Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Emotions That Make Me Human


Photo by: Lyndsie Post/Adolfo seeing video for the first time/Honduras
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada/ 42°19′60.0″N 83°1′60″W

It's easy to look thru glass, to see a filtered world and capture its beauty--a mosaic of culture and pixels coming together to document time. It's not hard at all. But what does make my job so daunting sometimes is finding the right balance--a balance between what's morally right and wrong, east and west, developed and developing--a constant juggling of two worlds colliding at the temple of my soul.

As a photographer, it's hard to be true to the lens, especially when documenting the developing world. A constant barrage of pressure builds upon your success to bring back images that speak to a global audience, images of need and desperation.

So as I sit here tonight, on the the eve of 2009, I reflect not upon what I've done or where I've been, but what I've missed.

Sometimes, when I'm at my best, film speed, frame rate, exposure, and sound dictate my every move. Like a hunter on the prowl, I look for my prey--images that tell the story of a people--a constant stream of light that's willing to dance at the vortex of my lens. And like a selfish bastard, I capture everything I can--savoring every ray of light 'til the sun sinks deep into the ground. Shoot now. Think and feel later.

When you're conditioned to do what I do, sometimes, you have no shame.

But when the moon begins to cast your own shadow on the wall and you're all alone at night, you begin to feel the emotions run through your body like a lost soul. Images of the people you've captured play back in the memory banks of your mind--forever real, forever yours. They're no longer just rays of light.

I can't begin to count the number of times I've cried alone in my hotel room. I can't even remember how I fell asleep some nights. And sometimes, during the long plane ride back, I'd sit there in silence--trying to recall everything I've missed: the emotions that make me human.

So as I sit here tonight, hours before I venture into the abyss of the new year, I reflect upon the triumphs and tragedies of our world, but also, to better myself at what I do, I can't go without reflecting on the trials and tribulations of this lowly photographer--trying desperately to capture that perfect image, of an imperfect society.

Happy new year and God bless.

-Ron

Blogger note: This post was written on 12/31, but was completed and modified on 01/01.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Picture of The Year

Photo by: Ron Sim,csc/ Accra, Ghana
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

Whenever my days are long and the nights just seem even longer, I find peace in knowing that I'm not alone. And as I toss and turn, the world turns with me--rotating ever so softly, like the wind that whispers beyond the comfort of my bedroom walls. Shadows of images I've captured dance in my proverbial mind--reminding me just how fortunate I am.

There was a time in my life when I'd race to film human suffering, to see first hand the tragedies of our world. Young and naive, brave and stupid, my camera was my shield of honor--a symbol of pride and distinction, of heartache and pain. Like a cinematic vulture, I'd swoop in from the comforts of my western life to capture in cold blood the plight of people suffering. The sound of bullets whiz by my ears, followed by the thump of someone falling. My camera rolled, images of our world--measured by frames per second. And through the magic of television, my work was viewed on living room walls, in coffee shops and airports, online and offline--entertaining the world by feeding their appetite for more 'guts and glory. From Afghanistan to Haiti, Cambodia to Sri-Lanka--for a short time in my life, I followed the trail of blood. All, for a weekly pay check.

There's a price to everything in life, it's true.

Today, I no longer film in conflict zones for network television. Although I highly respect the men and women that do, I myself no longer find it exciting. It takes a different kind of person, one stronger than I am--because through the years,the haunting images I've captured has eroded my soul--finding its way to the depths of my heart and forever lingers in my mind. It never escapes from within me.

And forever, I am changed.

This year, the image that lingers most in my mind is of this boy. A constant reminder at just how beautiful our world can be.

"I used to call myself a war photographer. Now, I consider myself an anti-war photographer."
-James Nachtwey

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008: A Year in Pictures

Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

After writing my journal entry entitled Language of Light, I sat there, alone in my hotel room, amazed at my ability to some how conjure up words to express how I felt that day. Sometimes, I spend hours on this blog--reading my own writing, wondering what had inspired me to type in an alphabetical harmony of thoughts--transcribing my every emotions into a symphony of lyrical prose. I'm definately not a writer, nor do I talk like this in person--and please beleive me, I'm not boasting. I'm sorry if it sounds that way; but John, a loyal blog reader had commented the other day on my 'excellent English' and asked 'where did it come from?' My response: Passion.

