Friday, August 30, 2013

The Elephant on the Pitch

Pachyderms power up the pitch during the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament.

I went to the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Hua Hin this week. Elephant polo is a real thing. It’s like regular polo except it’s played in elephants instead of horses. There’s an annual elephant polo tournament in Hua Hin, about 3 hours south of Bangkok. 

The tournament is sponsored and hosted by Anantara Resort in Hua Hin, it’s a fund raiser for elephant rescue and to help abused elephants. 

Traditional polo (played on horses) was developed in Persia (Iran) more than a thousand years ago as a training regimen for elite cavalry units. Elephant polo was developed in Nepal about 30 years ago by a couple of guys who I’m guessing had too much to drink. 
Thai dancers get things started at the opening ceremony of the tournament. Music was provided by a local high school marching band that played the Marine Corps Hymn

Elephant polo is played by teams of three. 

There are two people atop each elephant. The player and the mahout. The player’s job is to 1) stay on his or her elephant and 2) whack the ball when ball whacking is required. The mahouts are local elephant  handlers who know how to make an elephant go in the right direction. Many of the players also play horse polo and very competitive, but riding and guiding a horse is a lot different from riding and guiding an elephant, hence the mahouts. 
Player and mahout atop a pachyderm. 

An elephant polo pitch (field) is about half the size of a horse polo field. Which makes it very easy for the photographers on the sidelines to run up and down the field and photograph the game, which is pretty slow. For one thing, elephants are not as fast as horses. Then there are the players, who are sort of lashed to the elephant on a saddle that’s little more than a blanket and ropes. The mahouts ride more or less bareback.  The elephants don’t gallop up field as much as they do trundle around the field. 

It’s a bizarre spectacle. On one hand, the competitive polo players take it quite seriously and are there to win. On the other hand, it’s polo on elephants. 

I enjoyed photographing the elephant polo. It was completely different from anything else I’ve done in Thailand. The closest thing I can compare it to you is water buffalo racing in Chonburi. The people at Anantara were great hosts and the tournament supports a good cause. 
A mahout decorates his mount. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

PhotoShelter and Me, Pretty Good Company*...

An Anti-Government protester in Bangkok compares the Yingluck Shinawatra government to the Nazis. I uploaded a version of this photo to my archive then used PhotoShelter ftp export options to send it to ZUMA

I really enjoy living and working in Thailand. This is an amazing country in which to be a photographer. It’s easy to make a life here, but there some things I had in the US I really miss here. Reliable internet would have to be at the top of the list. Internet connections, pretty much everywhere I’ve traveled here have been comparatively slow and unreliable. (Compared to Laos and Cambodia, which despite being a generation or more behind Thailand‘s economic development have much faster internet.) 

I’ve lost count of the number of times my ftp client (the excellent and otherwise reliable Transmit) has dropped connections or timed out because of issues with my Bangkok internet connection. 

I’ve been using PhotoShelter to host my archive and website for years. 

When I was in the US, that’s pretty much all I used PhotoShelter for because I always had reliable internet connections - so I would upload my photos to my archive and then upload separate copies of the same photos using my internet connection and Transmit to whatever client needed them. It meant a lot of uploading, but the cable internet service into our house in Phoenix is so fast that it took no time at all. 

From my apartment in Bangkok, it can take me 45 minutes to upload 60 megabytes worth of files to a client. That’s assuming the connection doesn’t time out. It’s like watching a pot boil, paint dry or an endless loop of Jerry Springer shows and it’s a problem I’ve been wrestling with since coming to Bangkok. 

PhotoShelter to the rescue! 

The fine folks at PhotoShelter have built a lot of functionality into the product and services they sell. It’s just taken me a while to find some of them. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

An Assignment in Bangkok

Tim Hupe works with a Cambodian street child next to a 7/11 in the Nana neighborhood in Bangkok

A couple of months ago I had an assignment from Christianity Today to work with Kent Annan on a story about New Friars working in the slums of Bangkok. It was an good assignment and I met some very interesting people doing important work under difficult circumstances. I didn’t want to post the photos on my blog until after the magazine was published, which happened this month. 

