Wednesday, 27 March 2019

15/03/2019 - 17/03/2019 - Wrapping up the project

I spent the last few days of my time in Bangkok running around trying to get some final shots to wrap everything up, as well as watching a few more lb's drop off my weight on the scales. It had taken over a month for me to finally get a boost of energy in the conditions I was in, and now it was here I only had a few days left to make the most of it.

I didn't want to just run around taking pictures for the hell of it though. I had a few ideas for trying to translate the sensation of the city into visual form and wanted to revisit a couple of places to try and get more images of people and night markets but I was happy overall with the images I had. I wanted to make the most of my last few days in Bangkok on a personal level. I went to restaurants I hadn't visited yet, walked more places to see things away from the subway and MRT and took up jogging around the local park during the cooler bits of the last 3 days.

The park was close enough to the Hostel to be able to crawl back if needed, as even the cooler parts of the days were now still creeping over the 30 degree mark. The circumference around the lake in the middle was a measured 2k and I split my time between jogging, walking and drinking water. 3 or 4 laps around here at any time of the day was enough for any session, seeing the same faces multiple times and coming up with something witty each time on passing is tough work at the best of times for anyone gifted with wit. For someone like me without such a talent it was just impossible, but luckily the park itself was stunning. In itself it was pretty enough and interesting enough that it was hopefully able to distract attention from my lack of comedy prowess. No international crises's caused this time.

The night markets as ever were busy and I found that it only took a short period of time in quite intense surroundings before I was ready to leave them behind, bathed in sweat frome the heat of the environment and the heat in the food. Luckily each trip I took to any of these places had proved fruitful with multiple short visits building a good body of work between them. The 35mm lens I had purchased before I went to Vietnam had been worth the money that I had paid and had yielded some interesting results, responding well to what I had been asking of it. I had got intentionally blurry shots, motion shots, sharp shops and everything between. I had been going out with the intention of just getting a few more images before returning, but ended up with enough to spend a few more hours editing down after each trip out. As the saying goes though, you make hay whilst the sunshine's, and it turns out there was a hell of a lot of hay.

My job as I had seen in was to give a representation of Bangkok away from the idea that is often presented or thought of by those who have never been. There are seedier sides to Bangkok obviously, and as limited as these places are, at times it can be hard to ignore the areas which lie on main streets. when you are walking from point "A" to point "D".  One occassion a few days before I returned had me rethinking my entire project. I had chosen not to highlight this particular aspect of Bangkok as it's something I don't like and don't want to promote in anyway. When walking through one area lined with bars, well known food chains and expensive shops I was approached by one lady who looked at me said something to me I didn't hear initially. On removing my earphones I asked her to repeat what she said and she just repeated "I come with you?". This wasn't your "Pretty Woman" idea of a prostitute. There was no glamour. This was a plain, normal everyday looking, perhaps middle aged lady asking to come with me, but it's hard to describe the look in her eyes. Part desperation, part lost. As I told her sorry, as pleasantly as I could, I walked away wondering what else it is I could do? I left her to her own fate past a smiling thai chap who was sat against the railing watching the seconds events unfold. I thought about whether after all I had done, my project was being true and I still think about this. Above this though I still think about what I could have done differently and I still don't know.

I'm not sure I ever will.

There's still a lot to like about Bangkok and Thailand. But this moment changed everything for me and I don't know how to present this, or whether it needs to be presented at all. But I fely I was pretty much done now.

Friday, 15 March 2019

9/03/2019 - 14/03/2019 - Summary of the week

The cold I brought back from Vietnam has been a pain. The odd sniffle and sneeze aside (which is more a distraction that a hindrance) it is it's ability to absolutely sap the energy from you in even moderate heat which is frustrating as hell, even if it is also slightly admirable.

