After several paid tours through some pretty fancy factories I decided to do something with my outtakes. These gigantic/open/clean/bright/geometric/spaces are always what my eyes are drawn to in big facilities. And that’s about all I can say about empty industrial spaces…
From looking at this blog and some of the other social media sites I use, it seems like I haven’t really been up to much lately. This isn’t true. I’ve just lapsed on my updates.
So here is 104 seconds of video proof:
There are 3 large villages(~ 1000 people each) hidden somewhere in the photo above. Can you find them…?
I’m going to focus on another one of the upland communities that I spent a lot of time with in China. This sprawling, high altitude area near the Burmese border stretched over hundreds of square miles and consisted of small rural villages connected by footpaths and narrow dirt roads. A single valley could be 10-12 miles across. A dozen full sized villages might be perched on the sides of this single valley. And there were DOZENS of these valleys in this area. This was a huge agrarian society far away from any big cities connected by tribal similarities and tribal differences.
I bounced around between 5-6 of these villages in the 10 days that I stayed here. Adventures below:
From picking indigo berries for dye, to spinning their own yarn, all clothing is hand made and hand dyed. The woman above is beating out a bolt of cloth that was recently hand dyed. Above her another woman hangs beaten bolts out to dry.
There are dozens of tribes and sub-tribes here. Here is a breakdown that I found that kind of explains just how complicated it is. And these tribes all have VERY different dialects, different clothing, and different customs from one another. They also share a lot of culture.
Another village’s brick kiln was located over a high ridge from this village. These women were making hiking trips all day long with bricks strapped to their backs. So don’t ever bitch about raking leaves.
Communal water pools are scattered around each village. The villages were founded and built in very specific ways and directions to allow water from above to cleanly and efficiently come into the villages. This is their drinking water, cooking water, and bathing water. After it flows through the villages the water makes its way out into the terraces to irrigate the crops.
I was invited to an all day festival that was celebrating the successful planting of the rice crop. The day started off at about 11:00am with an early and expansive lunch(and bongs). This lunch included drinking massive quantities of rice moonshine. Not rice wine. Rice moonshine. Easily the strongest alcoholic drink I’ve ever made the mistake of drinking.
By noon I could barely walk.
But the plan for the day was to hike over to another village where another family was having the dinner part of the festival. This involved 8-9 miles of footpath hiking up and down ridiculously steep pitches. Drunk.
By the time we got to the other families house I was hungry again and starting to sober up. Kind of. But all my new friends just kept raising the moonshine glasses up. And laughing at me.
By this time I had gotten pretty used to what and how the Chinese eat. But the food on the table that day was an order of magnitude more ‘challenging’ (see below).
Hard work pays off…
And getting the footage for this trailer was hard work. I sweated and slogged and got lost and ate things I’m ashamed to talk about. I had massive miscommunications and I missed plenty of buses. There were equipment failures and human errors. There was face grinning elation and soul crushing defeat(and usually both before lunch).
But I came back with the goods. 412GB worth…
I am beyond excited to show this.
Early 2014 is the launch date for the full project.
Here is the trailer(go full screen):
Today I had the pleasure of trying to explain the business of commercial photography, composition basics, the importance of light, DSLR mechanics and how to use studio strobes, reflectors and modifiers.
Time frame: 4 hours
My audience: 9-13 year olds
Honestly; it was a total blast.
Funniest question asked: -“Will you buy me a dog?”
Here’s the class and me and a little timelapse.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already seen the little tab up top called “Side Projects”. If not, feel shame and go take a look right now.
I changed things up a little. Found a way to display those weird, quirky portfolios in a cleaner, bigger, nicer way. Looks pretty damn good I think.
There is also a brand new project over there called MY NY. Its a product of me doing my gypsy photographer act and living out of the back of my Element while driving across New York state. Slowly. Very slowly.
It took me 3 days to drive from Buffalo to Albany. The rule was no I-90, no numbered highways and no GPS. I started off south and then turned east. Following any country, farm, secondary or dirt road that went east. If the road didn’t go east, I drove north or south until I found one that did. Getting purposely and actively lost like this was a lot of fun. And I think I made some great images out of the trip.
Go check it out! Link at the little photo strip below…
There’s a province in southern china with some very impressive karst rock formations. Actually, no. This is probably the most spectacular display of this type of geology in the world. Imagine thousand foot limestone fingers shooting out of the ground covered in bright green jungle. And it just goes on forever. Getting up on some kind of vantage point you could see these steep, jagged peaks just overlapping themselves into the distance.