Tim and Amy Hupe, for example, go out most nights and minister to the street children in the Nana and Patpong red light districts of Bangkok. The kids sell flowers and candies for a few Baht to supplement the family income and survive. 

Tim told me the children are Cambodian immigrants, and that most are in Thailand without papers. Their story is not that dissimilar from undocumented children in the US. First their fathers come to Thailand from Cambodia looking for work. (The Phnom Penh Post had a story about the shortage of construction workers in Cambodia because so many had come to Thailand looking for work.)

Eventually mom packs up the family and makes the trip to Bangkok to reunite the family only to discover dad may not want the family there or life in Bangkok is harder than expected and the family is forced into more desperate situation than the one they had in Cambodia.

Thailand, like the US, does not look kindly upon undocumented immigrants. The children are not allowed to enroll in Thai schools and don’t get access to Thai social services. Families are separated if a parent is arrested. It’s a very difficult life. Life on the street, or in a sweat shop, is frequently the only option left to them. 

I also met Michelle Kao, with the Thai Peace Foundation. She lives in the Bangkapi area east of downtown Bangkok. Michelle has a school and library for the children in her neighborhood. 
Michelle Kao (center) in the Thai Peace Foundation after school center. 

I went to Easter services in the chapel above their offices. A small gathering of Thais held a traditional Easter service not unlike Easter services I’ve attended in the US or Mexico except it was in Thai. And the meal after the service was rice and curries rather than lamb. 
Easter services at the Thai Peace Foundation

I’ve met a lot of missionaries in my time outside of the US. A lot of them, especially evangelicals, are of the “Fire and Brimstone” mold - sort of their way or the highway (to hell). Embrace their version of the Savior or else. The New Friars I met weren’t like that at all. They were more focused on providing services and saving souls than converting souls. 

I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Kent and Christianity Today. There are more photos of the New Friars in Bangkok in my archive. Here’s a link to the Christianity Today story (pdf). It’s best viewed in Safari or Chrome

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It’s More Than “Just” Pictures

Two boxers doing their thing at a Muay Thai tournament in Bangkok

One of the things photographers hear a lot is “you get paid to just go around and take pictures?” Photojournalists especially, because we’re in the public eye so much, but photographers of all stripes hear it almost every day. 

Well yes, I guess in a way, we get paid to “just” go around and take pictures. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. For freelance photojournalists (and travel photographers), the job is about ½ photography, ½ captions and ½ paperwork (invoicing, research, client outreach etc). In other words, it’s about 1.5 jobs and photography, our favorite and most interesting part, is the part we get to practice the least. 

The reality is that of the three parts of the job, captions are as important as the pictures. You can make a great photo but without a caption; the basic who, what, where, why of what’s going on in the photo, not many magazines or newspapers will touch it. The caption has to have context so an editor or picture researcher looking at the photo in six months or a year knows what’s going on in your masterpiece. For the freelancer, that third half is the most important, and (for me) flat out least fun, part of the job.  

A couple of weeks ago I went walkabout in central Bangkok. I was more or less “cruising” for wild art - some features I could send to ZUMA Press, the photo agency with whom I most work. I was hoping to find some cultural stuff or maybe something political. Instead I found an international Muay Thai tournament. The tournament featured fighters from Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia and was being held outdoors, on the plaza of a Bangkok shopping mall. 

I’m not a sports photographer. I never have been. When I was working for newspapers, sports were about my least favorite thing to photograph. I’m in the minority on that, a lot of newspaper photographers love photographing sports but for me sports were always something I had to cover, not something I wanted to cover. (I know, I know, that’s why they call it work.) Fortunately, there are things I like to photograph (politics) that others don’t like, so with the help of cooperative editors I got to work political events while the sports photographers got to photograph sports. It was a win-win and a luxury a lot of newspaper photographers, especially at a smaller papers, don’t have. 

I haven’t photographed Muay Thai since coming to Thailand, so I started to work the tournament photographing boxers warming up, some of the early bouts and some features. I was enjoying the afternoon and enjoying photographing something pretty far outside of my comfort zone. 

About halfway through the tournament I realized I was in a caption jam. In order to send the photos to ZUMA I would need complete captions - the fighters’ names, their countries, their weight class, the outcome of the fight etc. And there was no program (at least not in English) so I wasn’t able to grab a roster or program to identify the fighters. I could identify boxers by the colors of their trunks but tracking down the information would mean going around to each boxer (or his trainer) and getting the information. 

I had to balance off the amount of work that was going to entail vs. the possibility of making a stock sale of the photos and came to the conclusion that this was going to be a losing proposition. Stock sales of sports is tricky. Sports photos, to be as sold as stock, need to be perfect - perfect light, perfect framing, clean backgrounds etc. and this wasn’t a big enough tournament to warrant daily coverage in any of the newspapers or magazines that usually pick up my work. I was photographing an outdoor boxing tournament in mid-afternoon light and it was starting to rain. It was not perfect. 

So rather than “work” I made photos for fun. If I had been really “working” I would have found a way to get names and information, ideally by focusing on just on or two boxers that I knew I would be able to identify. 

There are more photos of Muay Thai in my archive

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Golden Hour

Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong. The hour around sunset (or sunrise) is called the Golden Hour and is the best time to photograph cityscapes, balancing the setting sun as the lights come on in the city

Pretty much everyone who goes to Hong Kong ends up at Victoria Peak at sunset. The view is one of the world’s great urban sunset scenes. Hong Kong is land starved, so it builds up. Skyscrapers dominate the north side of the island and frame the view across Victoria Harbor to Kowloon perfectly. 

If you’re going to photograph the sunset from the “Peak” you need to get there early. We went up to the peak late in the afternoon to photograph the sunset. There’s a large shopping mall at the top and a couple of restaurants and bars in the scenic overlook complex next to the mall. When we got to the top of the peak (17.30ish) there were a lot of people wandering around, checking out the sites. Sunset in Hong Kong at this time of year is about 19.00 so we had an hour and half to wait, but by 18.00, people were crowding the edge of the overlook and space was at a premium so I worked my way to the front and waited for the sunset. 

The best pictures come from being at the front of the crowd because unless you’re extraordinarily tall (and with an equally tall tripod) you’re going to be photographing the back of hundreds of heads as the sun sinks and the lights come on in the skyscrapers. 

I made some photos of the scene during my wait and chatted with other tourists while we waited for the day’s light to end.
More or less the same scene earlier in the afternoon.

I made a decision when I went to Hong Kong not to bring my big tripod, but I did have a little table top tripod that I thought I could set on the edge of the safety railing. My scheme would have worked except the top of the safety railing was sloped and my tiny tripod kept sliding off the bannister. 

I ended up having to hand hold my cameras. It was a good thing I was at the front of the crowd, right at the safety railing, because I used it to brace my cameras on the rail, I was able to “hand hold” the cameras at relatively slow shutter speeds (⅛ - ¼ of a second). But I still ended up using higher ISO’s than I intended (800-1600) and bigger f-stops (1.2 - 2) than I wanted to but I still had a lot of photos with motion blur that I deleted. 

The lights came up as the sun went down and shutters started clicking. I’m sure a lot of unusable photos were made at the Peak that evening. Only a few people were using tripods and most of the people were doing “hail Mary” type photos. Hail Mary photos are not always successful in the best of times and photographing a sunset in a crowd of hundreds, all sticking their cameras over their heads, is not the best of times. 
One of the last photos I made at Victoria Peak. The “toy camera” look was an accident, a result of photographing wide open (in this case f2.5 with my 14mm lens on a Micro 4:3 camera). Unfortunately it’s not perfectly sharp.  

I seldom travel with a tripod. I don’t usually check bags, especially on short trips, I carry just a smallish camera bag and a small duffel carry on bag for  my clothes and 13 inch MacBook Pro. Carrying a tripod would push me into checking bags, and that’s something I try to avoid. But there are times when having a “real” tripod is pretty much essential to making a good photo. Sunset at Victoria Peak is one of those times. (Free business tip to entrepreneurs out there: start a tripod rental business at scenic overlooks. Seriously. A tripod rental at Victoria Peak could make a bundle of cash.) 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Typhoon Utor Brushes Hong Kong

A Star Ferry pulls into the Hong Kong ferry terminal during Super Typhoon Utor

I was in Hong Kong this week. It was a sort of vacation from Bangkok. My wife and I relaxed for a couple of days, did some touristy things and caught up with Hong Kong based friends. It was a great few days until the end when Super Typhoon Utor blew into town. 

