Tag Archives: travel photography

Portraits of Michoacán

Fishing boats on Lago de Cuitzeo.

Fishing boats on Lago de Cuitzeo.

I recently had the chance to get out of Mexico City to help a friend with a video production and some drone piloting, giving me my first opportunity to explore the state of Michoacán, even if just for a few days.

Michoacán has developed the unfortunate reputation in recent decades of being one of the most dangerous states in Mexico, having increasingly fallen under the control of narco traffickers. At the same time widespread poverty and lack of opportunities have led to large scale emigration out of the state, often in the direction of the United States. One woman I spoke to in a rural village commented that Michoacán’s main export was young men, and the fact most small towns we visited largely consisted of children and the elderly seemed to confirm this.

But Michoacán has been inhabited by people for the last 10,000 years, and was the home of the Purépecha empire —a powerful rival to the Aztecs in pre hispanic times. Despite the disturbing rise of crime and the exodus of the state’s young people, their culture is still very much in tact. Traditional dresses were common in the cobblestoned alleys of small villages, and the language, totally distinct from Spanish, was often heard in the streets.

While I was primarily working as a drone pilot, I managed to find time to grab a few portraits of the people we met and a bit of the landscape. An incredibly beautiful place unfortunately marred, like many places in Mexico, by the dominance of the drug cartels, Michoacán should not be avoided on the basis of its dangerous reputation. To be sure these problems are very real, but ultimately it is a state that is best defined by its small tranquil villages and unique culture, not the plague of violence that it has come to be associated with.

Early morning on the highway from Mexico City to Michoacán.

Early morning on the highway from Mexico City to Michoacán.

A young man trains his horse in Angahuan, Michoacán.

Making tortillas on a hot stone in Angahuan, Michoacán.

Making tortillas on a hot stone in Angahuan, Michoacán.

A Purpecha woman sits for a portrait inside an old Spanish convent that has been repurposed as a cultural museum.

A Purpecha woman sits for a portrait inside an old Spanish convent that has been repurposed as a cultural museum.

Organic eggs are one of the benefits of living a rural life in Michoacán.

Organic eggs are one of the benefits of living a rural life in Michoacán.

The winding alleys of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

The winding alleys of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

Street traffic in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

Street traffic in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

A cat stretches in a pottery workshop in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

A cat stretches in a pottery workshop in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

A group of Purépecha women work together to prepare tortillas for lunch.

A group of Purépecha women work together to prepare tortillas for lunch.

 Purépecha kitchens are often defined by their wood fired stoves and hot stones.

Purépecha kitchens are often defined by their wood fired stoves and hot stones.

Purépecha women wear a unique style of traditional dresses and scarves. The Purépecha culture dates back to pre Hispanic times and once rivalled the Aztec empire.

Purépecha women wear a unique style of traditional dresses and scarves. The Purépecha culture dates back to pre Hispanic times and once rivalled the Aztec empire.

A young boy drives his donkey-drawn cart home as the sun sets in rural Michoacán.

A young boy drives his donkey-drawn cart home as the sun sets in rural Michoacán.

A member of a local marching band practices the trumpet at dusk.

A member of a local marching band practices the trumpet at dusk.

Looking out to Janitzio Island on Lake Patzcuaro. The island community, watched over by a giant statue of Christ, is very strict in its immigration policies. Very few outsiders are permitted to settle on the island, and if a daughter marries someone from another community she is required to leave the island.

Looking out to Janitzio Island on Lake Patzcuaro. The island community, watched over by a giant statue of Christ, is very strict in its immigration policies. Very few outsiders are permitted to settle on the island, and if a daughter marries someone from another community she is required to leave the island.

Posted in Blog, Latin America, Mexico, Travel Also tagged , , , , , |

Growing Up Manila: Portraits of Youth

A glimpse into the experience of growing up in one of the world’s largest cities. As with most places, the quality of childhood varies greatly in this city of 12 million. Many live happy lives, while some are burdened by poverty, and some are left to fend for themselves on the streets. But these children have one thing in common – Manila.