Ok. Had enough hyperbole and bad poetry…?
I took up residence on the outskirts of a town central to this region and rented a motorcycle for a week. This gave me a lot of independent mobility and opened up a lot of options. Between the rice paddies, the rock climbing, the river swimming and great food a week was nowhere near enough time.
I spent a lot of time in the mountains/highlands of China. I had gone up to a terraced community at the beginning of my trip to follow the rice project I was working on. But I ended up falling in love with the rural highland culture. The fresh air, the good light, the open people and niceties of a simpler life. I just felt at home. Comfortable.
And these were isolated places. It typically took me a few days to reach these communities from major cities. A few days of HARD travel. Including cramped/miserable/stank conditions in some buses that weren’t fit for the terrible roads or for the way too many people that were jammed into them.
But those travel days were always worth it.
I remember getting off the bus for the Longsheng community(the photos in this post). It was dusk, and quiet, and the bus had stopped because the road had stopped. As in; get out, you now have to walk the rest of the way. So I grabbed my pack and set off down the narrow footpath people kept pointing me at. Yes, yes, the village is that way… The bus rumbled off and then it was truly quiet. Just me crunching down this dark mountain path with ridiculously steep green terraces rising up on both sides.
I still remember the smile on my face that night.
Here are a few photos. I would love to share more(and I have a ton more) but they are part of the project. And I’m trying something new with this one. No trickling. No small seeps of images. I want to bring the whole project out at the same time and in a finished state.
So you’ll have to wait.
After Xi’an I hopped a plane for southern China. Guangxi province to be more specific. And to be even further specific; the city of Yangshuo. The city was spread around the Li river and the most amazing limestone karst scenery I think that the planet has to offer.
I ended up staying a few days over my original plans because there was way too much to do.
Including riding around crazy traffic at night after it had just rained.
I went into this place with low expectations. Thinking it was going to be another over-run tourist trap with t-shirts and touts and everything that I was starting to hate about chinese tourism.
It ended up having the t-shirts and the touts and it was crazy crowded, but still managed to blow my mind.
If you’re not familiar with the story: sometime around 210 BC an insane mercury drinking chinese emperor decided to commission thousands of these life sized statues built so that he could be buried with them. There are over 10,000 so far that have been found and restored with more still in the dirt. The statues show tiny details for each soldier like social class, age, rank and duty in this bizarre made up army.
And apparently once the statues were completed, the emperor had all of the artists killed and stuffed inside each warrior.
Actually that last part is a lie I made up. Does anyone even read this stuff…?
These monks were hanging out in the lobby of one of the buildings that housed the warriors and with the reflections and the orange robes I couldn’t resist.
After Pingyao I made my way to Xi’an to take a look at the terracotta warriors. But arrived late at night after the 5 hour bus ride turned into a 9 hour bus ride. This turned into a good thing as the muslim quarter’s night market was just going off when I rolled into town. Xi’an has a sizeable Uyghur population and their market was something people kept talking about. So the 4 extra hours on the bus wasn’t something for me to swear at in my seat like a mental patient, but rather an opportunity…Weird meats, lots of headresses, and another chinese ethnic minority all cramped together in a loud, chaotic mess. Of course the camera came out.
(Terracotta Warriors up next)
The last post was talking about how I got trapped in a dusty little town on my way somewhere else. This was the somewhere else.
Pingyao; an ancient walled city still very much being lived in and one of the few that escaped the cultural revolution. The 100′ high tamped earth walls are still the originals built 1400 years ago. Some of the houses/temples are over 1000 years old. This place was hot and dusty and crumbling down and full of smells I usually could have done without. My kind of town…
I had plans to stay for a day or so, but that turned into 3 full days. 3 full days of drifting through narrow alleys and confusing streets. Getting lost and getting yelled at for apparently entering someones house(well then put a door on it ya turkey).
I was able to climb the walls one afternoon and walk the entire perimeter of the city late into the evening. Perched on top of those beat up old walls I watched the beat up old city below turn on its string lights and red lanterns and get ready for the night’s trade. One of the highlights of my trip.
Like India, some parts of China are incomprehensible to westerners. Some of the customs and religious ceremonies and just day to day life are not something you drop in and immediately ‘get’. You are very much left on the outside. Scratching your head and trying to understand.
