26 Jan 2013

Third photowalk: Pridi Banomyong

I have travelled along that road countless times, either by bus or by taxi, as it is a pretty long stretch of hot asphalt with few shades and nothing of much interest. But the thing is, today I had a date to go to the cinema early evening at the Cineplex just at the end of that road, but I still had three hours ahead and I felt like going out for a photowalk, after almost a week since the last one. So, the logical conclusion was to just "walk" all the way from home to the cinema, 5 km away, camera in hand. I grabbed a big bottle of water, and left my room, wondering what I would encounter along the way.

Facade, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Surprisingly, there were not many cars on the road today, which made my stroll all the quieter and more enjoyable, as the paving stones are more often than not in really dangerous conditions, forcing us, humble pedestrians, to walk frequently over the road. Not to mention the absence of zebra crossings of any kind, which leaves no other choice but to risk your own integrity every time you need to cross to the other side.

In motion, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The uncountable stalls that populate this street (as all the others in the city) as evening approaches, were not yet present, so I didn't come across many people at first; I walked calmly, checking my surroundings, that were not very exciting on the first km or so; all I could see, one after another, were small garages, gas stations and tire shops.

Gathering, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The neighborhood seemed totally drowsy, bathed by the mighty sun and resting in an unusual silence for a city like this, but I kept walking at my own pace, among phone boxes, closed doors, shabby yards,  dormant back alleys. The dominant color in this part of the city is, invariable, dirty grey, with all its tonalities, ranging from almost black to near white, and that's why any spark of color appears as an oasis of life, amidst so much monochrome.

Urban snake, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

As I continued walking, the atmosphere changed gradually, and the scents of human life started to awake; in the covered yards between neighbor buildings, people were running daily errands, working on routine tasks, or simply resting in company of others, unperturbed by my timid presence.

To each his own, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

At last, the doors of the houses were opening in search of a bit of breeze, or maybe awaiting customers, which let me peek inside them with total impunity: Thai houses have traditionally been opened during day time to encourage a sense of familiarity and community between neighbors, and though this has been definitely lost in the big cities, in search of the newly desired privacy, some areas of Bangkok still retain an atmosphere of small village where everybody knows each other, where the houses embrace one another, as a big family.

Welcoming smile, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

That ambient made me miss my hometown, which once used to be so similar in that sense. But those days are fading behind, as even rural areas are changing rapidly nowadays, abandoning that openness, and trading it for privacy. I continued my advance incapable of shaking off this homesickness from my heart, and finding, house after house, open doors showing its naked posessions. No exhibition, reserve or indecency: just clarity.

Distribution of spaces, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Workshop, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Houses that are also workshops, or workshops that serve as houses; to live and to work are two inseparable realities here; time and space make no distinctions between both of them, as we do in Western cultures, so I shall not judge that which I cannot fully comprehend. Far from it, my role is just that of an observer, who sees, retains, and remembers. There is no rationalization involved, only curiosity, interest, and empathy. But even here one can find places that have been left behind, traces of another time, a time when, maybe, waters were still clear.

The kitchen, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

I reached the cinema on time. But I'm afraid the movie won't be the strongest memory I will keep from this day.

20 Jan 2013

An evening at Asiatique

This morning a couple of friends suggested to meet downtown for a coffee and chit-chat; I hadn't seen one of them for quite some time, and I know it's always fun when the 3 of us meet together, so I quickly jumped in and we decided to meet straight after work, early evening. As I wanted to check some filters at one of my favorite camera stores before, we decided to meet at the nearby station, without an specific plan on where to go afterwards. However, as we realized how near we were from the recently opened night market of Asiatique, and neither of us had been there yet, we agreed to give it a try.

The eye, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The most recognizable spot of the market is, undoubtedly, its ferris wheel, the only one of its kind in Bangkok, as far as I know. It was still a bit early, and the place was quiet; many stalls were still closed and few curious people were walking its lanes: this surely gets much more lively as night closes in and lights wake up, so we just sat in a bench, bought 3 Japanese ice creams, and enjoyed the breezy evening under the big, spinning wheel.

The wheel and the lamp, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Even though Bangkok is quite hot, my friends and I prefer to sit outdoors rather than suffer the unbelievably cold air conditioner most of the indoor areas have, as a proof of some economic wealth that makes not much sense if you are forced to wear a jacket and a scarf every time yo enter a shopping mall, train or cinema. We just talked for a while, ice creams long gone, watching some passers-by taking pictures here and there, buying some presents, or getting on the wheel.

The black sheep, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Asiatique Market used to be located near Lumphini Park, in central Bangkok, but real estate speculation  forced all vendors and stalls to move out and so, a few years later, the market has been relocated and finally reopened by Chao Phraya River. The new location is quite interesting: these used to be the old warehouses of the river, but they were long abandoned, so this can be considered as a double rebirth, and it will surely give the area a new commercial appeal. The place has been totally renovated and only the external structure and roof have been preserved, all the interiors completely redone. But one small building from the former era has escaped the fate of modernization, and remains unaltered in one corner, maybe as a remainder of the past, or as a warning for the future.

Remains, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Sunset was coming, so we walked to the riverside and enjoyed the views of the busy river, with multiple boats coming and going, carrying all sorts of things (people included), and visitors constantly coming to the market for dinner or drinks. The banks of Chao Phraya River are seeing a rapid development, but this area is still quite dormant, and not much invasion of high-rise construction has touched these shores. Yet.

Quiet conversation, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Things were getting busier by the minute, the pier were we had to board the boat to go back to the BTS station was getting full of people, and we were also starting to feel hungry, so we decided it was time to return, before the crowd would get even bigger. So we took our farewell pictures, and left the market promising to be back, next time at night.

Pangky & Oat, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Pangky & Oat II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

17 Jan 2013

Workplace turned into photography playground: Ramkhamhaeng University

One of the advantages of having a small-sized camera system (even though GH3 is the biggest among its m4/3 peers) is that you can fit it inside your usual bag, without the need for extra space. So today, as I know I had only a few classes at the university and would finish teaching early, I decided to bring the camera along with me in my backpack. As soon as I finished my last group, I had lunch at the canteen and started my short walk around the campus ground.

Go straight, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Arches and inverted stairs, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

The campus is such an everyday environment for me, always associated with work and other unjoyful duties, that I challenged myself to walk the routine roads trying to see things I never noticed before, even though they had always been so near. Before long, and just by turning at the corner where I would normally go straight, I met the first little surprise. Little as in I'm a little drunk, when you actually don't even know where you are, that is.

No way out, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

What offends the nose perhaps pleases the camera, so I decided to climb the mountain of doubtful refuse to see if I could advance on the other side in unexpected directions, but as the good old truck seemed to be warning from the very beginning, there was no way out back there. So I climbed back and, as I was leaving the place, a golden shimmer caught my attention between the garbage.

It's not a flower, but it also grows in unexpected places, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

I continued walking for a while, but it was that time when most of the students finish their classes, and the lanes were becoming more busy, so, even if I hadn't explored that much yet, I decided to call it a day with the mental excuse of you can do this again any other day. You work here, anyway. Laziness is, without a single doubt, the biggest enemy of any creative work, but we always find pretexts to justify what is, ultimately, our own failure. I didn't want to feel remorse afterwards (how many times do you remember that shot you didn't take because of so many stupid reasons?) so I decided to avoid the hordes of students and I looked for shelter in an abandoned building that was nearby. 

When nobody looks, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Threat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

It happened to be the old gym of the university, that once used to host a pitch, an auditorium and several other small rooms, but now all doors were firmly locked, ruins severely growing everywhere. However, not all hope was lost, as some students had decided to recycle its open lobby as a fencing training site, and reunited there regularly to sharpen their skills,  so near the bustle of the university, yet so hidden and quiet. I sat down for a while, watching the immobile contenders testing each other, and promised myself to do more exercise in the future. Whatever.

