Friday, April 29, 2016

Prince

A woman leaves a note at a memorial for Prince in front of 1st Ave, the venue he regularly performed at in Minneapolis. 

We were in Minneapolis when Prince died. The outpouring of grief and loss was incredible. I was never a huge Prince fan. I thought Purple Rain was a good movie and a great album. I enjoyed most of his radio hits but I didn't have many of his albums and I haven't seen his other movies. He was hilarious on the Fox show "New Girl."  
A child looks at the Prince memorial in front of 1st Ave. 

It's impossible though to overstate his importance to the music and arts scene in Minneapolis. Musicians from around the world came to his studio in Chanhassen to record. He gave money to schools, families of victims of violence and charities in Minneapolis and around the world. Almost always anonymously. 
Mourners left a stack of pancakes at the memorial at 1st Ave. Prince and pancakes have a long and fun history. 

He was seen riding his bike around suburban Chanhassen and was known to show up at concerts in Chanhassen and Minneapolis, sometimes jamming on stage with the band, other times just sitting in the audience.
People leave condolences on the fence at Paisley Park, Prince's home, office and recording complex in Chanhassen. (An iPhone photo) 

I went to a couple of Prince memorials, but I didn't really cover Prince's death and the reaction to it the way it deserved to be covered. The photo staff at the Minneapolis Star Tribune has done an outstanding job documenting the reaction to Prince's death. Their photos of the music legend are on display in the lobby of their downtown building
A woman leaves flowers at the memorial in front of 1st Ave.

Most of the reaction to Prince's death have been at Paisley Park, his Chanhassen studio, and First Avenue, the downtown venue he will be forever linked to. But there have been dance parties and screenings of his movie "Purple Rain" all over town. An artist painted a purple mural of Prince on the back of a tea house on Hennepin Ave in Minneapolis' Lowry Hill neighborhood. 
The mural of Prince (by local artist Rock “Cyfi” Martinez) on Hennepin Ave.


Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Protest for Pot

Protesters calling for the legalization of marijuana line a street near the state capitol in St Paul, MN.

I'm back in the US for a couple of weeks visiting family. I haven't been photographing much but I took an afternoon from family engagements and went down to the state capitol in St Paul for pro marijuana protest. 

I went to college in St Paul and started my career at the Midway Monitor, a community newspaper in St Paul, back in 1982 or 1983. I left the Monitor in 1984 when I went to work at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, in Fergus Falls, MN, on the North Dakota state line. 

It's been a long, long time since I made a photojournalistic picture in Minnesota. The marijuana protest was an interesting return to my roots (I even ran into another photographer I used to run into during my early years in the Twin Cities at the protest). 
One of the protesters takes a hit off a large bong before the protest. 

About 50 people participated in the protest. Some of them smoked as the marched around the capitol, others chanted calls for legalization. Honestly it wasn't really a big story. But it was kind of fun to be back working on the streets I started my career on 33 years ago, even if it was only for an hour or so. 
A protester's colorful shoes and pot themed socks. 


Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Behind the Wall

A curry vendor (right) goes door to door in the Pom Mahakan community. The woman and boy on left were thanking her for a meal they bought. 

Another community is being evicted in Bangkok. This, sadly, has become routine and the pace seems to be picking up. About 50 families live behind the walls at Pom Mahakan, an old fort built to protect Bangkok from foreign invaders. The fort was built in the 1780s on the eastern edge of Bangkok. By the late 1800s, Bangkok had expanded well beyond the city walls and the fort was no longer being used.
Motorscooters pass one of the entrances to the fort. 

People moved into the fort and a community grew behind the walls. It was a tiny city in its own right. There were restaurateurs, teachers, artisans and artists. The first "likay" troupe (a form of Thai opera) in Thailand was based in Pom Mahakan. The community was famous for the artisans who made elaborate bird cages that Thais keep their song birds in. It was a famous fireworks making place and is still the center of the fireworks selling industry in Bangkok. It is still the place to go to in Bangkok to buy fireworks although now the fireworks are made in China and imported into Thailand. There was (and still is) a thriving cockfighting community behind the wall. 

