Friday, December 19, 2014

In Other News...

Students carry the Cuban flag down the Malecon in Havana. I made this photo during a trip to Havana in February 2000. 

Big news this week out of Washington and Havana. President Obama announced that the US would reopen its embassy in Havana and start the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, which lies less than 100 miles from Florida. 

I worked in Cuba several times in the early 2000s. I went legally, through workshops arranged by the Maine Photographic Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops). I didn't work on specific stories, instead I wandered the streets and traveled across the western end of the island, going as far east as Trinidad. 
Women in a home for pregnant women in Trinidad. The Cuban government provides basic health care for its citizens.

I was struck at the warmth and hospitality of the Cuban people. I was walking down a street in Havana and heard music coming out of a home. I looked in the window, and a woman came out to greet me. She dragged me into the house where there was a party going on and an older woman was teaching younger people how to salsa dance. 

Americans used to be something of a novelty in Cuba and the Cubans I encountered were eager to dispel misconceptions Americans might have about their island nation. 
A young woman wearing an American flag tee shirt leaves a bakery with a loaf of bread. 

Normalizing relations will likely lead to the end of the embargo and dropping travel restrictions to the island. Americans will no longer be a novelty in Cuba. I'm glad I was able to see Cuba when I did. The coming invasion of gringo tourists will probably change the island nation as much as Fidel and his comrades in the 26th of July Movement did. 
Scenes of Cuba - Images by Jack Kurtz

Cuba was one of the last times I used film in any significant way. Most of what I did there was photographed using Fujichrome Velvia, for the night, indoor and low light stuff I used Fujichrome Provia 400. My cameras at the time were Canon EOS film bodies and the Contax G2, a lovely small rangefinder like camera

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, December 17, 2014

Waiting for Rubber's Bounce

A rubber tapper walks to work on a plantation in Rayong, a province in eastern Thailand. 

I went back out to Rayong this week for another round of photography of workers in the Thai rubber industry. Rubber is a globally traded commodity and rubber prices are depressed to record levels around the world. Thailand is the world's leading 2nd exporter of rubber (and until recently was number one), only Indonesia sells more rubber internationally. 
A tapper cuts a tree to start the flow of latex. 

Rubber prices have fallen another five percent since I was in Rayong in September. It's now selling in Thai spot markets for about 48Baht (about $1.45 US) per kilo. The cost of production however has not fallen, it costs Thai rubber farmers about 62Baht (about $1.87). You don't have to be a math major to realize that you can't make a living when you lose .42¢ on every kilo of the product you make. 
A worker in a "middleman" business that buys rubber from farmers and sells it to processing plants stacks rubber sheets. 

Rubber is grown on everything from small mom and pop farms worked by couples and their children to sprawling plantations that employ hundreds of people. There is a huge infrastructure to support the rubber industry in rubber growing regions. 

There are so called "middleman" businesses that buy rubber from farmers and resell it to factories. There are large factories that process rubber and small cooperatives that educate farmers and try to help them get better prices. Driving through the acres and acres of ramrod straight rubber trees, it's hard to envision this part of Thailand without the rubber industry.  

The low prices are affecting farmers in many ways. Some have left the business and taken jobs in Bangkok or nearby towns. Small farms that used to hire a few workers have laid off their workers and started working their families themselves. There have been reports of a rash of suicides of rubber farmers unable to support their families. 

Many businesses in the rubber industry are trying to produce and sell rubber as quickly as they can. Since prices go down almost every day, they're not holding rubber in inventory. They tap the trees, process the latex and move it as quickly as they can, fearing rubber that sells at 48Baht per kilo today may sell at 47Baht per kilo tomorrow. 
Workers on a large plantation pour liquid latex into tanks that pump the latex into rubber sheet making machines. 

Rubber producers have little control over the prices their products sell for. The leading customer for Thai rubber is China. The Chinese economy is slowing down, reducing the demand for Thai rubber. At the same time, China is starting to produce its own rubber, in competition with Thai rubber. 

New rubber plantations are also coming online in Vietnam and even in existing rubber powerhouses like Thailand and Indonesia. Rubber prices were trending up through the 2000s and peaked in 2011 at 190Baht per kilo. People planted new rubber hoping the good times would continue. It takes seven years for a rubber tree to produce latex, many of the new plantations are coming online as prices bottom out, leading to an increase in supply at the same time there is reduction in demand. 
A worker hangs rubber sheets to dry at a plantation in Rayong. 

Thai rubber producers are hoping the government will intervene to prop up prices but the government so far has been reluctant to directly intervene. 

Rubber producers are also taking direct action to increase their prices.

