Blognotes from a photographer life...

Dec 28, 2010

EMBEDDED PHOTOGRAPHY PRODUCES EMBEDDED OPINION


This is a post that will move some reaction, and probably many will think there is something personal.. My intentions wish to go much further then individual photographers experiences and stories.
When I see war images nowadays I mostly see stories shoot while embedded within an Army, or escorted by some force. There are some personal and regional exception, of course, and sometimes I see a story as "seen and told" from the "other side".
In certain cases it might be the relative facility to access a difficult situation (and also the relative safety) to induce the photographer to go this way, but the larger reality is that the big guys have learned the lesson and are avoiding the old mistakes.
It's well known that the US lost the Vietnam war more for the protests back home then for the Vietcong fighters. They just don't want this to happen again. So they will not allow photographers and journalists to go too close to certain realities, and even less to tell the story from the opposed side. This is understandable, but not acceptable.
We hear frequent reports of civilian victims in Afghanistan due to mistaken military actions, but I have never seen photos of those victims. In Vietnam the Mylay massacre on the contrary sparkled open discussions and criticism on certain behaviour of the army toward the population.
Even worse, introducing the concept of privacy (in a war? Please! nothing is private for a soldier in a war!) the governments are now asking not to publish images of wounded or dead soldiers (even their coffins going back home were off-limits to reporters). Again, you may remember how impressive were the photos of actual wounded and suffering young Americans in Vietnam.
The worst part though is the general assumption that there are no doubts on the rightness of an action or a war, or better, no doubts should be stated in the media. Of course I'm not defending the Talebans, or Saddam Hussein, but I have never read of any possible argument the other side could stand for. There was open criticism on the rightness of the Iraq intervention, but never a discussion on principles.
Going back to war photography today. I see very good images of "our" soldiers in action, their tensions, some interactions with civilians. Some of these works are really strong (think of the Restrepo documentary), and telling these stories is good. But it's an incomplete panorama for most of the reportages I see: where are the civilians? Where are the enemies? Where are the consequences of the fights on both sides?
If photojournalism will not fight to get it's independence back it will lose all it's credibility and, in the end, all the interest from the narrow market left for it. But, above all, it's a matter of intellectual and human freedom that is at stake here. We criticise China for it's media control without seeing that the Western media are even more "controlled". We have to get it back! Us, the photographers.

Dec 24, 2010

PHNOM PENH 24-1.4

 

Photography is, or should be, the exercise of searching, thinking, experimenting. Especially now that digital (and optical) technology is offering us daily improvements and goes beyond the limits we have suffered for years.
In my last visit to Phnom Penh last week, a short three days stay, I decided to play this vital game. With a Nikon D3S that can easily shoot at low light and a 24mm F1.4 lens I went around without no precise scope except keeping the maximum aperture on the lens, whenever possible.
I posted a short portfolio in Padplaces (for free download; if you don't have an iPad yet sorry, you'll have to wait for the next Apple OS).
I love technology when it gives you freedom of expression: we just have to be careful and not become slaves to it!

Dec 20, 2010

THE 2011 CALENDAR IS NOW ON LINE

The 2011 desktop calendar is ready and available for download from the website. Just go to this link and choose your screen format. I hope you like it and will be a good omen for next year! Manolesta did a great job, once again!

Dec 15, 2010

IT'S NOT A LAND OF SMILES..

The first thing you notice arriving in Cambodia after spending times in Thailand is the absence of open smiles on people's faces. When you cross your sight with a passerby in Bangkok, when you ask for information to somebody that doesn't even speak English, what you get is that, a smile. Even during the red shirts revolution on the barricades you would mostly notice smiles (until the shootout started, of course). In Phnom Penh the mood is different. Culture is certainly different, the character is different, but what is really different, is my opinion, is the recent history of these countries. Thailand has not known the war for centuries now: it was untouched in the 2nd WW and it was an heaven during the Vietnam war. Cambodia, viceversa, is still recovering from the deepest darkness, social and human darkness, we can imagine: decades of war, civil repression, massacres, poverty. Even worse then Vietnam, in many ways. Today it's economy is slowly growing, but under the heavy hand of China that is not paying much attention to social differences here.
I visited the Tuol Sleng today, the Genocide Museum that was the slaughterhouse under the Khmer Rouge regime. A long gallery of cells, torture chambers, and thousands of pictures of people that died here. And then you understand why people are not smiling, at least not yet. It will take generations for wounds to heal, for Cambodians to look at others seeing friendly visitors, or at least not indifferent foreigners. The world was silent, for too long.

Dec 4, 2010

INTRODUCING PADPLACES

I have been silent these days, but definitely not inactive. I'm introducing PadPlaces, the application for iPad that wants to respond to the radical changes of our editorial market.
Here is an introduction to it, but you are invited to follow it on it's BLOG, or WEBSITE, or FACEBOOK, or download the app on your iPad.
But, above all, please send me you opinions and feedback!

WHAT IS PadPlaces?

It's the new way to distribute photo stories and documentary reportages on the iPad and other tablets that will follow.
The application is a browser that will allow you to see what's available and download to your iPad full stories for a minimal price and portfolios for free.
At the moment I keep this platform open to my stories only, but it's possible I will enlarge the number of fellow photographers showing.
Stories are divided into New (the most recent stories), Travel and Documentary, depending on subject and style.

WHY PadPlaces?

iPad has changed the way editorial publications are distributed.
Now we are able to show full stories (not just the selection published on magazines) in the style (often not reproduced by printed publications) and sequence that represents the original author's idea and work.
For a small price, that will depend on novelty and number of images, you can download and keep on you tablet the full stories for future review.

WHAT THERE IS INSIDE AND WHAT THERE WILL BE?

Recent stories will be uploaded.
My plan is to include E-photo books that will have a proper section and will represent a new media experience.
We are thinking also of video and audio addition.

HOW WILL I COMMUNICATE WITH YOU?

The website padplaces.com will give indications on content and news.
This blog will be the opinion and comments exchange place between author and viewers: you are invited to participate on any matter.
Through twitter we'll also give updates on new stories addition and relevant news.

Nov 6, 2010

TPW ORIENT - BURMA & MEKONG

TPW Orient, the new project dedicated to South East Asia, is ready with details. At this point I can announce the two traveling programs that i will direct in February and March 2011. A first trip will be through Burma, into the very heart of the country, and a second on the most culturally rich section of the Mekong River, between Laos and Cambodia.
In both cases this will not be yet another tour with many cameras on the shoulders, but rather a true, intense photographic workshop where participants will be encouraged to work on personal projects and evolve their vision.
I know both areas very well, and I can count on excellent local connections. This will ensure the best possible attention to the relevant travel aspects, going out of the obvious touristic routes and icons, concentrating our attention to the essence of the amazing situations we will find.
Visit the TPW website for a program presentation, (of Burma or Mekong) and keep in mind that details will be available very soon.
TPW Orient is planning also a two weeks teaching program, like in Tuscany with several photographers, based in Bangkok. That full schedule is available on TPW website.

Oct 17, 2010

WHAT IDEA FOR THIS FORMAT? OR VICEVERSA?


It's a common assumption that your camera will determine how you photograph. Your Leica will let you interact with your subject. The wide angle will push you closer. A medium format camera will force more attention to composition and details. A square frame will pull attention to the centre and give you more focus. As a consequence many photographers decide to use certain equipment on which to base their vision: but is this the right approach?
I think it should be exactly the opposite. The author should develop an idea and then make a decision on what equipment is more suitable to obtain the desired results. Yes, I know, this is the Utopian world where you can afford the (very expensive) cameras and lenses you want, but I'm talking principles here. Why you can't envision a square frame image in your 35mm digital camera and you think you need a Hasselblad?
In today's photography the lack of original ideas is pushing the search toward any possible shortcut and diversion, including giving the precedence to technique over idea. Nothing is more self-deceiving then this: your camera is, or should be, the extension of your mind, the instrument to realize your vision, to put into a bi-dimensional frame your idea. This is true also with post-production techniques, of course: the implementation of color and exposure transformation (still based on the chemical precesses, and why, I wonder why, we don't explore new expressions) cannot cover the emptiness of weak images.
Let's keep creating, starting with the strongest instrument we already have: our brain. And it's still free!

Oct 11, 2010

MORE ON DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY

I find myself in total agreement with the comment left by "Art Sediments" on my latest post that I have decided to publish it, hoping this will give more food for thought!

"I have no doubt that this is a period of self-analysis and transition for photography. As you rightly point out, everyone has a cheap fool-proof camera in his pocket. Does this means that I see more interesting pictures around? I would say no. Kitsch is the dominating trend, meaning that digital photography most of the time is trying to emulate Kodachrome or B&W in the same way photography in the XIX centuries tried to emulate paintings.

I believe digital photography has still to find his own voice, as photography did many years after its started with Weston or Strand. Is conceptual art the path? I don't believe so. Art can be conceptual, but does not need to. But it is mandatory for art to create real emotions. From what I see around, the emotion created by digital photography are based on the mimicking of traditional photography. As I can be moved by Ingres, but not by an arty photograph of the XIX century, I can cry in front of a great B&W print, but not in front of a Photoshop creation copying Cartier-Bresson. Is not about being purist, is about moving forward..."

Oct 10, 2010

CONCEPT TIMES


Contemporary art is conceptual. This means the idea behind the artwork is more important then the technical skill. You can be an artist, say a painter, without knowing how to use a brush, or a sculptor just making a drawing that will then be carved out of marble by a capable "scarpellino" in a Carrara workshop. Even more contentious is the installation world, where an empty environment, pieces of materials, blinking bulbs or static videos are considered as artistic as a Michelangelo's Sacred Family. Many people refuse to accept this art (I always remember the fantastic movie with Alberto Sordi and wife visiting the Biennale in Venice!) but it has too long a story to be labeled as a cheap trick.
The question is how this culture is influencing photography, the most technical of modern arts. Since everybody is talking of how the Photographer should identify himself in this world where everybody is owning and carrying a camera in his pocket, style and ideas become crucial. Should we go concept?
That a photo just depicting a place or event without a personal interpretation has no photographic sense or monetary value nowadays is common agreement. But how far the personal touch and interpretation of the artist should go in this conceptual panorama is everybody's guess, or madness. Let's leave photojournalism aside in this path: the need to report the truth -even if with a personal eye and approach- has (or should have) the precedence on any artistic ambition. The fine art world is completely different, though. Honestly I'm really fed up with photos of cypress trees and empty country roads ant dusk printed extremely large on grainy papers. This is just concept conceptualism, food for marketing critics that will make a lot of money out of certified smoke. But an image that can transmit you a sense of loneliness, longing, that makes you think and wonder even without a clear subject depicted, is something that we have to appreciate. Probably a visual language that we should learn, develop, introduce to our vision.

Sep 23, 2010

WISE GOVERNMENT IS GOOD!

In 1977 I wandered the roads of Spain with friends on a old Renault 4. When we sow the industrial-smog-blackened roofs of Bilbao we just kept going: it was a dreadful nothingness. In 1997 the local government, induced by the industrial crisis, had invited Guggenheim to open their European landmark museum in the city. In 1998 I came to shoot a story on positive change: how the dreamy shapes of Frank Ghery were attracting visitors, educated ones. It was incredible how this single landmark was already redefining the perception of this unknown industrial city to the whole continent.
Today I'm back here, to shoot a story on a city that did not stop at that successful step but kept investing on art and architecture as a meaning of development. And I'm astonished again. So many famous architects have been invited to work here that is difficult even to give a serious panorama. Spain has changed as a whole, it's true, and Spanish people are perfect Europeans nowadays, but this city is really special.
Just think of the Alhondiga. An old building whose redevelopment as a public space was assigned to a visionary like Philippe Starck. An amazing concentrate of dreamy design and useful utilities: a pool on the roof (transparent from below the building) with a gigantic open air platform that becomes a beach in summer; a mediateca large like a whole museum; a gymnasium as wide as a stadium, and so on..
Among so many negative stories of bad government and corruption is refreshing to see something so promising and enriching for the people. If, as I said in a previous post, Europe is a living museum, this place is the avantgarde of it!

Sep 14, 2010

WORKING FOR A NEW WAY

The iPad introduction to the media market has started a veritable revolution in the communication world. Many will dislike what the new media represents, but, like every technical instrument, the way it is used will determine it's true value.
The iPad, and the other tablets that will follow, have changed the concept of how the media contents will be created, distributed and consumed. More multimedia platforms will give more freedom of expression, more space (written stories are already longer then on printed newspapers, more images will be visible). Publishers jumped to ask money for content (a step that was necessary to keep the industry alive) but will need to offer quality to justify this request and beat the very large competition. Content consumers finally will have a huge choice, easy interaction with authors and producers, and will become more selective.
But what I find really exciting is a completely new opening of the creative to the public. Publishers will be important for aggregation and focus, but will not be an indispensable gate. We can offer our productions directly to the public, and bet only on our quality for acceptance and diffusion. This is challenging, but a fantastic opportunity.
I'm working on such a way, and will keep you posted on progress. But rest assured, a great revolution in publishing has started, and you may be part of it!

Sep 3, 2010

LOOK, THINK (POSITIVE), AND SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT...


I have friends that fear my analysis of the actual professional situation may sound too pessimist.. People who knows me know very well that my attitude is quite the opposite. Sure, I tend to criticize what I see, an ancient Tuscan attitude, but I mean this as an incentive to myself as well as to others. Self satisfaction is deceiving and dangerous, although we certainly need gratifications. But I well aware of being part of that lucky portion of humanity that can express itself with no real limits, with plenty of freedom, with great instruments of expression.
Facing the reality is not pessimism: it is, or wants to be, a push toward change. Change for good!
Therefore, my message to all people is: keep making photos to express yourself! But think a lot, face realities, catch something that is good for others as well as for yourself.. If you are a pro and/or a photojournalist taking photos is also a social responsibility.. But keep shooting, shooting, shooting...

Aug 28, 2010

EUROPEAN LIVING MUSEUM

I just finished an assignment through the Norwegian Fjords (you can see some iPhone images in this Facebook gallery). The nature is still awesome, powerful, immense. The weather is really dominating your destiny here, and you feel overwhelmed by the light even in a rainy day!
But the country, the humanized part of it, has changed a lot. Even with this population, probably the European one whose life is the most depending on nature, and therefore very mindful of it in habits and sensibilities, modernity has traced changes. Behind the red huts reflecting in every fjord shoreline, there is a technological evolution that has completely changed the way of life in the vastness of the countryside. Maybe alcohol is still a stigma, but internet goes well with it! And Oil is pumping money!
But my thoughts are going to a much larger point of reflexion then the Norwegian life. Is the condition of the European continent in this century that is really interesting me.
We, the modern Europeans, are part of a living museum. From Greece to Italy, from France to England, we were the cradle of western civilization. Art, philosophy, industry, social order were born here and then given, or imposed, to the world. Of course the past century has seen the passage of power to the American continent. Still today are the United States the place where ideas are born and developed. Asia is still only the large factory to these ideas: nothing really new is coming from there, yet. It will come, eventually, in a few decades.
But Europe has lost for good. It's is a good place to live. Probably the best in the world. From the fjords here to the Greek islands; from the art cities of Italy to the Highlands of Scotland; from the vineyards of France to Andalusia.. and endless gallery of beauty and social peace and wealth that fears no comparison. Or it does?
If you are a young European with ideas, do you feel you are in the right continent? Or you feel like innovation, creativity, inventiveness are escaping you? The world is shaping up somewhere else, and I feel like we lost the train.
But the entire humanity is globalized and connected. It's easy to get off. If you feel like you want to be part of the changing, with an active role, don't sit in this comfortable chair overlooking ancient beauty. Go where the heart is beating, be part of the big game, do something good.

Aug 20, 2010

WHY YOU WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL?

If you are passionate with bricolage (Do It Yourself) generally you don't wish to become a carpenter! For years I have wondered why this is different in photography: whoever has a camera thinks that the obvious way to evolve is to go professional. Nothing is wronger then this, of course. First of all if you are a pro you must photograph not only what your client wants rather then what you like, but also in a way that responds as close as possible to the client needs and not to your personal creativity. This is the exact opposite of any photographer wish and dream.
I understand very well that the idea of earning a life through traveling and taking pictures is a great attraction to many, but this possibility is long gone (see the recent posts on the crisis of travel photography) and the opportunities of something similar are fewer and fewer as the days passes by. We, my generation and few others, were lucky enough to have some of these opportunities, but time have changed for good (for bad, actually!).
So, why would you want to become a professional photographer today? If your passion is photography, go for what you like to do and forget the business side. If you are good that will be the natural consequence of your evolution, eventually. If travel and/or documentary are what you like (as it is in the vast majority of cases) use photography as your way of interpreting and going deeper into the situations you find. Leave the thought of a possible publication: it's a far possibility that will spoil your true expression. Instead free your creativity and vision into a personal and innovative way of reporting: if you are really good success will find you.
Going professional is a though choice, a difficult way to follow, especially nowadays. Business matters will be well prevailing over aesthetic ones, and few people have this in mind (or are able to face it). I think that if you are really willing to do something in this life you can achieve it. But this is true for a few, capable and determined guys. If you think you are one of them...

Aug 16, 2010

PUBLISHERS

Another follow up to the ongoing discussion on the Travel Photography crisis/changes in the world. Some friends suggested that publishers should be the principal actors in the evolution of the market. They should create publications (on paper or on the web) that answer the changing expectations of the public, still pointing to a quality that should give reasons to search for something else (e.g. better) then the avalanche of images freely available on the net. Yes, they should: if they were still there. Unfortunately real publishers are gone from several years!
Big good publishing names are still there (Time Inc, Newsweek, NYT, Gruner, The Time, NGS and others) but they represent only a small portion of the Travel Publishing world market. And the problem in basically on quality evaluation.
An long experienced editor, Luciano di Pietro, that just retired after a life spent in reporting and publishing, pointed out the essence of the drama. He said that real publishers had gone leaving their companies in the hands on managers with no attention at all to contents and quality. The Italian story is emblematic. We had really great guys who started a florid season of media evolution in the 60s: Mondadori, Rusconi, Rizzoli created little empires still prolific. They were entrepreneurs, looking for profit, but recognized the value of quality and would not renounce an author they considered valuable. They have been replaced today by managers (the dreaded CEO) that come from different industries and go to others with only numbers in their minds. There is only the cost of a photo in proportion to the page-filled space, the quality of it is insignificant. Their major attention is to their personal careers, determined by the profit realized in the few years of activity in this industry. Why they should worry if they'll be selling burgers in a year of two?
Of course this is not always the case, but it is for the vast majority of the market, and this trend has compromised not only the quality offered but the public expectations as well. The real question is, in fact, how many people will appreciate quality over fast-consuming quantity in the near future? Will the young generations still appreciate good images over mobile snapshots? The multinationals wish, work and push for a massified, low requiring market, and they are strong. But we can resist, resist resist....

Aug 6, 2010

A STONE IN THE SWAMP

I expected some reaction to my post on the crisis of Travel Photography, but I was surprised by the quantity of mails and feedback I received. I did some clarification with another post, but I have obviously thrown a heavy stone in the pond, or should I call it the swamp, given the situation.
Fellow photographers posted some comments on their blogs (Bob Krist and









Aug 1, 2010

WHY A WORKSHOP TODAY?

