The Bartender – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

I’m in Burlington, Vermont. In a couple of days, a very close friend of mine gets married to a lovely girl. I approve, not that it should matter if I didn’t.

Anyway, that’s completely irrelevent to this post. Before landing in New York City, I spent a month back in Thailand, a land previously very close to my heart (7 months, straight out of high school, will do that to a person). There have been other returns to Thailand, and specifically Bangkok, where I was based in 2006. However I found this trip to leave a different impression. Things changed, for the country, sure, but mostly in myself. My values and beliefs no longer seem compatible with the lifestyle found in Bangkok, Thailand. Also relatively irrelevant to this post.

Now, relevantly. I had to get out of Bangkok. Bangkok had always been the one city I always claimed I could move back to in an instant, if I was offered a job there… but this visit proved completely different. I wasn’t enjoying my time there, I felt stagnant, and uninspired in the capital, so I left. I found myself in Kanchanaburi and made some friends. One of whom was Jeejee, the bartender at one of the 10 baht shot bars. 10 baht is roughly 30 cents. We spoke, became friends, and through her and the other friends I made, I broke my 2 weeks of sobriety at that same 10 baht bar. The bargain was too good to refuse. And she and her bar made a nice subject to shoot.

So, this is Jeejee.

 

I’ve had a few beers tonight. It’s a reunion of old friends, deal with it.

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The Net Mender

His name was Ali Ibrahim. It probably still is. In all honesty, I know virtually nothing about the man.

But, I was in Malindi, walking off the beach, and saw him sitting in a rundown shed, mending his nets. I started to walk off, paused, knowing he would make a good subject. Approaching random people to ask their permission for a photograph has been my biggest weakness as a photographer, and I have missed many opportunities because I wasn’t comfortable asking the question (the problem is magnified by my oft-inability to speak local languages). This time, however, I was with Wawi Amasha (more on her later). Wawi is a constant inspiration to me, and her presence coaxes me to push myself to achieve more.

I almost walked off, but I knew I would be disappointed in myself, like every other time it happened. Instead, I asked Wawi to help me translate, and I entered this rather ramshackle wooden shed. This Ali Ibrahim, in our brief encounter, had one of the warmest, most genuine personalities I have come across in a long time. He granted me the courtesy of shooting while he worked, and I only stayed for a few short minutes, before he gave me his address, for me to send some prints to him.

Walking away, I reviewed the photos, and felt I could see his gentle personality in the eyes of this portrait. I was so grateful to him, for allowing me into his personal workspace, and to Wawi, for unknowingly forcing me out of my comfort zone, in my endeavour to become a good, if not great photographer. That’s the goal, anyway.

When I return to Kenya, I must return to the red wooden Malindi Co-op Fishing building, and if I find him there, I can hopefully have a real conversation with him. I’ll probably need Wawi to translate again…

Simple Plan, We The Kings, The Never Ever. Wollongong, Australia

Aside from seeing my younger brother for the first time in nearly two years, one of the main things I was looking forward to on my (brief) return to Australia was the opportunity to shoot some concerts back at my old venue. Before I graduated university and left home, I was shooting concerts most weeks at the University of Wollongong. Once I had booked tickets back here, I checked with the venue to see if there were any bands playing during my visit. Sure enough, Simple Plan was lined up. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of their music, they are still a pretty big name, and as such, I was keen to have a shoot.

I was kind of also meant to cover Anti-Flag, and wish I did, but had certain reasons not to… which turned out to be the wrong decision, but such is life, and I won’t make that same mistake twice.. in the near future.

As for the concert, Simple Plan, from what I saw, appears to have a very teenage fanbase, most of whom were queued outside the venue an hour before doors opened. The bar was also closed off before the concert so I couldn’t get a beer before going in. Not happy. The opening band, The Never Ever, surprised me, with a ridiculous level of energy, and ridiculously photogenic band members. Shooting them was some of the most fun I have had behind a camera… Unfortunately they only played a 20 minute set.

We The Kings, however, just didn’t do it for me. The crowd loved them, and they seemed to love the crowd, calling out to “all the sexy Aussie girls in the crowd” (all-ages gig, remember…). I’m sure they just go along with it to keep the fans keen on them… But yeah, music was a bit bland for my taste. I can honestly say that I can’t even remember what they sounded like, they had such little impact on me. That may just be because they weren’t anywhere near as easy to shoot as TNE, but let’s not get pedantic (yes I googled the definition and spelling).

Finally, Simple Plan. As I said, not a fan of their music, but they put on a very decent show, full credit for that. With each chorus, the photo pit started shaking from the crowd’s jumping. So full credit to the crowd also. Noone rocks out at a concert like teenagers. And yes, the band played their hits, whatever they are called. So if you like their music, or like live music with a good atmosphere, go see Simple Plan at an all-ages show.

I’m not in Nairobi anymore

Boarding ticket stubs. Ergh

I have actually been back in Australia for a month now. I planned for this return to let me catch up on writing and editing, but instead I have squandered my time here. But I’m ok with that.

The decision to return sprung up quickly on me. I had been staying at my mum’s house in Ngong, Kenya, for most of the last 6 months. She was returning to Australia to see the family, and she wanted me to come back too. Being a mother, she realised that the only way she could guarantee that her, me, and my little bro would be in the same room again, was if she offered to pay my ticket back.

I almost declined, I thought about it, but then I got continually more and more excited about the idea of seeing my brother (20 months since I had seen him last). So, I agreed, and about 2 weeks later I was flying out, on a different set of flights to my mum (it was cheaper when I booked). Nairobi – Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi – Bangkok. Bangkok – Hong Kong. Hong Kong – Sydney. Sydney – Albury. So 5 flights, 6 planes (one plane had a mech issue), 6 hours sleep, 6 beers, 7 meals, and about 48 hours later, and I surprised my unknowing brother by walking off the same plane as mum.

That was a month ago. In that time, I have gone drunk camping, thrown out/given away/prepared to sell half of my belongings, gone boxing, eaten far far far too much western food and desserts, gone boxing more to try and counter the food, hitch hiked to Wollongong, visited friends there and in Sydney, photographed Simple Plan, caught a ride back to Albury, and gone snowboarding. I did succeed in doing some editing, and I do plan on writing about my backlog of adventures in East Africa, but they will no longer be in a chronological order, because:

Tomorrow (was meant to be Thursday but I pushed it back twice) I hitch hike to Melbourne, and on Monday I fly to Bangkok.

TED visits Nairobi

I’m completely backlogged, and have too many awesome things happening lately, so forgive the potential lacklustre writing in spaces, I just want to get all the photos out… Deal with it. Anyway:

Sometimes things just fall into your lap when you aren’t expecting anything. You just need the right attitude, and to be ready for anything. Often I’m not ready for anything, and go into town for what is meant to be an afternoon before saying yes to a multiday trip somewhere without “necessities” like spare clothes, or a toothbrush.

While not as extreme as that situation, I did find myself in a position a few weeks back where I was in Nairobi central to meet some mates, who wouldn’t be there until later. I made some phone calls, and was told by my mates with the What Took You So Long Foundation, that they were shooting the TED Auditions at some fancy private school that night. If I had my camera they could pass me off as crew for the night Did I have my camera on me? Yes. So I decided against my other friends (photography always trumps dinner, especially with snacks on offer).

If you don’t know TED talks, they are, in my own words, a bunch of inspirational talks from people with innovative ideas, or outlooks, or just interesting things to say. They are worth a look of your own, because I don’t explain things well. Anyway, here’s some photos. The event also gave me my first real chance to test my new lens for the DSLR. So here’s results.

Oh, and I slept on another couch that night. No toothbrush, no spare clothes.

"I swear, it was THIS BIG!" Had to

The undercover journalist. Awesome

 

The Internet Banking Ordeal and My Regression to the Digital Age

In mid 2009 I bought a Canon 40D, and a Sigma 24-70 2.8 to accompany it, as a reward to myself for scoring well in the GAMSAT (graduate medical school entrance exams, it may be obvious I decided not to pursue that path anymore). That camera/lens combination served me well for concerts, clubs, mountain biking, snowboarding, street and travel photography. In late 2010, I was exploring the abandoned Bokor hill station on the Cambodian coast, when I slipped on my ass, and busted my lens. It was repaired in Hanoi for $40US, and worked for another 3 months, before it died a final death in Bruges, Belgium. The Canon S90 point and shoot I bought in Phnom Penh, as a substitute, continued to serve me until it was stolen in April 2011 on a train in Italy.

Just before the Italy theft, I was working in a hostel in Split, Croatia. Since it had been a few months since I had checked my bank account, I logged on to my internet banking to see how much money I still had. At least, I attempted to log on. 3 times in a row, I forgot my password, and subsequently my netbank was locked. Easy enough solution, I just had to phone the bank and answer my secret question, to reset the password. Of course, I had a job at that time, earning a solid $10/day working at this hostel. So I figured “What’s the rush, I’ll sort this out later. If I leave it locked, it could stop me eating into my savings. Besides, I’m earning enough to live on.”.

August rolls around. After becoming manager of the hostel, I had a falling out with the owner, quit, and went travelling around Western Europe for another month with my girlfriend at the time. I returned to Split, moved into an apartment, and started working for the pub crawl in town (there’s only one true pub crawl in Split: Tower Pub Crawls. Ignore the imposters.). During this time, in true tightass style, I would walk into the town centre, sit against a shop wall, and pull out my netbook to take advantage of the free internet. Concern was developing at my potential lack of future funds, so I started a weeklong attempt at Skyping my bank. After finally getting through, I forgot the answer to my secret question, three times in a row (It was “What was the first country I visited”. Don’t ask, I genuinely thought it was a trick question). As a result of forgetting the secret question, I was then required to fax a copy of my passport to the bank, so they could confirm my identity. Who the hell still uses fax?