Typhoons are the same as hurricanes, which are the same as cyclones. Whether a storm is a hurricane or typhoon or cyclone depends on where it formed

Hong Kong media started talking about the typhoon over the weekend and the typhoon warnings went up Monday afternoon, after the typhoon had already lashed the Philippines causing extensive damage
People shop in an outdoor market in central Hong Kong while rain bands from Utor sweep over the island.

Hong Kong has a sophisticated typhoon response system. Warnings go up well in advance of the storm. When they reach level 8 things get serious. This is trickier than it sounds though since warnings go up at level 3 (meaning a typhoon is imminent) and skip levels 4, 5, 6, and 7. From 3 they go straight to 8 (typhoon is here, take cover). 


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Eid al-Fitr

Men pray in front of Haroon Mosque in Bangkok during Eid al-Fitr services Thursday

Thursday was Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of the Fast Breaking), the day Muslims worldwide mark the end of Ramadan, the month of spiritual renewal and fasting. Eid is more celebratory, it’s a time of feasting and parties.

I went to Haroon Mosque, in the old part of Bangkok, for Eid. I really enjoy photographing at Haroon Mosque. 

It’s about 200 years old. It was one of the first mosques in Bangkok and it’s tiny. But because it’s so well established it serves a lot of Muslim expatriates. There are worshippers from Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia (it was originally established by Muslim traders from what is now Indonesia), India, Pakistan and Chechnya. From Africa, Europe and North America. In other words, from across the Muslim world. Announcements before services are made in Thai, Arabic and English.

During Eid the narrow streets leading to the mosque are lined with poor Muslims soliciting alms. Charitable giving is an important part of Muslim theology and giving during the holidays is especially important. As worshippers walked into and out of the mosque they frequently pressed a few Baht into the people’s hands. 
A man presses 20Baht (about .60¢ US) into a woman’s hand during Eid at Haroon Mosque

It’s a very social holiday. After services in the mosque people gather in small groups to chat and catch up. Families go to the small cemetery next to the mosque to leave flowers and pray for the deceased. 
A man leaves flowers on a grave

I almost didn’t go to the mosque for Eid. The actual date of Eid is based on the Islamic lunar calendar and is based on when the hilal moon (marking the beginning of a new lunar month) is seen. In the Arab world this was expected to be August 8. Eid was also scheduled to be celebrated on the 8th in Indonesia and North America. But it could be different in other countries. 

I spent the day Wednesday with a group of photojournalists covering protests around the Thai parliament. During our down time, we talked about we had coming up. Everyone was expecting to cover Eid but no one knew exactly when it was. The consensus was that Eid in Thailand would be on Friday, Aug. 9 because Ramadan had started a day late here (because the new moon to mark the start of Ramadan was seen a day late).

I worked late Wednesday night editing my photos from the protests and I was exhausted when I finally went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep when the sun came up, and in the spirit of “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I downed a quick cup of instant coffee and went to the mosque.

I’m glad I did. It was packed. The crowd was so large men were worshipping in the alleys and plazas around the mosque (picture at the top of this post). I go to Haroon Mosque for photos a lot, and this was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it. 
A boy naps on his father’s shoulder while they wait for services to start. 

I photographed for a couple of hours then headed home to edit and file. It was a good day. There are more photos from Eid al-Fitr at Haroon Mosque in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Quiet Day on the Protest Lines

An opponent of the amnesty bill in the Thai parliament stands in front of riot police at a roadblock in the Dusit section of Bangkok.

Wednesday was supposed to be the big day on the protest lines. Opponents the Pheu Thai (the ruling party in Parliament) threatened to take to the streets to block passage of a controversial amnesty bill. Organizers of the protest said they would mobilize thousands of people to block the bill, which could end up granting amnesty to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The possibility of passing the amnesty bill has breathed new life into Thaksin’s enemies. The Yellow Shirts, the White Masks, the new People’s Force for Democracy to Overthrow Thaksinism (Pefot), all threatened to block the bill. 

