Monday, April 14, 2014

Songkran Part 2

A Songkran reveler uses a large squirt gun in a water fight on Khao San Road

After photographing the sublime for the start of Songkran (the procession for the Phra Buddha Sihing and a mass merit making ceremony), I ventured down to Khao San Road, the backpacker ghetto section of Bangkok, to photograph the ridiculous aspect of Songkran. 

This is what Songkran is most famous for, the no-holds barred all out water fights that can break out with no warning almost anywhere in Bangkok during the holiday period. April is the hottest month of the year and people are ready to cut loose. The water fights cool things down, even if you can't go out in public without worrying about finding yourself as collateral damage between rival gangs of bucket wielding children (and occasionally adults). 
Thais walk through a water battle on Khao San Road. The mist in the background is not rain. It's water fights.

The water fights are nonstop in the touristy parts of town: along Khao San Road, along Silom Road, along Rama I in front of Siam Paragon Mall and Nana, the "entertainment" / red light district on Sukhumvit. The reality though is that a water fight can break out almost anywhere at almost anytime. You'll be walking down the street and a pickup truck full of teenagers come up from behind you and throw buckets of water at you or shoot you with giant squirt guns. 
"Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war" Or something like that. A running water fight on Khao San Road

In general, Thais are very respectful of people on the street during Songkran. Walking around Bangkok with my cameras I try to avoid water fights. Children run up to me laughing and ask if they squirt me or, if they don't ask, they squirt my legs or back. There's always the risk that I'll get caught between rival gangs of  bucket wielding mods and rockers. Tourists though are not respectful of people on Songkran. They will hunt you down and deliberately soak you, whether you're minding your own business and trying to stay dry or on the front line of a water fight. It's just another reason to avoid the touristy parts of town. 

There are more photos of Songkran 2014 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. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Songkran Part 1

Women spray the Phra Buddha Sihing with scented oils during a stop at Wong Wian Yai in Thonburi

Thailand has the good fortune of celebrating three New Year's holidays. The official one is January 1, which has been the New Year since 1940 or so. There's a large Chinese presence in Thailand, so the Lunar New Year (usually in February) is celebrated widely, especially in communities with large Chinese immigrant populations. And then there's Songkran. 

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year. Most of the Theravada Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar) celebrated New Year in April on a date that changed from year to year. Eventually they all adopted January 1 as New Year's Day but kept the old tradition as a holiday. 
Bangkok city officials carry the Phra Buddha Sihing out of the National Museum before the procession.

Bathing Buddha statues with water and oils is a traditional way of making merit and cleansing one's sins. Gently washing the hands of one's elders (also a New Year's tradition) is another way of making merit. 

Songkran starts on April 13, but on April 12 there's a procession honoring the Phra Buddha Sihing, a revered statue of the Buddha. The procession starts at the National Museum (which used to the "Front Palace") and travels through the city making occasional stops. At each stop people pray to the statue and gently sprinkle it with water and scented oils. It's one of the quieter and more spiritual celebrations of the traditional New Year. 

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. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Protesting at Justice

Anti-government protestors block the entrance to the Ministry of Justice in the Bangkok suburbs Tuesday

Bangkok Shutdown is officially over. It ended several weeks ago while I was in Mae Sot. Suthep closed the various protest stages and asked the protestors to move to Lumpini Park, a vast greenspace in central Bangkok. They've been camped out in the park since March 3. (Literally camped out. They're sleeping in tents and getting food from field kitchens.) 

I haven't been covering the remnants of Shutdown much because there wasn't much movement on the story. The protestors were unable to dislodge the government and the government not willing to dislodge the protestors. I've been working on stories related to climate change and the environment. 

