It’s show time; Thanks to the fortune teller

 

My first international exhibit has come and gone.  The days that led up to this were a whirlwind of activities and the day of the show was no exception.  The turnout was fantastic.  To begin with I was welcomed to my own show by a photographer from the local newspaper.  He had caught wind of the exhibit and came to grab some images for use in publicizing the events of the week.  It was such a nice surprise to see my show making his list of places to be.

So many of the friends I had met during my stay came out to see me last night.  There were times where I had to pause and just be present in the moment because the flutter of activity became overwhelming a few times.  I’ve been part of group exhibits before but this was different.  This was a solo exhibit and everyone who was there was thee to see me.  I keep saying this because in so many ways it’s overwhelming to me.  personally speaking as an artist, I tend to be my own worst critic.  When I see my work I first and always notice it’s faults.  Then I think of ways I can mentally smooth those over so that I begin to see the merit.  The reality is that none of your observers notice this.  They don’t know what went into producing the images.  They simply view your work at face value.

One final personal item before i post the images from the evening.  In an effort to “become” the culture of the work that I was producing, I made every attempt to live my life as a Thai person while staying in Chiang Mai.  I attended events at the cultural center, I dressed in traditional Thai attire, I spoke the language, and I even visited a fortune teller to determine what the best date would be for having my exhibit.  It came as no surprise to me when we determined August 26th to be the best date for the show as this is the date of my late mothers birth.  Indeed this was a special day.

 


What goes into writing my statement and descriptions

830 pm Monfai pow wow

Piecing together a body of work from concept to show in 26 days is no easy feat.  I cannot possibly put into words how helpful it is to have the right people for the job helping out along the way with all the details.  Now that the work is completed and the files have been sent off to the printer I have begun putting together my statement and descriptions of each piece.  Below is my timeline for yesterday (Saturday).

9:00am  Wake up and get dressed.  Dev and I have a 10am “leave-the-house” time set in order to pic up breakfast to bring to his friend Mike’s home who we are meeting for a last minute critique

10:00am  We leave Monfai and ride a bit out of town under the hot morning Thai sun to a bakery.  We get rosemary bread, carrot cakes, and croissants.  We ride out to Mike’s house.

10:30am We arrive at Mike’s house, indulge in breakfast, and talk art.  Mike is an art professor from London who has made a home here in Chiang Mai for some time.  His house is custom, made of concrete, and is an artists dream.  I’m instantly inspired.  Mike looks at my work, offers some input in display options.  We start talking about time and quantum physics.  He brings out a book which is of particular interest to me.  There’s gold in there which I will mull over for the rest of the day.  This will ultimately help me articulate my statement.

12:30am  We leave and I go to CAMP at Maya to finish making some final edits to the images I have before I send them off to print.  I also do some client work while I’m there.  In some odd way it aleviates some of the pressure I’m starting to feel about my first solo show.

6:00pm I return to Monfai to get dressed for an event being given.  It’s proper etiquette and expected of you to dress appropriately (Lanna Style) when you attend events.  This event will feature professional dancers who attended a university devoted to teaching dance.  They will be able to help me with writing descriptions for each of my images because they know the names and the philosophical meanings of each posture.

8:30pm  The dancers finish performing and are ready to meet with me.  They don’t speak English.  My Thai is conversational and NOT academic.  I enlist the help of a dear friend I’ve made at Monfai to help me with translation.  She is absolutely wonderful to work with and gives me all the information I need.

9:00pm My meeting is finished.  I’m exhausted.  The party at Monfai is still in full swing.  I join Dev at the bar and do two shots of Yaa Dong which is a mixture of herbs and rice whiskey.  I make a Monfai cocktail which is Yaa Dong mixed with something else.  I don’t know what I’m mixing it with.  I just drink it.  Ahhhhhhh

10:00pm  Join the rest of the crew back at Baan Chang (Elephant House) for some live music and some Chang beer and Laap

11:00pm Return back to my room and proceed to put my notes together (in English and Thai) into more structured notes for Dev to look at and edit for me.

11:30pm I get a text message about a private art related event going on at a gallery I was at before.  Fantastic…another opportunity to publicize my show.  I graciously accept and head out on the bike.  The air is dense and cool.  It feels good to be in the wind.

