One month exploring this beautiful country was the perfect amount of time to take it slow and get a good feel for things. Started out in Colombo, made our way north to Jaffna, down into some mountain towns, and then to the south coast in Weligama. It was my first time to this part of the world and from what I’ve heard Sri Lanka is like an “India Lite”, meaning obviously much smaller and a bit calmer. Being almost three quarters Buddhist, it makes for a slightly different vibe than its predominantly Hindu neighbor.
Our favorite was the beautiful region around Jaffna in the north, not that there was anything stunning about it geographically speaking, but the people and little places to discover made it very special. Some places were very relaxed and inviting, while others were a bit intense, especially while exploring with a blonde girl by my side when I needed to jump into photographing situations in a large crowd of people.
We were fascinated by the way things ran here and the different mentalities we came across. We were especially shocked to hear that most Sri Lankans thought Donald Trump was a great guy, then they were confused when I told them that he doesn’t like dark skinned people. Some, we concluded, must simply be giving the thumbs up for camaraderie, not knowing that most Americans who travel are the ones who don’t like him.
Overall this place has lots of great potential for travel and I’d really like to get out on my own at some point and off the common path. The locals were almost always very excited to see westerners, curious to ask where we came from and how we liked their country. I can understand why some travelers are so drawn to this part of the world and I definitely hope I can keep making occasional visits for the rest of my life.
My first impression into Sri Lanka, this city’s center isn’t very large but it can feel crowded in the main tight commercial zones. Next to downtown is a construction site that covers many acres and spans into the water, preparing the foundations for some atrocious Dubai style living places right on the water. It will be interesting to see how it will change in the coming years.
The railway is placed right along the coast which leaves room for beautiful photo opportunities as the overpacked trains haul through. You’ll get anything from super friendly smiles to the horrible hustlers that won’t leave you alone. All in all it was an interesting place to spend a few days.
Surfing is mostly defined, understandably, by waves. It is the most important aspect of the sport after all. However on a recent visit to Bali I realized another very important part of the experience: the locals. In this case I made friends right away with a few surfers and thought to make a series of portraits to show a bit more that goes on behind the waves that we all know.
Bali was never high on my list of places to visit, as I had shared the same feelings about it that many others do: it’s very touristy. I’d seen so many photos and advertisements for beach clubs, resorts, and yoga retreats, and though it all looks fun, Bali didn’t appeal to me much as an exotic destination.
Boy was I wrong.
I committed to spending January there when Joanna got an internship at a hospital in the main city Denpasar for a part of the winter. We found a place to stay for a couple weeks in the area, and right away I knew we were in for something good. It was a perfect mix of hustle and bustle: the usual organized chaos of any Asian city, along with unique visuals and personalities that had us happy to go on extended walks wandering into different neighborhoods. Once we got out and explored more around the island, we felt totally comfortable everywhere. Walking around I’d get a few weird looks, but right away was followed with a smile and wave “Hello!”. The Balinese are some of the nicest people I’ve ever come across abroad.
If you tell people Bali is all spoiled and touristy, please also tell them where you spent your time, especially if it was in the Kuta / Seminyak / Canngu / Sanur / Ubud combination. Describing it in such a way is like spending a night on Bourbon Street then saying how all of New Orleans is a disgusting shitshow and not worth it. Yes, certain parts feel like you’d be in a predominantly white country, full of shops and cafes and all the amenities that westerners are used to. But in my experience the tourism was concentrated enough to the obvious areas that with just a little effort, you can find some hidden gems all to yourself that will really capture your heart and make you realize why it became such a popular destination in the first place.
My good friend Adam Berg’s dad described it best: “There are many different Balis. There’s touristy Bali, quiet mountains Bali, city hustling Bali, etc”. And I’d say if you didn’t like your Bali, you just have to try and immerse yourself into another one. Here’s a look into mine.
After a day of palpable depression weighed on the city on November 9, 2016, residents took to the streets to protest against the new President Elect Donald Trump. I joined the crowd as they gathered outside his residence Trump Tower on 5th Ave and captured a few moments.
I had never seen the marathon before and after this day I understood why some people called it their favorite event in New York. I decided to follow the race from mid-level Brooklyn around the Barclay’s Center, back up through Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Long Island City (Queens), all the way across the Upper Eastside, into the Bronx, back down Harlem and Central Park East, into the park and up to the finish line. The experience was incredible, and I wasn’t even a participant! The amount of people who come out to support and cheer on the runners was so heartwarming to feel the ongoing sense of community in this city. Each neighborhood had its distinct vibe and it was a great day to see everything along the way.
Always beautiful faces, always incredible new experiences. This year was yet again nothing short of amazing. My good friend Brian called it “The Year of the Skies” as we had many clouds which lit up so colorful for sunrises and sunsets. As cliché as it is to say, the spirit of Burning Man can not be captured in images and words. Some new visitors I brought had seen many photos before and knew what to expect visually, but the nurturing soul of the population is far more tangible in person than can be imagined when viewing photos. All that being said, here is once more my attempt to bring this other home into the real world.
Traditionally a Hindu festival in India and Nepal around the end of winter to celebrate the coming of spring, strong feelings of sharing, love, and happiness are present in everyone. This has been adapted all over the world, and in this case, right here in Brooklyn, New York. Some portraits of my friends covered in the colored powders.
Since I’d wanted to come to Namibia for a while, I’d seen images and read about the Himba people located in the north of the country. I’ve always found their aesthetic to be quite beautiful, with ornate decorations and the red skin tint for the women. It is a society that has for some villages adapted itself to modern luxuries, such as supermarkets and health care. Some villages remain fairly remote and have much less contact with the rest of civilization.
An aspect I always liked reading about is how the women are praised highly in their communities, as they are the ones who keep mankind alive. Of course, men and women are necessary, but it is recognized that the women carries many more burdens than the men in creating a child.
This was an interesting learning experience as I already had a good idea of how I wanted to photograph them. I normally prefer environmental portraits, but I’ve already seen it done (amazingly well, Joey Lawrence and Jimmy Nelson come to mind) and wanted to try something a bit different. I met someone in Opuwo who speaks their language and would take me to their villages. The first one we went to was thirty minutes outside of Opuwo and I could tell from their lack of enthusiasm they were very used to having westerners come and take pictures. It was very disappointing and I had to ask if there are any other villages that are further away. We then went to Epupa Falls on the border to Angola, 200km away from the town and much more remote, but even there, I could see that foreigners regularly came to photograph the people, and it didn’t feel very special to me either.
Finally I had to push my guy and asked if there are any villages where no westerners visit. He said he knew an area. So we loaded up his 1975 Land Rover and hauled for hours across rugged terrain to get to a village where apparently only about one white person goes per year. I felt a much much better connection in this last village as the people were interested in me as well, rather than just having a photo taken because they know they need to. I obviously couldn’t speak their language but I felt like it was finally a very good exchange between my subjects and me. Even at night as I was going to go to sleep, I heard some of the young girls singing and clapping their hands under the full moon, I went and found them having their own dance party, which gathered another thirty or so people and we all stayed up late having fun in the cool night.
The Namib Desert is main reason why I wanted to come to Namibia. I first saw it shot in a scene in the movie The Fall, and upon looking up the location, this became my top place in the world to visit. A large expanse of sand dunes sweeps from the ocean to sixty miles inland in an area called Sossusvlei. The sand turns a rust red color from iron content in oxidation, showing which dunes are the oldest. Not to be mistakenly named for the gravely Skeleton Coast further north, this is apparently the only place in the world where you can witness sand dunes reaching all the way into the ocean. See for yourselves: