service throughout the last couple of days. Early reports state that turnout at the polls was lackluster at best as the people went to their local pagodas and socialized instead. If anything good is to come of this it is that nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest is supposed to end next Saturday, Nov. 13. That is, if the military rulers keep their word. We’ve seen that before.

Today I thought posting some environmental portraits of the lovely people I connected with would be appropriate, a tribute to the Burmese people that I have been blessed enough to laugh, touch and smile with over the last couple of years. My heart goes out to you….

(Clicking on the images below will bring up a larger image. The same goes throughout my Photoblog)

Read more.. Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Travel Tip: “The pen is Mightier than…”

First off: GIANTS!!!!!!! World Series Champs! (Uhummm….I am based out of San Francisco you know. ;))

When doing presentations or just talking to other photographers about street shooting in foreign countries I get asked quite often if I pay the subjects either before or after I take a picture. Short answer is pretty much never.

First of all, if I’m dolling out the local currency, the natural dynamic of the scene changes. You suddenly have numerous children rushing at you and grabbing for your hands, pockets and photo gear. Somewhat of a mob mentality as they know you probably have limited resources and they want their piece before you run out.

That being said, I think there are a few things that you can leave behind that doesn’t involve money. For example, taking the time to show your subjects their images on the back of your camera’s LCD screen goes a long ways towards establishing a laugh or a smile. In many cases, especially in more impoverished areas, it can be the first time they’ve ever seen a picture of themselves, let alone by a westerner (at least in my case).

Greet your subject eye to eye and say “Hello”, “Good Morning”, “Thank You” in their native language with a warm smile. Simple and effective.

After being haunted by children yelling after me about 14 years ago in Morocco and the Northern Sahara screaming “un stylo” (a pen) or “un crayon” (a pencil), my final trick in the hat (I mean bag) is to present, in the case of children and teenagers, a pen or pencil. First off, they are easy to stow in your luggage and then ultimately your camera bag or pocket of your cargo pants. They’re cheap, a recent box of 50 pens I bought at the US retail chain Target cost me about 4 cents per pen.

Finally, they love them. With every smile as I hand them out I can’t help wondering if one of them will go on to be the next James Joyce or Picasso.

Read more.. Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Burma, Getting in (Part III)…

Chaing Rai, Thailand (June 2008)

I woke up early the next morning and had breakfast in the hotel’s outdoor dining area while watching the dragon boats haul tourists down river to the Elephant tours. My guide arrived about 8AM in an oversize green van with driver. She introduced herself as Tau, a twenty-something student on summer break working in the Thai Tourism trade. After discussing numerous itinerary options, including exploring the mysteries of the “Golden Triangle”, I asked if we might head straight to Burma. She looked a bit perplexed as she adjusted her black thick framed spectacles then issued directives to our driver in Thai. He nodded as he smiled back at me exposing a gold capped central incisor and handed me a cold bottle of water from the built-in ice chest between the two front seats.

Along our drive, Tau and I didn’t speak much as we drove through miles of green farmland.   About an hour later we reached the northernmost Thai city of Mae Sai, which directly abutted Tachileik, Burma. It was here in the dusty streets that I got my first glimpse of longhi (a sarong style skirt) wearing Burmese men and women with their faces adorned with tanaka. “You ain’t in Kansas anymore”, I remembered thinking to myself.

The driver parked  near the border crossing and Tau requested I step out of the van. I asked her why we weren’t driving across. She said it would be impossible because we had a foreign passenger. (I assumed she meant me 😉 ). She asked me to follow and we walked past a metal gate to an old wooden outpost. It reminded me of Col. Klink’s office from “Hogan’s Heroes”. The Burmese military officer inside was sweating profusely as he requested my passport and had me fill out a short form. After a short conversation with the gentleman Tau asked me to hand her twenty dollars. I said, “You mean baht?” She said, “No, they prefer US dollars.” Fascinating!

After handing over my paperwork, money and passport I received a day pass for travel into the Burmese border city of Tachileik. My guide and I walked over a long wooden ramp and then down into the paved roadway below. Various market stalls lined the roads on both sides with peddlers selling their wares with everything from spices to touristy nicknacks like small golden pagodas. Just as I was catching my breath I was immediately surrounded by three teenage boys wearing longhis and with what looked like vintage cigarette trays or boxes on their stomachs supported by a rope around their necks. “Viagra, Cialis…”, they shouted in perfect English, “Good price!” Tempting, but we moved on.

I finally got the nerve to ask Tau if there was anyway we could try to make it out of the city. She thought not, but would give another guide a call who was Burmese and lived on this side of the border. After a short phone call, Tau said we were in luck as she had reached her friend and she could meet us at a nearby pagoda in about 25 minutes.  She suggested we book one of the trishaw (tricycle-rickshaw) drivers that lined the streets eagerly awaiting fares from tourists and locals. After the price was negotiated with a tall thin man wearing a longhi, we climbed in and sat up front and the driver commenced peddling down a pebble laden dirt road. I didn’t speak much as I was trying to take it all in, the smells, the noisy diesel generators, the overwhelming brightness as the sun reflected off the light colored building walls and bare streets.

Within 20 minutes we were at the large golden pagoda. The wide base tapering upward into a long narrow tip reminded me of a dinner bell. We paid the driver as Tau immediately saw her friend and ran to greet her. I was introduced to Siri and immediately asked her what she thought of getting out of the city. Her feeling was that there were guards posted along all the main roads at the city limit to prevent foreigners from penetrating the Burmese countryside and it might be a bit dangerous.

I asked if she wouldn’t mind taking us for a look and she said she was game. “My car is over here”, and  she pointed  at a small light blue Chinese made sedan. We walked past and bowed to a group of monks wrapped in red cloth and carrying their alms bowls and got in her car. Siri peeled out in the parking lot’s loose pebbles as we drove off down the hill and toward the town’s edge.

(to be continued…)

Side note: Please check out my new Product video featuring our “FineArt Prints” on my main site. You can access it here.

Read more.. Monday, November 1st, 2010