Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunset on the Beach

People gather on Patong beach to watch the sun slip below the horizon. 

We spent our last day in Phuket doing touristy stuff after I covered memorial services for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

This was our first time to Phuket. Patong has been in the news a lot the last couple of years for the terrible condition of the beach. There was reportedly very little actual beach left because vendors had staked out the beach and harangued tourists into renting lounges, mats, and umbrellas. Restaurants offering mediocre and overpriced seafood lined the beach road and generally made for a pretty bad beach going experience. 
A man walks along the beach at sunset. 

One of the first things the military government did after the coup was to "clean up" Phuket

One day soldiers came down to the beach. They kicked the vendors off the beach, closed the restaurants and work crews cleaned it up. One of the advantages of running a military government is that people seldom argue with you. The beach was transformed in about a week's time. 

I never saw Patong in its "glory days" but now it's very pleasant. The beach is wide and clean. There are still a few vendors walking up and down the beach but they're low key. Tell them you're not interested in whatever they're selling and they'll leave you alone. The lounge and umbrella vendors are mostly gone. The restaurants have moved into town. (But their touts, who line the road in town, are still obnoxious.) 

Walking the beach at sunset is not a bad way to end the day. 
A jogger passes a walker on the beach

On a technical note, I processed these photos through Lightroom, using my normal workflow, then I exported them to Intensify by MacPhun. I've had Intensify on my computers for a while now but never used it. I like what it does for beach sunsets though, it's kind of like the old days when my film of choice was Fujichrome Velvia. 

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, December 26, 2014

Remembering an Epic Disaster

A man lights candles during a memorial service on Patong Beach on Phuket for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. 

A huge undersea earthquake jolted the waters off Indonesia on the morning of December 26, 2004. The earthquake roiled the ocean and spawned a huge tsunami which spread death and destruction across the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea. 

More than 250,000 people were killed in the tsunami, swept out to sea, crushed by debris or drowned, trapped their homes, mosques, temples and churches. 

About 5,400 people were killed in Thailand. About half those killed were foreign tourists, who flock to Thailand’s Andaman Coast in the week between Christmas and New Year. It’s the height of the high season for the Thai travel industry. The resorts in Phuket, Phi Phi, Ranong and other beach resorts were packed. 
A Dutch survivor of the tsunami at a wreath laying service in Mae Khao. 

The tsunami came ashore a little after 9AM. Some people had gone early to the beaches, others were still eating at their hotels’ buffets. The water crushed everything in its path. In Patong, on Phuket island, the wave came into town about ½ of a kilometer before going back out to sea. The town’s densely packed beachfront hotel district was ground zero for the devastation. Hundreds of people died.

This weekend was the 10th anniversary of the tsunami. There were somber memorial services throughout the region. I went to services in Mae Khao, north of the Phuket airport and Patong. 

Mae Khao served as the main morgue for tsunami victims. Bodies were stored here for weeks, kept on dry ice to prevent more decay, while identification was made. Today the jungle has reclaimed what was once a scene of so much sadness. There’s a small wall in Mae Khao memorializing the work that went on here, but unless you know it’s there, you’re likely to drive right by it on the highway that heads north from Phuket to the Thai mainland. 
Australians who live in Phuket, and volunteered during the tsunami recovery efforts, hug at the wreath laying ceremony

In Patong there was a candle light ceremony. Thousands of candles were buried in the sand and lit after sunset. They created a beautiful glow as people walked silently across the beach. 

Thailand’s Andaman coast was wrecked by the tsunami, but as bad as the damage was in Thailand, the wreckage was far more severe in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Thailand got a lot of press coverage in the days following the killer wave because so many European tourists vacation here (about half those killed in Thailand were foreign tourists) but the damage was much worse elsewhere. 
Thai students help foreign tourists light a lantern during the memorial service for tsunami victims. 

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, December 25, 2014

Christmas in Thailand

A woman takes a "selfie" in Snoopy's winter wonderland Christmas extravaganza at Central World, a large shopping mall in Bangkok.

Bangkok comes alive in the Christmas season. The halls of the malls are decked out with boughs of (fake) holly. Santa hats are for sale in every intersection. Lights are strung, trees (also fake) popup in front of many businesses, not just the stores and that attract tourists but also hospitals, insurance companies and local markets. 
The Santa display in Central World.

It amuses me when bloviators and pundits in the US decry the "War on Christmas." There is no war on Christmas. 

Bangkok is a very diverse city. Most of the people who live here are Buddhists, but there is no religious persecution to speak of and Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and others are allowed to practice their faiths freely. Muslims make up the second largest percentage of people in Bangkok, but Muslim holidays are not celebrated with anything approaching the same public displays that Christmas gets. 
A Thai woman hugs a Santa Claus at a new mall in central Bangkok.