 (photo © Igor Boscolo, TPW 2010 student)

The recent conclusion of my TPW workshop gave me reasons to think about the meaning of a (serious) workshop nowadays.
For years I have been repeating that photographers teach when they don't have to shoot (any photographer prefers to shoot over anything else..). People that teach a lot have very few assignments, is my guess. But this is partly true. The experience is an enrichment for the teacher too: discussing ideas with young students, browsing the pattern and experiences of other great teachers, and above all vampiring the enthusiasm that we tend to lose after some professionally-troubled years. And, yes, also the wish to pass on some personal knowledge.
But why should people become students in a workshop? There are some good reasons to do it, and some not to: depends who you are and what you are looking for.
A workshop cannot teach how to photograph in one week; neither can give (not existing) tricks to accelerate the process to go pro. These are the dreams of dreamers, of people that give photography a superficial approach not appreciating the long way this art-profession has already gone through, and even less, the crucial radical changes that we are living today. Indeed these are the times of a revolution that we need to ride, not the comfortable re-run of past experiences (I mean, nobody will have the story and experiences of photographers that worked between the 50's and the 90's: that way of life is gone forever).
On the other end a workshop can give you a lot of useful time-saving indications. If the student is willing to listen (not an easy assumption) can obtain from a (honest) teacher useful informations on how not waste time and energy in useless, but generally wrongly perceived, ways of growing. Can rather learn how to focus her/his creativity in realistic and contemporary projects, professional trends, artistic perceptions. This is a priceless support that only a workshop can pass on.
Therefore the workshop today should be open to people willing to enhance their perception of photography, developing their personal focus and style, regardless of professional intentions they may have. Actually I think photography, the "real one", will be more for non-professionals in the future: the freedom from monetary burdens and subject requirements will give creativity and inventiveness a rare opportunity.
I posted the final results of my students in Facebook, as well as my personal presentation. Just follow the links to see. Till the next teaching... Thanks guys!

Jul 25, 2010

THE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER BLOG MENTION

I would like to thank

Jul 14, 2010

RENCONTRES D'ARLES

French are good at lighting monuments and streets, designing wine labels, creating myths. So is not surprising that the "Rencontres d'Arles" dedicated to Art photography are a perfect window for our small world of creativity. They make a show (that succeed in create discussions - wow!) at every night projection in the Roman theater (great setting), and the night-long spread of projection screens throughout the city is a real happening, a must-be-there occasion in the year. Well done, my American friends will say!
Let's give a look at the substance of it, just to stay on the real side of the profession. There were ideas and some good pictures, although I found more inspiring for pure photography the shows of Giacomelli and Haas (from the 50ies!). But, as a whole, there is a clear sign of a new direction in which different forms of art and communication will merge. The concept of single prints is opening up to a more complex combination of messages, contents, interactions. Maybe the goal is not clear yet, but I think this evolution is needed and positive. I have seen some young photographer's work that is meaningful and strong: let's just hope they'll find the way to have their ideas supported and developed. There were also areas full of emptiness, but this part of the game, of course.
The better part is the sensation of easiness and pleasure that visitors and professionals created there. So different from the tense desperation of Perpignan, the tragic "end of photojournalism!". I think this positiveness is a good starting point for photographers: take it easy, we are still producing art! And, as Franco Fontana once said in a interview "Our is not hard work! Hard work is in the mines!"

Jul 7, 2010

RE-EVOLUTION IS NOT ALL BAD NEWS...

My latest post moved many friendly reactions, and words of support.. Well, thanks, but I didn't want to sound too pessimist, or even less in the mood to surrender: quite the contrary! Let me clarify my personal perception of the situation.

When I talk of Travel Photography I refer only to the professional work normally published on travel magazines or books, certainly not to the documentary or reportage work that, obviously, requires traveling (otherwise any picture shoot more the 1 km from home would be travel).

I think is better to face a crisis before is definitive, so we can search solutions, new expression, new media without a sense of vacuum under our feet. See the Einstein citation in the right column of this blog: that is exactly how I see it!

This is the time to start the Re-Evolution of this profession. This is the time for ideas and creativity, but also the time to explore the development of media where the artist can have more control. Because we know that many of the problems for our profession are due to the disappearance or real publishers..

So, keep smiling, and above all, keep thinking, shooting, creating.... 

Jul 6, 2010

A REQUIEM FOR TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

I did a lot of thinking, waiting, looking (and posting on this blog).. I wanted to be sure, double sure, that my predictions were only a "pessimistic state of mind" consequence.. But now I can say that they were real and realistic, unfortunately.
Professional Travel Photography is gone for good. Or better, the Travel Publications are gone, with a few exceptions. The big international magazines are still there, but with badly reduced number of pages, of readers, of stories. And, what's worst, with confused identities and scopes. Even generic magazines have renounced their travel section after they had produced, or just worsened, the specialized one's crisis.
The reasons are obvious: what is the sense of describing places and destinations in this globalized world? Or even giving practical suggestions when the web is providing very efficient real-time informations?
For photographers like myself, deeply rooted in a geographical culture and background, the problem has two interconnected sides: the artistic and the professional. What to photograph is as important as How to do it. As I repeated several times, identifying interesting stories and giving a personal interpretation is a must. But then comes the Why (which is the same as the professional problem): what are the media that will publish (distribute, show, expose) these works? The photographer has no control of this essential part of the process. I keep seeing many colleagues that join forces in creating new agencies to face the sales vacuum. But it seems obvious to me that the real problem is the absence of the media market to sell to, not the way we try to sell! Maybe we should group to create sensible media, unless we look for selling brand instead of photos.
I keep thinking that the world has a lot of stories worth to be covered photographically. The real task is to modernize our scope, create new ways of distribution (using the new technologies, think of the iPad per example), reach the young reader.
For the Travel Photographer the time has come to drop the "Travel" label. Everybody has a camera in his pocket today. The photographer is somebody able to see in a personal, strong way, and pass the message on..
I SUGGEST YOU READ ALSO THE MORE RECENT POSTS ON THIS SUBJECT..

Jun 16, 2010

NEW PORTFOLIOS

The new PORTFOLIOS are now on the web site. I have included the most recent works and updated the "travel" concept trying to give a clearer scope to my professional attitudes.
You can download them from the portfolios page to review. Any suggestion will be welcomed!!!

Jun 11, 2010

STORIES & WORKSHOP

Back in Italy and time to plan the summer work... In the meanwhile all the stories shoot in Asia in the past seven months are now on the website. Furthermore, the TPW summer workshop should be decided in these days. For those interested and with queries please send me a message and we can talk. What I can say is that, like we did last year with great results, I'll concentrate more on the creative side rather then on the professional one: it's time to give photography a completely new scope, adapting our vision tho the fast changing times.
Please visit the new TPW website and ask Carlo Roberti for special discounts that we have agreed upon.

May 20, 2010

HOME

I landed in Bangkok in October, on a humid sunrise at the end of the rainy season. Now, after over seven months, the rain is not coming back yet. Instead a revolution has taken place, leaving an uncertain situation. Bangkok is burning: the future at risk. It is time to fly home. But where is "home"? What is "home"? An proverb says that "home is where the heart is".. partly it's true, but it's not all.
For me the feeling of being "home" is a little more complicated, maybe because I try to live, as Theroux indicates, traveling, and "Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life".
The places where I feel home are more then one: Tuscany, Sicily, Bangkok, Bali, Brazil.. Besides Tuscany, where obviously I was born and have my house and work, I came to realize that what makes me feel "homely" are the people more then the environment. I'm Latin, I love a positive approach to life. Even in tough times I'm conscious that I was born in a lucky time and place, and I should always look at the "half full glass", having witnessed other's many empty glasses until now. In those places people share the same philosophy. And love. (With some obvious, tragic, temporary exception.. of course).
So, here comes the time to board a plane and pass from a summer to the other. But are only the seasons of life that are shifting.. I hope peace prevails in this "other home" of mine...

May 19, 2010

THIS WAS A BIT TOO CLOSE...

They finally crushed the protests. This morning the Army attacked, with a relatively low number of casualties. But the real mess is starting now: Bangkok is on fire, the rest of the country seems to have the same situation in various places. We are under curfew here. I guess they want free ground to wipe out the groups of arsonists and looters. What will happen from tomorrow is the most uncertain and tragic of forecasts. A bloodshed is not a far possibility.
The Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi went in with the first wave and was killed. Other reporters were severely wounded. When I followed, about an hour after, I thought the ground was safe. But in a second a big exchange of fire started, and I was blocked among soldier that were hiding on the ground. The worst place to be. Me and other reporters followed the troops when they could leave the bad spot, after two grenades exploded nearby.. Fortunately we made it back. This was too close.
I am very sorry for Fabio. The crazy reality today is this professional situation that pushes the photographer to search for the extraordinary image to make a living. In this war environment the push can easily take you to death. I don't think this sacrifice will make the people that should (the editors and publishers) reconsider this profession problems.
I'm not a war photographer. I have followed this revolution because I consider Bangkok a second home, and I feel very involved. The cultural aspects of this major event were too compelling to me: that's it. But for all the young guys that risk their lives to report, please give them a serious support.

May 16, 2010

ON THE BRINK OF TRAGEDY

The situation in Bangkok is on the brink of tragedy: should the Army attack the protesters ground the number of casualties will be great. In the meantime the Red Shirts are fighting in the streets around, trying to escape the siege. Scenes of violence, on both sides, are changing the perception of this land and people. I'm not surprised: Asia is famous for smiles transformed in atrocities in the blink of an eye. The worst part, for a Westerner, is that predict that moment is impossible. The number of deaths is over 60, with over 1700 wounded until now. And the battle goes on in the soi of the city. The greater fear is that such a situation, should it create the martyrs that many people wish for, will leave a condition where terror and violence could linger for the years to come.
I have now posted a multiple selection of images that resume the revolution until now. You can see it on the web site. And will keep following..

May 14, 2010

SEH DAENG

The one thing I mostly despise is violence, especially State organized violence. And the Army is the obvious incarnation of it (should I add the oddity of ranks, orders to be followed without personal discrimination, and so on?). And war, to cite Bertrand Russel again, "does not show who is right, only who is left".
But on a personal point of view, I admire people that stand their ideas, whatever these ideas are, even if they are opposite to mine.
General Seh Daeng was shot last night, almost certainly by an Army sniper that received orders to decapitate the Red Shirts military wing. This man, who spent his life believing in force, violence, military strategies (he even proposed to bombard opponents with poisonous snakes!) made the mistake to choose the rebels side and was finally "terminated" by his own side: the Army. That same Army that has shown an incredible level of incapacity on the ground and has even refused to follow (fortunately!) the Government orders to crackdown the protesters.
I last sow him a couple of days ago, training a group of would be militia armed with bamboo sticks to go inspecting the barricade he had designed. He went with them in the open ground and when he faced the police, that was supposed to arrest him, was yes surrounded but by policemen that were asking for his autograph and taking pictures with him.
General Seh Daeng was not a nice man, but he was the only military man on the scene.
The situation is on the brink of tragedy. The Red Shirts leaders are divided and have no real control. Large posters announce a non-violent movement, but from the stage they promise to "fight" not to "resist" until the end. And they have arms. And they are now completely surrounded by the Army. Gandhi would disagree on the whole strategy: but this is not British India.

May 13, 2010

SHOWDOWN TIME? OR MORE OF THE SAME...

The talking, the guessing, the (Western) logic, the magical predictions and political analysis, all went to hell.. The proposed solutions were rejected, the requests avoided.. My sensation is that the Red leaders and the Government are now playing with the life of the people: of the many people still protesting for right reasons but with a questionable leadership. Is true that compromise is not an easy dish for the square, and many wish to push the confrontation to the definitive showdown. But, I repeat myself, after the fight, the blood, the deaths, who will be left will be the same leaders, on both sides, talking of the need to compromise for the common good. They all still have time, but it look like they don't want to use it..
New images of the ongoing confrontation are now on the website. But may need an update soon..

May 12, 2010

LADIES & GEORGE WORKSHOP

It's Revolution in the afternoon and Photographic workshop in the morning: Thai oddities are endless and contagious.. Take five nice Italian ladies and an English gentleman with a great passion for photography. Add some very basic digital cameras (I mean, compact single lens, 200$, snapshot cameras!) and the will to brave the almost 40° temperatures of Bangkok afternoons. Give them a direction, some adjustments, a little help, and you may get the results you can appreciate in the final 5-days-5-pictures-each projection. Not bad, not bad at all! And thanks!

May 4, 2010

THE BORING TIME OF A REVOLUTION

I had an English teacher in High School, Mr Carlucci, an expert in Hemingway prose, that told us what were the major obstacles to a Revolution: mothers and wives! He said they would ask sons and husbands to stay home after the first days with casualties. This was over 30 years ago, in the West. In Thailand today it's obviously another story.
Are still men to wear uniforms (Reds militia and Army), but women are present everywhere, and they are really passionate, on both sides of the barricades. Now that the standoff is lasting days between threats and conciliatory proposals, the real risk for the Red Shirts revolution is boredom. Fewer people are left in the besieged Bangkok intersection, and the rain season is beginning with sudden downpours that are not an easy challenge when you sleep in the streets. The rebellion leaders are not talking from the stage anymore, a precaution against the snipers placed on the buildings around: they have been replaced by singers and comedians. Yesterday afternoon the public jumped and danced when the first notes of "I will survive" started from the stage. Women have not only left home: they are defying boredom!
But the threat of a military crackdown is still real, and dangerous. If only the hardliners will be left in the square the "non violent" movement may have his martyrs.

May 1, 2010

XXI CENTURY REVOLUTION: WHAT'S THE SENSE?

Being May 1st, and being myself in the middle of a revolution (well, sort of), I feel like a reflexion is needed. What is the sense of this popular revolution? But, above all, what is really moving and driving it? Maybe the real question should be "who" is driving it..
Although I feel empathically near the red Shirts reasons (for the first time in the history of this kingdom the neglected masses are acquiring a "class consciousness", are discussing the philosophy of undiscussed loyalty to the noble rich oligarchy) I remain deeply suspicious of the leadership that inspired and still controls the movement. Thaksin is closer to Berlusconi then to Lenin; he never discussed the economical system of the country, being one of the richest tycoon on earth: he merely gave some economical benefits to the large countryside population to obtain a solid electoral base, to be transformed into power. The subsequent turmoil was a power struggle among rich and powerful, not a popular revolt: a confrontation deeply rooted into tradition and religion more then in ideology and politics.
Even in these days, when thousands of people are fighting for their new social identity, the signs of this "controlled rage" are clear. The Red Shirts are occupying the business centre of Bangkok, barricaded in a large intersection, an area that has become a village, like the "Paris Commune". They sleep in tents in the streets, shower behind veils, get ready for a fight: many truly believe this is their occasion in history.
But there are questions. Who is paying for the electricity generators, the television broadcast, the freely distributed food, the countless printing and gadgets? And more then this: on the sides of the camps are the largest, most up-market shopping malls and luxury hotels in Thailand. They closed, of course, but not a scratch has happened to the properties (in any other country the people would be sleeping in the rooms of the Four Seasons by now).
The conclusion is clear: "You shall fight, even be ready to die (over 30 till now), but you shall not discuss the economic system, the private property!"
It's so strange when you see the flow of thousands of motorcycles riding the streets of the capital, with red flags and shirts, chanting slogans and calling for change, stopping at a red traffic light! I guess this is a XXI century revolution: to stop it takes little more then a traffic policeman.
My wish is that not many people will be killed and wounded from now on. This would be an useless sacrifice since (as history shows) in a few months everybody will be back to it's life, with social roles unchanged. Only a few gadgets added to their wealth. Whoever the "winner" will be.

Apr 25, 2010

REVOLUTION IN PROGRESS... (new images)

Bangkok confrontation is continuing.. More deaths, more trouble, endless uncertainty.. What seems obvious to our Western thinking must be very far from the Thai way of doing things. New images are now on the Web Site page: I wished this was not becoming a work in progress, but well, it did.. And the progress is completely confused!
I came back from Bali to follow the events, even if they had been quite for a while. Government supporters had gathered to confront the Red Shirts, in fact provoking them with slogans and offenses. The Reds were now barricaded in the business district, and the loudspeakers exchanged "greetings".. sometimes words were replaced by stones and bottles. Suddenly some loud explosion happened not far from where I was: it seems the Reds had turned to launching grenades instead of stones (of course they deny this) that exploded on the Sky Train station and then among the opposition supporters. The situation grow confused, the Army searching for snipers, the people running away from Silom street, Pat Pong night market deserted with the incredible scene of soldiers and prostitutes left to see the disaster.. 3 more deaths, many more wounded, and the image of "gentle smiling people" fading forever.. I'll keep following the destruction of my temporary homeland, I hope for a short time to come, but..

Apr 20, 2010

(I'm not against) BLACK & WHITE

This is a subject that has recurred in many of my workshops and talks on photography: "Why I don't create B&W images? Do I dislike them?"
First of all I love B&W photography (when it makes sense), and I don't exclude that I'll use this visual language in future works (if I consider it appropriate) as I have sometimes used in the past. Some clarification is needed.
Now that nonsense like "B&W is the photography closer to reality" (yes, in a world of color-blinded people!) or that "B&W is the only real photography" are subsiding to the evidence of times and evolution, and now that B&W is to be considered just another potential elaboration out of a color-digitally-shoot file, choosing to go this way is only a matter of interpretation. B&W has the power of giving force to "the situation" depicted avoiding the "distraction" of the environment's atmosphere. Sometimes B&W is used to make weak images look more powerful, but this trick is not resisting when the reading goes beyond the first impression. On the contrary: it can only outline the weaknesses of the composition.
I think the photographer should have only one thing in mind: the final image as he had (or should had) envisioned from the moment before he shoot to the final step of the creation (print or else). When you "see" an image you already know if this will be a strong photo, and what you "see" in that first moment is the finished picture. Adding or subtracting effects will only weaken your vision. If you see in B&W (not because you are color-blind) then go for it.. The freedom and vastness creativity has obtained in recent times by digital technology is amazing: abusing it would be counterproductive.

Apr 12, 2010

NEW WORKS NOW ON THE WEBSITE

Three new stories are now visible on the website, in the Stories/Reportages section. I consider them important works. The Sak Yant-Magical Tattoo is a large photo research lasted three months between Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. Although there are many pictures on the site they are only part of the whole body of work. Jakarta was shoot only last week, and shows how changing the city is just before Obama goes back where he was a child. Last, but more sensible to me, being the city where I spend most of my time these days, a short gallery of faces shoot on the Black Saturday in Bangkok. 21 deaths til now: I hope I don't have to call this a work in progress!!!

Apr 11, 2010

AND BLOOD CAME..

Yesterday I followed the confrontation between Red Shirts and the Army in Bangkok all day long. I was shooting for a story on the faces of this "revolution". The situation was tense. A large number of soldier had been arriving in the city. The Red Shirts leaders felt the pressure rising. But shooting on both sides I lived again the feeling I had in the seventies, when I was part of it: on both sides young faces pushed to the fight by leaders that will certainly end sitting together and sharing power in a near future. There is no right and wrong here: if the government is non-elected and represents the wealthy part of the nation, the Red Shirts (don't be mislead by the color, no communist reference) are asking for the sacred right to have their vote counted, but are inspired and controlled by a leader that is closer to Berlusconi then to Lenin.
And after a long day the worst happened: the Reds, probably reacting to the pressure, pushed and the military shoot. The Reds shoot too. Until now over 19 deaths and over 800 wounded are counted. In the square where this happened the situation was tragic: I was running and leaning down with the crowd to dodge the rubber bullets, but the people in the front fell on both sides. A young Cambodian girls was terrified: she found herself in the middle of the fight just below her home. The military decided to retreat to avoid more casualties, leaving empty tanks that were dismantled by the crowd. On the ground the blood of the dead was honored. But it's too late.. This is still another setback for the idea of "the land of smiles".. And it's not over yet..

Apr 9, 2010

REVOLUTION!!!! (THAI STYLE)

The confrontation goes on in Bangkok (although an outcome should be near..). The Red Shirts are not giving up, the government has declared the Emergency Status. Everything is possible. I tend to think they'll find a solution, although Asian history is full of smiles turned bloody. I hope this is not the case now!
But the mood of the Thai people is well represented by what I sow today. After a short, almost violent confrontation between Red Shirts and Police they created a short space among themselves. Then the Reds allowed a group of Monks on the front line, asking for calm and peace. The police responded deploying five lines of female policewomen. Because causing the Monks to get in touch with women would have been a terrible sin the physical fight was impossible. And everybody retired calmly, but only after the few minutes of silent attention dedicate to the National Anthem. This is still Asia, after all...

Apr 4, 2010

INDONESIA LIKE BRAZIL... SAME SAME, NO DIFFERENT...

Jakarta has gone a long way since my first visit here 32 years ago. Here I had my very first encounter with real poverty and desperation: I still remember I cried seeing children searching for food in the rubbish mountains left in the very center of the city; entire families living in cartoon boxes on every sidewalk; people washing dishes and themselves in the very same putrid water of the canals where another desperate was defecating half meter away..
I came several times after that. In the 90s poverty had already moved out of the center: there are over 18 millions people living in the metropolitan area today. God knows how.
Jakarta has become an archipelago: high-rise buildings, compounds of wealth, are floating in a sea of settled humanity. We are here to tell the bright side of this story: very wealthy people driving their suvs in streets that are clogged with traffic that are no conceived for walking. Walking is actually impossible, most of the time. The success of Indonesia is obvious: rich in natural resources and with a huge population spread on a large area, the country likes to be considered the Brazil of Asia and wants to join the small group of new economical powers. This is quite possible, but comes with the same problem Brazil has to face... Outside the Dragonfly disco, where the powerful pay 300$ for a bottle of Champagne, you can still find desperate faces. And at the feet of the brand new Bakrie Tower (a new landmark skyscraper erected by the tycoon Mr Bakrie) people are still sleeping on the sidewalk.
Real progress is reducing differences: if you don't accept this and work for it you are bound for trouble. We are bound for trouble...

Mar 28, 2010

HAPPIEST DAY IN THEIR LIFE?

Finally searching what is left of Bugis seafarers culture in Indonesia is making a twenty years old idea coming true. This people traveled the whole Indonesian archipelago and as far as India and Australia on sail ships they built (and still build) without a single piece of iron. They traded and exchanged goods, and from their home in South Sulawesi created colonies in many other islands. Few are left carrying goods on their traditional vessels (no more sails, engines have replaced them), and for a few years more will keep moving east, where large cargoes have no reason to go. Then they'll be a thing of the past, like many other cultures.. I first heard of them when I was shooting for my book on Indonesia, in 1990, and few things have changed since then.
Weddings, also among simple couples, certainly haven't. First the man has to ask to buy the wife from her family, bargaining as much as possible, to finally achieve happiness. Then the ceremony -lots of food and drinks- makes the whole village happy. Not the bride though: she's not allowed to smile during the wedding day as this would bring bad fortune to the marriage. Well, the husband was not smiling either, maybe because he was still thinking to the amount of money that had coasted him to start a family... My wishes to them is "keep your culture and customs alive".. happiness will come from your simple life, hopefully..

Mar 21, 2010

CREATIVITY IN TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Travel photography is often considered an "inferior" field of profession when compared to the documentary reportage. It's true that the subjects are almost always less interesting from a social point of view, and the impact perceived equally weaker, but shouldn't we consider the freedom of expression that the "lightness" of the subjects allow the photographer?
"Truth in Travel" is the motto of Conde Nast Traveler, but for years the magazine has featured images that are far from a pure presentation of touristic destinations. Most of the time the photos are strongly interpretative, showing meaningful details (well, sometimes not so meaningful, must say..) or almost abstract panoramas. The idea is simple: the public is well educated on travel, knows what will find in the various places, therefore what a modern magazine should do is suggesting a clever way to enjoy it. This was an idea not received by many European publications that have then succumbed to the web era.
For the photographer the task is less simple then what may appear after this statement. If you don't limit yourself to the representation of a place what you need to do is understand the soul of it, focus on one or more aspects that may symbolize this soul, and then give a personal interpretation. This requires quite a lot of experience, especially because the time to do the work is often very limited. But then comes the good part of the story: yes, the personal interpretation that all photographers love to be requested for! Going creative is all it takes, and your limit is the sky (or a conservative photo editor)!
So travel photography can be really creative if the end user is well educated and ready to face the modern public. Still will be confronted with the documentary photography that requires travel: not the same thing obviously, but many people tend to forget the deep difference and think that once you go away from home the job will be the same. As I mentioned in a previous post, during a shared slide presentation at TPW with Alexandra Boulat, we also shared many comments. She had edited my selection and she noted how more difficult it is to obtain an approval for a "travel" image compared to another showing some tragic event. A starving child will always be more engaging to the photo passionate then a white sand beach!

Mar 12, 2010

PAUL THEROUX


Paul Theroux is one of the travel writers that most inspired me. To be honest it was not for indications on where to go and how. In his pages I rather found a reassuring common feeling with the solitary traveler, a coincidence with his vision of the social folds and his realistic schedule (more focused on the experience of traveling then on a deep exploration of single realities, a predilection I share). So I was very happy to find his latest book "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star", the diary of his journey retracing, after 30 years, his Asian journey narrated in "The Great Railway Bazaar". He wanted to see how the world had changed, but, more then this, he wanted to discover how himself had changed the perception of his experiences. This is something too interesting for me as well, after 30 years on the road.
He writes something that may seems an addendum to my previous post. "The world of settled people has evolved into a world of people wishing to emigrate. There was hardly any distinction, and not much romance, in being a traveler. It was now a world of travelers, or people dreaming of a life elsewhere-far away". Well, change the "travel" with "photography" and there you go: the two components of my profession seriously jeopardized!
But he also writes: "Travel means living among strangers, their characteristic stinks and sour perfumes, eating their food, listening to their dramas, enduring their opinions, often with no language in common, being always on the move toward an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary that is continually shifting, sleeping alone, inventing the trip, cobbling together a set of habits in order to stay sane and rational, finding ways to fill the day and be enlightened, avoiding danger, keeping out of trouble, (..) writing everything down in order to remember, reflecting on where I am and what I'm doing."
Who wants to give this up?

Mar 7, 2010

RE-EVOLUTION STARTS FROM HISTORY

These are time of brain storming, coming changes, radical changes.. What I call a re-evolution of my job. The reason why I write this post is mostly for my own sake, to make a point. But is also a reaction to so called artistic experiments that I find empty and useless. I should say hopeless, as they are intended to find new professional solutions through superficial shortcuts.
Re-evolution starts from history. And here is my professional history.
Beginning of the 80’s I started my (five years) long pursue of a space in the travel editorial market. The photographers that most inspired me at that time were Ansel Adams, Ernst Haas, Fulvio Roiter. Being a traveling geographer by vocation, landscape was my main focus. I soon realized that my Florentine roots had impressed a strong (even too fixed) sense of Renaissance composition to the images I produced. I bought a Pentax 6x7 for medium format and a Sinar field camera besides my Olympus OM2 (then OM3 and OM4) 35mm cameras.
In 1985 I decided to jump into the full time profession. It was a gamble, but I succeeded. By the end of the 80’s I was working for Bonechi travel books (I published over 120 books with them in a 15 years cooperation) as financial support. But I also published 3 major books for the Italian Touring Club (New Zealand, Indonesia, South Africa) among others, and regularly contributed to the major Italian and American travel magazines of the time. Massimo Morello, with whom I’m traveling in Asia most of my time today, was then the editor of Atlante. He pointed out how I had developed a very personal style, maybe even too refined as I was making even tragic situations looking beautiful. It was ok though, but I had the sad privilege of signing the last cover of this glorious geographical magazine on February 1993 (US Highway 1 driven from snowy Maine to sunny Key West).
Mid 90’s is when I started my digital exploration. Yes, it was over 15 years ago, when nobody was talking about the digital future: no digital cameras, basic scanners, bad printers. But I had the support of courageous editors. Andrea Scandolara, the editor of Weekend magazine, published very experimental stories. I did the Fiesta in Pamplona in red tones, the Bilbao Guggenheim museum in the same colors of the building, Oktoberfest in the tone of beer. Luciano Di Pietro did a special issue on Bell'Europa with photos I had transformed as if they were modern azulejos. And many more.. Travel was a matter of photographic interpretation: I was working with Leica or Nikon by now.
A selection of those works were published in “Back in Town”, in 1998, my first portfolio book. The book never went to the bookshops but was distributed by Nikon Italy and the Image Bank, in a number of copies that would be a dream today. It was good: I had made my point, in a way..
I also started with multimedia experiments: small videos and an interactive CD were produced but never published. The publishers called it “too new”. When they finally understood it the content was already too old, and CDs outdated by the web.
But for me was time of changes again. Probably it was a mistake from the professional point of view, but I wanted to follow my “traveling geographer” vocation above all. I had started discovering the human being in the years: the most challenging subject for any artist. I thought applying my experimental style to cultural reportage would have worked. And partly did. But the past decade was full of changes, doomed by continued crisis, uncertainties. Magazines were confused, had no idea of what the public wanted. Probably the public just didn’t want magazine at all: their time had finished.
But I published some interesting stories and books nonetheless. My project on major world religions started with 3 books by the Touring Club (Buddhism, Hinduism, Orthodox) and ended with Io Credo, a brick-size thick book on prayer throughout all major religions. The echo of the work was really strong.
In 2007 NAG (Not Yet Global) was published: my second portfolio book. For me the closing step of this “experimental reportage” phase of my personal journey.
And here we are.. In a middle of a mess that sees all the old editorial world crumble with the rest of western certainties thanks to a crisis that is not only economical. I made several posts on this: on how we need to reinvent not only our profession but the sense of calling ourselves “photographer” in times when every person has a camera in his pocket..
This time is different from the past. An adjustment will not be enough. A re-evolution is essential if we want to keep traveling with a camera, a real one, in our hands.

Feb 27, 2010

LO MA STORY

Lo Ma is a thirteen years old girl living near Buriram, in the backward region of Isaan, Northeast Thailand. She has a simple family and goes to school: a normal life. But she has a passion that makes her special: she loves Muay Thai boxing, and she's very good at it.
When I started working on this story dedicated to women in Muay Thai I thought of a more professional approach. Covering clubs and major competitions, visiting large venues and even stadiums. But the family-size experience of Lo Ma is too compelling. The gym, just a hut between the house and the rice field. The father training her every afternoon. The mother, former boxer herself, overlooking alongside grandmother and sisters. The little niche decorated with boxer's posters where she sleeps. It's one of these simple life stories that nobody is telling anymore, but that should be told for it's simplicity in this time of forced complications.
I followed her, the whole family, to a match during the festival in a Buddhist temple. She prepared herself like the other boys in the open ground. Her father spread oil on her body, put on her gloves, and then she was ready to walk to the ring, to the sixth match of the night. The public was as passionate as was with her male counterparts before, and her opponent bigger, and more angry.
She won. But I had to ask if she had indeed. There were no jumps, jubilation, screams. What is fascinating in Lo Ma is the way she lives all of this: the shy simplicity of a thirteen years old girl that punch and kick like she was playing with a doll.
I'll keep looking...

Feb 23, 2010

WHO IS THE SNAKE? WHO IS THE VICTIM?

The King Cobra village, in northern Thailand, has developed a local business out of a problematic co-existence with a large community of Cobra snakes, up to 3 meters long poisonous unfriendly wanderers. The Cobra Fight is a show where villagers, old and young, confront a snake in a proof of courage. In fact the villagers keep the poor Cobras even at home, in wooden boxes, feed them with smaller snakes and pat them on the head like friendly pets. Therefore the fight is really a family matter. Where one member of the family is indeed a real snake!
But looking at the show my preference for other animals over humans comes back, even with such improbable counterpart. Looking at the face of the "human fighter" just about to swallow the head of the King Cobra, I can't avoid wondering who the most dangerous is. The proud villain used to wander the countryside chasing rats, and now is a prisoner, a gladiator called to fight in a ridiculous arena. As I said for the Corrida, that i still like (I would prefer to be a Corrida Bull then a cow slaughtered for steaks!), let it be, but allow me to be a fan for the Cobra! (This guy was bitten 47 times: we are not even, but...)