Thursday, March 31, 2011

Know Thy Self, and To Thine Own Self Be True

As part of my efforts to keep abreast of developments in the field of photography, I have subscribed to and frequently visit a very informative website .  On the website people ask and have questions answered by other participants on the website.  You can also post some of your photographs and request "ratings" as well as "critiques".  I find the website to be very useful and entertaining.  However at times I find it frustrating.

I am amazed at how many times people will submit a post requesting advice along the lines of "I am going to ????, what lenses should I bring?"  or "I am gong to !!!!!! and I have x, y, and z lenses, should I bring my z lens?"

"I am going to ?????, what lenses should I bring?" is a very difficult question for strangers to answer.  Selection of lenses is dependent upon many variables.  Some of the variables are:  The types of photographs that the photographer would like to take - Landscapes, Architecture, Portraits, Sports, Wildlife, Birds, Insects, Macro, Documentary and so forth.  The lighting conditions that are anticipated - full sunlight, shade, twilight, or night.  The weight of gear that the photographer is willing or capable of lugging around with them can also be a factor in selecting lenses.  The ancient Greek admonishment to "Know thy self" appears to be lost upon many people.

Various lenses are available in either fixed or variable focal lengths and apertures that are specific to the variables, compromises for a combination of variables, or in some cases not appropriate for a specific set of variables.  It would be very difficult to use a long length telephoto or fixed lens to take architectural photographs in an urban setting just as a very wide lens would not be practical for photographing wildlife in their natural surroundings.  Taking along a f5.6 or f6.5 lens for the purpose of photographing in low light conditions even with a tripod would not be a good choice.

A total stranger even with the knowledge of what, how, and where the asking photographer intends to photograph can only make recommendations based upon their own experiences and perhaps more significantly - their own preferences.  In the end the total strangers suffer none of the consequences of their recommendations and suggestions.  The requesting photographer is the only one exposed to disappointment at missed opportunities or having lugged unnecessary equipment around.

Having looked at thousands of photographs, approximately 25,000, I have become familiar with the style of several of the other members.  Without looking to see the credit for the photograph, I know who took and post-processed the picture.  Based upon my experience and personal preferences, there are several photographers whose works I greatly admire.  Based upon my experience and personal preferences, there are many photographers whose work I do not like at all.  However, I respect the photographers for doing it their way even though their way that I can appreciate.  They know themselves, their work and put it all out on display.  Their work is unique and not imitations of what others have deemed to be "good" or even "great".  There has been only one Ansel Adams and that is enough.  There has been only one Galen Rowell, Gordon Parks, and one Alfred Stieglitz which have been enough.  There is only one Anne Geddes and I suspect that it is more than enough.  My point is that these artists are unique.  Rather than to be imitated they should be inspirations to us to take OUR photographs; our personal and just as unique works.  Shakespeare's words of "To thine own self be true" often come to my mind in contemplating decisions regarding my photography or in making decisions related to my personal life.

The power and strength of art is to show us things that we do not see, can not see, or refuse to see in ways that we may or may not like.  Art can stimulate, motivate, and sometimes even aggravate.  Art can reaffirm our sense of reality as well as challenge our sense of reality.

Art is the product of the human mind.  Whereas the artist can learn how to utilize the various established tools and recognized techniques to communicate their vision, the vision is and will always remain theirs and theirs alone.  The artist is free to decide what the message is and how it needs to be conveyed; free to do it their way.

We have a certain amount of freedom in our lives.  The amount of freedom that we are allowed depends upon where we live, our economic, our social, and physical status.  Whenever we allow or rely upon others to make decisions for us, we are giving up some of our precious freedom.  Like the photographers who reach out to be told what lenses to bring or not to bring with them, too many people restrict and enslave themselves by relying upon others to make life decisions for them.

There currently are people in the USA called "Life Coaches" who are paid to advise people on how to live their lives.  I know of people who live their life as they believe that other people expect them to live - never knowing if they had made the "right" decision, always hoping to live up to others expectations, and constantly abusing themselves with self doubt.  I know other people who have difficulties making decisions because they are concerned or do not know what other people will think.  Just as in the end the photographer will bear the consequences of the decision that they make or others make for them, we in life bear the consequences of our choices, decisions, and non-decisions.

Well, I view life pretty much as I do photography.  As far as I know we have only one life on this planet just as we typically only have one opportunity to visit a place to photograph.  Buddhists would disagree that we have but one life on this planet and travel agents would disagree that you can visit a place only once, but I am Christian and rather than relying on returning to a place a second or third time, I prefer to take all my pictures the first time for there may never be another time.  Time, money, and fate often prevent us from having a "do over".  I know myself and I try to be true to myself - I will carry all the lenses and equipment that I know I will need to take the photographs that I want to take.  I may not get the opportunity to take all those photographs that my research lead me to believe would be possible, but I will be prepared if the opportuntities do present themselves.  I am willing to carry the extra burden to be able to capture the moments of a lifetime.