In between these bouts of lethargy however I have still been putting in a shift. I am walking more places, investigating side streets and alleyways looking for photographic opportunities. Some days I tell myself that I wont take photographs that day and try to leave thc camera back at the hostel, but this never works. Most days I take a day pack with me as it's an easy way to carry what I need without my pockets rammed to the brim forcing me into a John Wayne walk. With a bag I still have my wallet, phones and insulin pen fitting into my pockets comfortably, but I can more comfortable accommodate things like an extra insulin pen, some dextrose tables and a blood testing meter for the day. Sunglasses, hat and perhaps a light shirt in case I find myself in a place with overly efficient air conditioning are also now easily accommodated, and I might as well throw a camera in there too, plus an additional lens or 2. Would be easier with a second  camera body in there also and some spare batteries and a portable charging set up just in case. Travelling light isn't easy or even possible it seems but on the plus side if anyone tries to run off with that bag they aren't going to be getting anywhere fast.

One of the things I have tried to do the last few days is get images that I like rather than just those I thing are correct or fitting, although sometimes these things do marry up. There have been times recently when images I have taken must have had a big element of luck to them, but at the same time you do wonder whether there is an element of just being almost embarrassingly well tuned in or hyper aware. There is the colour matching situations where a certain colour or colours will match with others in the frame and too often to be purely chance, but at the same time I can't claim to be actively aware 100% of the time that that is what I am picking up on. But I think when you get into the right frame of mind there's a chance that it becomes second nature. On previous travel trips I have often remarked that for the first month, photographically I get very little of note. After that however something seems to click. I think here, there are occasions where things have just fallen into place and clicked when i have. This might be a landscape visible through the window of passing car, a gate on a van passing front of your subject at a particular time, or an eye looking though a minute space that has passed between the camera and the subject, however unlikely this might seem.

This of course could be for multiple reasons. It could be because I have found myself enjoying everything more again in recent days, but that enjoyment could just as well be derived from the fact that stuff just seems to be working. After reviewing some of the images I had taken in the 3 previous weeks I could see what had worked and what hadn't, and whilst it's still not clear how I'm going to get  everything working for maximum effect, I think it is clear that a lot of work has gone into getting a lot of workable images which I should be able to sculpt into a strong body of work overall. Everyday I edit the images from the days before, shortlisting the best and then working on those first in Lightroom and the Photoshop to get them to a certain standard. This process takes anywhere between 2-3 hours depending on the number of images I've shot over a period. On many days I overshoot, take too many images and give myself a larger workload than perhaps others would. But the cost implication on this run is time alone. I am not paying for film or the number of clicks that I have used in a day and the number of images is perhaps a reflection of my fear of not having a enough images to flesh out my final project significantly.  With Bangkok being over 6000 miles away from home, there will be no chance for re shooting after I leave here.

But I'm 80% confident of what I have shot and that's 80% in the bag already which might yet be enough.  It is a deceptively large bag after all.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

06/03/2019 - Short break in Vietnam before into the Bangkok home straight

I had spent a week in Vietnam just trying to clear down everything mentally. Before I had left Thailand I had felt the images I was getting were stuck in a bit of a rut, like nothing new was happening. I felt like I was just treading old ground, hitting the same shots over again and I reasoned and hoped that a break away might help end this repeating cycle that I was seemingly stuck in.  I needed to go away so that I could come back fresher, with new ideas, vigour and fresh energy. It was a good idea, but  instead I came back into a stepped up 37 degree heat with a cold virus in tow.

The flight back on Wednesday was early, leaving Da Nang international at 9:35 and arriving back at Don Mueang international in Bangkok an hour and a bit later, although I wouldn't arrive back at the hotel until 2pm which is the default check in time. Any ideas that I had about going out and looking for photo opportunities were quickly put to bed. I had struggled to stay awake on the 30 minuteminu ride from the airport to Victory Monument. On the BTS and MRT lines I had struggled to lift my bag high enough to clear the gates, instead having to ask the guards on duty if they could open the wider barrier at the edge of these obstacles to allow me to pass through unhindered.  I was caked in sweat, partly through my new found illness of course and compounded by the heat that had elevated noticeable during my time away. As soon as I found myself in an air conditioned room my body and mind urged me to lie down and resr for a moment. That moment pretty much ate up the rest of the day.

