Well, after about 12 years, I’m back in Bangkok. The first and last time was in 2003 when on assignment for National Geographic for a story about the plight of Thai elephants. No elephants this trip, at least unless I see one on the streets working the tourists for tips.
This time I’m here for just a week or so to conduct a workshop with two colleagues, Gavin Gough and Jack Kurtz, two photojournalists who live and work out of “The Big Mango,” as Jack lovingly referred to Bangkok last night. We shared dinner with the Bangkok Camera Club, a truly international group of men and women who love photography and have gathered under the guidance of Gavin and Jack to explore picture making. I had the pleasure of sharing some work with them and talking a bit about my 51 years of practicing and enjoying the pursuit of image making. Tonight I will start, along with Gavin and Jack, our workshop composed of 14 students some of whom were part of the dinner last night as well as some others I’ll have the pleasure of meeting this evening.
I met with Gavin and Jack yesterday in the alcove of my charming boutique hotel Ariyasomvilla in central Bangkok. I don’t think I’ve ever come to conduct a workshop that has been so well organized as this one, with Gavin and Jack having done such a great job resourcing story possibilities for the attendees. In a workshop of this brevity (typical, really, of many workshops of a week in length but actually a bit less in pure shooting time) they have eliminated the need for participants to wast valuable time searching for story ideas. Of course, Bangkok teems with imagery, almost everywhere one glances there are pictures. But stories with a theme is what we’re seeking this week and Gavin and Jack have produced a lengthy menu of possibilities from which the group may select. Not all the possible themes will allow more than one photographer, while some might be broad enough to allow several to pursue the same subject. It’s going to be interesting to see in which directions our photographers will go. Hopefully some will step out of what might be their comfort zone and take on something that might not fall into their familiar approach to picture making.
A real plus to our workshop is that on Sunday and Monday afternoon people from the local Leica dealership are going to set up an exhibition stand and have on loan a Leica M (240)–I treasure mine, enjoy the heft of the body and actually love the feel and sound of the shutter–plus a Leica MP, a Leica X, and some other items. The marketing director of Leica Thailand will appear and a member of the Leica staff will be on hand. That’s a real opportunity for workshop attendees to explore some of the best of what’s out there.
All in all, I look for a great week of meeting new people in a fascinating part of the world and seeing the work that pours fourth as we go out together to try to see better and cleaner. With each passing day although we will make mistakes we’ll learn from them and with work and determination we’ll have some successes and some of our mistakes will be interesting. What’s quite important are what I consider interesting failures, when something’s connecting in one’s vision and one needs to press on until it all comes together.
We won’t worry about being the best there is at the end of the workshop. Our pursuit will be to be a little bit better on a given day than we were the day before. It might not always prove true but with work and maybe some passion–and I can’t give anybody passion, that has to come from within–we will gain ground and when we do, it’s a pretty good feeling.