Forests Asia Summit 2014 – Photo Competition

Jakarta, Indonesia will be host to the Forest Asia Summit in May 2014. As part of this summit, there is a photo competition that highlights the integral role the region’s forests play in the heritage, cultural and economic landscape. 

Here you can find three photographs from my residency in northern Thailand, as well as many other pictures of Asian forests and their communities. Show your support by voting for your favourite images. 

http://www.cifor.org/forestsasia/?contestants=lahu-basket-weaver-mother-daughterThe Lahu Basket Weavers

Catching time

Every morning I wander over to the collection of little huts that make up my neighbour’s home; the Lahu basket weavers.  A shy, friendly smile and a ‘Sawadee kap’ establishes my welcome and I start my photography work. I am not sure what they make of me but I am fascinated by their work and how they live. I know I am intruding on their space with my camera, so try and be as quick and as polite about it as possible.

 

Today two of their three children were also at home, helping with the basket making.  I have a good rapport with the man of the house, he makes me feel welcome and we use the international language of face pulling and hand waving.  I spend no more than 20 minutes at a time taking photos and I make sure they get to see the raw shots on the camera.  This makes the encounter more like a game. Having taken a few photos I bid farewell and hope that I managed to have all the settings right on the cameras. 

 

I am not only interested in documenting  their craft, I am also looking to capture the more intimate fleeting moments of shared humanity.    Like a butterfly that briefly shows you her colours, a flash of  beauty, and is then gone again.  I love that about photography; it allows me to catch a moment that is gone the instant I press the button. Trying to capture time is one of the most exhilarating things to do.

 

‘What we perceive as present is the vivid fringe of memory tinged with anticipation.’

Alfred North Whitehead (English mathematician and philosopher)

 

The name Lahu comes from La meaning tiger and Hu raise. Thus Lahu means literally translated people raising tigers. Burmese and Thai people call them Muser.

The ethnicity of the Lahu people is that they are a minority group which originated in Tibet and are now located in China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Some migrated to America and France. In Thailand about 120.000 Lahu people live; the third biggest hill tribe group. They are located in Northern Thailand of the provinces Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hongson, Tak, Kampheng pet and Lampang.

(http://www.lahuhealthproject.com/en/aboutus.html)

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A day at the temples

 

The place was swarming with independent travellers all doing the same thing. Like oversized beetles scrambling for a last meal, the backpackers seemed to have taken over the old part of the city.

 

I am in Chiang Mai, the ancient Lanna kingdom capital and I have joined the tourist trail. The city has an understandable attraction for tourists, less crowded and polluted than Bangkok, it boasts some 300 temples and many can be visited by simply walking or biking the moated city.  Getting to Chiang Mai from Doi Saket is an easy exercise, just hop on one of the many converted pick up trucks that now function as mini buses and they will take you straight to the centre of town.  It’s not only a very economical way to travel it’s also a lot of fun as I got a ring side view of the local traffic.   I went straight for the biggest and oldest temple in the city, I figured that would give me the best insight into the architectural and the cultural language of Chiang Mai. Both Wat Jedee Luang and Wat Chiang Mun are within easy walking distance from each other.  At Wat Chiang Mun is a tiny crystal Buddha called Pra Seh-Taang Kamaneeee. It is thought to have the power to bring rain.  That power seems to work to this day! 

 

I left the city that evening with a shopping bag full of new Thai style trousers and an understanding why so many people come to Chinag Mai and quite a few never leave.

 

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The real thing!

The real thing

The monsoonal rain dropped in like an old friend.  We both knew the routine, and after a short familiar exchange, in which I shared a shelter with a family of cats and the rain made it’s seasonal point, I continued along the sparkling, steaming road. My destination was the famed Wat Phratha Doi Saket temple.  Built in 1112, this Wat is named after the Thai word, “Senket”, and a Pali term, “PhraKesaDatu” which means the hair relic of the Lord Buddha.  I feel lucky that such an important cultural centre is within walking distance of my studio.  Mind you, walking in the tropics makes every step count twice. But I am determined to not only walk to the temple, but also climb the steps that lead up to it.  Eventually I reached the town, where an exhausted looking Coke sign proclaimed, ‘This is the real thing.’  Reassured, I continued along my track to the buddhist temple.

I am in front of the serpent framed steps and begin making my way up the road to enlightenment. Not easy work.  It was late afternoon and most of the visitors had already left the Wat.  The shopkeepers were busy keeping their shops safe for the night and the monks were cleaning up.  I could not have picked a better time to visit. The monsoonal downpour had transformed the Wat into a glittering jewel;  a photographers delight, with reflections everywhere.  I almost had a spring in my step on the way home.  This will not be the only time that I will be visiting this beautiful place.

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Sunday butterfly

The blue rice was served along side the read and the white rice. The food was as colourful as the butterfly that the children had created this morning. In an effort to keep all of my options open, my sunday was spend at the local church,  where with the help of a bunch of enthusiastic children we created another butterfly. I am starting to gain an insight what this project may be able to communicate.  In the spirit  of the philosophy by Joseph Beuys, that art has the potential to transform  society, this project saves as a platform for a cultural exchange. Through the use of simple storytelling and the local material we are able to create something that is both familiar yet new.  The ‘thing’ is both the object, the process and the experience.  The sunday butterfly is a light and fragile looking sculpture, like a fleeting friendship made on a sunday morning.

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Rain drops on lotus

She had me on the floor and there was no escaping her,  she kneaded and stretched my muscles  like a pizza dough and then twisted my limbs into a party pretzel.  Just moments before, I was happily walking along the road enjoying the daily street theatre of food sellers, darting motorbike and the local dogs acting tough in front of me.  I entered  the Thai massage place with some apprehension, this was going to be a first for me.  It only took  fife minutes of massaging and I was already converted.  I left the place feeling lighter and taller.  I know I’ll be back!

Stepping outside, I was once again cloaked by the monsoon rain like a well worn shirt and I made my way home.  Near my studio are three little lakes that are filled with the most stunning lotus flowers, each one floats in the lake like a small tropical island. There is nothing more peaceful than walking through a tropical landscape in the warm rain and there is nothing more beautiful than observing rain drops on lotus leaves. 

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