So far I have never regretted bringing along a piece of camera equipment on my travels.

Yes I have returned to some locations a second or third time but it was because I had better equipment, a different vision, or better skills to realize my vision.

I have yet to regret not having brought a piece of my photography equipment.

I always travel totally prepared to take MY photographs.  I know what I want and I know what it should take to produce my desired results.

Life is a journey that we, as individuals, decide how satisfying it can be.  Once again as in photography, the best decisions are our decisions based upon our goals, experience, resources, and vision.

Our happiness often springs from knowing ourself and being being true our own self.   It only takes courage to have confidence and trust in how we decide to live our life just as which lens to bring or not bring to take OUR photographs.  It is a freedom that should not be given away.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

America Not the Same As Thailand

My wife has now been in America for two months.  Although the weather and family responsibilities somewhat restrict our ability to go out, Duang is getting a fairly good representation of what life is like here in America.  She has been to the mall.  She has been involved with 911 call and Hospital Emergency Room visits.  She has witnessed Policemen and Paramedics doing their job.  She has been several times to a library.  Duang has even attended an open house for selling a home is well beyond our means.  Sadly she has also seen "Dancing with the Stars", as well as "American Idol" along with several other television programs.  To her credit, she is now a Boston Bruins hockey fan although I think she watches only for the fights.

Back in Thailand whenever I complained about people driving the wrong way on a one way road, motorbikes pulling up on your right hand side as you are stopped waiting and signaling to make a right hand turn only to then cut in front of you whiling making their LEFT turn as you start your right turn, or motorbikes passing you on the right as you turn right from the far right lane of  two lanes headed in the same direction, Duang would gently comfort me by saying "Dahling Thailand not same same America".

Now that Duang has immigrated to the USA, I now have the opportunity to say "Darling, America is not the same as Thailand"

Yes there are many differences between the two countries and culture.  It seems to be just about every day that she experiences a difference.

First of all is the weather.  It is 35 degrees today in Connecticut.  It is roughly 35 degrees also in Udonthani.  The difference is that in Thailand the temperature is measured in Celsius (centigrade) which converts to 95F here.

Last night it snowed.  Duang had first seen snow when we landed at JFK Airport on 31 January of this year but last night was the first time that she saw it falling from the sky.  I believe that Udonthani will have snow on the day before that Hell freezes over.  In four years living in Udonthani, the coldest that I can remember it getting to was 62F.

We have been getting some rain here just about every week.  Back in Udonthani it basicly does not rain from October until May.  I explained to Duang that here in Connecticut it rains every month except for when it is too cold when it is snow rather than rain.

Second of all is "time".  Recently like almost everyone else in America, we had to change all our watches and clocks - advancing them one hour ahead to account for Daylight Savings Time.  This was a shock to Duang since we maintain the same time throughout the year in Thailand.  Naturally Duang wanted to know why we changed time twice a year in America.  I wanted to give her a better answer than "It's the law".  I remembered that it was supposed to be good and help the farmers - giving them more daylight in the evening for working in the fields.  I researched it on the Internet and found just the opposite explanation for why we have Daylight Savings Time.  It was instituted during WWI first by the Germans and then by others to supposedly save fuel required for street lighting.  The belief that it saves fuel is now debatable with the benefit, if it does exist, being around 0.5% according to the USA DOE.  Having researched the reason for DST, I guess the answer, "It's the Law", is the best one after all.

A third big difference between Thailand and America is the way people look and dress.  Here many men wear beards or goatees.  The other day it was quite windy.  As we were stopped at a traffic signal here in Groton, Duang exclaimed "Look!  Look!".  I looked to the right and did not see anything but after awhile a man stepped out into sight from behind a tree.  This man was about 55 or 60 years old and to say that he was a refugee from the 1960s would aptly describe his appearance.  What had amazed and shocked Duang was his goatee.  He had a very long gray and straggly goatee.  How long was the goatee?  It was so long that the wind was blowing it up into his face and over his eyes obscuring his vision.

In Thailand, a few Thai men have mustaches but it is only a few foreigners that have beards.  Of the few beards that I have seen in Thailand none have come close to the "Zee Zee Top" styles that you can see around here.  Thai men do not have much body hair and my hairy arms are often the center of attraction or amusement in Southeast Asia.  Here in Groton, to Duang's amazement, I am one of the less hairy men around.

Yesterday, we went for a drive in the afternoon.  We drove through the old villages of Noank and Mystic - a nostalgic journey for me and opportunity for Duang to see a little bit of "old" America.  It was also a chance to explore some possible photography venues once the leaves come back on the trees.

During our drive we passed a funeral home in Mystic.  I explained to Duang what the building was and what happened inside of the building.  I might as well have been informing her that Martians had landed and lived in that building from the look on her face.  I explained that when people died here, their family called the people that worked in the building to come get the body.  The people would bring the body to the funeral home, clean the body often filling the body with chemicals, and later family as well as friends would go to the funeral home to say good bye.  The funeral home would then take care of burying the body in a cemetery.  This was completely alien to Duang. She asked me "Why?", "Why family not take care of person?"  I replied "America not like Thailand".  In America people pay strangers who are professionals to care for the dead.

In Isaan there are no funeral homes, funeral parlors, or mortuaries.  There are no undertakers.  The deceased are attended to by the family and friends.  Village Monks and neighbors provide assistance to the family.  The remains lay in state at their home for three days after which they are brought to the village Wat, Buddhist temple, to be cremated.  The cremation is a merit making ritual that involves family, friends, and neighbors.  The body is cremated in the Wat crematorium or outside in a funeral pyre.  Strangers, if they attend are welcomed and encouraged to take photographs.  The life milestone of death is treated very differently in America than in Isaan.

Two Bodies Being Cremated In Tahsang Village

I have written four blogs related to the funeral rituals of Isaan.

As we passed by many of the fine old buildings of Mystic and Noank that date back to the 1800s, Duang asked about the people that lived in them.  I explained that the houses were occupied by a husband and wife and sometimes their small children.  She had already noticed how there were so much fewer children and young people around Connecticut than back in Isaan.   To paraphrase our theory as to why - "America, too much TV, not much boom boom"  When passing through villages of Isaan that were teeming with children, Duang would always explain to me that "No TV, too much boom boom".  Duang wanted to know why grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and most importantly of all grown sons and daughters did not live in the big houses with their relatives.  In Isaan, the culture is very different.  It is also different in Brasil.  In Brasil, my adult friends were amazed when I informed them that in America the vast majority leave home by the time that they are 18 years old - either to go to college or to get apartments with friends.  In Brasil, most sons and daughters remain at home until they get married with most young men not getting married until their late twenties or even early thirties.  In Isaan the youngest daughter is responsible to care for her family.  Often when the oldest daughter gets married, she and her new husband will move into her parent's home to help care for the parents.  It is expected for children to care for their parents, grandparents, and other family members.

Many people here in the USA have remarked to my parents how fortunate they are to have a son and daughter-in-law to move in and care for them.  In Isaan not doing so is the exception and embarrassment to the family.  The stigma of shame or "losing face" is a great motivator in Isaan. Yes, America is different than Thailand.

How often do we hear or say to long lost family members "Gee the only time that we see eachother is at funerals"?  In Isaan families are large and for everyday.  In Isaan being part of a family is not a choice but an obligation.  In Isaan being part of a family has its responsibilities and rewards.  One comfort of being part of the family is knowing that you will always be taken care of by loved ones even in death.

Duang is quite perceptive and is not shy to express her observations to me.  Often I can only agree with her and add "America not same as Thailand".

It is not necessarily always better or always worse; just different.  My hope is that they will remain the way they are and never be the same.  I wish to live neither in world of uniformity or conformity.  The richness of life as well as culture is in its diversity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A New Gallery Is Available for Viewing

Hmong Lad Unleashes His Top Towards the Target in Laos

A new photo gallery is now available for viewing at the attached link below.  The gallery is comprised of photos of people playing some games in Southeast Asia.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Wonder ...

I started this blog on 28 Feb and with all the tasks that we have had here recently I never got to finish it in a timely manner.

Our days here in America are filled with many tasks, many which keep us from our routines that occupied us back in Thailand.  However we do find some time to keep updated with the outside world through the Internet as well as fit in a little bit of television.

A couple of recent news items have gotten me to reflect, wonder, and share some observations with people.

When I was in Brasil I used to tell people in Portuguese that "Everyman has two lives; his real life and his life in his dreams.  Lucky is the man that has a third life; his life without his wife"  That statement always brought a great deal of laughing, back slaps, and sometimes a free drink.  I believe that I had captured the joie de vivre that prevails in Brasilian society or at least male Brasilian society.

Here in America I am not sure that such a statement would be as widely appreciated.  There is the reality that we wish to believe; a perception created by our training, our education, validated by our friends and family, and necessitated by our culture.  There is also another reality - the reality that is the "truth" which sometimes runs counter to our wishes, our beliefs, our needs and is often only supported by facts and evidence.

According to today's CDC website there are 4,500,000 people bitten by dogs in the USA each year.  In my 61 years I have yet to meet a dog owner who has admitted that their dog bites.  The reality is 4,500,000 people were bitten by a dog.  The perception seems to be that "my" dog is not capable of such an act.

Demonstrators, protesters, revolutionaries, freedom fighters, average people thirsty for freedom, or traitors; depending upon your point of view and perspective are being killed in the streets in many parts of the world.  Many of us Americans are grateful that we live in a country were we can protest and not be attacked or killed.  It is a natural gratefulness that comes for our belief that we live in the land of the free with freedom of speech.  We were taught from the start of our schooling that we are different from all other countries,  We have freedom of speech.  We can protest.  Our Constitution documents our right, the right of the people, to peacefully assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  The same Constitution grants authority to the Federal Government to call forth the Militia to suppress Insurrections (insurrection is defined in common dictionaries as "armed revolt").

Yes, I know and I do appreciate that we as American citizens do enjoy  a greater freedom to protest against our government but there are limits to that freedom.  In other countries where people are attacking and seizing police stations and seizing military bases, the "protesters" are being shot and killed.  If a similar situation were to arise here in the USA, I am confidant a similar fate would await our protesters who would be branded as insurrectionists, traitors, or whatever term was necessary to invoke the process to suppress the armed revolt or revolution.  Our Government is just as capable and at times has been willing to restrict the people's right to peacefully assemble and petition their government and at times to use violence against the people.

On Facebook I reminded people of the Vietnam Era protests.  In Late April 1971 I watched C5A military planes bearing elements of the 82nd Airborne Division (combat soldiers) fly over my parent's home in Connecticut on their way to strategic locations along the East Coast.  The Vietnam War protesters had vowed to shutdown Washington D.C. for May Day.  The Federal Government initiated a massive military and police response to the threat.  Fortunately no one was killed that time.  However protesters were shot and killed at Kent State the previous year.  During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s many people while peacefully protesting were attacked by police using dogs, batons, and water hoses.

Although these incidents can be excused as having happened long ago in the past and that "we have learned our lesson", the point remains that under certain circumstances our government as well as any other government is capable of armed violence against its citizens.  I would not want to bet that if a group of "protesters, demonstrators, ..." were to attack the City of Groton Police Dept and to take over the US Navy Submarine Base in Groton that there would not be blood in our streets just as in Libya, or Egypt.  There is peaceful protests and there are violent protests.  There are protests and then there are revolts or insurrections.  There is a thin and fine line that separates one man's peaceful demonstrations from a government's fear of revolt or insurrection.  Calling for the overthrow of the US Government is just as serious of an offence as calling for the ouster of Mubarak, Gadhafi, Chavez, Jung Ill, or any other established leader be it legitimately established or illegitimately established.  When the power elite are threatened with violence they can be counted on to do all within their power to maintain their power as well as their power structure.

The second news article that struck me and also highlighted another reality - a reality that is the "truth" which sometimes runs counter to our wishes, our beliefs, our needs and is often only supported by facts and evidence, was the disclosure that US, Federal and State governments, had conducted medical experiments on people without their consent.  We are familiar with the experiments where medications were withheld from black men who had syphilis in order to document the natural progression of the disease.  The new experiments involved soldiers, mental patients, and prisoners.  Some of the eperiments were conducted quite close to here at the Norwich State Hospital, a mental hospital that was run by the State of Connecticut.  We are also familiar with the reports of unethical medical experiments conducted by the Nazis and the Japanese during WWII.  It is shocking to learn that even after revelation of these war crimes, our governments still conducted medical experiments on uninformed and non-consentual people.  As far as I know and as far as it has been acknowledged the US medical experiments were no where as near as vile or tragic as the revealed war crimes but they crossed the same line at their conception - experimenting on people who were not aware of the experiments or gave their informed consent to participate in the experiments.  The common denominator of the war crimes and experiments here in America was that the victims were all subject to the absolute power and control of the perpetrators.  Once again we could comfort ourselves in believing that this too was long ago and we have learned our lesson. 

I prefer to remain vigilant and accepting that what happened once could happen again - if allowed.

I  prefer to accept the reality that given the circumstances and conditions, a people or a government is capable of anything - be it good or evil.

