18 Mar 2013

My first Thai wedding. Part II: the guests

Early morning, as soon as I arrived to the house, the preparations were already on their way and, as I still had some time before I could start taking pictures of the bride and the groom, I decided to walk around the village for a while, to breath the fresh air of the countryside and see for myself how life was unfolding, full of its daily routines. It didn't take long to realize that everything seemed to follow the same patterns as any other day; that a wedding, in a community like this, is lived as part of the usual flow of things.

Morning walk, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Flower arrangements, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

As much as I enjoyed photographing the couple at every stage of the ceremony, I couldn't help but focusing my attention in the guests that were gathering in the house yard. This being a modest ceremony held at home in a small, unglamorous rural village of Northeastern Thailand, there were no fancy clothes or hair styles, make-ups or jewels to show off; instead, it was all about the looks and glances, smiles and nods, about the affectionate gestures and touches of these people who were just being themselves as any other normal day. 

Retinue, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

I was touched by their absolute naturalness and lack of concern for any formality: they were among neighbors and friends, and that sense of familiarity was evident in the way they interacted with each other. There was no place for rigidness or ostentation, they were all equals sitting together on the same rugged floor. No more, and no less. From kids to elders all at the same level.

The gathering, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Women world, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

And even though I was obviously the discordant element in the party, the foreigner with the camera against his eye at all times, they seemed totally unconcerned and untroubled by my presence; I tried my best to be as discreet and silent as possible, and using a medium telephoto lens was helpful in this matter, as I didn't need to stay near the couple, amidst all the sitting people, instead being able to photograph all from a reasonable and unobtrusive distance. And grabbing some close-ups of small details, along the way.

Resting, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Praying, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

It's no surprise to me that the two targets I unconsciously and constantly focus on are elders, and kids. I always find a magical spark in their eyes that catches my attention without fail, their ingenuity or disinterest, their innocence or wisdom, their wonder or kindness. There are many adjectives, but images suffice. This is a photography blog, after all.

The hairgrip, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Eyes that wonder, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Shy, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Hope, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The people disappeared gradually and silently, resuming their tasks and chores, and only some kids remained in the yard, playing loudly with each other, but night was looming up and it was time for everybody to return to their homes and let the happy house rest a bit, after such a busy day. It has been a terrific day, and I will make sure not to forget it. 

The ride, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Links, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

My first Thai wedding. Part I: the ceremony

I had been there a few times before; I had stayed at their warm, wooden house some weekends with their family, and lived like one of them, comfortable and eager to accept the rules of the countryside, breathing the clean air, feeling the unstained breeze, eating and sleeping over the mother ground, refreshed to be far from the shrillness and blemishes of Bangkok. Nadee, lovely little hamlet in the middle of Isan, only endless rice fields around, you always welcomed me, the fair skin foreigner, with open arms, yet I never paid you back. You seemed not to ask for anything, though I felt that was unfair. Hence, when I heard the good news, I had little doubt: that was my chance to repay all your generosity  the only way I could. Very early this morning, after a few hours in  a night bus, I have landed here again, camera in hand, ready to see, and capture, all the memories of this day. Here is the testament of my first Thai wedding, as my little gift for the marrying couple, my friends, and all their family (which is to say, more or less, the whole village).

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The first arrangement I, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The first arrangement II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

It was still dark night when the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere, and the driver said a name, loud voice that awoke my sleepy ears. I jumped out of the seat: that was my destination, a lonely crossroads with a tiny streetlamp, a phone cabin and a little hut. But I didn't have to wait long, as the pickup arrived in a few minutes, the usual, friendly smile welcoming me back, once more. We traversed a few kilometers through vast land extensions of rice fields already harvested and, finally, under the first lights of sunrise, we reached the small village, hidden between the trees. But nobody was sleeping anymore, and the plot in front of the house was full of activity already. The first thing that I could see, stepping out of the car, were the flower bouquets, beautifully and carefully arranged, sparkling between the farming implements under the first rays of light.

The first arrangement III, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

I entered the house, all doors and windows open, greeted everyone around, met some new faces, relatives that had visited from far on such an important day, and was offered some food immediately, as it is customary. I politely had a bite, but didn't feel so hungry yet. Moreover, I didn't want to delay more the moment I was anxiously anticipating: meeting the bride.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The bride, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

She was nervous, as I was myself: nobody had asked me to do this, but I had decided to do it on my own, and I had put a lot of pressure and expectations upon my shoulders: I'm very perfectionist, and I wanted to deliver the best I could; therefore, and trying not to disturb their preparations too much, I stayed in one corner of the room, making an effort to get as many moments and details as I could.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Upsweep, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The interior of the house was dimly lit, so I decided to use my fastest lens; however, it is not as wide as I needed, and many times I realized I didn't have room to move backwards so I couldn't fit all I wanted in frame, but I rather sacrificed some field of view than light. I played my cards the best I knew; besides, being a fast lens gave me another thing that was very welcome for the portraits and close ups: shallow depth of field. So let's try that out and welcome the other half of the equation now, shall we?

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The groom, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

While the bride waited inside the house, surrounded by women, the groom had to walk home from outside the yard, surrounded by some friends, plus all the neighbors and other guests who were joining the celebration. Carrying a dish with food, a palm tree and a beautiful centerpiece, three relatives were escorting him to the house, a forth holding an umbrella above him to protect him from the strong sun. 

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The carriers, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The centerpiece, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Procession, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The procession approached the wooden porch solemnly and, once there, they laid the three offerings on top of a small table / altar, and everybody sat down on the floor, all covered in carpets for the occasion. The man who was going to conduct the ceremony and rituals (not a monk), started reciting some prayers and blessing the offerings, the groom sitting in front of him, accompanied by his best man, all awaiting the moment when the bride would appear.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Rituals, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The best man, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Between the walls, the women were busy with the finishing touches: the bridesmaid was receiving the last makeup, while the bride was arranging her dress to fit it perfectly. The small crowd outside was waiting, and they were ready. So, at last, without further delay, the doors opened and the bride went out. She sat down beside the groom, and the true ceremony started.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The bridesmaid, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The arrival, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Initiation, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

I guess photography, as any other art and craft, needs practice, and mistakes are part of the learning process; I had many today, but maybe the biggest of them all was keeping a fast aperture all the time; yes, I was somehow blinded by the beautiful effect of shallow depth of field blurring backgrounds and isolating the focus plane, but I didn't realize at that moment that I was, as a consequence, taking pictures of just one of the couple each time, and rarely having a picture where both were in sharp focus. This worked very well for the single portraits, but in the group pictures it definitely was not optimal. Lesson learnt.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
His mark, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Her mark, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Once they were both blessed with the white forehead mark, it was time for one of the most significative and symbolic moments of the ceremony: the bond. The mother of the groom took a soft, white rope, and gently tied it around their heads, linking them together. I guess some symbols transcend culture, time and civilization and belong deep inside humankind's psyche from the beginning of time.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The bond, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

But there was still another white symbol to emerge: a single, delicate ribbon was knotted around their wrists, one after another, and, after that, a slice of Western culture made appearance: the golden ring. And it was not the only foreign intrusion of the celebration, as they threw some rice above them, as well, act that could never be more appropriate anywhere else. It truly seems we live in a global era, no doubt.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The ring, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Local & foreign, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

And so the ceremony ended. But not the wedding, as all those silent neighbors and friends had been silently awaiting all this time for their chance to be participants, as well, and not only mere observers. They stood up from the carpets, approached the just-turned-husband-and-wife and, one by one, they tied more laces around their wrists, offering with them their best wishes, and some money, as little or much as they could humbly give.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Epilogue, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Suddenly, the people had abandoned the porch and everybody was sitting in the chairs under the canopy, out in the yard, enjoying lunch. And only then, after a few hours in the strangest and most uncomfortable positions taking pictures in the most discreet way that I could (I thank the silent mode of my camera for that), I felt like I was a photographer, as then the bride waved her hand to me and asked me, timidly, if I could take some pictures of them with the family. They were even setting a colorful background for the shoot. I smiled and, obviously, took all those pictures they wanted. The only ones they requested me. For all along I had been just a friend. A guest at their wedding day. My sincerest thanks!

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Family portrait: the younger generation, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The first day of the rest of their lives, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

But the story doesn't end here. You can see the images of the guests in this post.

14 Mar 2013

Same old road, new grounds: 3 digits Ramkhamhaeng

I got a job offer. Nothing related to photography, as this is mainly a hobby and I have never earned any money with it; but the prospect of working at a new place in the near future was the perfect excuse to get me excited, take the camera, and go out to explore the grounds where, most probably, I will spend most of my time soon enough. The road is the same old Ramkhamhaeng friend where I have been living all along, but a few kilometers away, escaping from the city to the NE. Only the name remains unchanged, because the whole area is distinctively different from mine. Less concrete. And more nature.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
To reflect in order to hide, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

There is one element, however, that links all the different neighborhoods that make up the vast Ramkhamheng road, and that is water; no matter where you go around the long road, you will never be too far from a stream, a canal, lake or pond; and along the banks of them, life will always sprout, proud and fiercely, relying on that water for most of their daily routines.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Underpass, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