And taking a lot of photos…
That old cliche quote: ‘its not the about the destination but the journey’… that’s total bullshit.
Until it isn’t. Until you find yourself in between ‘destinations’ by accident or a miscommunication(or both). When you’re stuck in a town with no chance of leaving for at least 36 hours, you start to realize that quote was born from someone with a lot of experience on the road.
Someone that had given up on trying to control the uncontrollable.
Which is basically what travelling is about. Giving up on that little zone of control and just letting ‘it’ happen.
‘It’, in this case, was being trapped in a boring, dirty little town somewhere just south of Beijing. On my way to somewhere else. I was furious, I was behind schedule, the project wasn’t progressing, blahblah blah…
But I ended up having a great experience, and meeting some interesting people that would have never happened if I hadn’t gotten ‘stranded’.
Had enough air quotes yet?
Of course you need to go to the Great Wall. Here’s a quote from the great helmsman himself: “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man”
There I am. A true man. Thanks Mao…
I had heard about the awful crowds and tour bus mess that can come with a typical Great Wall visit, so I skipped all that. I found a minibus to take me to a town that sat very close to the wall. The plan was to hike 14km on top of the wall to another town and then try to find a ride back to Beijing from there.
I woke up in the morning thinking that none of that plan was actually going to go smoothly. But it did.
I had a really quiet walk on top of the wall on a beautiful day. I think that I saw only 5-6 people the entire day and got to appreciate just how crazy this ancient wonder of the world really is.
The impressive thing about the wall? Not its height or its width(and you actually can NOT see it from space). Its the length. The section I hiked was relatively mountainous and this allowed views of the wall snaking off on top of ridges into the far far distance.
This section of the wall is over 3000 miles unbroken. That is insane and it actually made me stop typing.
From Beijing to Bangkok, I have over 15,000 images to sort through. Looking at my Lightroom catalog, this number is slightly more than the total of my first 4 years as a “professional” photographer. Make of that what you will…
So I thought I would break up the crushing workflow of that many images (412GB …wtf) by posting a couple photos with a few words and some stories in clumps. Stretch it out a little. Enjoy it.
So over the next few weeks, I plan on working my way through the trip photos and sharing them here as I go. Unfortunately, the rice project photos will stay under wraps until the entire thing is finished and ready to be released into the wild. You’ll have to just get used to the ‘scraps’…
So lets get started:
Beijing is a huge city. Its very spread out and its very flat. And trying to walk around on foot is a recipe for sore knees and an upper respiratory infection. Actually, riding a bike or a taxi or just sitting in your room is a recipe for respiratory distress here. The rolling apocalyptic poison clouds(smog) will just show up in the middle of the afternoon like regular fog rolling in off the ocean. Except there’s no ocean. These smog clouds descend and start to block out your vision(and breathing abilities). It’s a straight up nightmare.
But! Beijing has a lot to offer. And since it was my gateway to the middle kingdom(and I could rent bicycles for cheap) I ended up staying several days longer than planned. I mean, come on! Its Beijing…
Forbidden city. Summer Palace. All the cool little alleys to explore… And the food!
I had a set of photos that I was about to post. A set of photos that were going to try and sum up several months in Asia. But you know what? That’s just not possible.
Instead you get a photo of this medallion. This medallion was given to me on the very first day I arrived in Beijing. The owner of the guesthouse that I was staying at handed it over to me one morning and very solemnly said: “Good luck for you”.
Ok, whatever. It’s pretty(or it used to be), and I like the color and I’ll just hang the thing off my backpack.
And it just stayed there. Dangling off a strap and swinging back and forth wherever I went. Through China, Taiwan, Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand. For some reason this thing just would not fall off. And I wasn’t about to take it off. It had been on there through some pretty crazy shit. And I was still alive. I still had both of my legs and no tropical diseases(I think). Keep it on there. Maybe it really is good luck. Can’t hurt…
The medallion used to have this really cool red fringe tassel. But it fell off during a particularly bad bus ride. And it used to not be stained. And the coin part was once straight and not all bent up. The knots weren’t all frayed. It used to look nice.
But now the medallion is all beat to shit and just sits in my office.
Just like me…
Photos and stories to come. I promise.
I am still locked out of my wordpress blog by China’s firewalls. So the only updating that can be done is pretty painful and takes forever. Which means this place is just not getting updated. Except for this one.