On Thursday I decided I had to get going and packed up enough camera equipment to carry me through the day. I intended to go to Silom, a place I have stayed in the past and easily accessible from my current location using the MRT subway line and have some breakfast before moving onto to the Khao San Road area to scope it out in the day. Khao San is a place that comes alive at night, but I wanted to do a test run when it was quieter, so get a feel for the layout and try and identify the areas worth returning to. Before that however there was Silom.

I wanted to get some use out of the 135mm lens that I had been carrying, the Carl Zeiss Jena. This is an old manual lens and I have said before that it can be a little bit testing to use sometimes, the 135mm and lack of Autofocus meaning that it can be difficult to hit the mark a lot of the time. The pay off however is that if that mark is hit, it is my opinion that this lens can give results that few others are able to match. In Vietnam I had been looking at the work of Saul Leiter and had been inspired by some of the work that I had found of his. He had his own style and it was his personal work that came to light later in his life which was kind of my penny drop moment. I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the shots that I though that other people would like as well as pleasing myself. Shots that I could build a either a single body or multiple bodies of work from in order to get the best mark I possibly could from my final degree module. Maybe I needed to go back to what I do naturally. Wait, watch, identify, react, shoot and perhaps even more important than anything else, do something I don't feel I have been doing with my photography for a little while, enjoy. I spent an hour in the sweltering heat of Silom, in and around the Sala Daeng BTS. By the end of this period I was feeling physically drained, the Zeiss however had proved itself yet again to probably be one of the best lenses I have ever, ever (and one more for luck), ever used.

I contemplated not carrying on to Khao San Road at this point. Even though it remains one of the most popular tourist spots in Bangkok there is no direct line on either the BTS or MRT. In order to get there from my location I would need to get the BTS to the river and then catch one of the ferry boats up to the area of the Grand Palace. From here I would then have to walk the rest of the way in a place that I wasn't all that familiar with. At the front of my mind however is that ticking clock, the countdown is on and ever encroaching so I pushed on.

The river boat trip takes about 20 minutes and even even under the beating sun, the space and air of the river provides a degree or two drop over the confines of the city. after that however it was back to the drain. My legs were heavy as hell, my energy levels were flat and it seemed that if I could find any little imperfection on the walkways to trip or stumble over I would do so and there are very few perfect surfaces in Bangkok. I found areas where there was little shelter to hide under and walked routes I had been before, getting flashbacks in certain places from events I had witnessed in the past. The familiar areas were still similar enough for me to recall bits in parts, but enough changed had happened that I never found myself completely sure of where I was. But after 5 years this change could just as much be down to my once reliable memory being less reliable also.

Khao San Road itself was wide, with enough people musing up and down to make the trip worthwhile. I walked up, and then down as the afternoon drew to a close and the vendors began setting their stalls, politely declining the advances of the many smartly turned out tailors that want sell you a fitted suit, looking up and around to familiarise myself with my surroundings for a future visit before returning to the river to begin my way back to the hotel before the light had dissipated completely. Again though the lens proved its worth. It's old manual functionality getting the most out of my part working a7ii. Who needs to worry about the inability to control the aperture with the rear dial on the camera when you have a mechanical wheel on the lens that will do this just as well.

The ferry boat ride just after 6pm coincided with the sun setting over the city, and this provided the perfect backdrop one last opportunity that presented itself. As the boat gently rocked against the choppy river waters, we past some of the sights of the city baked in the evening glow, but my eyes weren't being drawn that way. For me it was how the light was catching the young monk who was watching the riverside pass him by, the orange of his robes occasionally highlighted through the lens, occasionally muted by flare and optics. Religion  is a big part of Thai life but I had only seen a few monks up until this point, and few of these made good images. Here however, this changed.

The next day (Friday) I found myself feeling completely wiped out. I had over done it the day before obviously so the was no real option other that accept this and retire myself for the day, only breaking cover from the hotel a couple of times to get food before returning to the to room to do photo editing and the like. The effort on the Thursday had been worth it though and had been productive in a few ways, but it was mainly that it had produced a good number of usable images in a relatively condensed period of time, and I had started to enjoy myself again.

very short vietnam clip