You see, growing up in a Cambodian house hold, my brother and I were forced to speak our native Cambodian dialect whenever we were home. A smack on the butt or the crack of a chopstick to the arm would signify a violation of my father's Linguistic By Law #1: No English Allowed. And after a series of mis-demeanor's and run-ins with the language police, I was forever changed--English at school by day, Cambodian at home by night. But in reflection, I'm glad they instilled in us such a strict balance of culture in our lives. They made me realize how enriched my life is; full of differences and distinctions, a myriad of east and west together to form the center of who I am today...

Which really doesn't explain why I write, nor does it reveal my desire to sit here at night in front of a glaring computer screen, forever ashamed by a blinking cursor. But what it does tell you, I think, is my undying need to share what I see, to feel the emotions that fulfill my soul, and to pass along an image that God has given me the ability to capture--fleeting moments of beauty that define humanity.

Through my lens, I see the world in a series of snapshots; tranquil and vivid, much like the sensors that absorb light in my camera. And like the medium that I carry, what I capture is destined to be shared--destined to be screened by eyes that appeal to my flavor. It's not a matter of writing or posting, typing or publishing, no, but rather, the mere fact that I'm obligated to give a voice to the people I capture, the silent eyes that stare into my lens.

Lately, I've come to the conclusion that life is not all about finding love or finding success in what you do--nope--it's all about finding you, finding yourself! And when you do find yourself, you eventually find love, and you define success in your own special way.

To me, my writing and my ability to capture images is not a talent or skill that is mine to keep, it's nothing more than an invisible passion that's fueled by inspiration and luck--propelled by my desire to share with those who appreciate and understand the complexity of our world.

Through my travels, 2008 marked a defining year for me. Traversing thru twelve countries, some more than once--and an untrackable number of cities, my life has been blessed by the people and places that define what it means to be human, to be alive.
A sugar-cane farmer in central Honduras.


A boy bathing in a stream in Northern Honduras.


A boy helping his mother wash clothes in Meru, Kenya.


A set of chairs in a small alley way in The Hague, The Netherlands.


A couple hopping on rocks as the sunsets in Mumbai, India.


A little girl bathes with fresh water in Hyderabad, India.


A poor homeless man sleeps on the streets in Hyderabad, India.


A woman and her water Buffalo in a rural village in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

For a change of scenery, I attended my cousin's wedding in Washington DC, USA.


I needed a break, so I vacationed with Vana and her parents at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, USA.


Walking the streets of Universal Studios with Vana and her family in Orlando, Florida, USA.


A young boy studying in La Flecha, Honduras.

A family crossing a bridge in La Flecha, Honduras.


A village scene in Tamale, Ghana.


A group of ladies collecting water in Tamale, Ghana.


A young boy shows off his colorful kettle in Tamale, Ghana.

The busy night traffic in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


Food cooking in an open night market in Bangkok, Thailand.


Construction workers transporting their material in Takeo City, Cambodia.


The sun setting in Mumbai, India.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Image of Peace

Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. But there were only two the king really liked, and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. The other picture has mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. But when the king looked closely, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack between two rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest - in perfect peace.

The king chose the second picture. "Because," explained the king, "peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!!

Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

To the five loyal readers that frequent this blog and to the twenty or so others who either landed here by accident or forcefully lead by pop-up ads--I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Yup, I've been busy lately, preparing for an occasion that's bound to fill my heart with love and joy--and my belly with sugar and lard. That's why I've been slacking when it comes to writing in my virtual journal. But I do promise you, my dear readers, that once this festive season is over and my weight falls back to the proportion of my body, I will again indulge you with pointless prose of life behind a lens.

Until then, I wish you all the best, from my family to yours! Please take the time to cherish each others company during this holiday season. For without each other, we're never the same.

To Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease!
Cheers!!!

-Ron

Sunday, December 21, 2008

School Dayz 'n' No Pay


Photo: 2nd Year in College/E.Coli Outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario, 2000
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

I remember clearly my first day of college, alone and confused, lost in a sea of unforgiving fate. Sitting in the lecture hall, my eyes would wander from row to row, aisle to aisle as I search for rhyme and reason for my chosen path. All I wanted was to shoot, to compose images and tell stories. To challenge myself, and my soul.

But sadly, all I got were lectures, hence being in a lecture hall and not a studio. Theoretic formulas about film and fine-art populated my mental psyche--in one ear, out the other. Textbooks chronicling the lives of dead filmmakers quickly became my most prized possessions--costing more than my hand me-down 88 Olds'. Sitting in the middle of a lecture, I'd dream of movie magic; a marriage of picture and sound flickering in the darkness. But the chronic voice of a professor I chose to vaguely understand kept echoing in my proverbial mind, especially when he said "Don't do it for the money!"

"Don't do it for the money!" he said a second time. And just like that, the room awoke to a rude awakening. "If you're in it for the money, you're in the wrong program. Drop out now!" he continued. Eyes glazed wide open.

For me, it was no surprise. Money was never my motive. All I wanted to do was shoot.

Living off student loans and eating one meal a day, I'd spend my nights in the studio--trying desperately to perfect a craft that had no rules. Sleeping under a desk for two hours, I'd awake the next morning to attend class--dressed in a free Kodak t-shirt I'd worn three days straight. F-stops, shutter, and film speed became my only language. Photography became my only obsession.

As photographers, I'm sure we've all lived this sort of life in one way or another. We know the value of our success--and the prices we pay for our perfection.

For those of us who truly enjoy what we do, money has little value. We seek something much grandeur than that, something that permeates deep within us. It's an image. An image that takes the place of a thousand words, one that we hold closest to our soul--regardless of what anyone says--regardless of what the rewards may be.

Internationally acclaimed photographer Joe McNally said it best:

"We run when others walk. We work when others play. We adjust our schedules to accommodate theirs. We present the flimsiest of reasons to insist that we be allowed to keep doing that which we need to do, something for us that is as necessary as breathing. Paid or not, it is what we do."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Waiting Game

Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W
Journal entry on Tuesday December 9, 2008
While on assignment in Honduras, Central America


I took a walk today, alone--venturing deep into the jungle village of La Fletcha.

As a photographer, there are times when you need personal space; alone for a few minutes to ponder the unknown, to explore without boundaries. It's nothing personal, really, just personal preference. I highly recommend it.

And when you finally do break free, never hold back on how far you go--always look where no one is looking. Find your groove. Feel that pulse flooding through your veins and never look back. Keep going until you find that image. It's closer than you think.

The best images appear when you least expect it.

During my walk, I caught glimpse of a little girl poking her head thru a door. But as soon as I turned to look, within the blink of an eye, she was gone. With the camera rolling and sitting on sticks, I panned right, zoomed in to the doorway--and waited.

You just never know when you'll get lucky...

Video Capture: A little girl graciously standing at her doorway in Northern Honduras.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Language of Light

Video Capture: Mother and daughter cross a bridge at sunset in Honduras
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

Journal entry on Wednesday December 10, 2008
While on assignment in Honduras, Central America

It's 3AM, and I'm awake. I never sleep much when I'm on foreign assignments. It's something I've never gotten used to. The constant haze in my nocturnal dreams tend to keep me awake, wondering what tomorrow may bring when the fog is lifted.

We've been travelling for almost 6 days now--traversing through some of the wildest terrain I've ever seen. Tougher than Afghanistan, rougher than Cambodia. My body aches at the thought of going up another mountain, yet, at the same time, my soul seeks adventure. It's an imbalance I'm willing to live with...for now.

