Sunday, March 20, 2016

Well, time to get back to this neglected blog.
A lot has happened since I let my blog fade away. I managed to get a position with Chieng Rai Vidyakhome School in Chiang Rai teaching English to  Mattayom 5 and 6;  Grades 11 and 12 in the west.
I loved it! Students were wonderful and keen to learn for the most part, and I enjoyed teaching.
During this time I met a fellow English teacher, David Lewis, from Wales.
Like me, he is an artist. Unlike me he continued to draw and paint. I had given up on that and concentrated solely on photography. Somehow he persuaded me to buy some paper, charcoal, and conte crayons and we went out sketching around Chiang Rai. David reignited passion in me for art and I soon bought an easel to strap onto the back of the Honda and we were out sketching almost every weekend. Eventually the painting bug crept back in and I bought some oils and began to set up studio in the living room. My style is somewhat post-impressionist with a comic book flavour.  I’m trying to capture the whimsical, upbeat nature of life in Northern Thailand. I’m especially interested in line and colour.
I managed 11 decent oils and dozens of sketches before bad news set in. In mid November of 2015 I got very ill. I thought it was the flu turning into bronchitis. I took anti-biotics for a couple weeks and felt worse and worse. Then the x-rays showed a mass in my lung. After a CT scan, I decided to return to Canada to have this dealt with. After a mad panic move, leaving stuff in David’s care, throwing others out, and donating crap I arrived back in Canada.

I’m staying in Vernon, a sleepy small town in the North Okanagan. People are friendly and I like it here although my wish a return to Chiang Rai. I’ve had to wait 2 months before BC Medical kicks in and I can start testing. I’ve had a lung biopsy  and am waiting till the 14th March for my results. In the meantime, I’ve moved into my sister in law’s basement and setup studio in the garage. My old easel that my brother Terry built years ago has been resurrected from the barn. I’m grateful to be able to stay here. I’ve got more painting on the go here. I’m painting much bigger now!
I’m hoping to return to Thailand as soon as this health issue is resolved. In the meantime, I’m selling my crap left in storage here and painting.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

After a few days riding the bicycle to school, knees, thighs, and butt hurt. Out of breath and tired. Obviously buying the bike was a good choice!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Baan Sii Dam   บ้านดำ  The Black House

Far less  known than Chiang Rai's famous White Temple, is Baan si Dam, or the Black House.  Both are the lifelong works of artists but the two couldn't be more opposite. Although temple-like in its architecture, the Black House, unlike the White Temple isn't an actual temple as there are no monks practicing here.

The Black House is the creation of artist Thawan Duchanee. It is an on going project which was started 35 years ago as a way to present and store his bizzare collection of skins, bones, and sculpture.

The estate is several hectares large with many buildings. The White Temple is plaster, stucco, and stone but the Black House's many structures are wood with a burnt charcoal finish. Some of the more recent additions are kind of strange, organic shaped cement structures though.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail is astonishing. 


There are skulls, bones, skins, bizzare sculptures, it seems like a collection dedicated to death, but is eerily beautiful at the same time.

This would be a more recent addition, what's inside?

The Black House (Baan Dam) is 10km north of Chiang Rai at Moo 13, Tambon Nang Lae, Ban Du. It can be difficult to find and there isn't much English signage.

Follow the Super Highway  north of Chiang Rai and 2km past the Rajabaat University and on the left there will be a purple sign with the name Thawan Duchanee. 100m past that there is a brown wooden sign with 13 on it (for Moo 13), go left here and follow the road until you get to a blue sign.  Turn left here and look for the Black House a little further along on the left.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Spirit Houses

Spirit houses are every where though out Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia.  In Thai they are called san phra phum ศาลพระภูมิ.  Even the tallest skyscrapers in Bangkok will have a spirit house in a prominent place on the lot. They are houses for the many ghosts and spirits which Thai people believe in. These spirits may cause problems if not appeased. Old spirit houses are often left at the sides of the road in front of forests or rubber and banana plantations. Alot of ricefields also will have one.

First thing in the morning finds most Thai homes and businesses lighting incense and putting offerings at the spirit house. Offerings include water, food, fruits, and even toys. The belief in ghosts and spirits in Thailand isn't very Buddhist in nature, but is akin to Christianity absorbing pagen rituals and ideas. Thais have a whole list of ghosts and even name them. Some are benevolent and some are very nasty. The spirit house in the photograph is in the yard of a very old, lanna style wooden house in Chiang Rai.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Rice in Thailand

As a new rice crop is underway now, I thought I'd share what I've learned so far.

