i have spent some of the most incredible moments of my life in the company of strangers in places other then my home. and sometimes i experience these moments by myself. these discoveries have always enabled me to keep traveling. for most of my life. I say this because I didn't start traveling when I picked up the camera. I thank my parents for their encouragement to experience the world around me since i was a teenager.
often times these moments make me feel most alive; breathing and being. i admit, however, at times i feel guilty i don't feel or have those same enlightened moments when i'm back home. Or, it leaves me feeling helpless and defeated because i don't know how to help.
one of these moments happened to me when i was on the plane leaving phnom penh, cambodia to yogyakarta, indonesia, to cover the erupting Mt Merapi. there was a large group of young women, maybe even teenagers, 16-20 or so. i couldn't really tell. They sat together, like a soccer team, with new shoes and backpacks; new clothes and travel documents. They sat quietly until it was time to board. I saw a woman, perhaps Malayasian, as the country was our initial destination, who seemed to be in charge of the group. Upon boarding, i sat next to one of the girls. She seemed eager and chatty with her friends in the seats in front of her. Like getting on a roller coaster ride. She didn't know how to fasten her seatbelt, as it was her first time on the plane. I didnt' even recognize the Khmer language, so I assumed it could have been a dialect.
These young women did not speak English or Malaysian. I knew that they were off to work. Probably as maids. I wanted so bad to give her a card or a phone number, to give her emergency money, and to tell her if any thing happened to call me. But I didn't know how to communicate that to her. I worried about her fate even though I didn't know her true destination. I really wanted to just follow them...because this is a very important issue. Too often you hear stories about poor SE Asian women lured into promising jobs, when in reality, they are destined to work as slaves in modern times. I feared this, the unknown, for her and can only be left with hope that my worries are wrong.
Well here it is. I've been procrasting on posting my 2010 year in pictures because I've had such a hard time editing, but thanks to friend and photographer Kevin German who helped pretty much edited my selects from the year. And also because i've been absurdly obssesed with this particular song to go with the slideshow. For me, it sort of articulated the mood of this edit. I ended up having to cut it short, poor song, but in the end it really doesn't matter because its not about the song as it is about these pictures. Right? So if you are over it, go ahead and hit mute. Otherwise, the song is untitled, by an Icelandic band called Sigur Rós.
This is my second year working as a freelance photojournalist. It's been a year of tremendous growth in the way I photograph, what I look for, and opening my eyes up to see beyond the immediate. I especially thank my closest friends and mentors for the support and for pushing my vision. Without an agency, or a collective, or really even any proper marketing, I've managed to successfully obtain new clients, from assignment work to resales. While its great to have the support and annual get togethers, in my opinion, you don't have to be a part of a collective to make it as a photographer. You just need trusted friends, colleagues and mentors. And a home for your archive.
These 25 pictures are a cumulation of assigment and personal work. The resilency of these people i've met and photographed will always make me a stronger person. This year I continued my projects on addiction in Cambodia and Sharia law in Aceh. In Cambodia, I gained rare access to a drug detention center (or re-education center) that had been reported on for human rights abuses. I also had several incredible travel assignments from the NY Times, here in San Francisco, throughout wine country Northern California, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Foto8 featured a collaborative story on dam issues in the Mekong delta, and twice Slideluck Potshow DC selected two stories for their events.
My goal for 2011 is to refine the kind of photographer I want to be; telling stories about people and places affected by politics on a social level. I've always believed in the power of journalism, and the still image. I know that at the very least, it engages people into discussion. I prefer not to cover stories where there are dozens of photographers already there because other just-as-important stories go forgotten. And I don't have to travel (far) but I do, because these journeys have always been a part of my existence, since my first breath of life.
I recently learned that my work in Aceh, Indonesia received an honorable mention in the FotoVisura Grant Photo Contest for Personal Work along with many talented photographers in both art and photojournalism communities: fotovisura
I rarely apply for contests so i'm quite honored to have been nominated as a finalist. Congrats to my colleagues and the grant winner Justin Maxon!
