Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I’ve Moved!

December 2, 2010

Folks, my blog is no longer hosted by WordPress. It is now at http://www.mitchellkphotos.com/blog/.

Please redirect your RSS feeds, links and whatever else.

See you on my new blog. 🙂

Changes – New Website and Blog!

November 28, 2010

Hello friends! I have finally updated my website and blog! I had a lot of help from my wonderful and poor father, poor because I kinda forced him to help me out with the coding side of things during free time from his already stressful job. So thanks Dad, but don’t relax too much just yet, there is still work for you to be done. 🙂

As you can see from the screen captures, it is not a major overhaul, but it is a noticeable change. The main reason that spurred the change was the fact that with more and more people having larger monitors to see photographs, I felt that the size of the images I had online was much too small. Now the photos will fit onto the screen of an iPad and will also be large enough to appreciate on a larger monitor. This could of course mean that more people will steal my images (the other day I was told via email that someone had actually used my photograph to enter a contest). My answer to this is – I don’t really give a crap. Not that much at least. But if someone will try to make money from my images, that is another story. I will come after you! 🙂

I took some inspiration from some photographers whose work and design taste I respect and kinda mixed everything together into something that I feel reflects who I am. Some of these include – Amy Vitale, Randy Olson and David duChemin.

I have created an archive of some of my images on “Photoshelter”. There still isn’t all that much up there and key-wording the images will be a major pain in the butt, however, anyone interested in seeing more of my work can visit the “Archive” section in the navigation bar.

Now about the new blog. Anyone who had this Blog page book-marked, linked to or subscribed to, please re-direct to http://www.mitchellkphotos.com/blog/ that’s the new home of the blog from now on. I’ll be adding a more convenient subscribe by email feature in the near future. Keep an eye out for that, as competitions and special deals will be sent to those who subscribe by email.

My website, as it has been will remain at http://www.mitchellkphotos.com. Please feel free to check it out and tell me what you think on the new blog.

I’m in Manila waiting for a friend with whom I will make a trip North into the mountains of a region called Luzon. I’ve taken a few shots here and I’ll have a couple posted in the next post on the new blog.

 

Chief Ayar Randes

August 29, 2010

Chief Ayar Randes portrait

I mentioned Chief Ayar in my last post. I also mentioned that he is one of the favourite characters that I’ve come across through all of my journeys. Chief Ayar is a unique man, he is sometimes considered strong headed, very opinionated and one might even call him a little cunning.

Two things that matter to Ayar more than anything in the world are his land and his culture. He has needed to possess at least a little of the mentioned qualities in order to hold onto these in the quickly modernizing, changing world which swallows and absorbs everything in its path without waiting.

For Ayar, his land is much more than just land. He believes that the spirit of his people came from it, from the thick forest, mountain rivers, creeks and some of the most fertile soil on the planet. Ayar is of that land and the land is a continuation of him, it’s can’t be separated, like an organ vital to the body.

Ayar realizes that others might want to take his land away. Vanuatu’s infamous land disputes are a testament to that and in order to basically not get screwed, you have to be ready to fight and to protect your land and your rights. Before the fighting was done with weapons, now one must play by the rules of the modern world. Ayar has negotiated with the government to create a law which ensures that his land will never be sold and the only way it can be transferred is from generation to generation, just as it has been for as long as anyone can remember.

Should there be any doubt or dispute in the future, Ayar’s children, who have all been given modern, Western education will be able to stand up for their land. The youngest is studying law, the middle is a director of a trading company, both in Port Villa (Vanuatu’s capital) and the eldest owns a small shop, in a village close to the ancestral land.

It is the eldest son to whom Ayar has entrusted the task of keeping the family history and his tribe’s culture alive. He told me that he once pulled the boy aside and said “You’ve had enough white-man education, now it’s time to learn about kastom (the word used for tradition/culture in Vanuatu).” Ayar taught  his son how to beat the traditional, wooden gong, how to dance, how to paint masks, how to prepare ceremonies and sacrifice pigs.

It’s hard to tell whether kastom will indeed stay alive for generations, but the pattern which the culture follows in parts of Vanuatu defies reason, or at least it defies the reasoning of most white-men, as the locals refer to almost all Westerns. On Malekula, the home island of Ayar there were still cases of Cannibalism and tribal warfare until late 60s. Then, as majority of the population was finally converted to Christianity, the natives suddenly turned away from their past and at times even became ashamed of it. The Church did their best to discourage anything that would remind the people of their bygone  “savage” ways, calling grade-taking and ceremonial pig killing, which were vital parts of the culture for so long – sinful.