Balance of power, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Balance of power II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

14 Jan 2013

Second photo walk: Khlong Saen Saeb, II

I enjoyed my relaxing walk the other day so much, that I decided to repeat location on my second photostroll; being so near, it was comfortable and convenient for me to go there at any time, so after lunch, once the sun was not so merciless anymore, I took my iPod, my small backpack containing my camera, my 2 lenses, and a bottle of cold water, and left my room. To make things a bit different, however, I decided to walk the right bank of the canal this time.

Fake autumn, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

There is only a few meters of stinky waters between both banks, but everything on this side looked different, more expansive, broader, not in the physical dimensions, but in the atmosphere that I perceived while walking there: the solitude felt distinct, the light, the sounds... Even the weeds that grow with impunity in the abandoned buildings shone with special intensity.

House of nobody, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Saen Saeb was once a clear canal, which used to feed thousands of people who lived on their sides, trusting it as their primary way of transportation, as their resource of water and fish, as their place of entertainment (Bangkok was know as the "Venice of the East" back then). Now, just a few decades later, all that remains is an oily, opaque, reeking stream of dark waters where only the speedboats seem to feel at home.

The new neighbor, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

It's amazing to me how life sprouts in the most unhealthy environments: in spite of the ruins and deserted plots, the polluted waters and the rubbish, one could find, also, bursts of life and beauty along the way. It's indeed miraculous that a seed can root, and grow, and survive with the only fuel of these waters. Maybe there is something I don't grasp, or I'm blind to. Or may it be, perhaps, that the attention of pairs of caring hands watering then, day after day, is powerful enough to overcome toxicity and poison?

The garden, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

But, again, my outing was a lonely one: afternoon makes no exceptions, and it always locks people inside their houses, wary of the darkening, tropical sun, no matter what month of the year. As I advanced, I only came across a few carefree animals who seemed to enjoy the serenity of the ambient as much as I did.

Sad-eyed, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Wrecker twins, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

As much as I wanted to run into someone and seize any chance to capture some portraits of the local people who lives in this area, there were no chances today, and my walk was, from beginning to end, an exercise on lonesomeness. Nobody dared venturing into the sunny walkway, so I marched ahead without any obstacles. But suddenly, when I felt almost hopeless, a slight movement caught my attention: there, inside a small house, eyes wide open, a baby, barely standing on his own feet, was looking at me.

The fence, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

His grandfather, who had built the fence himself very skillfully, gave me permission to take a picture of his cute grandson with a nod and a smile on his face. Yes, Thai people is, more often than not, kind and gentle, specially the farther you go from the touristic, downtown areas. But the same cannot be said about stray dogs: they are threatening and very territorial, and, after a couple of hours of calm, uneventful stroll, I reached a messy patch of land where a few unfriendly dogs came to meet me, fangs barking at me. So I, prudent and a bit coward, had to give up and step back until I reached the closest bridge, and cross back to the left side.

Links, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Only now that the sun was dimming people started populating the tight pavement, but I try to avoid overcrowded places, so I decided it was time to walk back home already (my bottle of water was long gone and I felt thirsty). I stopped for a moment to observe the twilight over the dancing waters, and, after a few minutes, while the echoes of the nearby mosque were fading in the distance, I slowly travelled back to city life. We will meet soon again, Saen Saeb!

Convenient yet unsafe, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Natural lights, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Obviously, what welcomed me back to the bustling roads was the chaos of street vendors, settling their stands or already engaged with indecisive customers. However, today I felt tired and didn't want to snap more photos, so I walked past them as fast as I could, on my way back home. But my camera was still hanging from my neck, so it was quite fast for me to raise it one more time, as I turned the last corner before the small, quiet soi that leads to my house, and grab a colorful still to conclude the session in high spirits, and good smell! Have a good evening, everybody!

Scents of faith, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

10 Jan 2013

The first photo walk: Khlong Saen Saeb

As soon as I charged the battery and experimented a bit with the basic settings at home, I was ready to hit the street and start shooting. Obviously, the easiest way was to stay in the neighborhood as an initial contact with the gear. But this, while safe, could potentially introduce the risk of  familiarity, that is, not being able to see the things that we are used to observe every day, in a light that could give them interest and new shape.