“Eh”, I figured. “I still have this pub crawl job, and if I work hard I’ll make enough cash to get me to Turkey, for my flight to Kenya”. Combine this thought with my utter laziness and disdain in searching for someone with a fax machine, and I decided the email could wait. After all, I was living and “working” (read: Paid Partying) in Split, Croatia, renowned for it’s beautiful beaches. I didn’t want to waste good beach weather on a fax machine hunt.

September, 2011. I found myself in Skopje, Macedonia. Having befriended an American photojournalist, I was feeling severe withdrawals from the photography world. In a back alley antique store, I found an old Minolta SRT-101, with 50mm f/1.7 lens, for 40Eur (after bargaining). Ignoring the fact that I hadn’t seen my bank account in over 6 months, and had NO idea how much money I still had, let alone had access too, I made an impulse decision and bought it.

October, 2011. I had successfully hitch hiked to Istanbul. I fell in love with the city and spent 2 weeks exploring it before my flight. The Minolta was well-appreciated here, and I couldn’t imagine my stay without it. Five days before I flew out, I found a mint condition Minolta 28mm 2.8, for $80US in a camera store. By this point, I knew money was low in the 2 accounts I had access to, I mean, it just HAD to be running low, but, with a new friend getting a tattoo that afternoon, and I couldn’t resist the 28mm (Wide-angle super-grainy black-and-white film… I could just picture it). With just enough in my wallet, I chalked the purchase up as 2 less bottles of vodka. Two days later I ran out of money. Regretting my earlier laziness, I emailed my mum, who deposited money in my travel account (Thanks, Mum) and had enough money to get to Nairobi and buy my Kenyan visa.

January, 2012. I had tried numerous times here to fax my passport to the bank. First, the faxes were too faint, then they were too dark, then I faced numerous power outages each time I tried to send a new fax. I finally succeeded in sending a fax the bank would accept. Next problem, the signature on the passport didn’t match the signature on file from when I opened the account at age 13. F*&$. Correspondence with the bank followed, and I was left with the only option of trying to remember/guess every signature I had ever used up to this point. If that failed, I would have to unlock the account in person. Passports endorsed by the Aussie High Commission wouldn’t fly. Using my mother’s legal Power of Attorney wouldn’t fly. No choice but guess the signature or go home. Should be easy, I would only have to fly back to Australia and walk into a branch to do that. Shame all my money was in an account I had no access to, so I’m not sure how they expected me to buy the ticket home. Desperation peaked, with a trip to Zanzibar just 2 days after this new development.

April. It’s been a year since I forgot my internet banking password. It’s been more than a year since I have seen how much money I actually have. For a year I have suffered the frustration of having money, but also having no access to that money. As much as I wish I could say I made it on my own, I unfortunately have some small loans owed to both parents. But, after hassling my father, brother, and grandmother, I have finally had success. My brother made some inquiries, which unfotunately didn’t solve my issues. My father sent me an email saying “You should have dealt with this earlier” or something along those lines. Thanks Dad, I realise this, and am suffering the consequences, but thanks for the constructive suggestion. My nan, however, was able to sweet-talk the lady at her local branch (who apparently recognised my name) into pulling a few strings, and ignoring some red tape, and boom, I was allowed back into my account. Nan called me specifically to hear my reaction when she spelt out the new password, chosen by her (and dedicated to her too, it seemed). Ninety minutes later I bought new lenses for my 40D.

Now, truth be told, I love film photography. Many people over the last 6 months here have heard me explain my choice to shoot film only (partly a lack-of-money decision, but mostly for the feel of it), and I stand by everything I told them. Film is a dying medium which need to live. It’s a beautiful way to make photographs, and can carry so much more emotion, depth, and character in each frame than digital. But, as much as I love film photography, and will continue to shoot and promote it, Kenya has kicked it in the nuts. After losing 7 of my last 15 rolls, mostly due to poor developing, I started to lose willpower to continue with it. After all, how can you continue to dedicate much effort to shooting, when you have an almost 50% chance you will NEVER see the photos. I still have 15 rolls in the fridge, and will shoot them, but developing will have to wait until I’m somewhere with reliable developing services.

Now, after 18 months, my Canon has itself a new Sigma 17-50 2.8, and a beautiful Canon 85 1.8, which after just 30 minutes shooting, I have already justified spending the money on. All the photos are from the children’s centre my mum manages..

The man, the legend. Kingstone

Mum's foster daughter, Diana

The pose deserved the processing. First time doing PP in a long time