We spend the majority of our day filming, talking to villagers and peering into their lives as they peer into ours. Walking into their homes, I can't help but to feel like a soldier--camera at my side, ready to 'shoot' at a moments notice. When the rooms became too dark to see, our lights illuminate their darkest secrets--casting shadows that dance upon their walls. And when we couldn't hear their every word, microphones absorb the slightest of whispers. By the time we're done, muddy boot prints on the floor mark the path of our existence.

Sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night, I wonder if they'll ever understand why we're here. I wonder if they'll ever understand how their faces can help change the course of humanity, the future of our being. I think they will...

Because every time I press 'Record' I'd look into their eyes. And as they stare into my lens, in a way, they're looking into mine. And without a word being said, we connect. It's a synapse of a moment that I cherish as a photographer--one that I can never explain. But during that brief moment when light travels thru glass, the glisten in their eyes signify an understanding that beholds everything that is true in humanity--the sheer fact that we are all one people, in one world. And through light, we all speak a universal language.

Sometimes, in the darkest hours of the night, I wonder the weirdest things. Tonight is one of those nights.

Tonight, I look back at my career, the images I've captured, the people I've met and the places I've been. And as I sit here on this bed in this hotel room, I smile to myself, alone. Who'd knew twenty five years ago when I recieved my very first camera that I'd be doing what I do--traversing the world, speaking a language of light.

Twenty five years ago tonight, I couldn't speak a word of English. But with my new camera from Fisherprice, I was taught a whole new language.

Happy Birthday, to me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Where Latitude Meets Longitude


Photo: On a mountain road in Northern Honduras.
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

Where do I begin?

Flying home yesterday, my thoughts could have split clouds. It's never easy coming back from an assignment like Honduras. It's the hardest part of any journey.

As a photographer, seeing the world thru a lens is no easy task--personally and spiritually, especially when you've captured images that speak volumes beyond words. Images of a land and its people, forever tranquil, forever resilient.

As we traveled thru the mountain jungles of Honduras, the team and I are literally lost for words; camera shutters clicking filled the audible void in our vehicle. The occasional "wow" would reverberate thru the cabin, followed by more clicking of the shutter. From one village to the next, the landscape constantly changes--with majestic views of hills and cliffs as far as the eye can see. The higher we went, the lower the clouds came. Touching it was almost possible.

When the roads became too harsh to handle, we simply held on to dear life.With one hand gripping the handle bars of our SUV, I cradle the camera on my lap with the other--using my body as an absorber, protecting the glass at all costs. At times, I'd risk life and limb, my head protruded out the window, camera rolling--all in the hopes of capturing life on the move. It's an exhilarating feeling. The wind rushed through my uncombed hair, bugs splattered on my face.

When we got hungry, we ate. When we needed hydration, we drank. When we needed inspiration, all we had to do was open our eyes.

Life in Honduras is about survival. Making less than two dollars a day, the average Honduran knows all too well how to manage what he has and what he doesn't have. His mode of transportation consists of a mule, not to carry himself, but rather the fruits of his labor: corn to the market or to feed his family. And when he's home, his role as a father doesn't end when the sun goes down, it's only the beginning--as he wonders how he'll provide for his family when morning comes. It's a sad existence.

But when you see the smile on his face and hear the laughter of his children, you begin to understand what hope is. It's love, life, family, and the pursuit of happiness. Sometimes, we forget what it's all about. And living life thru a lens, it's extremely difficult to grasp--which is why I've devoted my life to capturing these moments--hoping that others would find it easier to see.

Blogger Note: For the next few days, I will be posting journal entries from my recent foreign assignment in Honduras. I will also have "Oh Sh!t" Moments Vol.2, Honduras Edition. Thanks for reading.
Photos By: Ron
Honduras, Central America, 2008

A view looking up into the mountains from a rural village.


A little boy sits in the doorway enjoying the shade.


A family of six in rural Honduras


Going up a mountain road in Honduras.


A girl collects wood for cooking and heating.


A little boy standing guard.


An image of a boy running home, through drying clothes.


Beautiful.



A boy and his dog.