Obviously, like every other country in Asia, rice is the diet's main staple. But some of countries in the area actually import rice. With the fifth largest amount of land under rice paddies, Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice. It's main variety for export is fragrant, long grained Jasmine Rice. Over half of Thailand's farmland is devoted to rice production. There are over 9 million hectares or 22 million acres old-school of rice paddies in the country. Thais actually use a measurement called the "rai." There are 6.47 rai in a hectare and 2.4 rai in an acre. Over half the population are employed in the business, and considering Thailand has only a 2% unemployment rate that's a lot of people.

When the 2012-2013 tally comes in, Thailand may have a bumper crop of 38 million metric tonnes.

As a side note, Thailand uses the Western calendar for business but day to day usage is the Buddhist calendar. When discussing classic cars with some students, I mentioned I had a '57 VW. The students all added 543 to see what it was in Buddha time, as it's 2556 here.

Rice has been grown here for 4500 years. But the days of a peasant farmer who owns a small plot, grows enough for his family, and then sells the rest are coming to a halt. It is a big business now and rice is not even being started from seed as much as GMO seedlings are increasingly being used.
Thailand has a long history of producing much higher quality, but low yield, slower growing rice. I'm afraid GMO will be counter productive if quality is to be maintained.

Whether started from seed or seedling, the rice is planted in a small square until large enough to be transplanted. The rest of the field will be filled in by hand, one plant at a time.

Scarecrow to protect young plants before transplant

Ricefield workers planting the rest of the field after the seedlings are tall enough.

A field of newly transplanted rice. At the time of harvest after the rainy season, the plants may reach a height of 1.5 meters or 5 feet. To me, the sight of the countryside, lush with the bright green rice paddies, is akin to a country road back in North America covered in snow.

Thailand Rice Exporters Forum

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm not a very spontaneous photographer at all. I tend to see something I think might make a good image, and pass by it several times before returning with a camera and actually setting up and shooting.

One of the prime tenets of the Zone system of photography, which Ansel Adams was its most famous proponent, is pre-visualization; knowing what the print should look like before even releasing the shutter. While the concept is artistically fantastic, it isn't so wonderful for street , news, or combat photographers. The proponents of the Zone System tend to be landscape artists.

I'm kind of stuck in the middle. I like to pre-visualize my image but I also like that "capture the moment" feel of street photography. It is a constant struggle for me, as I pass by what I consider good material for an image, to get off my butt and shoot it.

One photograph I made, "Chiangrai in Love" is a constant reminder that I may never get a second chance.

I passed by this restaraunt half a dozen times, formed this image in my head, and then returned about a month after first deciding it was worth a shot. The day after I took my photos, the restaraunt was gutted, sign gone and I felt so lucky that I managed to get the photo I wanted.

Whenever I think I should shoot something now, I`m far more apt to move quickly and try to take advantage of the situation.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I was contacted through FineArt America by a Chiang Mai photographer who has far more Thai experience than me, whose work is very good. He suggested whenever he's here or I'm there we should go shooting together. His photos are fantastic so I feel very honoured.

Jerry Nelson Fine Art America

Chiang Mai is much larger than where I am in Chiang Rai, and about a 4 hour car or bus trip away.

Something Jerry said in his email was that we could shoot together "unless I was one of those photographers who liked to shoot alone."

That made me stop and think for a while. I believe two photographers, standing at the same location, pointing their cameras at the same subject, should be able to make two different images. Unless one of those photographers isn't very creative.

An image isn't created by a camera, filtering light through a lens.
An image is created by an artist filtering subject matter through a mind, experience, and creative thought. I learned in both Art School and Technical School, that we master the technique of photography to forget it; it no longer suppresses our vision. Once you know the camera you forget it, like a vacuum cleaner.

As far as sharing photo excursions, I don't mind at all. In fact I've collaborated, shared, and used ideas with a friend, Sheldon, for many years. We have influenced each others' work so much it is hard to know who should get credit for what, but neither of us care. One of my favourite images must be credited 50/50 with him.

Gas Pump 1982

This started out as my idea, but no way was it going to be as effective without the arrogant pose. The suit jacket and scarf were both Sheldon's ideas and the pompous pose could only be pulled off by someone who knew exactly what the final photo needed. A full collaboration.

Jerry also commented on one of my images on Fine Art America, the Chiang Rai clock tower. he mentioned that he had never thought of shooting it that way.

Well I have to say it was somewhat accidental. I pictured in my head the photos of the Colesseum and the Arc de Triomphe with all the lights, but Chiang Rai simply hasn't the traffic of a Rome or Paris. I went home disapointed. I had taken alot of photos but nothing of interest. I experimented a little and discovered I could merge a few, with "lighten" as the Layer Blend option. This photo is a combination of 16 exposures.