Sand Andres, Manila.

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Girls look out from their window in San Anres.

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Children play in a community park in San Andres.

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Tibetans in Exile

I’m getting close to finishing my project on Tibetan refugees and the impact that being exiled from their country has on their culture, so I thought I’d share some more faces of the people I met. The work on the refugee centre in India is finished and now my focus is on finding Tibetans who have settled in Western countries to see if or how they are able to keep their culture alive. Luckily I found out that some of the people I interviewed in India have family living in Canada, so in the coming weeks I hope to round out the story with their perspectives.

For now, here are a few of the more interesting characters from the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre in Darjeeling, India.

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling, India

A view of the Tibetan refugee centre in Darjeeling, India as seen through some Buddhist prayer wheels, the Himalayas in the background.

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling, India

Karma is around 80 years old, but doesn’t know exactly. He fled the Chinese army and crossed the border into India where he worked in the Refugee Centre’s dairy. After suriving such dangerous times as a youth and emerging unscathed, his finger was bitten off by a cow in India – an irony that is not lost on him as he humorously displays his stump. “My heart says we will get Tibet back, but my brain says otherwise,” he says.

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling, India

Pema (82) walked from Tibet to India with her family flock of sheep. Her only child, a daughter, died of an unkown illness in the Indian state of Sikkim before they arrived in the refugee centre. She says she has no ill feelings towards Chinese people, only their aggressive government.

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling, India

Passang (91), left Tibet at age 35 after watching Chinese soldiers arrest and torture people in her home city of Sakya. She walked with a friend for nearly a month before settling in Darjeeling.

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling India

Tsewang Rinzin (42) is a first generation refugee, meaning he was born in exile. In hopes of fighting against the Chinese for the freedom of Tibet, he joined the famous 2-2 regiment of the Indian army and became a personal bodyguard of the Dalai Llama. He left the army when his mother (background) became ill, and Tsewang is now an amateur bodybuilder.

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling India

Tsering Chomphel (59) is better known as “Sap” to the Tibetan community. He escaped from Tibet on his mother’s back at age 3. Like many other Tibetans he joined the 2-2 regiment of the Indian army, hoping to fight back against the Chinese. Now, however, he believes that education, not fighting, is the answer to beating China

Tibetan Refugees in Darjeeling, India

Samdup (87) was a soldier in the Dalai Llama’s personal guard. He and his unit retreated from the Chinese invasion and joined the royal entourage as it crossed the border into Nepal.

Posted in Blog, India, Tibetan Refugees Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Born to Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in Manila

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

In September 2012 I arrived in Manila with no idea of what I was doing there and no story ideas whatsoever. But through a series of random meetings and strange luck I was invited to pitch a tent in an empty patch of land in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres. Though living in a tent in the middle of metro Manila was strange enough, the piece of land I was living on also happened to be the site of an underground cock-fighting farm and training ground. I wrote a short article at the time talking a little about what it was like to live on the farm, but I neglected to post many photos for some reason or another. After digging around in my archives I realized that I had quite a few decent images and thought I’d post a more comprehensive visual story about these illegal death matches happening in the street outside my front door, so to speak.

From the cradle to the grave, these animals are raised only to fight, and most likely die. Large amounts of money can be won on these fights, so a champion bird will most probably fight again and again until he is no longer able to win. Since the blades used are 10cm long and razor sharp, not winning is probably synonymous with death – though there is a potential for the lucky to receive only a blinding or severe maiming.

The fights are illegal. Cock Fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and is even broadcast on TV, but those fights are regulated and licensed. The fights on the streets of San Andres were underground and subject to police raids. On more than one occasion the local police rushed into the area on motorcycles after a fight was over and admonished the watchers. Typically the losing bird (most likely dead), was given to the officers in payment, presumably to be grilled and eaten down the street at the local police station. Illegal or not, the fights are going to happen, and the police accept this as long as they get something out of it.

What I found particularly confusing about the whole spectacle is the bipolar nature of the affection for the birds. When alive, the proud owners would hold them up and stroke them lovingly. They display them and compare them to their friends birds. A champion is treated like a beloved pet. They obviously care about them greatly, yet the moment the cock loses a fight it is tossed into the gutter like a piece of trash. When I asked one of my local friends, an owner himself, how they can have such a dismissive attitude towards an animal they had spent so much time with, he replied simply “fighting cocks are for fighting.”

I should maybe mention that this story is perhaps not as comprehensive and exposing as I would have liked it to be because after a few days of shooting I realized that I was making enemies. Apparently many of the bird owners believed that it was bad luck to have their fighters photographed and legitimately blamed me for their loss. So out of a mixture of respect for their beliefs and fear of their anger, I stopped taking pictures of the fights themselves.

Note: Some of these images are bloody. This is not a case study in animal rights or ethics. I have my own opinions on cock-fighting and this story is neither condemning nor supporting the practice.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock's eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock’s eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

Knives are passed between gaffers.

Knives are passed between gaffers so the cocks can be readied for fighting.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock's foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock’s foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock's foot before the fight begins.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock’s foot before the fight begins.

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

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A dead cock, kicked through the heart by one of the 10cm blades.

The exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

An exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

Blood drips on Floren's feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

Blood drips on Floren’s feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

An onsite incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

An  incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

A young fighting cock, to small yet to fight, is tethered to a fence in San Andres.

A young fighting cock, too small yet to fight.

 

Posted in Blog, Philippines Also tagged , , , , , , |

Yangon Revisited

As I sit in a public library, regrouping from 8 months of traveling and shooting full time, I found these images from Yangon, Myanmar, hiding in the depths of my backup hard drive. When I wasn’t bedridden in a YMCA with dengue fever, Yangon was an interesting place to be. Much more Indian in character than southeast Asian (in my opinion anyways), Yangon was surprisingly different than I had been expecting.

I thought I’d share these images before I get back to posting my Tibetan refugee story lest they get lost forever in the digital mess that is my archives.

A young girl walks past a ferry terminal along the Yangon (Hlaing) River.

A young girl walks past a ferry terminal along the Yangon (Hlaing) River.

A woman walks down a sidestreet in central Yangon.

A woman walks down a sidestreet in central Yangon.

Powerlines in Yangon are often lined with crows; for some reason the city has an unusually high number of the birds.

Powerlines in Yangon are often lined with crows; for some reason the city has an unusually high number of the birds.

Two women are reflected in a puddle as they walk near the river in central Yangon.

Two women are reflected in a puddle as they walk near the river in central Yangon.

A man repairs tires in a small workshop in South Dagon, an outer suburb of Yangon.

A man repairs tires in a small workshop in South Dagon, an outer suburb of Yangon.

A man rides his bicycle through central Yangon. Motorcycles are not allowed in the city because of a failed drive-by assassination attempt on a political figures life -resulting in a permanent ban on the vehicles.

A man rides his bicycle through central Yangon. Motorcycles are not allowed in the city because of a failed drive-by assassination attempt on the life of a political figure -resulting in a permanent ban on the vehicles.

Residents of the Dawbon slum play pickup soccer on a rainy day.

Residents of the Dawbon slum play pickup soccer on a rainy day.

A public bus in central Yangon. the busses are almost always completely full.

A public bus in central Yangon.

A young girl has an impromptu shower during a rainstorm in the Dawbon slum

A young girl has an impromptu shower during a rainstorm in the Dawbon slum

A group of young men drive an old tractor through Dawbon, a slum along the bank of the Yangon (Hlaing) River.

A group of young men drive an old tractor through Dawbon, a slum along the bank of the Yangon (Hlaing) River.

A teenager stands in the doorway of a metal working shop in South Dagon, an outlying suburb of Yangon.

A teenager stands in the doorway of a metal working shop in South Dagon, an outlying suburb of Yangon.

 

Posted in Blog, Burma Also tagged , , , |

Darjeeling: Beyond Tea

A woman prepares the mornign tea for her household just after sunrise.

A woman prepares the morning tea for her household just after sunrise.

I came to Darjeeling knowing nothing about the city beyond the fact that they produce some world class tea. Originally I was meant to spend just a few days here before heading east to the border states of Assam and Nagaland, but Darjeeling has been such a captivating place that I haven’t managed to leave.

Perched on the top of a mountain 2 200 meters above sea level, Darjeeling is sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Mountains,” a moniker I think of bitterly whenever I am gasping for breath. Due to a mixture of thin air and the fact that I am terribly unfit, even a short walk is a minor ordeal.

Though technically part of West Bengal, the people of Darjeeling look nothing like their neighbours in Kolkata. They don’t really look Indian at all, at least in the way that I think of Indians. Considering that I can see across the valley to Nepal on a clear day, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. In many ways Darjeeling feels like a country within a country. The differences are so clear that the locals have tried to separate from West Bengal and form their own state – Ghorkhaland.

Regardless of how the political situation plays out, the Ghorkas are fantastic people: quick to smile, wonderfully photogenic, and extremely welcoming.

These images are from my wandering around Darjeeling’s streets and villages and I wanted to share them before I shift the focus of my posts to my current project about Tibetans in exile.

Enjoy.

 

Two men sit in a black market bar which serves homemade rice whiskey. Alcoholism is an increasing problem in the area. This photo was taken at 7am.

Two men sit in a black market bar which serves homemade rice whiskey. Alcoholism is an increasing problem in the area. This photo was taken at 7am.

The Ghorkaland flag flies above a residential area of Darjeeling. Ghorkas are of Nepalese ancestry and many would like to form a state seperate from West Bengal.

A flag flies above a residential area of Darjeeling. Ghorkas are of Nepalese ancestry and many would like to form a state seperate from West Bengal.

A boy is seen walking through a tear in a poster which is urging for unity among India's people.

A boy is seen walking through a tear in a poster which is urging for unity among India’s people.

A small Catholic cemetary on the outskirts of Darjeeling.

A small Catholic cemetary on the outskirts of Darjeeling.

Part of a ten meter blood streak resulting from a leopard attack. Leopards have begun to attack inside the city more frequently as the natural enviroment around Darjeeling is increasingly transformed into tea plantations.

Part of a ten meter blood streak resulting from a leopard attack. Leopards have begun to attack inside the city more frequently as the natural enviroment around Darjeeling is increasingly transformed into tea plantations.

A woman and her granddaughter walk towards the city center. Darjeeling is known as "the Queen of Mountains" since it is built on a mountain top. Even short walks leave the unfit breathless.

A woman and her granddaughter walk towards the city center. Darjeeling is known as “the Queen of Mountains” since it is built on a mountain top. Even short walks leave the unfit breathless.

A tiny shop overlooks Darjeeling's Happy Valley Tea Estates. Darjeeling produces some of India's highest quality tea, sometimes exlusively for large companies like Harrod's of Knightsbridge.

A tiny shop overlooks Darjeeling’s Happy Valley Tea Estates. Darjeeling produces some of India’s highest quality tea, sometimes exlusively for large companies like Harrod’s of Knightsbridge.

A retired school teacher sits in a small tea shop. Darjeeling has a respected education system, with some of its schools ranking in the top 20 of India's best.

A retired school teacher sits in a small tea shop. Darjeeling has a respected education system, with some of its schools ranking in the top 20 of India’s best.

A 27-year-old Ghorka man poses for a portrait. The Ghorka's are exceptionally friendly people and many love to be photographed.

A 27-year-old Ghorka man poses for a portrait. The Ghorka’s are exceptionally friendly people and many love to be photographed.

A woman looks out the window of her small shop in one of Darjeeling's outlying villages. While the city center is a tourist hotspot, the surrounding villages are seldom visited.

A woman looks out the window of her small shop in one of Darjeeling’s outlying villages. While the city center is a tourist hotspot, the surrounding villages are seldom visited.

Posted in Blog, India Also tagged , , , , |

The Road to Darjeeling

After a few interesting weeks in Kolkata I’ve been heading slowly north towards the mountain city of Darjeeling. Though the travel itself was gruellingly slow and uncomfortable, I was able to spend a few days in the small towns of Rampur Hat and Tarapith. While Tarapith is famous as a spot for ceremonial cremations, Rampur Hat is famous for nothing. Since virtually no tourists stay in Rampur Hat for any length of time I found that the locals were extremely welcoming and curious about me – a refreshing change from the big-city indifference of Kolkata.

Here are a few selected images from the two days in these small towns. Newer work from Darjeeling to follow.

A group of men warm themselves around a fire at sunrise. Temperatures in the north of West Bengal regualrly drop below freezing in the winter.

A group of men warm themselves around a fire at sunrise. Temperatures in the north of West Bengal regualrly drop below freezing in the winter.

A woman and her baby wait for their morning chai to be ready.

A woman and her baby wait for their morning chai to be ready.

A crow hops between ledges in a residential area of Rampur Hat.

A crow hops between ledges in a residential area of Rampur Hat.

Straw figures waiting to be covered in clay in a small artists workshop.

Straw figures waiting to be covered in clay in a small artists workshop.

A group of men in blue lungis take a break after lunch on the streets of Rampur Hat.

A group of men in blue lungis take a break after lunch on the streets of Rampur Hat.

The local representative of the National political party sits in his small office in Tarapith.

The local representative of the National political party sits in his small office in Tarapith.

An old woman sits inside a Hindu shrine in Tarapith, chanting prayers for those who make donations.

An old woman sits inside a Hindu shrine in Tarapith, chanting prayers for those who make donations.

 

 

 

Posted in Blog, India Also tagged , , , , , |

Inner Circle: Commuting on Seoul’s “Green Line”

At over 60km, the number 2 Seoul subway line (a.k.a. “the green line” or “circle line”), is the longest circular metro track in the world. Started in the late 1970’s, the line now has 52 stations and a mind boggling quantity of human traffic – roughly 2 million passengers daily, according to the city’s 2010 published statistics.

Many Korean’s will spend hours per day in Seoul’s subways, and I think that these prolonged periods of being trapped in transit have partially fueled the country’s obsession with small electronic gadgets.

Korea is the epicenter of the smartphone/tablet revolution. It is not uncommon to see a 7 year old kindergarten student with a touch screen cell phone fastened around their necks as they walk to school, and this trend solidifies with age. According to some studies, by the time they reach highschool, the average Korean youth will be sending more than 100 text messages per day. One friend of mine was given a free trip overseas for being crowned the fastest texter in his university.

Now that phones are also wired to the internet (South Korea boasts the fastest internet connections in the world and the most complete wifi network of any country), they have become more like extensions of their bodies rather than useful communication tools.

My views on technological addiction aside, I have spent innumerable hours on Seoul’s subways myself, most of them on the Green Line (in fact, to get these photos I did three full laps which totals 180km and about 4 hours). While the cars are often packed and nightmarish, I instead wanted to show just a few frozen moments, representative of these lives in commute.

passengers rush to board in the hopes of finding a seat.


passengers hurry to get any available seats


a young man watches TV, while an older man slumps forward asleep


an older man reclines in the seats reserved for seniors and the disabled.


a soldier watches the electronic subway map



few people can manage to find enough personal space to read


children are the privileged who manage to find excitement on the subways


young women talk and send messages continuously from the time they board.


many office workers use their commuting time to get much needed sleep


a young boy watches TV on his phone


three seniors share the reserved section


sleeping or using an electronic device - the staples of Seoul commuting.

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