12:45am I’m done and head back home to crash.  I literally pass out as soon as I hit the bed.  I have a weird dream that my girl adopted a cat and my sister aided in the conspiracy.   It wakes me up at 3am.  I chalk it up to too much Yaa Dong and go back to sleep.

And that’s how I got my statement and descriptions.


Post production is a breeze. So how about printing?

I’m 6 days out from my first solo show and have made it through the post production phase of the project.  If there’s one thing in my arsenal of tools I know that I can do well, it’s work in post production.  Between Photoshop, Capture One, and my trusty Macbook Pro I was able to nail down 12 finished images in approximately 24 hours.  I spent 4 days at the internet cafe in Maya (the mall here) in 6 hour shifts drinking iced coffees and eating pad-gra-pow-gai and noodle soup all the while.  Maya is a great place to get work done.  It’s set up to be a work space so you have really fast wi-fi and everyone there is working on their own projects.  A lot of artists too.  They have huge collaboration tables where you can lay out your work and discuss with your group if you need to.  Open 24 hours. What more could you ask for?

So now that post is done it comes down to the biggest bottleneck in every photographers workflow; Printing.  It’s the ONE thing that everyone seems to struggle with. You spend countless hours on your images getting the colors right only to run a job and find that all those colors have been wiped out mysteriously by the printer.  I spent years at home trying to get this right and was only able to nail it down when I purchased my own printing setup and calibration tools.

Coming here to produce a body of work from start to finish had me a bit on the uneasy side.  I had researched high end print labs before coming and was not coming up with a whole lot of choices.  Regardless, this is Thailand and as culture has it, when you don’t get exactly what you want you work with what you have.  Fortunately for me I live in a place that has just the right accessories to help me complete the project and work around any shortcomings of the print labs.    Actually the print labs are probably just fine.  I just get really picky about this last stage of work.  This is where I sign my name and well, if you’re an artist, thats pretty much all you have.


I came half way around the world to play with fire

 

 

Friday afternoon I got together with my crew for the second photoshoot of my project “Hands of time”.  We had three dances remaining that we wanted to perform.  Two of the dances involved movements which used candles, some times even multiple candles.  Having done shoots with fire before I knew what to expect.  I knew the results would be dramatic.  Really, my only concern was not burning down a museum constructed entirely of wood.  In order to get the full effect we needed to work in some pretty dark and small spaces.  Although the girls are much more graceful than me and once I saw them moving the lit candles around in the movements of the dance I knew I had nothing to worry about.

So we lit some candles, closed some doors, and took some pictures.  Within 45 minutes we had the material needed to produce the rest of the project.  On to post production.  My show is scheduled for August 26th.  That means I have 9 days to get this project completed.  I’ve been at this internet cafe in the mall the past 3 days for about 6 hours at a time.  Today I should wrap post production and be able to move on to the proofing process.  Hopefully before my run to the Myanmar border on Wednesday.  But that’s a whole other blog post.

 


Production started and guess what? It’s a lot of work

 

One thing I needed to continuously clarify to my friends back at home was that even though I was taking this sabbatical to Asia, I was going to be working while I was here.  For some reason everyone kept thinking I was taking some sort of vacation.  And while it is true that the vibe here is way more chill than back at home and I’m having a great time, there’s a whole other set of circumstances to deal with that can cause stress, and slow your project just like back at home.  Fortunately I haven’t hit many roadblocks at all in production.  My biggest roadblocks were getting myself sorted and getting my concept nailed down as well as the technical aspects that surrounded it.

I left home with a very loose concept called “Untouched by the hands of time.”  If anyone follows my posts regularly you may recall me mentioning that it was broad enough to encompass anything which gave a lot of liberty but also alot of space to get creative ADHD.  When I came to Monfai and Ne’Na I immediately met with Dev and Khun Shukit to discuss the project.  Khun Shukit offered encouragement and recommended getting the staff at Monfai to help me in any way I needed.  Dev and I had a few back and forth conversations on the topic, each one pushing a little bit further until I came to a fork in the road which presented two distinct avenues.

My thought process back at home was to shoot photo-journalistically.  This is a style very foreign to me.  I don’t have a whole lot of experience working this way and while it seemed like a great idea, and still could work for a project I realized that it simply didn’t do justice to the resources I had available at Monfai and Ne’Na.  Dev really helped me dial in my thought process, mentoring me and explaining to me how to refine my idea.  While I’m continuing with the same theme of being untouched by time, it has been narrowed down to a very specific subject within a very specific culture.  This was a lot of work to arrive at and once I nailed this down, I had to begin to think of how to express it.

