Sometimes life gives us lemons. If we’re smart, we make lemonade, or some other cliche bullshit like that. If we’re idiots we sit around sucking the lemons, wondering why the hell they taste so sour.
So maybe I’m a bit of a lemon-sucking idiot.
2010 has been a rough year for me in many ways. It didn’t start out that way, or at least not if you’re a Westerner like myself and you figure the beginning of the year starts on the morning of January 1st. From that point of view it started off with a full work schedule, which translates into pockets with money in them, a spark of creativity itching inside me which was externalizing itself through great images and growing ideas, new challenges brought on by my switch from digital photography to film, a relaxing trip to the Mekhong Delta and several weeks of time shooting photos in southern and central Vietnam looming on the horizon, a social life which had become vibrant and satisfying, and a personal relationship with a young woman that was promising to become the most significant in my life so far.
The several weeks of shooting photos in southern and central Vietnam materialized, a period of time which I spent with people near and dear to me, both from Vietnam and also childhood friends that came to visit. I worked my ass off, shot wads of film, and charged back into Saigon with a smile on my face and a determination to continue full-throttle throughout the 36th year of my life.
On my trip I’d been to the Central Highlands, the coastal port city of Danang, the old royal capitol Hue, the ancient town of Hoi An, and had discovered an area new to me, the city of Quy Nhon and the surrounding areas in Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces, which was to become my favorite place so far in Vietnam.
And so began the Vietnamese reckoning of the New Year. Tet holiday came and went, the moon continued it’s course around our planet, our planet continued it’s course around our Sun, the cosmic dice were rolled and my new set of luck came into force.
Dear God, why did my luck for this year have to suck so bad? Or should I say “so far”?
Where do I begin describing the bullshit? Or, rather, how do I describe the bullshit without sounding whiny, depressed, self-pitying? Because I’m not any of those things. Some of the difficulties I’ve had this year most definitely stem from personal decisions – the main one being my decision to switch to shooting strictly film. I believe strongly that people have to own their own decisions, and we don’t deserve the luxury of feeling bad for ourselves when the things we choose work out contrary to our desires. I’m not moping, and I have more things to be thankful for than to be upset about.
But coming home to a work schedule of 9, or 12 hours a week wasn’t my fault at all, and definitely wasn’t expected. Add to that the fact that not only did the only lab in town I know double their prices for processing slide film immediately after I arrived, they also gave me back my film with fingerprints, scratches and chemical residue on them. And that’s the color work – we won’t even get into how they abused the black and white film I gave them.
They also gave me hundreds of dollars worth of scans that were great for nothing more than lining the inside of a garbage pail.
I couldn’t use the work I had, I was no longer willing to give my money to a “businessman” who treated my film like shit and for other reasons I won’t get into here had proved to me that he was slimy, backhanded and dishonest, and even if I did want to deal with the guy, I was broke and had no immediate prospects to improve that situation.
Except for a short weekend trip with my buddy Adam to Tay Ninh province, and a surprise trip to Da Lat and back up to Hoi An and Quy Nhon with an old friend from back home that came to visit, my explorations and creativity ground to a halt.
And it seemed like everything else was determined to take a great big pause as well. I have to be thankful for my girlfriend, both for being there for me through that period, and for remaining cheerful and supportive when it must have been somewhat boring and frustrating to see what I was going through.
No work – no play – no creative spark. Even the last couple of blog posts I made sucked. “I went here – I went there – I took pictures of this…” Uninspired drivel… Bewildered, I felt the things that make me be myself dropping to the wayside, one by one. I think my interest in photography disappeared almost as a defensive reflex, a way to stop myself from getting depressed about it. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t shooting if it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. But it wasn’t just that – my interest in music started to fade, my interest in exploring the world around me began to disappear, my curiosity started to flag, and I began to lose interest in even the little bit of work I did still have going.
A short trip to Singapore to get a new visa and visit a friend happened, and I bought *some* of the chemicals I would need to start doing some black and white developing at home, intending on getting back to shooting, only to discover on my return to Saigon that the shop here that used to sell the other chems I needed had recently stopped sourcing them. I felt like crawling into a hole and shutting out the light.
I was starting to lose myself. I was starting to give up.
I saw depression, weight gain, and a lagging professional life looming ahead. Sitting here at my computer one day I came to the realization that the more passive I became about how things were going, the worse they were going to get. Opportunities weren’t going to create themselves for me, I was going to have to make some changes, start making calls to people, start looking for things to do, and make an effort to reconnect myself. I needed a swift kick in the ass, and nobody was going to give it to me but myself.
So up my rear my own boot went, and things have started happening again. My work life is still heaving back and forth in fits, I don’t know from one week to the next how much work I’m going to have, or what kind of work it’s going to be. But the amazing thing about looking for opportunities is that sometimes you find them. Without putting too fine a point on it, I have some things coming up which look promising, and enough happening in the meantime to keep me on my feet. I still don’t have a digital camera to go out and shoot cheaply and freely with, and I’m still loathe to spend what little money I do have at the crappy excuse for a film lab I have available here. That being said, I still have over 20 rolls of medium format Fuji Velvia, 15 rolls of Ilford 50 speed black and white, a small assortment of 35mm film, and a trip planned to the southern Annamite mountains in northeastern Cambodia that should provide more than enough opportunities to shoot some amazing new material.
In the meantime I’ve borrowed a friend’s scanner for a couple of weeks (thanks Nam!) to scan all the film I shot at the beginning of the year, and I’m going to start making more posts, themed by subjects and locations. Also, I used to have a website dedicated to my photography from Laos, but due to the fact that I would rather keep all my work in one location, and also because the site has generated very little besides spam and people sending me messages telling me how overjoyed I should be that they’re “willing” to use my work and “give me credit” as long as I give it to them for free, I decided to let my subscription go out of date and the site has been taken down.
Some of the best work I’ve ever done was posted on that site, and since it’s not being used anywhere now, I’m going to start adding that stuff to this site as well. Who cares if it’s almost 2 years old? I want to show it off.
And so on that note, I leave you with one of my favorite landscape photos, taken in the Si Phan Don area of Champassak Province in Southern Laos. I’ve been scanning like mad, and have lots to add. Here’s to getting back to living life on MY terms once again.