Christmas here is surreal. Thais bundle up in faux Santa Christmasy clothing and go down to the Christmas displays to take pictures of themselves as though they were at the North Pole or some other suitably Christmas destination. 
Mrs Claus hasn't worn something like this in years. 

Selfies with a Santa hat. 

I can't help but think it must be difficult for non Christians at this time of year in Bangkok (or anywhere else really). Although there's an active Christian community (mostly Catholic) in Bangkok, there are many, many more Muslims and Hindus in Bangkok. Their holidays aren't celebrated with any of the vigor that Christmas is. 
Santa gets ready to blast off for his round the world toy distribution binge. 

So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and the next time you hear there's a "War on Christmas" think about how prevalent the celebration of the day is, not just in the US but around the world.

For your Christmas listening, "Little Drummer Boy" sung in Khmer by Dengue Fever, one of my favorite bands.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tiny Boxers

Boys spar at the gym along the railroad tracks near Wong Wian Yai Train station in the Thonburi section of Bangkok. 

I've resisted the urge to photograph Muay Thai since coming to Bangkok because almost every photographer who comes here does a boxing story. But I stumbled on a small gym in Thonburi, along railroad tracks in a working class neighborhood, open on one side. I went on a whim and liked what I saw so I started going back. 
A tiny boxer takes a tumble.

And pops back up. 

Boxers, and aspiring boxers, gather at the gym every afternoon. The ones who are serious about boxing start their workouts by running. They run through the neighborhood for about an hour before coming back to the gym and jumping rope. 
A jogging boxer passes an exercise walker at the Wong Wian Yai traffic circle.

There are a few teenaged boxers at the gym but most of the people at the gym are children - kids under 10 years old who hope to box. Muay Thai is one of Thailand's most famous sports. It's both a sport and a cultural tradition. Fights start with prayers and traditional music. It's seen as a path out of poverty. Professional boxers have rock start status in Thailand. 

Muay Thai is a form of mixed martial arts. Boxers use their fists, their elbows, their feet and knees. I don't really enjoy watching boxing, but Thai boxing is interesting. 
One of the "serious" boxers works out with an aspiring boxer. She's seven years old and has been working out at the gym, every day for four hours a day, for five months. 
She works out as aggressively as any of the older kids at the gym.

The gym itself is barely a gym in the US sense of the word. It's open on one side. The train tracks are so close, boxers can practically reach out of the ring and touch passing trains. Spectators, who gather to watch the boxers, have to get off the tracks when a train comes. There are no weights, boxers use old car parts when they lift weights. The scale is an old railroad station scale. Boxers sit on it to be weighed. 
The weigh in before the work out.

The gym is a great example of repurposing and recycling. Nothing goes to waste. There are more photos of the gym 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. 

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. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Swearing Their Oath

Soldiers march on Ratchadamnoen Ave during the Trooping of the Colours (spelled in the British style because it's based on the British tradition).

December 5 is the birthday of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand. He was born in 1927 in Cambridge, MA. It's one of the most important public holidays in Thailand. The reverence Thais have for their King is hard for Americans to understand. 

Until 1932 Thailand, then Siam, was an absolute monarchy. A military coup in 1932 made the country a constitutional monarchy and the King became the titular head of state but the country was governed by a non-royal government. 
Another unit marches in the Trooping of the Colours. The hats are reminiscent of the bear skin hats worn by British soldiers but they're made of plumes rather than bear skin. 

The current King was crowned on May 5, 1950 but has reigned since June 1946. He is the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. Now 86 (going on 87), he is in the twilight of his life and has been hospitalized, or under a doctors' care, almost continuously since 2009. Trips beyond the confines of the hospital turn into national events covered live on television.

As he has aged reverence for His Majesty has grown. Thousands of people go to Siriraj Hospital every day to sign get well cards and birthday greetings for the King. Yellow is the color of the King (because the King was born on a Monday and yellow is Monday's color). Bangkok turns into a sea of yellow in the weeks leading up to his birthday. 
Spectators, all wearing yellow, watch the Trooping of the Colours on Sanam Luang. 

A boy sits on his father's shoulders to watch the parade. 

This year, Bangkok is going all in to celebrate His Majesty's birthday. There is a fair on the edge of the Sanam Luang with lots of food and cultural shows. Almost every booth includes a display on the importance of the monarchy, most have a short multimedia on the role of the King in Thailand. 
A woman and her daughter share a bottle of water under a portrait of the King.
Women in traditional outfits pose for a "selfie" in front of a portrait of His Majesty.

The Trooping of the Colours is a military event. Soldiers in very elaborate dress uniforms march through the old part of Bangkok and swear their loyalty to the King. In the past the parade was held on the Royal Plaza near Chitralada Palace. This year the parade was moved to Sanam Luang in front of the Grand Palace. 
Senior Thai military officers get together for a group photo in front of the Ministry of Defense building, opposite the Grand Palace. 

There are more photos of the Trooping of the Colours 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.