My time in Aceh has been bittersweet. The first time I came to Aceh was about this time last year...I photographed the 5th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami and life post conflict. I had a number of stories I wanted to work on, and for the most part, had a very productive 2 weeks, many thanks to my fixer/translator. I guess I had the same expectation this time around. Only I found myself on a plane two days after arriving in Aceh, to Thailand, to cover a colleague who fell ill in the hospital and could not photograph a job for several days. Thankful for this unexpected job and extra cash, I did however loose 4 days that I would have spent otherwise working on my project on Sharia law....returning to Aceh and realizing it just wouldn't be enough time to gain access and time to photograph, i stayed in Banda Aceh trying to scratch at the surface of other ideas for my project.
The most challenging part is that i came across many obstacles for stories. I don't know if it was me expecting too much to accomplish, or it was the mystery of the universe telling me to slow down. Some times, some things just don't click right away. Its all about timing. So until next spring, I'll be planning better, and saving, for yet another return. And maybe with a little bahasa Indonesian.
Last week I left Cambodia for Yogyakarta, Indonesia to cover a couple days of the effects of Mt. Merapi volcano. I've actually never seen a volcano. Alive. And breathing. Was fascinating. NPR selected several of my images for their volcano coverage, where you can read the story and view slideshow here: waiting for the sky to fall
And you can see much more of volcano images on my archive (2pgs): Mt. Merapi
Burn victims continue to die at least once a day...the city hospital's ICU unit is overwhelmed with the number of patients. Some of which they are not quite sure how to treat because of internal burns from inhaling hot toxic gas and ash. While farmers continue to harvest with the looming volcano behind them billowing black and grey smoke.
I came to Padang, Indonesia, with the hopes of doing a story on the Mentawai relief in which hundreds had died from a tsunami triggered by a 7.7 earthquake. I decided not to continue since i had just a day and a half to produce something, clearly not enough time to work on this story...and perhaps i'll return another day with a story about the Mentawai and not about the tsunami. Left feeling a bit defeated in my pursuit, i hopped on a plane back to Jakarta. The view after take-off was one of the most spectacular aerials i have seen (the other was flying over haiti and the domican republic and seeing the stark environmental contrast of the the two islands). And all regret had washed away.
My project on the Fifth Year Anniversary of the Tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia was recently recognized by the Asian American Journalist Association for the National Journalism Awards in Photography. This was a self-funded project, which took me to Aceh Province on the island of Sumatra in the fall of 2009.
See my mug: AAJA
Many thanks to Paul Sakuma and Albert Lee for helping me send my application and project while I was working in Cambodia.
See project: Five Years Later
NPR's The Picture Show
I recently photographed an assignment for the NY Times travel section in Indonesia, just a stone's throw from Singapore. i was so lucky to shoot this. Indonesia is one of my favorite places in the world, and there are so many hidden discoveries. I was fortunate to meet such great people during my time there. I am always surprised and thankful for the generosity of others to help me along the way and allow me into their lives and cultures.
To view the story and slideshow: Where Isolation is a Perk, and the Point
It must be difficult to be an editor. I know that I have such a difficult time editing my own work. But I can't imagine doing the job of an editor, to narrow large edits to just a few pictures. Here are my outtakes, along with some of my favorites from the private resort island of Nikoi and the Tanjung Pinang, Bintan island, Indonesia.
On Dec. 26, 2004, water rushed into the city of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Many thought the looming grey background was the overcast sky until the series of several large waves engulfed the city as high as four stories.
and my work was also highlighted on photographer Ed Kashi's blog, who mentored me a few years ago and has seen my work develop. Ed's constant reminder to follow stories that I care about has resonated with me for many years, especially through the tough times when I was not progressing visually. His incredible work on photojournalism and storytelling on the effects of politics, whether through health care or natural resources can all be seen on his website and stories throughout National Geographic.
The people of Banda Aceh never knew what a "normal" life was previous to the 2004 tsunami, which killed about 160,000 people in the Aceh Province of Indonesia. They lived with 30 years of war in a politically unstable region. With the help of hundreds of international aid organizations, the entire city and surrounding villages were rebuilt, leaving residents to continue on without them with the daily buzz of motorbikes and the call to prayer. And without political strife due to the signing of the 2005 Helsinki peace accords between the Indonesian military and the rebel army of the Free Aceh Movement.
Lampu'uk, where the 2004 tsunami travelled nearly 7km inland, killing nearly 4 out of 5 of the population and wiping out a generation of school kids. but today, like most Sundays, Acehnese spend their time with family and friends at the very place that caused so much destruction. But still, recovery moves on like the ebb and flow of the tides. Below: families play at the beach and after dusk at the beach.