Monday, December 8, 2008

From Honduras

Its been pretty rough lately. Ive been in big cities and small towns, in and out of villages and high plateaus. The view is breathtaking, the people even more amazing. Im currently writing from a small internet cafe in the town of Gracious, northern Honduras. We{ve spent the last few days filming in rural mountain villages to document the world water crisis.

I{m havnig a hard time with this Spanish keyboard, so please excuse my spelling errors and lack of grammar, as I{m in a hurry to get back to my camera crew.

So far, Ive been well. The accomodations have been OK, just OK. I{ll tell you more when I have time to actually put words into prose. I look forward to it.

In the meantime, I just wanted to let you know that I am well and healthy. Thanks for continually checkinng in.

Will write soon,
Ron
Gracious, Honduras
936PM

Friday, December 5, 2008

Of Beauty and Darkness

Photo: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Current Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras/14°05′00″N 87°13′00″W

When you land in Tegucigalpa, you get the feeling your plane is landing side-ways, literally. In order to reach the runway, the pilot must maneuver thru a gauntlet of mountains that surround the city. By the time your plane touches down, you're surrounded by walls of terrain, mountains and wild life that engulf the city of Tegucigalpa . Trees and shrubbs enclose the tarmac, while vintage planes you'd find in old movies litter sporadically. Small homes and businesses can be seen tucked away in the midst of mountainous terrain. You see, in Honduras, and in many developing countries, airports that were once considered 'outside the city' are slowly being swarmed by an urban sprawl of homes and businesses that support the economic boom in the region.

As you exit the airport, you're greeted by the golden arches, a Dunken Donuts and a Pizza Hut offering 2 for 1 and free delivery. Carefully groomed palm trees decked with dangling Christmas lights lead the way to the nearest shopping center. At first glance, you'd never believe that Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the world. Ninety percent of it is mountainous, and even in good years, most people here barely get by. The average Honduran women gives birth five times in her life and one out of every four children are severely sick or dies before the age of five. One in four. It's a staggering statistic, but its not hard to imagine when you see how poor Hondurans are, and what little access they have to clean water and sanitation. According to Unicef, Honduras is ranked fifth in the world when it comes to infant deaths before the age of five.

Checking into the Clarion hotel, a flood of tourists walk the halls. Christmas trees and empty boxes beautifully wrapped in pink bows decorate the lounge. Samsonite suitcases piled high on carts destined for penthouse suites.

Honduras is a land of beauty and darkness, irony at its greatest.

Tomorrow morning we leave the comforts of the Clarion hotel and venture north to the mountain villages of La Union. I'll keep you posted. Be well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

California Dreamin'

Current Location: San Francisco, California/ 37°39′22″N 122°25′32″W

Sometimes, in the midst of flight, I close my eyes, dream, and within hours I'm in a whole new world--wondering if what I'm seeing is a mere fragment of my imagination. Being in America, meant being home--no matter where I'm at or what state I'm in. It means coming down. I'd always prefer being up. Up between the clouds, guided by air, propelled by the sheer will to dream. Life would be a lot easier if I stayed up.

Here in San Francisco, I'd walk the streets at night--my mind constantly focused on my next destination: Honduras. With every shop I pass, my nocturnal memory clicks in--a drug store would remind me of malaria pills, a travel agency equates to my flights. Weaving thru traffic, looking for adventure, I'd lose myself in the crowd. A school of girls with fruit colored drinks talk about plastic surgery and Christmas gifts. I'd see their lips move, look at their perfect lives and expensive jewelry. As I walk pass, I'd look down and see nothing but dirt on my boots from the last country I was at.

Walking thru a Walmart, Id' get lost. Too many aisles, too many choices. And when it was time to take my pick of which granola bar to bring, I'd close my eyes and pick in blindness. I've had them all and they're starting to all taste the same. Although, 'sweet and salty nuts' kinda caught my attention.

Tonight is my last night in San Francisco. My flight departs at midnight, leaving behind the glitz and glamor of California--and out to seek the adventures of being in a third world. Finally, some real emotions.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Departures

Photo by: Bruce Buursma/Boarding Antrak Air/Ghana 2008
Current Location: 35,000 ft/USA

Bags packed. Equipment checked and re-checked. Today, the journey begins--yet again. Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fotog Fashion 101

Photo by: Bruce Buursma
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

OK... so maybe I'll never grace the pages of GQ or strut on the cat-walks of Paris or Milan, but at least by the time I trade-in my Sony for a walking cane I'll have mastered the art of Fotog Fashionilla. Sure there's a stampede of fashion critics who would highly disagree with my self proclaimed trend setting skills, but one thing I've learned from all my years of shooting is that no one really cares about the way you look. One can be sporting a pair of yellow sweat pants with a matching Michael Jackson tee shirt without causing the slightest of chatter (attempt at your own risk). So with that being said, I now proclaim myself as the official Fotog Fashion Guru! Thank you.

Lesson #1: The Shirt

Yup, it's all in the shirt. What you decide to wear below the waist is secondary to anything else above it. Patterns, designs, logos or slogans really doesn't matter, especially when you're in the field. Got an old Hawaiian shirt you've been hiding in the closet? What about your old Backstreet Boys t-shirt from 1999, or that colorful one you bought in Toronto during Pride week? Oh I know, remember that psychedelic one you wore in the 60's? Right on, dude!

Most times, depending on the geographical locale that you're in, the natives either can't read, or can't tell the difference between Jerry Springer or Mr. Bean!

But regardless of what it says or who it shamelessly depicts, your shirt of choice must be comfortable, breathable, and down right durable. My top pick is the Columbia Titanium series. Close to fifty bucks a pop, these shirts are specially tailored for the outdoor enthusiast. Equipped with Omni-Dry technology, it's capable of repelling moisture, rain, and heat. Yup, heat! Approved by the American Skin Cancer Foundation, it offers a UPF 30 protection--making it almost the equivalent to wearing an extra layer of sun screen. Combine that with its ability to wick off body moisture--this shirt is a must have for all world travellers. And that's not all, it even has a Lifetime Manufacturer's Warranty! Do any of your shirts offer this kind of quality assurance? Probably not. I never leave home without the 4 of these that I own--and it's the only shirt I wear when I'm shooting in remote locations.

And just for the record Kyle, it does not come in plaid...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Under Attack

Photo: Associate Press
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

"Many hotel working staff are killed and it seems in one of the hotel the swimming pool is almost like a graveyard."
-Email reply from a friend in Mumbai, just blocks away.

This really hits home. Just six months ago on this day, I stayed at the Taj Hotel while on foreign assignment in India. Today, it was attacked by a group of terrorists that threaten the well being and safety of thousands of foreign nationals and local Indians alike. It's a constant reminder at just how quickly the world can change--all it takes is a gust of wind, the pull of a trigger, the blink of an eye.

"It is a sad and shocking situation and so far many guests in these hotels are under hostage. Army and security groups are trying hard to negotiate before barging in as there are chances the hostages will be killed rampantly."

Within me, I've got this strange and eery feeling just knowing that I was there not too long ago. And sometimes, while reading news of the destinations I've been to, I envision myself covering those events--envying the photographers on the ground, wishing I was there, too.

With the camera on my shoulder, I'd hit the ground running, camera rolling, locked and loaded. There's nothing like that feeling. As a news photographer you run towards what everyone else is running from--thinking some how that the camera on your shoulder will protect you, not really caring if it will or not. Shots fired, shots framed. Sometimes, the images frame themselves. Scene after scene, the action moves through you like a funnel, capturing as much as you can, as fast as you can. All you can do is breathe, keep moving, breathe, keep your head low, breathe, keep moving, stay alive.

I miss those times. I miss the adrenaline. I miss the action. But then, reality kicks in. You feel your mothers pain as she sits in her living room watching every second unfold, knowing that her son is in the midst of it all. Your heart wrenches when your cell phone flashes the word "HOME" and you can't pick up. It might be the last chance you'll hear her voice, but if you answer, it might be the last thing you do while living. You begin to understand what it's like to be a parent, what it's like to worry. And that's why my days of slinging a lens amidst chaos are over--for now at least.