My ambition and goal in photography is to show extraordinary people doing ordinary things. In so doing, I wish to show how different people appear, to provide a glimpse of other cultures, to celebrate the diversity of mankind, and to demonstrate that despite our appearances we are so much alike.

it is logical that in my writing I would also demonstrate how different people are, provide a glimpse of other cultures, to celebrate the diversity of mankind, and to point out that dispite our differences, we are so much alike.

In some cases this may be the "truth" which runs counter to our wishes, our beliefs, or our needs.

I wonder if there are others who believe the same.

I wonder how many others wonder the same.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Green Card - But Nothing to do with Ecology

Duang - Happy and Proud To Have Her Green Card
Yesterday was a very exciting day.   Nine months to the day that we started the long, arduous, and relatively expensive process to obtain a "Green Card" for Duang, her card arrived in the mail.  It arrived approximately one month after she arrived in America.

Duang had dressed up for my two aunt's visit later in the morning.  As she sometimes does, she told me what she thinks is going to happen during the day.  She often does the same thing during movies and besides finding it amusing I also believe her abilities to predict up coming events in the film is attributable to her intuition and often the all too familiar plots.  Yesterday morning she told me that she thought that her "ID Card" was going to come in the mail.  Two weeks ago she received a letter indicating that her Green Card was being processed and that she should have it in 30 days.  For some reason she was convinced that the card would arrive in yesterday's mail.  Sure enough there was a letter for her with the card.  I often say that I do not stand a chance if she decides to use her "powers" against me.

Duang Ready to Open Her Special Mail
We took some photographs to record and capture the proud moment in her life.  It has been a long and involved process for her and is for all other legal immigrants to the USA.  She had been rejected three times in her efforts to obtain a Tourist Visa and each rejection of her application was taken as a personal affront to her as I am sure that it is for all other applicants.  We know of some people who have been rejected 4 times in applying for a Tourist Visa.
Now that the Mid-Term Elections are over with, I have not heard, seen, or read much from either politicians, government officials or the media regarding "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".  I am still at a loss as to what constitutes "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" but I doubt that there will be much said on the subject until the next round of national elections revs up.

Duang Trying to Figure Out What the Letter is All About
From our experience in obtaining an Immigration Visa for Duang, I do not believe that it is always necessary for an American citizen to hire an immigration attorney to assist in the preparation of the application and documentation.  I do believe that it is strongly advisable for the person preparing the applications and documents to have access to a computer, access to the Internet, and to be able to scan documents into "PDF" files.  It is also essential that the person preparing the applications and documents for submittal fully understand English and be very well organized.

Duang does not read or write English so I handled the preparation of her documents.  I have years of professional experience in preparing subcontract documents, contract documents, developing contract/subcontract claims, and defending against subcontract claims.  Even with that quasi legal experience of handling documents and preparing submittals I found the current established procedure to be challenging.  I doubt that when someone says that they are for "comprehensive immigration reform" that their intention is to propose or initiate steps to simplify, expedite, or streamline the current process.

Part of my motivation in handling the process on my own was my steadfast conviction that an American, ANY American citizen, should be able to deal directly with their government without the use of an intermediary.  Hiring an attorney to deal with your government seems more of a need in an monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, or any other form of government other than "a government of the people and for the people".  I admit that I am still idealistic and most likely naive but I want to still believe that our government is that.  Hiring attorneys, lobbyists, or some sort of professional intermediaries to represent me to and before my government takes a great deal away from the ideals set forth in the aforementioned statement.

What It Has Been All About - Duang and Her Green Card
I also believe that "comprehensive immigration reform" does not include any attempt to modify the current process to ensure that the services of attorneys or immigration assistance companies are not necessary or justified in the future.

What I believe "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" really is a touchstone phrase that admits the existence of the 800 pound gorilla, or is it elephant in the room, without recognizing either the willingness or responsibility to do anything about it.

The gorilla or elephant in the room is the existence of thousands of illegal immigrants in this country - people who have disrespected and violated our laws.  Due to politics and political correctness this issue does not get resolved.

The illegal immigrants in general are not Thais or other SE Asians for if they were it would not be such a problem because their supporters do not have political clout.  There in lies the problem, the people who can do something about the problem are reluctant out of fear of the political consequences of addressing the issue.  When I write that they are in fear of the political consequences I mean the consequences of granting amnesty as much as fully and actively enforcing the existing laws.  Fear has paralyzed our federal government preventing them from resolving a major issue that has economic, social, and national security impacts on the nation.  At least in regards to this issue the United States of America is not home of the brave.

As for Duang, we are happy and grateful that we were able to obtain an Immigration Visa legally and in accordance with all the existing regulations.  The time required, the effort required, and the expense required to get my wife to America is well worth it. 


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