By mid seventies, in South West Bay, the area of Malekula island, where chief Ayar’s ancestral land is, most traces of what once made the  smol nambas, the formerly fierce cannibal warriors of the region distinct and unique was almost gone. That is until Ayar, inspired and influenced by the knowledge passed on to him by his father decided to hold a grade-taking ceremony, to kill a pig, to become a chief and to begin the revival of the smol nambas culture in South West Bay.

Fascinatingly, before Ayar decided to become a chief he was already a prominent Church member, which meant that he had close ties to the very institution which tried their best not to revive, but to rid the natives off of  their history and culture. This didn’t seem right to Ayar and after the pig killing that made him Chief, he went to the Church to pray.  This move was intentional, Ayar wanted to show that Church and kastom could go hand in hand, that they could co-exist. The way Ayar saw it, both were about love,  peace and respect for other human beings.

The Presbyterian Church had a different opinion and decided to “discipline” Ayar by keeping him away from Sunday services for three months. Unshaken and still convinced that Church and kastom could and should co-exist, Ayar went up into the hills to build a church there for the few unconverted or (semi-converted) tribes. Once the church was completed he started attending the services in nothing more than a namba (a banana leaf around the private member). This was a big no-no once again, but no one could discipline Ayar up in the hills. Again he wanted to show  how Church and culture could co-exist, but to his surprise the mountain natives quickly exchanged their nambas for “white man clothes” and began to move away from their ancient traditions without ever really looking back. Unknowingly and unwillingly chief Ayar pushed the only remaining purely traditional people away from their history and culture.

This story would have a very sad ending, if it were to end this way and in most cases, in most countries, it would have. But let’s get back to what I said about the way that the pattern which the culture follows in Vanuatu makes no sense. Interestingly and strangely enough, Ayar’s pig killing and grade-taking gained a small wave of support among some of the older chiefs. It’s as if he reminded them that what they had was too precious to lose, even if it was considered sinful by the Church, and so began a small revival of the old ways, minus the cannibalism or the warfare.

Today South West Bay, Malekula remains a fascinating destination and the main “draw-card” for the few visitors that ever make it there is undoubtedly the culture, which still stubbornly holds on with its last breath, thanks to people like chief Ayar Randes. The younger generation have also recently caught on to the fact that there’s value in what their ancestors have passed on to them, not only spiritual, but commercial value. The few tourists that do make it to South West Bay are willing to pay to watch traditional dances and ceremonies and as a result new festivals and cultural programs are in the plans.

It’ll be interesting to observe which turn the culture of South West Bay takes in the next couple of decades. Will the youth continue to see the value in their past or will they be seduced to leave the small villages of South West Bay for “greener pastures” in Vanuatu’s capital and commercial centre – Port Villa? Will the traditions remain true to their original intentions or will they continue to exist purely as a form of entertainment or cultural experiences for the visitors? One thing for sure is that Ayar Randes is not very keen on festivals or ceremonies which stray away from the “correct” way of doing things, which don’t follow the tribal law laid out by his distant ancestors. He loves the idea of tourism coming and helping the locals understand the value of their culture, but Ayar won’t take what’s sacred to him and simply make a show of it all. The question is – will it matter when he’s gone? No one knows and perhaps for now, there’s no reason to think too hard about the future, but rather to try and catch the present, what still remains of the past.

chief dancing

Chief Ayar showing some moves from traditional ceremonial dances. Every ceremony has its own distinct dance moves, costumes, masks and gong beats. Here he dances by the remains of his “Nakamal”. The same word used these days for Kava bars was initially used for a chief’s sacred house – a place of great spiritual significance for any village. Chief Ayar’s sacred house was destroyed during a hurricane a couple of years ago and it’s been one of his main goals to rebuild it, the same way that it was before.

If you click on the photo to make it bigger you might also notice that behind Ayar is a pole with a face painted on it. The pole has spiritual value, but what’s perhaps most intriguing about this pole, is the way that one has to obtain a right to paint certain symbols on it. The law that dictates this is like an ancient system of copyright. Each new adopter of a particular symbol/pattern has to pay the original owner/inventor or his descendent with pigs.

through the bush with dogs

Ayar loves walking through the forest (or bush as its called in Vanuatu) which falls on his land. He tells me that he isn’t really happy when he’s in the village. The village is community land, he doesn’t feel home there and so every day he walks through the bush, to feed his soul in a sense. He talks about how much he loves the fresh breeze, the smells of various plants, which he occasionally tears off and rubs against each other to demonstrate (the smell). His three dogs (two pictured here) help him chase off any wild pigs, which like to come and make a mess of his crops.

coconut drinking

The last time I saw a person so passionate and proud of what their land produced was back in Belarus, in my grandmother’s countryside house. It’s interesting how ultimately there are all these similarities amongst people regardless of where we travel.