This weekend I covered a Red Shirt rally in Thonburi, so in the interest of equal time, and to see what the anti-government side was up to, I covered a PDRC rally yesterday. I went to Lumpini Park and then hitched a ride to the protest site on a food truck. The protestors motorcaded out to the Ministry of Justice, in the government complex at Chaeng Wattana, about 20 kilometers from central Bangkok. 
A protestor waves the Thai flag in front of the Ministry of Justice

The rolling protests have become sort of routine. Protestors load up in buses and pickup trucks and head out to the government ministry they're picketing that day. Legions of PDRC security guards on motorcycles zip around, blocking traffic so the motorcade can get across Bangkok unhindered. At the government office, protestors block the entrances, speakers make fiery anti-government speeches and a protest leader, usually Suthep but not always, meets with government workers to encourage them to support the protest movement. 
Suthep Thaugsuban (left), leader of the anti-government protests, meets with Kittipong Kittayark at the Ministry of Justice.

That was how things played out Tuesday. Protestors blocked the entrances to the building while Suthep met with Kittipong Kittayark, the Permanent Secretary of the Thai Ministry of Justice. After the meeting the protestors had a picnic lunch of chicken and basil. Then they loaded up in their trucks and buses and went back to Lumpini Park. 

There are more photos of Tuesday's protest 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. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Shirts Come to Bangkok

A Red Shirt supporter with photos of Thaksin and Yingluck.

The Red Shirts, the populist supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, current PM Yingluck Shinawatra, rallied in the Bangkok suburbs this weekend. 

Anti-government protestors led by Suthep Thaugsuban have been rallying and marching and protesting against the Shinawatra family's involvement in Thai politics for months now. The protests have sometimes been bloody but the government is still in power. The Thai courts are now involved and there is concern in the Red Shirt ranks that the courts may do something the protestors have not been able to do - bring down the government. If the courts rule against Yingluck, she could be forced to step down immediately. Suthep is waiting in the wings ready to form his own government and "reform" Thai politics. 
Red Shirt supporters reach out to wash Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua's hands as he walks through a crowd of Reds. 

This is a scenario the Red Shirts are familiar with because only a few years ago the popularly elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, (then running in the Thai Rak Thai party, the forerunner to Pheu Thai) and the hand picked favorite of ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra, was forced out of office by the courts because he hosted a cooking show while he was in government. The court ruled that it was a conflict of interest and forced his government out. That ruling has been called a "judicial coup" by Red Shirt supporters and it set up the conditions that allowed the Thai Democrats to form a minority government, which in turn led to the 2010 Red Shirt protests and subsequent military crackdown against the Red Shirts. 
Red Shirts at the rally Sunday. 

The Red Shirts are concerned that conditions are ripe for a second judicial coup. They vow to defend the government. The weekend rally in the suburbs was to show support for the government. 

The protestors in Bangkok vow to overthrow the government. Their ongoing protests are to further that end. There appears to be no middle ground. 
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. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

50mm Goodness

An exercise group works out in Lumpini Park, photographed with my 50mm f1.2 lens using f1.6.

One of the questions I get a lot in photo workshops is “What camera and lens should I buy?” “Should I get a Canon or Nikon ‘full frame’ body and a 24-70mm f2.8 L zoom? Or should I get an APS sized sensor and a “kit” lens? Or should I be buying prime lenses?” 

I carry a heavy bag full of gear so I'm ready for every eventuality. I don’t go out for a serious day of photography without two full frame bodies, a 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2, 100mm f2 and 200mm f2.8 lenses. I also carry a Micro 4:3 body with a 12mm, 20mm and 45mm lenses (equal to 24, 40 and 90 in full frame terms). 

The truth is though that most people make too much of what lenses to buy. They could improve their photography by really learning to use just one lens.

There’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple. Jerome Delay, a photographer with the Associated Press, has been making remarkable photos from some of the most troubled places on the planet with just one camera and a 50mm lens.

Working with just one lens forces you to really work a scene. If you want to see it differently you don’t just put another lens on the camera. You explore the scene with the lens you have. A 50mm lens doesn’t have the distortion that is common to many wide angles. And it’s much easier to carry just one lens and camera than a bag full of lenses and cameras.

The New York Times wrote about Delay’s photography with a 50mm lens last year. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to buy a new lens.

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.