That's a very interesting topic that deserves a separate discussion altogether, but then, itchy as I was to stroll the streets and capture some stills, I didn't worry too much and just left my room and headed to the canal, the only place in my area (I live in eastern Bangkok) where you can walk without the roars of heavy traffic around.

Underbridge, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Walking the narrow paths on the side of the canal is, at once, a relaxing experience (not much happening around, specially in the sunny afternoon hours, except for occasional kids riding a bike, or a motorbike), and a risky one, as the regular boats that carry passengers across the city seem unconcerned about the safety of its customers, and march through the dirty waters as if they were competing in a speed race, splashing generously in all directions.

Dry season, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Today I decided to walk the left bank, the one I'm more familiar with, and just enjoyed the silent, peaceful stroll under a sun that was not specially insolent. As I advanced, I focused on small things, here and there. Khlong Saen Saeb has probably seen better times, as now the whole area is full of abandoned buildings, ruins, debris and decay.

The hole, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Moss, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

My walk was quite lonely, as the only living things that I could see, from time to time, were grumpy cats, or sweaty birds, resting on the top of electric poles. If there is any fish alive under those black waters, I could not see it. But I befriended a small insect who was apparently having a nap on top of a stray flower and, as he seemed fearless enough, I tested the near-macro capabilities of my lens with it. Thanks pal!

Fearless, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

Local people tend to avoid this sunny hours as much as they can, so I didn't have the change to encounter many folks, and have a few words with them with my very limited Thai; however, I was lucky enough to meet a couple of receptive people who were willing to be captured by my camera. Unsurprisingly, they were a kid, and an old man, as these are always the two groups of people that attract my attention inmediately.

The artisan, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Tie break, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Sunset was approaching, and I knew what that meant: the flow of people would increase dramatically, coming and going in those precarious walkways, and the frequency of the unhealthy boats would also speed up, raising the risk of undesired rain showers, so I hastened to the nearest soi (that's the name for alleyways in Thai) in order to return to usual suspect: busy Bangkok.

Abdication, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm

As I was going back home, I realized I was getting hungry. But then, that is the smallest problem someone can have in a city like this; in all property, that cannot be named as a problem, rather as a momentary inconvenience, for you have mountains of food, ready for you, within reach, anytime, anywhere. Specially when night falls, the sun fades, and all the vampires that were hiding away in their coves, come out and overflow the streets. Buen provecho, everybody!

Beginning of the shift, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Aroi!, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

8 Jan 2013

Discovering photography

I was anxious. That’s the word to describe how I felt today when I finally held my first “serious” camera in my hands (I'm now a Micro Four Thirds user!). I had been shooting with basic point-and-shoot cameras for a few years until now, as I travelled from country to country. The experiences had always come first, while photography had always been a distant second. “Live, and then shoot, if you have some time” was my motto as I packed my bags and moved from one place to another, the small camera buried beneath piles of clothes and books.

Do I regret not having more shots from that period? That’s a tricky question: I enjoyed every moment I spent at every place, and they stay vividly in my mind. However, memory is wilful and not always reliable: photography can help it to remain sharp, and awake. Maybe I have lost things that I could otherwise retain, had I snapped a picture back then.

That’s how I see it now: I haven’t changed priorities, joining the thousands of ramblers who seem to travel around the globe (or their neighbourhood) for the only sake of taking pictures, whatever they might be, forgetting to “live” those moments in the meantime; I have learnt that both are intertwined and cannot be separated: “live while shooting, and shoot while living” could sum it up.

And so, new walks are about to start. But this time I will always have my camera in hand, legs and hands working together, advancing, seeing, strolling, framing, running, snapping. And, along the way, along the shutter presses, multiple smiles, and talks, and surprises. I'm sure of it.

Here it begins a diary of little discoveries and walks full of images. No matter if you travel far or just around the corner, the line between routine and adventure is indeed thin. It’s up to you which side to venture into.