Some of the original homes, now well over 100 years old, still stand in the community. Some have hand painted historic markers, others are buried, time capsule like, among the narrow footpaths that meander through the community. 
A resident scrubs the sidewalk in front of his home. 

In 1992 Bangkok municipal government took control of the land through eminent domain. Residents were told they would be evicted and the whole thing ended up in court. The courts ruled in the city's favor in 2004, but the city didn't take any action and a sort of stasis set in. 

Fast forward to early this year. City officials announced plans to go ahead with the evictions and told residents they had until the end of April to find new homes. 
A 79 year old woman reads the newspaper in her home. She has lived in the community her entire life. Her parents lived in the community their entire lives. Her grandparents moved in with the first group of settlers in the late 1800s. She lives with her daughter's family and their children. Four generations have grown up here and being forced out. 

A boy helps his grandmother hang laundry in Pom Mahakan. 

Like the other evictions I've photographed in Bangkok, this is a very complicated issue. The residents are now, technically, squatters. They had a land grant early in their history but it expired when the city expropriated the land. The city is within its rights to take the land and the courts have ruled on this. It's open and shut. 

But this is a thriving community in a city that is losing its history. At one point, city officials and community leaders worked together to promote the community as a tourist destination. Many of the homes in the community still have historic plaques on them, relating the history of the family and the home to passersby. As I've wandered through the community in the last few weeks, people wave to me, we chat, they offer me food and water and display typical Thai hospitality. 
A resident walks past one of the historic homes in the community. The hand painted sign on the right side of the door said the home was built 200 years ago (when the fort was still a fort) and built using "wedging" (meaning no nails were used in the construction). The concrete base was added several years ago. Before that it was on stilts. 

The city wants to tear down the houses and replace the community with a park. I think it's a foregone conclusion that the city will prevail. The city, and economic interests, have prevailed at every eviction I've documented so far in Bangkok and I don't see this being any different. The people don't want to leave but they know they don't have legal standing to remain. The sad thing is that it would be very easy to develop the community into a living history museum. 

It's literally a matter of cleaning the sidewalks, renovating some of the homes (many are in good shape) and redoing the historic plaques that are already there. The people in the community take great pride in their homes and will talk your ear off if you stop and ask them about the history of their lives behind the wall.  
Boys set up an inflatable splash pool between a couple of homes in the community. 

A woman on her stoop counts her money before going to a local market. 

If you're in Bangkok and want to see life in Pom Mahakan you should head down there soon. The people have been given until the end of April to move. The community will be gone by May.

There are more photos from Pom Mahakan in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Silver Temple

A monk prays in the Ubosot (Ordination Hall) at Wat Sri Suphan in Chiang Mai.

On Sunday, after I finished working on my drought stories, I went walk about in Chiang Mai. I've visited Chiang Mai several times and know the area within the city walls pretty well, so it wasn't so much to explore as it was to relax and see the sites. 

I was staying at a small guest house about a mile from downtown and I walked to and from downtown. On the way back to the hotel I heard traditional music coming from the speakers in the neighborhood so I followed the music to its source and ended up at Wat Sri Suphan, also known as the Silver Temple. 
A detail of the silver work on the outside of the Silver Temple. 

The temple is in the middle of Chiang Mai's old silversmithing neighborhood and the ubosot (ordination hall) is made completely of silver. Or at least it's covered in silver filigree outside and in. The viharn (prayer hall), a separate building next to the ubosot is in traditional Chiang Mai style and is constructed mostly out of teak wood. But the few tourists* who come here come for the ordination hall. 
The entrance to the ordination hall. It was an overcast afternoon but the building is strikingly beautiful. 

The temple was having a fair and ceremony to mark either the completion of the ubosot or its rededication (one person told me it was to mark the completion, another said it was a rededication). I arrived in the final minutes of the last day of the fair and missed most of the ceremony. 
Monks check out the ordination hall. 