Thai police took the protesters at their word and mounted a massive security operation. They implemented the Internal Security Act, which bans large gatherings and grants special powers to the police. Many streets around the Parliament complex were shut down and protesters were told they wouldn’t be allowed within blocks of the building. 
Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva waves to supporters as he walks to the Parliament building.

For their part, protesters apparently took police at their word. Police estimate that 2,500 protesters showed up (though protesters insist they had a lot more there), which by Bangkok standards is a very small crowd. Leaders of the Democrats, Thailand‘s opposition party, tried to negotiate with the police to allow protesters into the parliament complex but the police stood their ground, so the Democrats told their supporters to go home. And thus ended the protest. 

A few people were arrested for throwing water bottles at the police, but this was a very low key protest.  It ended a lot more quickly and quietly than almost anyone expected. 
Police arrest a protester they suspect of throwing a water bottle at them. 

There are more photos of the protest in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Just Another Afternoon in Bangkok

Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister of Thailand, talks to a crowd of Thai Democrats in a working class neighborhood of Bangkok Monday evening.

This is a story that I suspect could only happen in Bangkok. Monday I went down to the Metropolitan Police offices to pick up a press credential. By the time I got off the Skytrain at Phayathai station it was raining so hard roads were flooded and sidewalks were impassible. 

When the rain lessened I hailed a tuk-tuk and told him where I wanted to go. He shook his said and said the whole area was underwater and drove off. I hailed a second tuk-tuk, told him where I wanted to go and he said the whole area was underwater but he knew a back way so I should get in. Off we went. Careening through flooded streets, some so deep water came into the tuk-tuk. I swear we could have pulled a waterskier. 

The driver deposited me at the police station and I picked up my credential. When I came out of the police station, the water had gone down. (Streets flood in Bangkok in a matter of minutes and dry out just as quickly.) Traffic was still backed up though and hardly moving. Since it was now rush hour, it would be hours before traffic was really moving. I decided to walk. I used the maps app on my iPhone to figure out where I was and where I roughly wanted to go, set my camera to record black and white jpegs (I also recorded color raw files so it was the best of both worlds)  and set out. 
A woman listens to Abhisit. She's holding pictures of Abhisit talking to the King.

It turns out I was much further off the beaten path than I thought I was. I walked for about 45 minutes before I got to a part of town I recognized. I was crossing a street and I heard the unmistakable sounds of a political speech coming out of loudspeakers. I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do so I followed the sound and ended up at a small stage under an elevated expressway at a Thai Democrats rally. 

I made a couple of pictures when the speaker announced that Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Prime Minister, was next up. I photographed the former PM talking to people, getting flowers from people and making a speech. It was remarkable really. I just walked up to the former Prime Minister and started photographing. No security screening. When I asked if I could go up on the stage, his security people said "of course." 
Abhisit accepts flowers from people in the audience. 

When the PM came off the stage he was mobbed by people who wanted autographs or pose for pictures. I made a couple of more photos of him mingling. He got into his Mercedes and drove off. 
Abhisit, center, poses for photos with supporters after his speech.

With the former PM gone and the light fading I set off in search of a Skytrain station. Even though I was in a neighborhood that was new to me, I knew exactly where I was and the nearest Skytrain was about 20 minutes away. 

I got to the station, caught the train and was home in 40 minutes. It was a great afternoon. Only in Bangkok could I go on a walkabout, get lost, run into the former Prime Minister and leader of the political opposition, photograph him and keep going and have it just be another day in the big city. 

Amazing Thailand. 

There are more photos of Abhisit in my archive

(A color slideshow of the photos I made yesterday:) 
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another Protest, Another Sunday

Anti-government protestors applaud during the Pefot protest Sunday in Lumpini Park

The Pheu Thai controlled Parliament is expected to take up discussion of amnesty bills in the coming week. There are five or six (possibly seven) amnesty bills being proposed. Some are more wide ranging than others. Some would grant amnesty to Thaksin Shinawatra, the revered leader of the Red Shirts (and reviled by Yellow Shirts), others would grant amnesty to Yellow Shirt "heroes" who helped topple the Thaksin government in 2006 (those heroes are villains to the Red Shirts and Pheu Thai). 

