So February is photo month here in Chiang Mai. And I recently had the privilege to help out with the Documentary Arts Asia f/28 Photo festival. I decided that for the event closing party that it was time that the Phototronic Imagitorium™ made another appearance.
If you don’t yet know about my Phototronic Imagitorium™, it’s my experimental and never quite official photobooth. The basic idea is to capture people’s true awesomeness broken free of the daily shams. Daily items are set out, and the subjects have free reign in their private booth to use them however they creatively see fit.
As many of you on all sides of the (border disputed) pond probably noticed, this past Thursday was the lunar new year (often called Chinese New Year), where many celebrated leaving the year of the horse for the year of the goat/sheep.
And we’re not talking you’re standard sprinklers and bottle rockets here. The Chinese prefer the more “mortars and artillery” variety of explosive. After all, these guys invented gun powder in the first place.
You probably noticed in the video that this isn’t in some field on farmer Liu’s land in HeBei county; this is in the heart of the city. Sidewalks, rooftops, middle of busy streets: all are fair game. (To the point where every building owner appoints a guy to stay on the roof and hose down any stray sparks, lest you end up burning down your multi-million dollar hotel like this one.)
To this end, I couldn’t help noticing from my snapshots from years before all tended to look like a straight-up war zone. So, I decided it was good opportunity for some fake straight-up war zone photography.
So we marched out in our small battalion of would-be soldiers, very fake guns and very real explosives to show just how much the streets of Beijing on lunar new year’s eve (ChuXi 除夕) resembled many conflict-torn areas of the world.
I should stop to point out, if not already absolutely obvious, that this is 100% fake and in no way intended to insult any country, faction, or real conflict. This is simply my way of comparing the insanity that is the lunar new year’s festivities to insanity elsewhere. I absolutely do not mean to trivialize real conflicts going on, and most definitely do not mean to demean real conflict photographers. You guys are my heroes. I wish I had half the genitals of solid steel you guys have and I truly feel your jobs are one of the most important services to society on earth. This also does not mean to insult China, or the new year festivities. I spent many years in Beijing, and enjoyed many new years eves joining in the insanity.
With that said, if you still find it offensive, then contact me and we’ll go blow something up together until you forgive me.
The night started slow and unassuming in Beijing’s Drum and Bell district, until the machine-gun-like cracks split the ears of all residents in the neighborhood.
After the first shots, it wasn’t long before troops for all sides bolstered for the bloody night ahead.
And, of course, many troops were lost as the night progressed into chaos. Medics were seen on the field, fighting their own battle to save the fallen.
After a long and vehement battle, and only the last few remained, the silence that overtook the once deafening bangs gave way to remorse. None would see joy in victory tonight.
And finally, once all had cleared the battle-grounds: the aftermath of the destruction. Only the cold, quiet battlefield comprised of streets that now ran red with paper remained.
It was a great time shooting these, and again, hope nobody was put off by a little fun. So happy Year of the goat, kiddos. I hope you brought yours in with a bang.
But he has since been working in Asia, and wanted the couple to have a more story-inspired set of photos for their nuptials, so with a single light and a faulty camera (luckily Aaron is also a photo/video guy, who just so happens to have a compatible camera body with him at all times), we headed out to the ancient Hoàn Kiếm lake in Hanoi to make it happen.
I plead for your ears and your gaze, my friends and onlookers. It is time you hear my tale of forewarning, so that you may guard yourself from stumbling into the night-cloaked madness of which I have become pitilessly consumed…
Should you remember where I left you in my last tale , I talked of when I first set forth to Southeast Asia to work on the Strange tiny People project. But for the sake of those of frail psyches and pure disposition, I omitted the horrors that would await me once I arrived in the Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi…
Upon arriving , I found Hanoi to be a hectic, though quite charming antiquity, with it’s French row architecture and cozy cafes awaiting me on every corner. Indeed, I was quite smitten.
But whilst I carried on in my delight and intrigue, something lurked amongst the quaint adornments of this amalgamation of the Franco-Orient.
For you see, my listeners and affiants, once the sun had retired, leaving the streets solely in the custody of traffic lights and neon signs, was when the maleficence that stalked above us made it’s presence evident…
As the night’s imbibements crawled into the witching hours, the establishment I had chosen to patron darkened their windows. I gathered myself as best I could and strolled along to the next watering hole. Yet, I could not escape this feeling of constant surveillance. “hummm” was the sound that followed me, ever tugging at my once-joyous heart . Indeed, the sound began to fill me with a sense of dread like I had never before endured. “hummmmm, hummmmmmm” ’til I could no longer neglect this constant buzz penetrating the otherwise serene darkness of my subconsciousness. So, with sunken throat and trembling stomach, I craned my ever-wary head up, and gazed upon what cloaked above me..
There, upon the posts where, in any other city still a-grip of it’s sanity , there should be a few sturdy telephone lines neatly paralleled to run services to their customers, loomed the beast that I have now come to cry out from my slumber as ..the Hanoi Spaghetti Monster.
My lips crawled to find my breath. Staring bewilderingly in the face of such complexity and evil, I felt almost in awe. Finally, pulling together my senses I turned to make my leave with haste, but just as soon as I turned the corner, expecting to have made clear of the blasphemous madness that hovered behind me, I again heard the persistent “hummmmm”. I looked ahead to see that this was not what I hoped was a single occurrence (perhaps the absurd toilings of a maintenance worker that was struck mad after some bad Banh Mi). Instead, I was made inescapably aware that they were, indeed, legion.
This was no coincidence caused by fate’s random clashings, but clearly an infestation of mephistophelean design. Dangling appendages sprawled and searched in all directions. Spreading out, back in, down, and through, until any service man must surely be driven into the depths of dementia upon attempting any hope of maintenance. Thus, claiming another victim to the spaghetti monsters’ unfathomed whims.
Everywhere I ran, I could not help but strike my terrified eyes upon another ghastly tangle, all connected to each other as one single, concurrent horror.
I ran as I’ve never ran before ( for mostly I had not often run whilst being that intoxicated on equal parts horror and Mekong Whiskey). I fled the nightmarish web I had fallen prey into, begging to find sanctuary.
At last, the pub where my companions awaited me grew into reach. I hurled myself into the safety of the large wooden doors to be greeted by my friends with warm cheer. They had not noticed the unearthly peril that lurked beyond the safe-haven of the pub doors.
Reflecting upon the terror that now drenched me, I knew it was best I not share with them the gruesome experience I had recently endured, lest their sanity too be drawn to a single, meandering strand. I drank my memories as deep into oblivion as I could until the sweet refuge of inebriated sleep fell upon me at last.
But no refuge was to be had. For my dreams did, and will for all future slumbers, haunt me with visions of demonic tangles.
I awoke the next morning, staring in fear at the door, terrified yet curious to know: do these monstrosities persist in the daylight hours? I got up and, trembling, opened the door and made my way to the streets where I looked upon this:
The limp corpse of that which had stabbed terror through my very existence the night before lay hanging from it’s once-ominous perch. What lied before me was still a perplexing omission of sanity that the world beyond this bastion of abnormality has remained luckily ignorant. Yet, no one noticed, as if daytime rendered all others immune to it’s evil presence. In truth, it indeed had lost it’s power. This mute lump of curiosity was no more frightening than the standard local motorcycle taxi.
But be warned, dear reader. To this day my sleep comes short and sparse, for I am still cursed by the images you have seen here. I have seen the tendrils of terror, and it is not dead, but merely dormant, lying in depraved wait.
For now, I will continue on with my memories of the sunny Hanoi, but forever tormented by that which lurks above when the sun takes it’s leave..
Exactly 1 year ago, I first threw my pack on my back, and left the keys on the counter. I wouldn’t be needing them anymore. I walked out the door and became officially homeless.
My pappy always said “the greatest of journeys can only begin with the greatest of hangovers”. At least, I assume he would have had he done much traveling (pretty sure he figured out the hangover part). So in true form, I staggered out and started my trek with the ringing of booze and explosions going through my ears that only Chinese New Years in Beijing could bring.
I hopped on a plane to Hanoi, and thus began my year through Asia, working with various schools and organizations promoting creative education with the Strange Tiny People Project. It ended putting a lotta pinholes on the map:
I have never felt as passionate about anything in my life as I do for this project. And I wish I could say it has been smooth going the whole way. It hasn’t.
It’s been amazing, the kids have been amazing, the places have been amazing, the kids have been mind-blowing, the adventures have been amazing, the kids have been horrifying.
And I’ve loved every minute of it, but it was a learning experience for me as much as the children. Issues of funding. Issues of time. Issues of schedules. Issues of exposure. Issues of language (big one here). Issues of resources. Issues of personal issues.. All these things were new hurdles I didn’t fully recognize.
Ok, finally a post about somewhere besides Vietnam. This time we’re heading into Cambodia. Around May, when I rode into Cambodia along the southern coast my first destination was the small but ever growing town of Kampot. Kampot is a tiny enclave of a city filled with arts, cafes, a giant durian fruit monument, a giant frankenstein bridge, and that’s about it. And this is what you do in Kampot: nothing. You loaf and meander around the town and countryside.
Outside the town does hold some nice gems to be explored, and one of my favorites was a small island, simply known locally as “fish island” in the south river delta (notice the trend folks, photographic stuff goes down in deltas). Only accessible via crater-filled dirt road and a couple of bridges that time (and public maintenance) has long forgot, it’s home to one of the many salt fields.
While the flat reflective fields set amongst quaint farm houses and rolling mountains provide some not-too-shabby eye-soakings, it’s the local villagers who work the fields and their families that drew out my lens most. I found no English, but a surprising amount of French, but none was necessary. Smiles, laughs and kids screaming “hello!” while racing alongside my motorcycle were enough.
Kampot is known for their locally farmed salt and black pepper. If you’re ever down in the area, I recommend you stop and eat anything smothered in both (they’re famous for their S&P crab). And remember to say hello to the locals for me. They’ll already be waving and saying hello to you.
Again we’re going back to the Mekong Delta. This time to the border town of Chau Doc. The town itself doesn’t have much, except for a rather serene mountain on the outskirts (another adventure, another post. In due time kiddos) .
The town itself does have one thing that is usually first on my list to check out when I come to a new town: the fresh market. Beijing a river town (pretty much every town on the delta is because, ya know, delta.), it has a very thriving market full of fresh veggies, fruits, and river catches.
The one thing that I always particularly like about asian fresh markets is the one thing that is in overabundance: laughter. Man, I know how lame that sounds, but it’s true. These guys have to spend all day hocking stinky fish next to each other, so if you don’t want to spend every day in miserable existence, you learn to get along and enjoy the blessings you have.
So it’s been a good while since I updated, again. (If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a little busy traveling). Scroll down for explanation.
But here are a few shots from back in April. Can Tho is pretty much the only medium-large city in the Mekong region of Vietnam. It is slowly seeing more tourism, thanks to its central location in the delta and the awesome floating markets around the edges of the city (pics coming in another post), but for the most part it is a medium-sized city that is very influenced by it’s close proximity to the Cambodian border. Thus, it has a large Khmer community, and I just happened to arrive the day before Khmer new year.
I was lucky enough to have a local guide me around and take me to the large Khmer temple located in the city center to celebrate the new year properly.
I could make up plenty of reasons about being too busy actually working on the project, the horrible-to-non-existent internet in many parts of Southeast Asia, or getting typhoid fever in Cambodia and being too tied up with fever-induced hallucinations to get around to blogging about said occurrences.
But while all of those have indeed been occurring, the truth is I am a 3rd-degree jedi blackbelt procrastinator when it comes to writing blog posts. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing my stories, but it takes me a lot of time and work to figure out how to properly express all the awesome that has been happening into an eloquently written essay (and then go back through and delete out all the fart jokes).
So from now on, I think I’m going to be updating with fewer images but much more often. And also, there will most likely be a lot less words. Part of the whole reason to become a photographer is to get to cheat when you tell stories by not having to actually write anything.
(and by cheating I mean lose all sleep, spend hours waiting and correcting for one shot, constantly having an itchy trigger finger, hours more no sleep editing, and then being angry because you were a second too slow on that one shot..)
Sorry about the dust. I’ve been kinda sprucing things up around here at the ol’ blog here. And, in between Seinfeld Marathons, I’ve managed to spruce up the ol’ website as well. You most definitely should not go to www.jbeardfoto.com and take a look at it. (does that little Bugs Bunny wait and pretend to whistle thing..)
One thing you might notice at the top is the slug-line “Not a Travel Photographer” . That would be because indeed I do not consider myself to be nor do I really wish to promote myself as a travel photographer. That being said, I am a photographer who is currently traveling.
If you’ve read any of my recent posts, then you know that obviously I’ve been still taking photos, and plan take many more. This isn’t my mission, however. My mission is my Strange Tiny People project. But to keep going with the project, I need to make some dollars (or bahts, riels, yuans, dongs, etc..). So, since it would be a shame to never put these photos I’ve been taking to good use, I’ve decided to put them up for sale!
That’s right, folks, step right up! For a limited time only, you too can be the proud owner of a photographic marvel from the Professional Foreigner series! These will only be available for a short time (until the trip is finished)! Head on over to joshuabeardphoto.com/prints today! Get ‘em while they last!
With sizes from 11″x14″ to a whopping 20″x30″ to decorate your fabulous living room, office, and/or dungeon! Amaze your friends! And, for 1 week exactly, you can have all of this for a very special introductory price of 25% off all stock! No need to ask the misses, just click today!
OK, now that I’ve shattered that soap box, let me explain why this print store is important: it is currently my sole means of funding my creative education project. Every time you buy a print, you keep me going on to the next school. I am not backed by a publisher, NGO, or sugarmama (any of those that would like to back me, hit me on the text ;). Travel, translators, supplies, gear maintenance: these are all things I have to keep covered or the project comes to a screeching halt.
While, again, I don’t promote myself as a travel photographer, I have worked hard and lost a lot of sleep perfecting these photos that are now up for sale. This is your one chance to own them, because after my travels for this project are over, so is this print run. They all come down, never to be sold again.
And to entice you further, I’m putting up a previously unreleased photo here and in the store early. This one involves my stay in Ha Tien, Vietnam. To read more, click that pretty boat picture below (hint, all the prints available in the store have a story alongside them).
So remember, kiddos. This week only, all of these prints are 25% off. So joshuabeardphoto.com/prints and get em while they’re cheap, and in the process, help give awesome kids the chance they need to show their creativity to the world (there’s all kindsa karma involved, I’m told).
I’m just wrapping up my work with the Strange Tiny People Project here in Otres village, Cambodia, which became a much longer stay than anticipated.
*note: keep reading here for shenanigans about Otres. Those with a serious jonesing for nutty kids, scroll down to the bottom for the Imagitorium™.
I came to Otres planning to just pass through after a very brief stay in the somewhat springbreaker-hell town, Sihanoukeville. But here’s the thing about Otres beach: not many people realize it’s there, and so it’s fairly untouched by major tourism (although it is rising exponentially), but those who make it there stay for a night, and leave 2 months later.
I came here in April, it’s July now..
There’s two main draws that made it rather hard to leave (read: very easy to just not move). Obviously, one of them is this:
And make no mistake, the beach is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s like someone painted the sky with unicorn-tears-wonder-paint, and some of it dropped off the brush and turned into lemongrass and fish that proceeded to make passionate flavor-filled love, then jumped on a plate pronouncing that their only joy in life is to be covered in curry and devoured by me.
But even living in coconut covered paradises wouldn’t be able to keep me from jumping on to the next adventure. Then I met with Suzanne, the owner of Rise Bar and Hotel. In addition to being a local business owner, Suzanne also has a small non-profit school for the children in the village called Painting Smiles. Paintings Smiles is really big on putting back into the local community, and thus they hire local Khmer teachers. They’re now trying to find funding so they can pay the salary for their teachers, and keep helping children as well as the local economy. Take a few moments to check out their fundraiser here on incitedorg .
It was there that I was introduced to the real reason I stayed for 3 months: