Friday, July 31, 2015

Full Moon Procession at Boudhanath

Lay people and clergy light butter lamps in front of Boudhanath Stupa during the full moon procession.

Boudhanath Stupa is a large Tibetan Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu. It's a sacred site to Nepali and Tibetan Buddhists and one of the most popular tourist sites in Kathmandu. The community around Boudhanath used to be a village on trade routes between India and Tibet, but as Kathmandu has grown, the village has been absorbed into the Nepalese capital. 
The stupa dominates the community. The scaffolding above the stupa is for repairs caused by the earthquake of April 2015. 

There is still a village feel to Boudhanath though. Partly because the huge stupa dominates the area and sets it apart, partly because the Tibetan Buddhists who live here give the area a distinctly different vibe from Hindu Kathmandu. 

Thousands of Tibetans, fleeing Chinese repression in their homeland, live in the area surrounding Boudhanath. There are more than 50 Tibetan monasteries in the alleys that radiate away from the stupa, like spokes radiating out from a wheel's hub. 

Buddhist monks chant on the plaza around the stupa. 

Every month, on the night of the full moon, thousands of Tibetan and Nepali Buddhists come to the stupa for a procession. Before the earthquake that devastated Nepal, people would silently walk along the sides of the stupa. Sadly, the earthquake damaged the sacred site and now people walk around the exterior of the stupa, stopping to light butter lamps and candles and offer prayers. 
A woman prays on the perimeter of the stupa.

Lighting butter lamps during the procession. 

If you're in Kathmandu on a full moon night, you owe it to yourself to visit Boudhanath Stupa - it's a spectacular site. The are more photos from the full moon procession 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. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Capture One

Umbrellas in a public art display at MBK, a large mall in Bangkok. OM-D E-M5 Mark II, 40-150mm f2.8 zoom (at 85mm), 1/250th f2.8, ISO200. Converted in Capture One.

I'm looking for an option to Lightroom, my longtime photo editing tool. I'm not unhappy with Lightroom's conversions or cataloging tools. I am unhappy with Adobe's customer service ethic (or lack of same). At this point, Adobe is making LR available for rental or purchase but the purchase option is buried deep in the Adobe web store and the rental version of LR (Lightroom "Creative Cloud") is getting new features Adobe is withholding from LR6 for no reason other than greed by Adobe.

This would have been a relatively easy decision a couple of years ago. Apple's Aperture was not as robust as Lightroom but was an alternative to Adobe's application. I tried Aperture a couple of times and generally found it was okay but I preferred LR. Apple, for reasons known only to Apple, decided to kill Aperture and replace it with Photos, which is really more of an iPhoto replacement (which Apple also killed off, and replaced with Photos). 

I use Photos to manage some of my JPEGs and at this point in its development cycle I don't think it's a professional replacement for an application like Lightroom. 

Which brings me to Capture One
The Capture One screen. 

Capture One is from Phase One, a European company that makes not only software but also hardware (the highly regarded, 80 megapixel, Phase One XF cameras).  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Welcoming an Old Rival

NGUYEN TAN DUNG (center, foreground), Prime Minister of Vietnam,  and PRAYUTH CHAN-O-CHA, Prime Minister of Thailand, (left) review soldiers in the honor guard at Government House in Bangkok. 

Thailand and Vietnam have a complicated history. Thailand was an ally of the US during the Southeast Asian wars, Thai troops were a part of the alliance that fought in South Vietnam (with South Korea and Australia) against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. The US Air Force used bases in Thailand to launch air strikes against targets throughout Southeast Asia.

After the Americans left, Thai and Vietnamese forces faced off on the Cambodian and Lao borders. Thailand (and the US) supported the Khmer Rouge when Vietnam invaded Cambodia to get rid of the KR. Thai and Vietnamese forces  along both the Cambodian and Lao borders traded shots several times in the 1980s.

That was then and this is now. Now, the two countries are friendly rivals.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha leads his Vietnamese counterpart to the reviewing stand past the welcoming party. 

I went to Government House to photograph the welcoming ceremony and joint press conference for Nguyen Tan Dung, the Vietnamese Prime Minister.
A groundskeeper sweeps the red carpet the Prime Ministers will walk before they reviewed the troops at Government House. 

Thai soldiers march into formation at Government House for the welcoming ceremony.

These ceremonies are all about the pomp and circumstance. Soldiers (and sailors) are lined up in perfect order.

Covering an event like this is not something I do very much anymore. I spend most of my photography time now wandering around in neighborhoods and communities documenting people's lives, not so much documenting the lives of the 1%. It was good to get back into the groove of that sort of insider photography again. 
After the welcoming ceremony we went into the event room at Government House for a signing ceremony between Vietnam and Thailand. A member of the Vietnamese delegation used his smart phone to record the event. 

Vietnamese PM, Nguyen Tan Dung (left) and Thai PM Prayuth Chan-O-Cha congratulate each other at the end of the ceremony. The flash came from another photographer's flash. I was working with my E-M5 Mark II bodies at very slow shutter speeds. This is ISO3200, 1/50th of a second at f4 with my 40-150 f2.8 zoom and 1.4X teleconverter. 
The Thai and Vietnamese delegations pose for the official photo. The flashes here were also provided other photographers. 1/50th at f2.8, ISO 400. 12-40 f2.8 zoom, around 22mm (44mm on full frame).  

There are more photos from the Vietnamese PM's visit 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. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eid al-Fitr

A boy, standing next to his father, prays in Ton Son Mosque before Eid al-Fitr services at the mosque.

Friday was Eid al-Fitr, also called the Lesser Eid, a Muslim holy day that marks the end of the month of Ramadan. I went to Ton Son Mosque in the Thonburi section of Bangkok to photograph Eid. Ton Son is one of the oldest mosques in Bangkok. Although the name and buildings have changed through the centuries, Ton Son Mosque traces its history back to the 1680s. That's older than Bangkok itself. To put the mosque's antiquity into perspective, it's older than most cities in the U.S. 
A woman walks down a flight of stairs to go to the mosque for Eid services. Ton Son Mosque is on Khlong Bangkok Yai and below a large bridge that goes over the khlong (canal). When you pass the mosque in a car you don't see the mosque, just the minaret domes that rise above the road deck. 

The mosque was packed. Inside was completely full. The small courtyard in front of the mosque was covered by awnings and more people sat outside than actually in the mosque. 
Men pray under awnings put up for shade in front of the mosque. 

A man at prayer. 

There's a sprawling cemetery around the mosque. It's a quiet, peaceful place. Heavily shaded, it's a respite from the hustle of Bangkok just a few meters away, outside the mosque's walls. 
A woman prays at her parents' grave. The cemetery at Ton Son Mosque is nearly as historic as the mosque. Thai Muslim generals who fought with King Taksin the Great, who reestablished Siam (now Thailand) after the Burmese sacking of Ayutthaya, are buried in the cemetery.

Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist. Official statistics acknowledge that Islam is the second largest religion in Thailand but there's a huge gap between number 1 (Buddhism) and number 2 (Islam). Government statistics say the breakdown in 93% Buddhist, 5% Muslim, 2% Christian, Jewish, Sikh and everything else. 
A woman talks to her daughter during Eid services at Ton Son Mosque.

I think the official statistics underestimate the number of Muslims in Thailand. I wouldn't be surprised if closer to 10% of Thailand was Muslim. 

There are Muslim communities pretty much everywhere here, from the Deep South (which has a Muslim majority) to Chiang Mai and Chaing Rai, in the far north of Thailand. Muslims in Thailand are a very diverse group.

In the Muslim majority Deep South, most Muslims are ethnic Malay. In western Thailand, along the Myanmar border, there are Rohingya and Muslims from Burma. In central Thailand, many of the Muslim people have Cham roots (Muslims from Cambodia and southern Vietnam). In northern Thailand, around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, many of the Muslim people have Chinese roots from Muslim communities in Yunnan.

Muslim communities in Thailand are as diverse as Thailand itself. 

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, July 15, 2015

Still Waiting for Rain

People fishing in the bottom of a khlong (canal) in Pathum Thani province. This canal should be full of water. 

Central Thailand is running out of water.

I went back upcountry earlier this week to do more photography related to the drought in Thailand and every place I went to was either dry or running dry. I talked to farmers, fisherfolk, shopkeepers and homeowners. All said they couldn't remember a dry season this dry, a rainy season with so little rain.

It's the middle of July, we're weeks into a normal rainy season and it has hardly rained.
A man in the muck at the bottom of a khlong. There should be two or three meters of water in this khlong, which provides irrigation water to farms and domestic water to a nearby treatment plant.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Breaking the Fast

A man prays before breaking the Ramadan daily fast at Iftar at Haroon Mosque in Bangkok.

This is the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Properly observing Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam
A boy reads the Qu'ran before the evening call to prayer. 

Iftar at Haroon Mosque is a community event. Even though it's a small mosque, it draws people from across Bangkok. The mosque was started by Javanese merchants in the 1800s. The mosque is close to the Chao Phraya River in a part of Bangkok that draws a lot of tourists. People at the mosque are used to strangers wandering through the community and treat them like honored guests. 
Seen through a lace curtain, a woman prays in the women's prayer room at the mosque. 

I like covering Iftar at Haroon Mosque. There are always a lot of people there, it's easy to strike up a conversation and people always invite you to dinner. It's really quite a remarkable gathering. And I'm no food critic, but the Iftar meal served at Haroon Mosque is some of the best Indian influenced food I've had in Thailand. The only challenge I have covering Iftar at Haroon Mosque is actually making pictures. Even though I am not Muslim, I'm inevitably invited to partake in Iftar. 