The only thing that's certain is that it is going to be a contentious time in the Thai Parliament. All sides are staking out their turf in the courts of the street. Sunday, the anti-Thaksin forces had a rally to kick off their opposition to any bill that would give amnesty to Thaksin. Calling themselves "Pefot" ( the People's Democratic Force to Overthrow Thaksinism), they are mostly Bangkokians opposed to Thaksin and any vestiges of his rule, including in some very personal ways, his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the current Prime Minister (who acknowledges that she consults with her exiled brother on many issues). 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Back to the Beach

A cleanup worker throws an absorption pad into the surf on Ao Prao beach.

I went back to Ao Prao beach Friday to photograph the continuing oil spill cleanup. The beach, which was covered in black gooey oil Tuesday, looked a lot better Friday. There was still oil on the sand, but it was spots rather than a coating of oil and much smaller amounts of oil were washing up on the south end of the beach. 

Hundreds of people were working to restore the beach, some using table spoons to pick up small drops of oil, others using trowels to pick up slightly bigger drops of oil. Workers putting down absorption pads, to soak up the oil, here and there, tossing the lightweight pads into the surf where they bobbed in the waves and then washed ashore. Containment booms, buffeted by the waves, broke free and snaked across the beach and through the ocean waters. 
A worker tries to hold onto a containment boom in the heavy waves. 

Tuesday, the workers were mostly Thai military personnel and some from the PTT, the oil company whose pipeline caused the leak and there was an air of somewhat organized chaos. By Friday, Thai military still provided most of the muscle, but there were people from the oil company, community volunteers, and students. Organized chaos had been replaced by a sense of permanence with chow lines, first aid tents and media work space. 

Although the beach looked a lot better, I am concerned that the cleanup is only on the surface. Workers digging into sand, which on top looked clean, struck oil and tar just a few inches under the surface. 

I don't know the mechanics of oil spill cleanup very well, but I would imagine that at some point either all the oil under the sand will come to the surface or all of the sand has to be replaced. And no one has really talked about the impact on sea life in the area. This is in the midst of rich fishing grounds and the fisherfolk in the area are rightly concerned about what will happen to their livelihood. 
A worker uses a trowel to pick up small pieces of oil. 

There are more photos of the cleanup in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.  
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Waiting for the King

People wave pictures of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, and the flags of the Thai monarchy  at Siriraj Hospital Thursday. 

Thailand's King and Queen left Siriraj Hospital, where they've lived for years, Thursday to go to Hua Hin, where the Monarchy has long had a summer palace. Thais absolutely revere the King. In a country as polarized and split among Red Shirt/Yellow Shirt political fault lines as the United States is split along Republican/Democratic fault lines, the monarchy is seen as a (really the) unifying force in the country. Poor Thais in the countryside, Red Shirts who support deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and rich Thais in Bangkok, supporters of the Thai Democrats, all agree on the importance of the monarchy. 

The King is his mid-80s and his health is not good, so anytime he appears in public crowds throng the venue, clamoring for a chance to see their King. 

Thursday at the hospital was no different. The King and Queen were scheduled to leave the hospital about 4.00PM. I got there about noon and people were already staking out spots on the street and sitting on the sidewalk. They had four hours to wait, in the broiling sun. Vendors were working the crowd selling snacks and drinks, Thai and monarchal flags and plastic sheets to sit on. Every once in a while, someone would start chanting "Long live the King" (in Thai) and the rest of the crowd would pick it up. 

By 2PM, the sidewalks were crowded but there were still a few spots left and by 3.15PM it was so crowded you couldn't move through the crowd without stepping on someone. I've covered royal appearances a couple of times and the public's devotion to the King no longer surprises me but it still amazes me. There's nothing like this in US culture. 
A man holds up a picture of the King just before his Majesty left the hospital. 

I didn't photograph the King or Queen as they left the hospital. There are strict protocols for photographing the Monarchy and I don't have the proper credentials. I knew that I wouldn't be able to photograph them, I went to the hospital to photograph the crowd. For me, the public's reaction to their Monarch says it all. 

There are more photos of the crowd in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.