Ayar opened up a couple of coconuts for Tanya and I before he masterfully chopped the top off of his own. This was indeed one of the best tasting, sweetest coconuts I ever tried.

Elder Ayar in Church

I was pretty shocked when I saw Ayar in this “white-man outfit”. I joked with him, saying that I didn’t recognize him from the man in the namba I had seen a couple of days ago in the bush.  To this day Ayar remains closely associated with the Church, in fact he is one of the senior and most respected Church elders in the village of Wintua, which borders with his land. Being what I could describe as a devout non-believer myself (I believe in God, I just don’t believe in names of God or religions) I had a few very interesting conversations with Ayar. At the end of the day it was interesting to know that he’d gladly leave Church and go back to the bush, which is actually what he is planning to do in the next couple of years. When I asked him the pressing question of “What would you chose – Church or kastom?” he replied “kastom – it is my life, my history, my culture.

First month in Vanuatu

August 27, 2010

climbing trees

Hi folks! Once again I’ve found myself in a situation where it is impossible to post anything regularly. For most part Vanuatu does not have internet access.

I also had a mini computer tragedy. The files from Mac OS X somehow got screwed up and I was unable to load up the system as soon as I arrived in Vanuatu. Luckily I also installed a copy of Windows 7 through bootcamp meaning that I can still use the computer to an extent, albeit very minimally. So much for Mac’s famous reliability – big disappointment there. Stupidly I forgot the system recovery disks and I don’t have much software to work with on the Windows system. Nevertheless, here are some images that have been processed relatively little, you might still see different versions of them sometime down the road. The images are a quick overview of some of the things I’ve come across so far on this adventure.

The image at the top is of a young chief climbing a tree to look for fruit bats and birds (which the local people hunt). People don’t usually wear this sort of stuff any more (apart from ceremonies and festivals), but this is what they used to wear not all that long ago. I got involved in helping some local people make some promotional shots of their area for tourism, so the man dressed for the occasion as did the other people in traditional outfits.

nice beach

This was the scene right outside of our bungalow on Maskeyne island off the larger island of Malekula. Pretty lovely place, we stayed for a week and a half and I got to experiment a little with some underwater photography.

fishing in a canoe

Fishing at Maskelyne island. The man is hitting the water to scare the fish so that the swim towards the net and get tangled in it. It was pretty wet in the boat (lots of splashing), so I was real glad to have my Aquatech housing, more on which in future posts.

spear fishing

Spear fishing by the reef, still in Maskelyne. Just one image under water for now, more to come.

fire in a forest

Maskelyne is not all underwater stuff. I came across this boy on the way to the village in which our bungalow owners lived.

nakamal at night

Abobe is a “Nakamal” a kind of a local bar, except the people don’t drink alcohol, but Kava – a very foul tasking drink made from a root. I will say again it tastes pretty awful, but the effect is great and Nakamals are great places to meet the locals and do some bonding.

bird hunting

Continuation form the series which the first photo belongs to. These guys were amazing tree climbers. I did manage to get up on a branch a little above the ground in order to get this shot.

two chiefs

Same young chiefs photographed one they got off the tree. The trees I should mention are some of the most photogenic I’ve ever come across.

fire in the village hut

I love shooting stuff by the fire and this is probably one of my favourite images of the sort so far. Here Jenny, the daughter of a man I befriended in one of our bungalows is preparing our dinner. Amenities in many parts of Malekula are pretty basic, here Tyreesa the young sister is providing some extra light.

mat weaking and kids

I really loved shooting inside the thatched huts that make up the main part of architecture in most villages around Vanuatu. Children are everywhere in Vanuatu and they are some of the nicest and cutest kids one is likely to encounter. As much as I love India, the children there can be absolute monsters, that’s never been the case in Vanuatu. In this image Victor, Jenny’s sun is the baby and in the back it’s his grandma and a neighbour girl doing some mat weaving.

chief ayar

Chied Ayar Randes. This man is one of the favourite characters I’ve come across so far on all of my journeys. Besides being a chief he’s also a church elder, which is actually pretty contradictory, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Despite wearing not much more than a banana leaf around his private parts he reminded me a bit of my grandfather – full of interesting stories, strong beliefs and basically he’s someone who might come across as a simple village man, but in fact is a very smart fellow who sees the bigger picture better than most of the people around him. I’ll definitely post a little story with some photos of him in the coming days.

planting yam

Chied Ayar’s hands planting a yam. It’s one of the main parts of the local diet all around Vanuatu and as far as I know a lot of the Pacific too. I have to say, I am really not a big fan of the stuff and though I have tried yam in some really tasty dishes, if I never see it again in my life I’ll be just fine.

hands with fishing net

Youngsters fishing in a lagoon in the remote South West Bay, Malekula.