Breakfast is served before morning prayers, well before sunrise. Iftar is served around sunset. People have been fasting for nearly 14 hours. No food, and if possible, no liquids, including water. By the end of the day, they're hungry and thirsty and when the Iftar time arrives people eat. If I am eating with them (and it would be rude to refuse the invitation), I have about 1 minute to eat and start making pictures because the breaking of the fast takes just a couple of minutes before people go back into the mosque for prayers. 
Iftar in Haroon Mosque. 

There are more photos of Iftar 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. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015


This is something you hate to see. My relatively new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II held together with gaffer tape. 

One of the features of the E-M5 Mark II is that the LCD on the back swings out and is fully articulated. On the full frame Canon bodies that I had been using, the LCD was fixed to the back of the camera. On the Olympus E-P5 it was hinged so you could tilt it up and down but not swing it around. On the E-M5 Mark II, which has a lot of new video features, it's fully hinged, which is an advantage when you're recording video. 

From the day I got the E-M5 Mk2 bodies, I've been a little nervous about damaging the articulated LCD. The articulated screen has some advantages but I was worried about banging it into something and breaking it. 

That's exactly what happened.

Earlier this week, I was covering a demonstration in defense of students arrested by the Thai government. There weren't many protestors at the demonstration - there were probably nearly as many journalists as there were protestors and we (the journalists) were all vying for the best images.

I was making some "Hail Mary" type photos in the middle of a crowd of other photographers and videographers. The screen on my camera was extended so I could see what I was doing. I heard, rather than saw, something crack and the screen fell off the camera and was dangling from the camera (but still working).

I stepped out of the media scrum grabbed the gaffer tape I always carry and taped the back to the camera. A quick check showed the rest of the camera was fully functional, so I taped up the back and went back to work.

The Olympus service offices in Thailand are, conveniently, on the street we live on. I stopped at Olympus on my way home to drop off the camera. The service technician looked at and said, "How did this happen?" I took that as more of rhetorical question because honestly, I don't know if I bumped into someone, if someone bumped into me or what happened.

They told me the repair would be 4,000Baht (about $117US) and the camera would be ready Friday. I stopped by the repair shop this evening on my way home and my camera was ready early.
Olympus gives you the old parts when you get something repaired. This is my old LCD. The part that actually broke is the hinge assembly on the left side of the photo. 

I can't complain about Olympus' service. My camera was ready early and it cost exactly what I was told it would. But I'm going to be more careful with the LCD in the future. 

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, July 7, 2015

Students' Protest

Protestors at Thammasat University in Bangkok demonstrate Monday night on behalf of the 14 students arrested by Thai security officials.

Small numbers of protestors, tiny really, are back on the streets in Bangkok. There were a couple of small protests against the coup on May 22, the anniversary of the military overthrow of the civilian government.

After the protests, government officials arrested 14 students for violating junta orders prohibiting political assembly and protest they were detained pending a military trial. (After the coup, the junta announced that people arrested for political crimes would be tried in military courts and the students were held pending a military trial.) 

Some of the students were from Bangkok, others from upcountry. The students' arrest was a flashpoint and ignited protests in Bangkok. 
At a protest at Thammasat University, a protestor ties paper doves to a line of paper doves during a protest called "Wings of Peace." 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Long Dry Season

A worker walks across the spillways at Pa Sak Dam in Lopburi province. The spillway should be completely full of water at this time of year. It's the rice planting season and farmers depend on the water to irrigate their crops

This is the rice planting season in central Thailand. Rice is a big deal here. In one form or another, it's eaten at almost every meal. Thailand is the world's leading rice exporter, rice is very important not only for sustenance but also economically. Anything that disrupts rice production has serious implications for the whole country. 

And drought certainly disrupts rice production. We're supposed to be in the early weeks of the rainy season except it's not raining. We've had a little rain in Bangkok, but there's been almost none upcountry and Thailand's reservoirs, which provide water for rice farmers and Bangkok are running dry. 
The recreational area in the reservoir behind Pa Sak Dam. The land mass in the background is normally submerged. The water level is more than 10 meters below normal for this time of year

About half of the rice crop is already planted but the government is asking farmers to suspend any more planting until the rains come. Farmers in central Thailand typically get two rice crops a year harvested. The government has already told them not to plant a dry season crop because there isn't water to irrigate it. The decrees will cut many farmers income by at least half. 
A farmer collects wild vegetables from the bottom of a khlong (canal). At this time of year, this khlong is usually full of water. This year it's dry. The farmer said he could never remember this canal being completely empty

Thailand has a sophisticated and ancient water management system. One of the country's riches is its reliable water. Water resource management has turned Thailand into one of the leading food exporters in the world.