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Violin Masterclass with György Pauk

One afternoon this spring, I found myself in a small practice room at the Royal Academy of Music in London, photographing a private masterclass led by György Pauk, Violin Professor at the Royal Academy and one of the greatest violinists of our time.

György Pauk

György Pauk teaching

During the masterclass, I was hugely impressed by the performances of his students Kristine Balanas and Chieri Tomii, as they responded to the skill and guidance of the maestro.

György Pauk with Kristine Balanas

Kristine Balanas from Latvia plays Beethoven’s violin sonata in G Major

Kristine Balanas at György Pauk masterclass

Light catches the violin.

Light on violin at György Pauk masterclass

Chieri Tomii from Japan plays the Saint-Saëns Rondo Capriccioso.

Chieri Tomii at György Pauk masterclass

It all began in Bangkok in May 2010 on a family day out in search of Sunday dim sum.  We were in the car enjoying the sounds of home in the form of the Desert Island Discs podcast: Kirsty Young’s gentle brogue mixing with the rich Hungarian tones of György Pauk. His story transported me to my childhood and memories of my late father, Emil Rado, and his narrow escape from the terrible fate suffered by so many Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.

The coincidence did not end there however.  I distantly remembered that György Pauk had stayed with my family when I was a small child, during one of his Scottish tours with pianist Peter Frankl. They were performing in Glasgow, and we had the extraordinary honour of hearing them rehearse for the concert in our home – the two filling our humble living room with sounds straight from heaven.

György Pauk at masterclass

As I listened to the Kirsty Young interview, the similarities of Pauk’s and my father’s experiences in Hungary, both the charming and the tragic, became sharply apparent to me.

A year later we returned to the UK and during that time I had thought often of what a pleasure it would be to meet György again after so many years and to tell him how much I’d enjoyed the interview. This led to another set of coincidences: unable to find his contact details, I wrote to my Hungarian aunt Marika Somogyi in California on the remote off-chance she might know him – and discovered that she and György are great friends!

And so, after many decades, two years of daydreaming and some family assistance, I came to meet György Pauk once more.  He and his wife Zsuzsi invited me for lunch and we spoke of the many things that brought our families together. Finding a little courage before I left, I asked if I could photograph him at some point. I was delighted when he invited me to take photographs at one of his private masterclasses.

And so I had the privilege of spending a most beautiful afternoon at the Royal Academy of Music.

György Pauk demonstrating on violin

György Pauk at masterclass

Faces of György Pauk

György Pauk will hold his next public masterclass this Friday 11 May in the David Josefowitz Recital Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London. I greatly look forward to being there – do come along if you can make it!

Nomads and Villagers on the Tibetan Plateau

It was in the middle of a photo expedition in Qinghai in the Tibetan Plateau, in May last year that we discovered we would soon be returning to live in the UK after over 12 years overseas. The contrast of cultures could hardly have been greater! I wanted make the most of the opportunity to photograph this extraordinary place with photo buddy, Claire. Our trip was enriched by the help and advice of Julia, a Tibetan friend who I’d known for many years in Bangkok. (Some of these pictures were entered in the 2011 Travel Photographer of the Year competition, in which I was shortlisted as a finalist.)

Gazing at the distant horizon across the beautiful but barren landscape, I contemplated the closing of our life in Asia, and imminent return to London.

Arriving at Sun Moon Mountain, with the relative comforts of Xining City many hours behind us, we clambered down from our 4×4 and were instantly reminded that we were on the world’s highest plateau, over 4,000m above sea level. Wrapped up in layers, we braced the biting cold and wind, leaning at 45 degrees as we ascended to the summit. What a strange and lovely sight awaited us!

Sun Moon Mountain, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

Prayer flags at Sun Moon Mountain, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau.

Sun Moon Mountain, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

Sun Moon Mountain from the summit. Ice crystals on the mast where the prayer flags were tied.

Ice crystals atop Sun Moon Mountain, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

Then on to Maduo, a little village on the vast plateau, where life has changed little over time and nomads can be found in the neighbouring prairies. It had been a long and dramatic journey and we were happy to arrive at this charming spot. Despite the even higher altitudes at 4,400m and our driver’s refusal to linger (departing instead in search of lower altitudes for the duration of our stay), I was eager to step out into the colourful high street of Maduo to capture scenes of everyday life there.

Both costumes and buildings were a rich array of vibrant colours.

Men on the colourful streets of Maduo, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

Traditional costume was worn by older and younger generations alike.

Maduo traditional dress, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

Maduo mechanics in their workshop – highly amused at my arrival. Don’t think they get many tourists in these parts!

 

General store, home and workshop were all in one. Their kids watched as I entered, fascinated by the strange and unfamiliar visitor.

A small temple structure and wreaths of prayer flags were located at the end of the high street. Here I met a young family who lived in a stone dwelling nearby.

Temple girl, Maduo, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

The kids were curious as to who I was and what I was doing. They looked with great interest at my camera display as each image was taken.

Temple Toddler, Maduo, Qinghai, Tibetan PlateauLaughing girl at temple, Maduo, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

Their mother came out to investigate, soon inviting me into their home for tea and traditional bread.

Tea in Maduo, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

A family friend dropped in with her baby strapped snugly to her back.

Maduo Madonna, Qinghai, Tibetan Plateau

 

An excellent first day, altitude fatigue notwithstanding!

 

The following morning, we ventured out with a local guide to find the nomads that traverse the vast prairies surrounding Maduo.

Tibetan prairie, Qinghai, Tibetan plateau

 

We covered many miles that day, scanning the horizon for the small speck of white canvas denoting a solitary nomad tent. We discovered one family in the morning, and another on our way home at the end of the day. In each case, we were welcomed in for tea and bread. What a pleasure to step from the bracing cold to the warmth of the stove inside. The couple below explained that they stayed here on the grasslands through the warmer months, looking after their 140 yaks and 200 sheep, and moving in search of new grasslands for the herd as required.

Nomads outside Maduo, Qinghai, Tibetan plateau

 

They live by exchanging yak butter for other goods, such as flour to make bread. In each destination they erect prayer flags in the belief that the winds read the scriptures and keep them safe. In the winter months they return to the lower altitudes where they live in mud dwellings with their children and extended family. The children remain there through the year, staying with grandparents when their mother and father return to the prairie at the beginning of spring. Who knows what will happen to this way of life when the children grow and make choices of their own?

During our visit a baby yak who had lost its mother popped in for its morning bottle.

Baby yak at Nomad tent, Qinghai, Tibetan plateauFeeding baby yak in Nomad tent, Qinghai, Tibetan plateau

 

Freshly baked bread for us with and a bowl of hot yak butter tea – more butter than tea if you ask me!

Yak milk tea and home baked bread, Nomad tent, Qinghai, Tibetan plateau

 

Jewellery, given as part of the dowry, and gold teeth were proudly displayed by the nomadic women we met, as a sign of wealth and well-being.

Nomad lady with jewel necklace, Qinghai, Tibetan plateauNomad man in nomad tent, Qinghai, Tibetan plateauNomad woman, Qinghai, Tibetan plateau

As we left the nomads behind and began the long return trip to Xining, and then Bangkok, my thoughts turned to my family and the imminent end to our own wandering existence… for the time being at least.

A Second Chance in the Klongtoey Slums

Young Phet is one of the lucky ones. Now 2 years old, he is being raised by his great-grandmother, and growing up with the stability and support of family.

Phet, 2 years, Second Chance Bangkok

His great-grandmother, Yai Phat (below left) lost two of her sons when they were young. One drowned in the river by the temple at the age of eight. The second, Phet’s grandfather, died of an illness in his twenties and asked her to bring up his baby daughter following his death. Phet is the daughter’s son (again below right).

Yai Phat, Second Chance BangkokPhet with Yai Phat, Second Chance Bangkok

It is stories like Yai Phat’s, and the desire to help those less fortunate than themselves, that inspired Jodie and Chris to move with their daughters in 2007 from Australia to the slums of Klongtoey.

Living in the middle of the largest slum community in Thailand gave them direct experience of the issues and harsh realities people face on a daily basis. They set up Second Chance Bangkok, a shop selling used clothing and household items at the lowest possible price to those who can pay and donating to those who cannot.

Proceeds from the shop generate employment and fund other projects that support families in the slums. These include youth and kids’ clubs, support for children with special needs, education scholarships and medical programmes.

I visited Jodie, Chris and their family (below) to get a glimpse of life in the community.

Jodie & Chris, Second Chance Bangkok

Yai Sanga loves to spend time with Jodie’s daughter, Millie, whenever she can (below). She has lived in the slums for 40 years and watches out for Jodie’s family, keeping an eye on their place when they are away.

Her family lived through the fire that ravaged the slums 13 years ago, rendering her and many other people homeless for years.

Yai Senga & Millie, Second Chance Bangkok

Kaew and Millie are great friends. Kaew lives with his grandmother, Ba Lit, and his three siblings, including his elder sister who is blind as a result of an attempted abortion. His mother is a drug addict and is in prison much of the time, so it falls to Ba Lit to raise the children. She earns money to feed the family by collecting recyclable items from the streets.

Millie & Kaew, Second Chance Bangkok

Grandparents are the backbone of society in the slums. Khun Somsuk rocks his grandson to sleep while his wife naps on the floor.

Somsuk rocking baby, Second Chance Bangkok

We moved away from the house to see the Second Chance Bangkok shop and the extensive work they are doing there. On the way, we encountered this small group singing and playing makeshift instruments on the train line that backs onto the slums.

Music on the train line, Second Chance Bangkok

Khun Noy lives by the rail track and rarely gets further than this bench during the day.

Khun Noy on bench, Second Chance Bangkok

Leaving the train line, we met a group of grandmothers who collaborate to raise an abandoned child from the community (below).  The baby has fallen asleep with a formula milk bottle in his mouth – one of the key causes of rotten teeth among young children across the economically deprived areas of Thailand.

Looking after abandoned baby, Bangkok slums

Increasingly immobile with cancer, Khun Id watches life in the street from his window above.

Khun Id, Bangkok slums

He was watching this little boy, Bang. The boy’s mother, barely a teenager herself, has difficulty meeting her growing baby’s needs. When we stopped to ask about him, we were asked if we’d take him in.

Baby Bang, Bangkok slums

We return to see the mixed groups of local people who congregate in the square outside Jodie’s house in the late afternoon.

Young boys debate the rights and wrongs of the world (below).

Boys debating in the Bangkok slums

Loan sharks are greatly feared and given a wide berth as they wait for their ‘clients’ to return home.

Loan sharks in the Bangkok slums

As we leave, we meet Manao (with her cousin below), who is raised by her alcoholic grandmother.

Manau and her cousin, Bangkok slumsManau in the Bangkok slums

The grandmother accompanies Chris to the Klong Prem Prison each week to visit her son. Chris runs a weekly shuttle, taking people from the community to visit family members there. He also runs a support programme for inmates in the psychiatric unit, and visits prisoners with HIV/Aids.

For more information on Second Chance Bangkok, please visit their website http://www.scbkk.org/, send an email info@scbkk.org or call Jodie on +668 1131 3258.

Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival

Nothing can fully prepare you for the crazed and frenzied activity of the tattoo festival or Wai Khru (‘honour the teacher’) ceremony at Wat Bang Phra temple.

This extraordinary event takes place 50kms west of Bangkok and draws thousands of people each year, most notably those who make a living as policemen, soldiers or members of Thailand’s criminal underworld. The sak yant tattoos from this temple are considered to have magical powers that protect the bearer from knives and guns. People gather to receive new tattoos and recharge the potency of their existing ones. The tattoos are based on Buddhist texts, mythical creatures, and numerology charts.

The next few photographs are inside the temple where people wait patiently to receive tattoos from the monks.

Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival, needle to create tattoo

These are created by striking quickly and repeatedly with a long needle.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, creating tattoos

Each monk is assisted by volunteers who hold the skin taut while he works.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand

Another view from above.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, tattoo view from above

Tattoos are popular with laymen (left) and monks (right) alike.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, back tattoosWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, monk tattoos

More tattooing (left), while the man on the right, his tattoos complete, waits for the festival to begin.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, needle creating tattooWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, tattoos on man's back

‘Anyone for rice?’ Crowds stock up from great vats of curry and rice (below) before the festival begins at the auspicious hour of 9.39am.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, making rice

As the crowds grow, many people fall into a trance and become possessed by the spirit of their tattooed image. They charge through the crowd as enraged tigers, monkeys, snakes and other animals (below), letting out roars and cries as they attempt to charge the shrine where senior monks are praying.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man chargingWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man roaring

Tension mounts as people contort their faces and bodies into their animal spirit (below), erupting in all directions.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, contorted man in crowd

A man is caught near the stage (left). A mad charge through dense crowds (right).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, caught by the stageWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, running through the crowds

People are oblivious to anything in their path (below).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man running through crowd

Chanting follows and all is calm for some moments (below).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, men chantingWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man chanting

The scene then mounts in intensity with a great surge towards the stage. Volunteers and plain clothes policemen seek to calm those who are overcome by the spirit of their tattoos by vigorously rubbing and pinching their ears.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear

The treatment starts to take effect.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear

Until finally the man is calmed.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear, calm now

The festival draws to a close as monks spray holy water from the stage, dispersing the crowd (below left). A man in prayer watches the final moments from a safe distance (below right).

Wat Bang Phra Temple, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, ThailandWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man praying

Art and Flamenco in Sitges, Spain

Some days unfold in a way you could never predict. So it was one sleepy Sunday morning as I strolled through the cobbled streets of Sitges, near Barcelona.

I had ventured out to capture the stillness of the streets before the throngs descended for the spectacular Festa Major later in the day (see earlier blog). The narrow Calle de la Carreta alleyway caught my eye as it wound its way up the hill towards the church, a profusion of flowers in hanging boxes adding splashes of colour to the old stone buildings. I met Manuel Blesa as he opened the doors of his gallery, and stepped inside to view the fine art paintings of antique ceramics that adorned the gallery walls.

Manuel Blesa art gallery, Sitges, Spain

His artist studio at the top of the building is a light, open space with piles of artifacts and fine pottery, as well as wooden shelves bearing the antique ceramics he paints.

Studio of Manuel Blesa

The easel with partly completed painting presided over the studio (below left). Portrait of Manual Blesa (below right).

Manuel Blesa art studio, Sitges, SpainManuel Blesa

The tablet of vibrant oil colours next to the easel (below).

Manuel Blesa's oil tablet in his studio

I noticed a number of guitars around the studio and discovered that decades ago Manuel Blesa played flamenco guitar for a living. I asked if he still played but he seemed doubtful. With a little encouragement, however, he left to find his favourite instrument, and, to my delight, began to play. I love live music and relish the little I know of the melody, sadness and duende, or soul, of flamenco music. The experience of listening to an ex-professional flamenco guitarist providing an impromptu performance in this fine setting was magical.

Manuel Blesa playing flamenco guitar

Manuel Blesa playing flamenco guitar

He seemed to enjoy the experience and almost an hour flew by before I realized it was time to meet friends. What a fine prelude to lunch.

Bhutan and Beyond

One of my favourite projects at the start of the year is planning travel for the coming months.   For those who like going off the beaten track I can highly recommend Bhutan and this is the perfect time to book a trip.

Spectacular dance festivals run from February to April and September to October.  These are the times of year when the weather in Bhutan is at its best and visitors can readily understand why the country is known as  the ’Jewel of the Himalayas’.

I’m delighted to be a contributor in the January 2011 issue of Marie Claire Magazine in Thailand, with an article and photographs on Bhutan, including the Tamshingphala  Tsechu in full flow (below). Feel free to view further photographs in my gallery, and if you possibly can, go there and see this beautiful and remote kingdom for yourself.

Bhutan article in Marie Claire Jan 2011

In the meantime, here are some of my favourite moments from the last trip.

A young spectator at the Tamshingphala Tsechu watches the festival, framed by the rich silk of her traditional dress (below left).

Below right is Tiger’s Nest Monastery viewed through Bhutanese prayer flags. The walk to this viewpoint provides the perfect way to acclimatize to the altitude upon arrival in Bhutan. A fine way to recuperate from the long and rocky descent is dinner at a local farmhouse, followed by a hot stone bath to sooth your aching muscles. A wooden bath is filled with freezing cold water from the stream, then furnace-hot stones from the roaring fire are dropped sputtering into one end if the bath until the water temperature reaches decidedly fiery levels. Those brave enough then lower themselves with care and some trepidation into the searing heat – to be rewarded by all traces of pain and stiffness melting away. Bliss!

A young spectator at the Tamshingphala Tsechu. Tiger’s Nest Monastery through Bhutanese prayer flags

A dancer rehearses for the Tamshingphala dance festival, entertaining a passing monk (below).

A dancer rehearses for the Tamshingphala dance festival in Bhutan, entertaining a passing monk.

I look forward to bringing news of further destinations and projects in the coming months.  My friend Claire and I embark on a photo expedition to Nan province in northern Thailand later this month and I have further travel planned around Asia and to Europe later in the year.  With a bit of luck, I may also find time to take photos in the Japanese Alps in February, while the rest of the family roll about in the snow…!

Muay Thai Kick Boxing

Saenchai has the presence and charisma of Mohammed Ali. I met him in July 2010 when I photographed the international Muay Thai tournament in Nakhon Pathom Stadium, Thailand. Eight nations were represented: Thailand, Japan, Spain, UK, USA, Iran, France and Germany.

The meticulous preparation had elements of the physical, spiritual and ceremonial. Physical in the oiling, massaging and knuckle-binding; spiritual in rituals such as putting hands together in prayer to attract auspicious energy; ceremonial in the donning of the headband, armbands and garlands before performing the arresting Wai khru Ram Muay dance to show respect to the teachers and trainers before the tournament.

The fights were brutal and suffocating, as one might expect. But more striking were the breathtaking speed, agility, and above all, grace.

The fighter representing Thailand was the charismatic Saenchai, the current World Lightweight Champion who has won the Lumphini Championship in three different weight divisions and is viewed as one of the best Muay Thai fighters in the world. He is a man with tremendous presence, composed and gracious, no movement extraneous, and from the first moment it was clear he was in a class of his very own.

Binding knuckles in preparation for the Muay Thai tournament

Wrists and knuckles of the fighters are bound for protection before the tournament (photo above).

Multiple Lumphini Muay Thai champion, Saenchai, prays for auspicious energy (below left). Fighters wear ceremonial headbands and garlands as they pay respects before the fight (below right).

Saenchai prays for auspicious energy Muay  Thai fighters wear ceremonial headbands and garlands

Saenchai shows his agility in avoiding a powerful kick.

Muay Thai - Saenchai shows his agility

Fighters have a few moments to cool off between rounds.

The English fighter cools down between rounds.

The Japanese opponent attempts to defend himself against Saenchai’s attack.

Attempting to defend against Saenchai's attach

Brutal and claustrophobic combat.

Brutal and claustrophobic combat

Saenchai – charisma and grace in the ring.

Saenchai Muay Thai - charisma and grace

The Iranian champion, is ‘encouraged’ by his coach between rounds.

Encouragement from the coach!

He receives stitches – without anaesthetic – before the final against Saenchai.

Stitches without anasthetic before the final.

The final fight between Thailand and Iran.

Muay Thai Saenchai's winning strikes

Spectators feel the force of the blows (below left and right).

Muay Thai spectator (1)Muay Thai spectator (2)

Saenchai’s winning strike, securing his victory as tournament champion.

Muay Thai Saenchai's winning strike

Seemingly unscathed, Saenchai stands calm and proud in victory.

Muay Thai Saenchai in victoryMuay Thai Saenchai in victory

Festa Major of Sitges, Spain

The Catalans know how to party. My trip to Europe this summer was rounded off perfectly with festivities and a feast of fine foods in the beautiful seaside town of Sitges, near Barcelona in the Catalonia region of north eastern Spain.

The Festa Major is the annual feast day celebration at the end of August each year, held in honour of Sant Bartolomeu, patron saint of Sitges. Spectacular processions march through the narrow cobbled streets, re-enacting the Reconquest of Spain in the late 1400s, where Spanish Catholics defeated the Moorish monarchs, so completing the Reconquista.

The procession is raucous. Enormous models of the Spanish and the Moorish monarchs head the procession, followed in the heaving throng by dancers, papier-mâché giants, devils brandishing pitchforks, and a large dragon and phoenix, fireworks exploding from their jaws.

Festa Major opens in Sitges town square

As the procession begins, devils with firecrackers advance through the town square (above).

The monarchs lead the way through the streets, the Spanish victors at the front followed by the Moorish King and Queen, see below.

The Moorish King and Queen advance through the streets

The chief devil pauses in the procession to re-load his tenedor del diablo with firecrackers, before igniting those of the other devils.

Chief devil re-loads his tenedor del diablo with firecrackers

The chief devil lights his many firecrackers (below).

Chief devil ignites the firecrackers, Festa Major, Sitges in Spain

The group of devils then form a tight circle to ignite each of their firecrackers (below).

Forming a tight circle to ignite the firecrackers

Devils in the procession wear earplugs to protect themselves from the extraordinary volume – not unlike a round of gunfire. Those less prepared feel the full force of the sound.

Devil with firecrackers - cover your ears!

All mayhem breaks loose as the firecrackers explode simultaneously (below).

Firecrackers exploding simultaneously

Most spectators dodge to avoid the firing sparks. However the braver ones and those emboldened with plenty of beer and wine race through or dance under the blaze. The challenge for anyone foolish enough to point a camera into the inferno is to get the picture before the sparks get you – or your lens. Easier said than done!

The dragon emerges through the smoke (below left), followed by the phoenix, setting off another whirl of crackers in the main town square (below right).

Dragon emerges through the smoke, Festa Major, Sitges in SpainPhoenix in the town square

Each character in the processions has a team of people to man and look after them, ensuring nothing and nobody gets in the way, and ready at any moment to jump inside the model characters and take the reins as the parade continues through the town (below left).

Time for a role switch!Lady emerges from mask for air, Sitges Festa Major

A lady emerges briefly from her papier-mâché head for some air (above right).

The previous day, I was fortunate to stumble across the backstreet (middle photo below) where artists were making repairs and adding finishing touches to the procession puppets (below left and right). They work throughout the year, carrying out repairs for the various fiestas of the town.

Artist making finishing touches before the Festa Major, Sitges, SpainBackstreet where artists are making finishing touches before the Festa MajorFinishing touches before the Festa Major

Musicians playing traditional reed instruments to accompany the dancing procession.

Musicians playing traditional reed instruments

Dancing models become increasingly flamboyant, not to mention unsteady on their feet, as more beer is handed out to the teams.

King dancing in the streetsDancing in the streetsDancing Queen

Spinning monarchs in the town square.

Spinning monarchs in the town square

Good humour abounds and dancers embrace as they finish their routine.

Good humour aboundsHappy faces as musicians finish their routines

A band of musicians enters the town square as revellers contribute to the mêlée.

Musicians in the town square, Sitges Festa Major

Happy devils call it a day.

Happy devils at the Festa Major, Sitges in Spain

Update from Scotland

It’s been a while since I posted anything new on my blog and it’s definitely time for an update.

Firstly, I’m delighted to be a contributor to the September 2010 issue of  Travel + Leisure magazine published throughout SE Asia.   A new selection of my Tokyo Fish Market images are featured as a portfolio collection entitled ‘Catch Of The Day’.  Hope you get a chance to have a look.

Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market

Now, time for a quick update. We’ve had a long lazy summer in Europe, firstly catching up with family in the UK, then followed by a delightful jaunt to Spain where I photographed the magnificent annual Festa Major in Sitges, just south of Barcelona. More on that to come.

In the meantime, let me share a few photographs taken around my mum’s home on the west coast of Scotland. We spent a wonderfully relaxing couple of weeks there doing little more than taking walks from the house, making sandcastles, collecting shells on the beach, and pondering what delicious food we should have for lunch, dinner or whatever came next. Clearly, quite a challenge, but we struggled through as best we could…

Walk to beach

Mushrooms by the coast, ScotlandThistles by the beach, Scotland

Views to Arran, Scotland

Pattaya street workers find new beginnings

The day Khun Nok (below right) gave birth to her second baby, she had a choice.  She could send him upcountry to the poverty and hardship she faced as a child and return to work on the streets of Pattaya. Or she could stop working on the streets and keep her son – and therefore sever all contact with her family whose principal interest was the money she earned. In the end she chose the latter.

Khun Nok arrived from Isaan in the North East of Thailand three years ago aged fifteen. Last year, living rough with her first baby and three months pregnant with the next, she came to an orphanage asking them to look after her child so she could return to work on the streets. They introduced her to the Tamar Centre.

Khun Phon runs the card-making centreKhun Nok, mother of two

Everyone has a story to tell.

Khun Phon (above left) suffered cruelty throughout her childhood. A violent marriage followed in which both she and her children were abused. She went to Pattaya, started working on the streets, became an alcoholic and fell into depression. Now her life has changed. She completed the three-month training program at the Tamar Centre and earns a living by running the card-making centre. She knows what it is to have nothing and can offer support and compassion to the people who arrive at the centre. Most important of all, she lives with her children. “For the first time in my life I feel good about myself. I have a good relationship with my children and can be a mum to them now”.

The majority of the prostitutes in Pattaya, a city on the Gulf of Thailand, are single mothers like Khun Phon trying to support their children and families. Others, like Khun Nok, are young girls sent by their parents to earn money and transfer it home. If the parents in their hometown acquire possessions or wealth, the girl is praised and no questions are asked. If not, she is deemed a disgrace and cannot return home.

The Tamar Centre was founded by Nella Davidse, who still runs it today. She told me of its origins. It was opened 1999 by Project Life Foundation and there are now two locations: the Tamar café and training centre in the shopping district, and the Outreach Centre in one of Pattaya’s most notorious bar streets.

The objectives of the organisation are two-fold: to provide a new life and purpose for girls on the streets in Pattaya, and to educate their families in the villages of Isaan, north east Thailand. The latter involves prevention centres that educate relatives as to the realities of life on the streets in order to stem the flow of young girls arriving for work.

At dusk I set off with Nella to capture life at night. The centre wanted photographs that they could use for fund-raising and for educating the families. We arrived as people were preparing for work and stayed to document an evening in Pattaya.

Preparing for work, PattayaGirls preparing for work, streets of Pattaya

Street workers in Pattaya, Thailand

The Outreach Centre in Soi 6 (known as “soi sex”) has a hair and beauty salon, which is run by Khun Jing and Khun Fa (below), now fully trained beauticians. It offers a constant presence to the 600 prostitutes working in the 60-odd bars on soi 6 and a reminder that there is help and a way out.

Beauticians in the Outreach Centre, Pattaya

The centre provides counselling and advice, health check-ups for pregnant women, and free English classes three afternoons a week.

Free English classes for street workers in PattayaTeaching English at the Outreach Centre, Pattaya

The main Tamar Centre runs a three-month program for women who have left prostitution. They are given professional training in baking, cooking, hairdressing, card making, sewing, and computer studies. Graduates of the program are offered jobs in the centre or given assistance to find the equivalent work outside.

The food in the bright and immaculate cafe on the ground floor is fresh and delicious and the baking irresistible. Who could say no to a thick slice of apple pie or Snicker cheesecake?

Tamar Cafe, PattayaTamar Cafe cheesecake, Pattaya

Chocolate Brownies bring happiness to all!

Making chocolate brownies at Tamar Cafe, Pattaya

Khun Nittaya chops fresh vegetables in the pristine kitchen.

Preparing vegetables at the Tamar Cafe, Pattaya

The crèche on the third floor of the centre provides childcare through the day for the babies and toddlers, and after-school care for the older children. The mothers and children live nearby in sheltered housing provided by the Centre.

Children at the creche, Tamar Centre, PattayaChildren at the creche, Tamar Centre, Pattaya

Khun Nok's baby, Tamar Centre, PattayaBaby at creche in the Tamar centre, Pattaya

Girl, 7 years at creche in Tamar Centre, Pattaya

Everyone we spoke to expressed the same sentiments: they are now providing for their children and living life in a way that gives them purpose, self-respect and hope for the future.

And Khun Nok? She is blooming and full of life, and as she blooms, so do her children. They are all learning to smile, to laugh easily, to feel safe. Best of all, Nok is learning to dream – to dream of a better future for herself and her children.  She’s applied to an adult education centre in Pattaya and begins studies this October. Nok has hope now, and because of that hope, everything is possible.

Khun Nok and her son

Please note all names have been changed.

Further details are available at http://projlife.com/tamarcenter/ or visit the delicious Tamar Bakery & Restaurant at 124/130-131 M.10 Thirdroad, Pattaya, +66 (0)38 415 432.

Eugene Eustaquio

Whenever he heard the sound of the organ as a young child, he cried at the beauty. There was no money for lessons and no access to a real instrument in his village in the Philippines, so he taught himself how to play by drawing a picture of a keyboard on paper and using it to practise.

Eugene Eustaquio is a talented and inspiring young man. I had the pleasure and good fortune to photograph him one morning in my studio. He spoke about his life in music while I took photographs.

By the age of fourteen, he was singing, playing the organ and conducting the local church choir. He went on to study voice at university in the Philippines and then Bangkok; and now conducts a number of choirs – including the Bangkok Music Society and Mahidol University choir. He also sings here in many major roles in both opera and oratorio.

Eugene Eustaquio profile portraitEugene Eustaquio profile portrait 2Eugene Eustaquio profile portrait 3

We talked about his great passion for opera and I put on his favourite – ‘Rigoletto’ by Verdi – and asked if he’d ‘conduct’ it. Eugene was captivated by the music and conducted the overture as if he were facing a real orchestra. I was transported in an instant to the orchestra’s pit, and watched with delight as he leapt to cue the horns, summon the cymbals and signal the strings, his passion mesmerising to watch.

Eugene Eustaquio conducting

Eugene Eustaquio conducting 2

He then sang the celebrated and much-loved ‘O Sole Mio’ by the Neapolitan composer Eduard Capua while I listened in appreciation, taking photographs and feeling strangely like a Cornetto.

Eugene Eustaquio with music scoreEugene Eustaquio singing

What a pleasure!

Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market

Gordon Gecko might look out of place in the middle of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, but there are plenty of things that would make him feel right at home. Like Wall St, the world’s largest fish market runs on a frenzy of activity and adrenaline, the most expensive of fish stocks changing hands as high-value deals are closed in the blink of an eye.  Every morning at 5.20am, as regular as the NYSE opening bell, Tsukiji chimes into life and for the next 5 hours the largest and most important fish market in the world runs at the pace of a Shinkansen going in a hundred directions at once.

Trucks, cars and mini forklifts laden with today’s catch of fish and seafood, dart like minnows through the narrow streets and passageways of the market. No time for the usual niceties of Japanese service during the early morning trading hours … twenty million dollars of produce are bought and sold each day and no one can afford a minute’s rest.

Transporting tuna in Tsukiji fish market

Visitors must arrive before dawn to catch a glimpse of the auction where mammoth 300kg tuna are bought and sold by traders. As a result of the increasing numbers visiting the fish market in recent years, tourists have been banned from the tuna auction area on many occasions.  I was lucky to get through during one of the periods where they were allowing access to limited numbers. The small and tightly packed space allowed only a few any vantage point, however I squeezed through in time to see the action.

Visiting this main hall is an arresting experience.  Bitterly cold temperatures preserve the frozen fish as they lie beached on the expansive trading floor. The tail of the tuna is carved open to reveal the quality of the splendid catches on display.  Surprisingly there’s no smell whatsoever throughout the market, such is the coldness of the air and prime freshness of the fish.

Tsukiji tuna on auction floor

Carved tuna tails in Tsukiji

Prospective buyers trawl the lines of fish, using torches and probing hooks to extract and inspect the flesh before bidding for the best catch.

Inspecting tuna at Tsukiji fish marketInspecting hooks at Tsukiji fish marketTsukiji Auction in Tokyo

As the auction ends, the fish are transported to their next destination or moved to the many shops and stalls inside the market. The variety is astounding, with over four hundred types of fish and seafood of all shapes and sizes changing hands each day.  First, larger fish have to be prepared for sale.  Frozen tuna is divided up using large band saws and fresh cuts are carved with metre-long, highly specialized knives resembling great samurai swords.  Not the time to pick a fight with the locals!

Carving tuna at Tokyo Tsukiji fish market

Carving frozen tuna with bandsaw in Tokyo Tsukiji fish marketFresh tuna is carved in Tokyo Tsukiji fish market

Once the early morning frenzy has died down, there’s time to indulge in some good-humoured banter as customers arrive to buy the auctioned fish.   I joined in the fun, requesting a shot of the ‘handsome man’ in the middle (below) to the great amusement of all nearby!

Fish seller at Tokyo Tsukiji fish marketFish seller - Tokyo Tsukiji fish marketFish seller at Tokyo Tsukiji fish market

Mr Yamamoto (below right) is loved and revered. Not only does he buy great quantities of breathtakingly expensive fish, but he’s also a master sushi chef and therefore permitted to carve his own cuts, a rare honour and one he accepts with great enjoyment and excellent humour. The proprietor of an exclusive Tokyo restaurant, he’s clearly the favourite customer of the day. The owner and staff of the lucky stall crowd around to watch a true master at work.

Chef carves fresh tuna, Tokyo Tsukiji fish market

Chef packs fresh tuna, Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo

Last orders are taken as stall holders finalise business and wrap up for the day.

Taking final orders at Tokyo Tsukiji fish marketGreat smile! Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo.Taking last orders, Tokyo Tsukiji fish market

What better reward could there be for getting up at 4-something-am than a hearty breakfast at Tsukiji? The finest sashimi and sushi known to man (or woman!) provides a splendid start to the rest of the day.  No wonder everyone’s smiling when the morning’s trading is done.

End of the day at Tokyo Tsukiji fish market

Gordon Gecko would no doubt approve.  Lunch is indeed for wimps.

New Life

Here we have Lynn Victoria at just two weeks old. I’d taken Katie and Steve’s portraits not long before when Katie was pregnant, and it was a joy to see them again and meet baby Lynn.

Celebrating the beginning of a new life, I was struck by the contrast to my previous day’s visit to the elderly community in the slums of Bangkok (see previous blog entry).

Lynn was one of the calmest babies I’ve ever encountered (including my own!) and remained asleep through almost the whole photo shoot. Mind you, when you look this lovely what is there to worry about?

Katie, Steve and Baby Lynn

Sleeping Lynn

Katie & LynnSteve & Lynn

Sleeping Lynn

Little FeetLittle Feet

Little Hand

Hope for the Elderly in the Bangkok Slums

Funny how you can see someone on a weekly basis for almost a year and have no idea what they do for a living. So it was with Linda Herrmann who is director of Project Life, a charity organisation in Thailand that seeks to help the poor and vulnerable of Thailand.

As part of Project Life, Ruth Centre was opened only two years ago as a place that provides support and community for the elderly across ten slums on the outskirts of Bangkok.  Conceived, created and run by the inspiring Khun Noi, the centre’s purpose is to bring previously isolated people together in self-supporting communities.  Khun Noi and her team visit over 200 people in the local slum communities once a week or more.

Khun Noi from the Ruth Centre visiting Khun Yai Buang

Khun Yai (grandmother) Buang is 72 years old, seriously ill and has no hope of recovery.  Isolated and lonely she had lost the will to live until The Ruth Centre re-united her with her daughter, who now takes care of her.  Khun Noi visits regularly to chat and read books to Khun Yai Buang, an event she loves and looks forward to every week.

Khun Noi offers support and comfort Support and new hope for Khun Yai Buang

Earning an income for Khun Yai Sanom, 73 years, consists of collecting rubbish from the local streets and dumps in the community to sell whatever she can.  A diabetes sufferer, she is nevertheless somewhat fortunate in that she receives a government pension of ThB 500 per month (US $18), which she supplements with around ThB 100 (US$3) in garbage sales.  “I may be 72years old, but I’m still beautiful” she exclaimed.

"I may be old but I'm still beautiful!"The home of K Yai Sanom

Khun Yai Sanom

Songkran, or Thai New Year, was approaching, and Khun Yai Faa was mending a sarong she wanted to wear for the celebrations.   Left by her husband many years ago, she has struggled with alcoholism and TB for much of her life.  With the help of the Ruth Centre she’s been doing much better and recently rediscovered her love for reading; ‘especially history books’.    Asked if she minded having her photograph taken she replied ‘chawp mahk!’ (I love it!) with gusto.

Khun Yai Faa in her home in the slumsK Yai Faa examines her sarong for the Songkran celebrationsRe-discovering her love for history books!

Another regular stop for Khun Noi is to Khun Somjit’s home, where his grandson lay on the ground and could not be awakened during our 20 minute visit. K Noi  provides support and help to keep his place clean and hygienic, a task that he finds almost insurmountable.

K Somjit and his grandson in their home

K Somjit in his home in the Bangkok slumsK Somjit

A husband and wife team were preparing food for their local catering business as we passed. ‘We’re both good cooks so we just take it in turns.’

"We're both great cooks!"

On our way back to the centre, we walked past a group of kids who were playing on a pristine pool table. A resourceful father in the community had saved up and bought it to rent out as a source of income.  Of course, it also has the added benefit of providing a place for the kids to gather through the day and hone their (admirable!) skills.

Pool fun in the slums of Bangkok

Planning the next shotAnother cracking shot!

Volunteers at Ruth Centre work without judgement or financial reward, providing support and a measure of dignity for the most vulnerable people in society.

Please note all names have been changed.

Working Communities in Bangkok China Town

Mr Heng is a most welcoming man. Not content with serving me home made juice and bottles of water, he took great care to brew and serve some reviving Oolong tea… perfectly timed at the point where I had grown weary and wandered down an enticing alleyway and towards his mechanic shop. He beckoned me inside, observing quickly that I looked tired (why keep such observations to yourself, after all?). We drank copious cups of tea while attempting to communicate in my extremely limited Thai. The tea kept flowing and I was most grateful for the opportunity to rest for a while.

Mr Heng serving tea in China Town, Bangkok

Starting this week I set out with a project in mind to photograph ‘Local Communities’. My aim: to capture portraits and images of diverse groups and communities, from people within a specific locality, to various social and cultural gatherings which thrive within the Big Mango. I chose to start with working communities in the backstreets of Chinatown, Bangkok.

It was fresh and clear on Monday morning as I headed purposefully towards my destination. Many people in Bangkok will be familiar with the main thoroughfares of Chinatown and I’ve certainly had my share of trawling shopping streets and eateries there. This time, I wanted to wander freely and discover quiet alleyways and hidden gems away from the noise and bustle of the main street. These narrow arteries are still madly industrious. No dull, utilitarian workspace here, but a vibrant blend of strong and vibrant colours and smells.

Along the way, I captured a few irresistible images of the fabulous colours around me.  For starters, a man in royal blue polo shirt, under a royal blue awning, fringed by royal blue shutters on either side of his shop. Man in blue, Chinatown, Bangkok

Another man wearing a dark red sweatshirt, working directly in front of a perfectly matched painted wall. And another in an oily blue shirt fixing an oily blue engine – with matching oily blue bucket placed strategically in the foreground.

Man in oily blue, Bangkok ChinatownMan in red, Chinatown, Bangkok

Then, just as I’d settled into the theme of matching colours I spotted an exhausted welder seated between brilliant green shutters, wearing an even brighter and more brilliant pink top.  Fabulous.Pink man between green shutters, Chinatown, Bangkok

How easily people break into a smile and humour the ‘farang’ with the camera, Thailand must be one of the most welcoming and tolerant places on earth.Man laughing leaning against green shutter, Bangkok Chinatown Woman on red chair, Bangkok ChinatownLaughing man in blue shirt, Bangkok Chinatown

This lady didn’t speak but seemed keen to be photographed. When I asked her if this was ok, she simply moved towards me with a friendly smile. I took that to be a ‘yes’ and she seemed most pleased with the results."Go on then, take a picture!" Old lady smiling in Bangkok Chinatown

I found Mr. Achoon sitting on his chair at a busy intersection. He was a remarkably engaging and spritely character for his eighty-five years.Mr Achoon, Bangkok ChinatownMr Achoon in yellow chair, Bangkok Chinatown

What a pleasant way to start a project on Local Communities. And what better setting than the richly diverse and colourful working communities of Bangkok China Town.