_MG_4975

More net fishing in the same place, there’s actually quite a bit of fish there and I love fish, thus the lagoon was a place I liked too.

traditional boy in a canoe

Another photo taken for the tourism campaign. I saw this boy wearing the outfit a few days earlier during a festival. The festival is another story, but it was not a place where I could get the kind of shot of him that I wanted (I’d have to compete with some pretty intense and sometimes rude tourists who mostly traveled to the festival on their yachts).

young warriors

Same boy in the background and a son of a chief at the front. The thing he’s wearing is a curved pig tooth which forms when the pig’s bottom or top teeth (don’t remember which) are pulled out. For a tooth like that to form it takes a few years and a pig with this prized possession is worth a substantial amount of money, as it’s the kind of pig that’s used in grade-taking ceremonies, where young men become chiefs and older men move higher in rank after they perform traditional dances, kill pigs and share food with local villagers. The leaves above the boys heads are local umbrellas, for real. It started to rain during the shoot and once some adults brought them these leaves I thought it was a great opportunity.

baker lighting fire

A local baker in Wintua, South West Bay, Malekula lighting a fire. I shot a whole bunch of photos in his bakery. As I mentioned, I loved shooting in the interiors and the bakery was pretty awesome with some nice backlight and sidelight. I also shot some video there and I hope I’ll have enough time to share some of it when I get back.

Ok, so that’s about all for the quick overview. There are of course many more images and I’ll try to post some mini stories with some of those photos while I am near the internet. Next Wednesday I should be going somewhere pretty remote again, so hopefully I’ll have the time. In any case I just wanted to share something quick in case I don’t get the chance in the near future.

Assessing another year of life, some advice and plans for the future

July 3, 2010

corbis-images-cover-indian-wrestler

This is the first post since my 29th birthday, which I had about a week ago. If you’ve been following this blog for over a year, you would have perhaps read that I am really not so crazy about birthdays. Twenty-nine… things are getting really serious now, I’m kinda grown up. 🙂 It feels like I was at university just yesterday and at high-school last week. While I am very glad that I am not in high-school now (though I still get the nightmares, like a lot of you probably do) it is very, what’s the word – strange, surreal to be on the verge of turning thirty.

It seems like my birthdays over the past few years have been days for some sort of self assessing. I try to reflect on what I’ve done with my life and ponder where I’m heading next. It’s always been a little depressing to self-assess myself. I’ve always felt like I hadn’t done enough, like I hadn’t seen all the places I wanted to see and well… just insert whatever unfulfilled goals you have and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I do fully realize that my life is pretty awesome in many ways and many people dream of traveling the world and taking photos. I’m not complaining by any means, it’s just that I always seem to be behind on my plans and on top of that in the past it’s always been a struggle to get the finances together for the next trip, there was that feeling of uncertainty and the question of “how long can I keep doing this?” was never too far away.

For the first birthday in my life however, this isn’t a very pressing question. It seems that all the hard work I’ve put into my photography, eBooks, agency contracts as well as establishing contacts with magazine editors is finally paying off. For the first time in my life my finances are not much of an issue, at least not enough to have me worried about the ability to do what I love most. I have to say “This feeling is great, no doubt about it!”

It feels like there’s a world of new, possibilities ahead of me now as far as travel and photography are concerned. I am writing this post because, well because I’m pretty excited, but also because there’s a lesson to be learned, not that most of us don’t know what that lesson is – hard work and perseverance pay off. Maybe not right away, but eventually they do.

I’ve been getting more emails and even occasional calls from young aspiring travel photographers than ever before asking me for advice relating to being a travel photographer for a living and while I still don’t feel like I’m the appropriate person to ask anything about this matter, I can at least say some positive, encouraging words to them – “It can be done” even by someone like me, who for most part just kinda floated around not knowing what the next week will bring. Sure there’s the crisis and it’s always been “impossible” to make money through photography, particularly through travel pictures, but if you have the skills, a degree of talent, a lot of perseverance and if you ignore all the nay-sayers, then you can do a lot of what others say is “hard” or even “impossible”. If you ask me, there’s never been a better time to be a creative person. With the internet anyone is their own publisher, director, broadcaster or basically whatever they want to be. If you have a quality product – i.e. a solid body of work, you can make things happen. Actually let me repeat that, you need a solid body of work.

A lot of people try to jump the gun and want to make a career out of a few dozens half-decent travel snaps and become disappointed when things don’t go their way. That’s simply not how it works, forget it. So my advice to all of you who want to be “Travel photographers” is simple, in fact it should be pretty obvious and I’ve been saying it all along, but I guess with all the tweeting, blogging and whatever else that people who want to be photographers do, they forget that you need to actually be good at photography, to have something to show in order to sell yourself.

I had a reality check in regards to this back in 2005 when I submitted a bunch of photos to Lonely Planet, hoping to be represented by their image library. Their editors probably laughed (or cursed at me for wasting their time), but emailed me a polite response saying that while I had some strong work there was not enough of it to warrant a contract. The email might as well have said something like – “You’ve sent us ten decent images and four hundred and ninety shitty ones, (they needed a submission of 500) thanks for wasting our time, don’t submit again until you take this seriously.

I learned my lesson and hung onto the little positive bit of the email. I figured that the editor had no reason to lie to me and thought that if someone in a quality organization like LP thought that I had at least some strong work, then I have to build on that and I so I went out shooting stuff pretty intensely for a couple of years, using money that I earned working crappy jobs.

Ok, that’s enough of that. On a completely different note, I’ll be on the road again in a couple of weeks. My next destination – Vanuatu. I knew nothing about this country until very recently, but the more I’ve researched on it the more intrigued I’ve become. It’s actually quite easy to become intrigued with a nation which is made up of 83 islands, some of which are home to very traditional tribal groups and there’s only information out there on about two or three of them (the islands). The only way to find out more is to go, so that’s what I’m doing. It helps that Vanuatu is only about a four hour flight from Sydney, so you could say that I’ll be exploring what’s out there in my own backyard, ok, perhaps in the neighbor’s backyard. You get the point. 🙂

I’ll try to squeeze in a post before I go, but that’s all for now. Oh, and the seemingly unrelated image at the top of the post is a screen grab of the front page of the Corbis Images website. They featured (it’s gone now) one of my wrestler images there, which I thought was a pretty awesome welcome, as I fairly recently signed a contract with them. I probably mentioned before, I am now represented by two of the world’s favorite/hated (depends which way one looks at it) photo agencies – Getty and Corbis Images.

Goodbye Junagadh

November 6, 2008

Yesterday we left Junagadh. I don’t want to get all sentimental here, but I will say that the kindness of the people who came across our way – new friends and old, is the reason why it is impossible not to fall in love with this region and India in general. I think Hardik’s parents and friend Sandeep may begin having nightmares about sewing machines and luggage carriers after accommodating all our needs, while Tanya was making the carriers for 24 hours without a stop. Our old friend Upendra Bhai who works with metal made the metal part of the carrier that goes on the back of the bike. He didn’t mind that we came to his place at 9pm and that he would have to work into the night. This was the third time that we asked Upendra Bhai to help us. Every time we appear unexpectedly and every time he agrees to help. He refused to accept any payment for his job; he said that he was happy to help and see us again and that was enough.
But of course nothing in India is straightforward and simple, at least not for me. Five kilometers into our journey towards Ahmedabad, which is about 350km away we realized that the design of our metal carrier was miscalculated. It bent and we had to reposition the bags in hopes that we could still make it all the way. Fortunately we did.
Now we’re in Ahmedabad – the commercial center of Gujarat – a city which is polluted, noisy and well, not one of my favorites. Ideally I do not want to spend more than a couple of days here, I have wasted enough time. In reality I know that nothing is certain and all I can do is hope for the best.

First post and welcome to the blog

October 25, 2008

I’ve been contemplating this for a while and at last I have entered the world of bloggers. The final push was my journey around Indonesia. I regretted not being able to share the amazing experiences and the many lessons in photography, travel and life that one encounters on the road.

I want this blog to serve a few purposes. Obviously it is a ‘place’ for friends and family around the world to see what I’m up to, but I hope that it can also be a somewhat valuable resource for fellow wanderers, photographers or even armchair travelers.

Some of the questions regarding the technical/practical side of photography will also be answered here. I am often asked something along these lines – What lens did you use? How was this lit? How did you get access? Periodically I will post an image and provide an insight into what was involved in making it.

Feel free to comment, interact and ask more questions. I will do my best to respond any time I am near a connection.