I didn't want to walk along the main road for too long, so at one point I ventured into a smaller soi that was leading to a big neighborhood called Sammakorn Village; it looked like a place I wouldn't mind living in, should I make the move to work in that area, so I entered the community and started wandering around the empty streets of afternoon. The first building that caught my attention, obviously, as it is visible from the very entrance of this secluded world, was the majestic water tank. And we continue spinning around the holy element.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Water tower I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Water tower II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Water tower III, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Sammakorn Village is mainly populated by small (and not so small) houses, each one of them with their own little (and no so little) garden, which is a welcome departure from the usual high rise buildings of downtown Bangkok; it's a pleasure to walk the green alleys that spread lazily without any fixed pattern, spotting a few people here and there riding their bicycles, crossing multiple playgrounds and green areas, and even having some breaks by the waters, again, of a few generously sized lakes.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Onshore, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

I left Sammakorn Village and started walking slowly back to town, while meddling from time to time in adjacent streets and fields whenever I saw something that grabbed my interest; the size of the houses was getting bigger as I was approaching the city center, but it was still manageable and cozy, not too unpersonalized yet, and it had an unmistakable nostalgic air around it, as if we were in a period long before ours.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Nostalgia, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

An, punctual as a Swiss watch, as soon as the sun started to lower its intensity, people began to appear from every door and every corner, empty hands in search of something or loaded backs in search of customers, each one on their way, and all ways converging, sooner or later, in exchanges.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Ice cream man, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Early hunger, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Always aware, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Some are about to finish their days and are getting ready to return home for a well earned rest, while others are just starting their shifts now, perfect timing in a city that never sleeps yet works more intensely in the evening hours. However, others are not that fortunate to have a break, and seem to be working there since before we arrived, and will continue long after we have left.

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Working colors I, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
Working colors II, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm
There are some universal truths, whether we like it or not, that scream out at our faces every day, yet we don't dare to hear. The beauty of photography is that it can capture them; the cruelty of it is that it will never judge them.

3 Mar 2013

A quick visit to Benjakiti Park

The plan was to go to the cinema to watch Park Chan-wook's latest, his Hollywood incursion Stoker; however, we were a bit early so, in order to kill some time before the movie started, we went to the nearby park for a short half an hour stroll. Benjakiti Park is a medium sized park next to the Asok BTS station, but in such a high-rise, developed area of the city, any small oasis of green is more than welcomed. Surrounded by skyscrapers and occupied by a large lake in the center, Benjakiti Park is a peaceful retreat for the urbanites who need a short break from their busy lives.

City palette, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Most of the people come to this Park in the late afternoon and early evening, once the weather is more bearable; the scenery is very well looked after, there are colorful flowers all around, and the grass looks always green and fresh, the perfect place for a bit of silent reading, for a walk, to take some pictures or, of course, to do some healthy exercise.

Taking turns, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

There were plenty of kids playing in the playground areas, mothers in circles chitchatting nearby, lone walkers, timid couples and fast bikers passing me by but, in a quiet corner, suddenly I could feel how the activity and liveliness of the environment had faded, how the calm was surprisingly pleasant and the motion of the city had completely slowed down to its bare minimum; in the midst of this retreat, some people were praying at a small shrine in utter silence.

Recess, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

There are a few constructions in the park, apart from the shrine, such as some small fountains, a few gazebos for occasional concerts or as refuges agains the usual monsoon rains, a public toilet's stand, and, scattered throughout the gentle slopes and winding walkways, some sculptures and adornments of different kinds.

The elephants & the wheel, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Even though the park is by no means big, and it is located very near the city center, it actually gives a high sense of isolation: the trees are tall and, when you are walking under their branches, all remains of urban life fade away; only a few concrete sights appear between the leaves, every now and then, to remind us that we are just mere meters away from civilization, after all.

Beyond the fence, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

We had roughly time enough to complete the walk around the whole perimeter of the park in 30 minutes, walking at a photographic speed, which means, as you can guess, slow (the camera would be the substitute of the shell of the snail, in this analogy). The movie would start soon and night was already growing, so we hurried a bit at the end, and left the park exactly when the lamps were being turned on.

Receiving the baton, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

As soon as we left the park gates and entered the underground cave leading to the trains, colors shifted drastically and greens were replaced by grays, sedated breeze replaced by metallic noises. Thats the kind of sharp contrast this city offers to its guests. One of many. 

The circle in the land of lines, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The circle in the land of lines II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Oh! And the movie was not bad, by the way!