I’ve already traveled through 8 of Chinas provinces and stared down more water buffalo than I can count. I am tired, dirty, smelly, slightly nauseous and having the time of my life.
All project related photos are being kept under wraps until I return, so heres a few fillers.
I’m about 8 hours away from hopping on a plane to drift around Asia for the next four months and this kind of trip begs for special consideration when it comes to packing. And yes, I’ll spare you the details of how many pairs of underpants I’m taking(it’s 7). Since this is supposed to be a photo blog, this will be about packing up a workable camera kit that isn’t going to weigh a ton or hamper mobility and be relevant for all 4 months.
I guess I should start with a picture. This is everything for 4 months. All of my clothes, all of my malaria pills, all of my camera equipment. Everything.
This OCD tabletop hoarding pile has been the kickoff to every single major trip I’ve taken in the past 10 years. It’s fun, it’s super useful and makes for a cool photo. If you’re heading out on a longer trip that is gear critical with no way of replacing certain key components in the kit, then you really should do this. It lets you quickly visualize everything you’re thinking about taking and then either removing some of it(big fan of that) or adding more(boo).
Camera Bag. If Im shooting a job around town, I dont really mind what my gear goes into. As long as it safely carries stuff from 1 point to the other, Im happy. Long term travelling with a kit is a different matter. You eat and sleep and live with your camera bag. You become one with it. So you better have the right one. For me, its a sling bag. The ability to have my camera on my back and then in my hand in less than 10 seconds is crucial. Plus the platform that a sling bag creates makes changing lenses quicker and safer. The bag becomes a kind of table hanging from your shoulders. This is the bag that I chose for this trip. http://www.kata-bags.us/3n1-25-pl-sling-backpack This has 1 thing going for it that the venerable (and still awesome) LOWEPRO Slingshots did not have; a second strap. You can convert the Kata into a backpack or sling. Very handy on longer hikes and bike rides. Have to say the Kata lacks a little in the comfortableness of its straps compared to the Lowepro. Tradeoffs…
Storage. So easy these days. Between cameras shooting to dual cards, the ridiculous cost of memory cards and portable hard drives, there are no more excuses. 3 copies of EVERYTHING you shoot! One copy on your person at all times, one copy hidden in the middle of your molding underwear ball and one copy wherever you want. For the first time on this trip Im using a camera that shoots to 2 separate cards so the SD cards get full then they get hidden in the underpants. My second backup is a portable hard drive. This stays with me at all times. Third backup is a tiny little netbook that Im going to talk about next.
Computer. This is one of those items that are trip specific. When I went to India I took no computer. I was running considerably lighter on that trip and was focusing more on trying to get sucked into Hindu death cults…For China and the rest of Asia I’m bringing one. One of the deciding factors was the amount of computer they can now cram into something so small. This Acer is tiny, weighs less than 2lbs and can easily handle 5diii files in Lightroom and Photoshop. Also is perfectly capable of doing rough cuts in Premiere Pro. Amazing! For something the size of a trade paperback I can now edit photos in my downtime(bars).
Tripod. I hate travel tripods. They compromise so much to lose the weight and size that they become rickety. Or, they cost $500-$600. No way! I am not a landscape photographer and I’ve been known to just give away tripods while traveling because: “I just cant stand carrying that fucking thing anymore”. So this little beauty was a surprise: http://www.mefoto.com/products/backpacker.aspx It’s small, its light, its not rickety and its a reasonable $140. Sold.
Camera/Lenses. Meh. All I can do here is list what I brought. These choices just come down to what you’re shooting and how you shoot it. 5diii, 16-35mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4, 100mm 2.0. The lenses are all fast glass and the camera is new. Done.
Strobes/Lighting. This trip gets 2 speedlights. I have some ideas on how I want to light one of the projects and this is what I needed. The only interesting thing I can say here is that I found these tiny self erecting tripods http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/739125-REG/Tamrac_TR40401_404_ZIPSHOT_MINI_TRIPOD.html that I am loving for speedlight stands. You can shake one out with one hand and it will make a relatively sturdy base. Enough for a speedlight and pocketwizard. And the things weigh about 12oz! Stick a cold shoe on top and you now have a lightstand.
I will be updating here while on the road so keep checking back. And if the site goes down, then you know I’m being held against my will at one of those blue dots on the map.