I can’t go into too many details about the project but I can say that it’s centered around dance in the Lanna culture.  This allows me to take advantage of the resources available to me at Monfai and Ne’Na and still stay true to my original idea.  After spending a few days working through the technical aspects of how to produce images that would tell this story I was ready to begin production.  My presentation meeting with Arjan Rampad and Khun Shukit went extremely well and I was given their blessing to proceed with the project.  After a few informal meetings with some of the staff at Monfai we set a meeting date for last Sunday to begin photographing.  This part felt a lot like what I do at home in my commercial career.

To be quite honest the whole photoshoot felt A LOT like what I do at home.  Skilled professionals show up, do what they do best, I run around alot, sweat, make discerning faces at the back of my camera and say “Ok, one more…” when I really mean 10 more. Soon enough everyone was laughing and having a good time.  They made me dress up in some of the costumes, try some of the dances, basically make myself look like a big oaf for amusement.  Indeed fun times.


First week wrapped and what a week it was

It’s been exactly one week since I arrived at Monfai Culture Center in Chiang Mai.  As much as I tried to mentally prepare myself for this part of the trip, there’s no way you can prepare for everything.  Has it been everything I thought it would be?  Yes.  Has it been things I didn’t expect it to be?  Yes.  Is that a good thing?  Yes.

Most of my time is spent working on my project or doing things that allow me to work on my project.  I’m very fortunate to have support in place which was one of the pleasant surprises which I didn’t expect.  My sidekick Dev has taken me all over Chiang Mai, got me a motorbike (and gotten me lost a few times), took me up into the mountains to visit a Hmong village, critiqued my work and offered very constructive feedback on how to take my work from being “just a pretty picture” to a place where it could be considered art.  It’s been a blast and I really couldn’t have asked for more.

The staff at Monfai are wonderful to work with.  Everyone has been extremely welcoming.  Arjan Rampad Kothkaew and Khun Shukit Panmongkol are my hosts and I meet with them informally on a daily basis to discuss my work, the progress, and the needs I have to move forward.  They have both been instrumental in the progress of the project and since it centers specifically around Lanna culture have provided me resources to work with.  I have everything here from costumes to accessories to actual dancers and performers.  Yesterday was the first day of production for my project.  I think I’ll blog more about that at a later date.

Outside of working on my project I’m having a blast.  Getting the motorbike was the best thing I ever did.  I’m free to go and come as I need.  As I walked out the door on the day I rented it the man handed me the keys and told me, “You got your wheel, now you are freedom”.  “Yes my friend,” I replied. “Now, I am freedom.”


Chiang Mai, Monfai, and Ne’na. You’ll hear these alot in the next 30 days

Mawn Faai

 

Saturday I wrapped up in Bangkok and made my way north to Chiang Mai.  Upon arriving in Chiang Mai I grabbed my bags and was met by Khun Shukit.  He’s the curator at the Ne’Na Contemporary Artspace where I’ll be staying for the next month to produce this body of work.  After a brief ride from the airport to the artspace I was given an orientation of the place and left to go on about my business.  This month I’m the only artist living here in the house so it’s kinda like home, a big huge open space with me (usually) all by myself.

What’s unique about Ne’Na Artspace is that they work very closely with Monfai Cultural Center.  The culture center is basically a living museum which aims to preserve Lanna Culture.  Lanna was a kingdom which existed in Northern Thailand, Laos, Burma from the 13th to 18th century.  They have their own culture which is separate from the rest of Thailand and even their own dialect of which is distinctly different from the rest of the Thai language.  You can still get by on every day Thai language here but you WILL miss some things if you aren’t familiar with the northern style of speaking.  For what it’s worth, I’m not super familiar with it.  I just know there’s a bunch of gaps now where there used to be words I knew.

Monfai Culture Center is right next door to the home I’m staying in so I have access to this treasure trove of artifacts, costumes, and perhaps the most important part, PEOPLE who work there preserving the culture.  All this works very well for the theme of my project.  I’ll be able to make a good chunk of work here…I think. You never know how a project will go until you begin it.

Here’s a few snaps shortly after I arrived.  More to come soon.