I wandered the grounds of the temple and admired the ordination hall. Four monks, with layperson attendants, came in and admired the craftsmanship in the hall. I stepped to the back of the hall when the monks came in to give them some privacy and their attendant invited me to join them, so I took a seat on the floor and we chatted. The attendant translated for me but when we started talking about the drought, the monks all responded in English about the difficult situation farmers and rural people faced. At that point, the monks, the translator and I had a nice discussion about life in rural Thailand. 
A girl participates in a traditional dance in front of the temple. 

I was at the Silver Temple for about an hour. It's a lovely temple in the middle of an interesting neighborhood. I plan to revisit the temple the next time I go to Chiang Mai. I was there late on a Sunday afternoon and I would like to go back during the week when most of the shops are open. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

* Women, including women tourists, are not allowed inside the ordination hall at the Silver Temple. Temple officials say it's because there are many artifacts and amulets, going back more than 500 years, buried beneath the ordination hall and that women walking above them may "deteriorate the place."  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Drought in Lampang

A man grills fish on the dried out bed of the Mae Chang Reservoir in Na Sak, Lampang. This reservoir should have more than six feet of water in it but is completely dry. 

I came to northern Thailand to work on stories about the drought. Thailand, and all of mainland Southeast Asia, is in the midst of a record breaking drought. Reservoirs and irrigation canals in central Thailand are essentially empty. 

The situation in northern Thailand, around Chiang Mai and Lampang provinces, is extraordinarily bad. The Mae Chang Reservoir, which was built in the early 1980s, is empty. Villages submerged when the reservoir was flooded are visible again. Some have turned into tourist attractions of sorts because people displaced by the flooding are coming back to their old homesteads. 

A vendor sits under a small shelter he built waiting for tourists to come to the ruins of a Buddhist temple in the reservoir. 

A family prays in the ruins of the temple. They came to see the old temple.

The floor of the reservoir is cracked and dessicated, much like drought ravaged areas in the United States or Australia. The people's houses are gone - the small wooden huts didn't stand up to the ravages of time. But the foundations of the old temple, some of the pilings of the monks' quarters (all homes are built on stilts in this part of Thailand) and the foundations of some of the older public buildings are still visible. 
A well is all that remains in this part of the village. There is still water in the well. 

A family of tourists take pictures in one of the old public buildings. An old villager told me it was the community clinic, another said it was some other government office. 

The empty reservoir is the most visible sign of the drought but the crisis extends well into the countryside. Farmers are feeding their animals rice straw they salvage from the fields. The rice straw is not as nutritious as grass but many of the pastures are withering and there isn't much grass left. There isn't enough water for crops and those are withering. 
A farmer collects rice straw for his water buffalo in a paddy near the reservoir. 

Farmers are supposed to start planting rice in June or July, depending on the start of the rainy season. If the rains don't come, they won't be able to plant rice. There is enough rice stored in community warehouses to get through to October and November, when rice is harvested. But if it doesn't rain, rice won't be planted and at that point Thailand could be looking at food shortages in the countryside. 

A little north of Mae Chang, in Wang Nuea, people pan for gold in the Wang River. 
A man pans for gold in the Wang River. 

I visited Wang Nuea a couple of years ago and hundreds of people were panning in the river. This year there were only five or six people panning for gold because the river was dry except for a few feet of water in a temporary reservoir being built by the government. But there's no water left up or downstream from the reservoir. 

The Wang River feeds into the Chao Phraya River, which provides water for central Thailand and Bangkok. If the Wang runs completely dry (a tiny amount of water is flowing into the Wang from tributary streams as it meanders south) there will be less water for the Chao Phraya and Bangkok. One of the other rivers feeding the Chao Phraya, the Yom River, is expected to run completely dry by the end of April. If it runs dry that means less water for the Chao Phraya and Bangkok. 

I can't help but feel Thailand is on the verge of a catastrophic crisis. Because we are already in a water deficit, I think it's going to take more than a normal rainy season to completely replenish the reservoirs and water system. If we get a below normal rainy season, the deficit and crisis will grow much worse. 
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.