Currently, most of the rubber grown in Thailand is exported to China and other manufacturing countries where it is turned into consumer products or put to industrial uses. Thai processors are exploring ways to use their rubber at home - they're starting to manufacture rubber products like floor mats and swim fins. 
Quality inspection stations at a processing plant. The numbers refer to rubber grades. 

The only real solution to the crisis in the rubber industry is to stabilize supply and demand but no one knows when that will happen or how long farmers and others in the rubber supply chain can hold out. 

I have more photos of the rubber industry 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. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pictures of the Year 2014 Edition

Children play with plastic shopping bags at a school for Burmese refugee children in Mae Sot, Thailand, on the Thai-Myanmar border

It's that time of the year, when photographers reflect on the year that is ending and start planning for the coming year. These are some of my favorite photos from 2014. There are several photos from Thailand's ongoing political crisis as well as photos from other stories I've worked on. 
A performer at a Mor-Lam concert adjusts her outfit before going on stage. Mor-Lam is a sort of Thai country music that has morphed into elaborate stage show and Vegas style extravaganzas.

A woman hands her child to waiting police officers in Poipet, Cambodia, during the mass exodus of Cambodian migrants from Thailand to Cambodia. 

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, December 10, 2014

A Word from our Sponsors

A photo William Albert Allard made in Peru while on assignment for National Geographic. 

I am happy to announce that I'm participating in a workshop with National Geographic photographer William Albert Allard next month in Bangkok. The workshop is being put together by Gavin Gough, a great photographer in his own rite, and promises to be a great opportunity to learn from a guy who is a brilliant photographer.

I've taken a couple of workshops from Allard, at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, they are highlights of my photographic life. His work has influenced my photography in so many ways and I'm thrilled to be able to participate in this workshop with Gavin. 

The workshop is January 23-28. We're basing at the Ad-Lib, a new boutique hotel in central Bangkok. The workshop fee is $2950, including single occupancy rooms. Gavin's workshops tend to sell out quickly. They are meticulously well planned learning opportunities. 

If you're going to be in Bangkok January 23-28 and you have an interest in photography and becoming a better photographer I encourage you to head over to the "Beyond The Frame" page and checkout the workshop. 
A cowboy bar in Montana. Photo by William Albert Allard. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Birthday Fit for a King

People gather in the plaza at Siriraj Hospital to send Happy Birthday wishes to His Majesty, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, on the King's 87th birthday

Friday was the King's Birthday, one of the most important public holidays in Thailand. Last year's birthday celebrations were flavored by the political protests that gripped Thailand. The protestors, who were ultra monarchists, had their protest headquarters just a few blocks from the government's main celebration stage. They hosted their own celebration of the King's Birthday at Democracy Monument, while the government hosted a celebration at Sanam Luang.

People could move freely from stage to stage and both sites drew large crowds but it was all kind of surreal.
People walk past a woman praying for the King's health at a pagoda in the Grand Palace complex. 

The military government has prohibited any form of political protest and Bangkok is now more peaceful than it's been in at least a year. The government went all out this year to celebrate the King's Birthday.
Elephants from the royal elephant herd walk through Bangkok on their way to Sanam Luang

Sanam Luang was turned into a huge fairground with multiple stages for cultural performances. Food booths lined the sidewalks around Sanam Luang. Every government ministry was doing public outreach in large tents with multimedia about His Majesty. 
The day started with a mass merit making on Sanam Luang. A man talks to a line of monks before the merit making started

The Palace announced early in the week that His Majesty would hold a public audience at the Grand Palace. Thousands of people came to the Palace early Friday hoping to see their beloved Monarch. Early Friday morning, just as the palace opened, it was announced that on doctors' orders the King would not be able to leave the hospital. 

I left the palace and went across the river to Siriraj Hospital. If the palace was crowded, the hospital was jammed. The plaza in the center of the hospital was packed. People were chanting "Long Live the King!" and serenading His Majesty (top photo). 
People walk into Sanam Luang for the King's Birthday.

I went back to Sanam Luang in the evening for the candle light service that honors the King. The crowds were massive and continued to grow through the evening. By the time the candle light service started, about 7.30PM, it was so crowded we couldn't move through the crowd. We picked where we would photograph and then stayed there. In years of covering the King's Birthday, this was without a doubt, the biggest crowd and celebration I've ever seen. 
Women in traditional outfits take "selfies" just before the candle light service started. 

The candle light service

The ceremony ended with a fireworks display after thousands of Thais held their candles aloft to honor their King. 
People use their smart phones to record the fireworks display that closed the ceremony

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.