"Thank you for your prayers. We surely need them for us and every human being right now in places where terrorists are engaged."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Oh SH!T" Moments - Vol.1

Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

Oh come' on, you know exactly what I'm talkin about! It's those instances in your life when you wish you'd worn clean underwear, times when you couldn't tell if the light ahead of you is a holy path or a flying saucer, when the only thing you can do is sit and watch, breathe in, breathe out.

Moments when you said, "Oh Sh!t."

Consider the following:

In India, there's no such thing as driving on the wrong side of the road, it's simply called 'passing.' And if you think the Autobahn is cool, try India's Highway of Death! This moment deserves an "Oh Sh!t"


Before this cow was murdered for sacrificial purposes, a man with a machete chops off each leg, one at a time before stabbing a hole in its lung and cutting off its head. If you look closely at the rear-right leg, you can see where flesh meets metal. This moment in northern Cambodia qualifies as an "Oh Sh!t" moment.


Setting up a sunrise shot on top of a snake and spider infested mountain in the jungles of Honduras at 4am--at an elevation of 3000ft. This moment made me say "Oh Sh!t

Straddling the median barrier of a busy road in India, I hang on to dear life as highway traffic whiz by--only inches apart. Yup, you guessed it, this is 100% an "Oh Sh!t" moment.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the mens room...

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Balancing Act

Photo by: Ron/ On Top Of The World Looking For Signal/ Honduras/ 2008
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

Lately, I've spent more time critiquing my own words than actually writing them. As a photographer, I spend much of my time behind a lens, procuring rays of light by day, and drafting journals by night. It's a hobby I'd like to continue doing, but sometimes, it's hard. I guess it's a constant struggle between choosing what to write about and finding the time to transcribe the backlog of stories floating freely in my mind. And other times, it's deciphering what's right and what's wrong--picking and choosing content that I'm comfortable sharing.

You see, for years I've been trying to find a balance in my life, separating myself from the world I was filming and the environment I actually live in. When you travel and see the world as much as I do, it's a never ending journey, and sometimes, I find myself deeply involved in the topics I'm covering. Finding that separation between my subject matters and my personal life is a daunting task. This year, however, I've come to the conclusion that it's literally impossible. And I'm glad.

I've been photographing the world for almost ten years now, and have covered some of the worst situations on earth: Cambodia, Afghanistan, Laos, Kenya, and lately, Ghana. I've seen more suffering than I can count, more horror and hatred than I can remember, yet I'm still surprised by what I discover in the far reaches of our planet. In the midst of abject poverty and despair, war and suffering, moments that define the power of the human spirit ultimately prevails--snapshots of hope, humanity, and the sheer will to survive encapsulate my lens. I've come to see how these moments enrich my life, past and present, personal and professional. It's all inter-connected. Life isn't all about successes and failure, triumph and tragedy, there's more to it than that. It's about finding your place, acceptance for who you are, and believing in a better tomorrow.

Working overseas, traversing front lines and witnessing the world unfold before me is my dream come true. But never did I imagine myself feeling the way I feel, forever gifted by my experiences, forever grateful for the moments I've captured. And with that, I am balanced.

Photo Above: Taken during my first trip to Honduras earlier this year, a pheasent villager hikes to the top of a mountain to find signal for his phone. Goes to show how connected we all are--rich or poor.
(7 days to departure).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Inner Journey, Outer World

Photo by: Ron/ Sacrificing a Cow/ Northern Cambodia/ 2008
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

"People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home."
-Dagobert D. Runes

Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am. The stress of everyday life grinds at your every breath-- and every step you take feels like an eternity in the making. As of late, I've slowly gotten used to this. The comfort of a heated office and three warm meals a day has brought me back to enjoying life in luxury. Just four weeks ago I was living off granola bars and tuna--fear and loathing in a land forgotten by the civilized world. Four weeks seem so long ago...

So today, while making plans for my next foreign assignment, for a brief moment in my life, I had forgotten what it was like to travel, to feel the air caress my face with absolute truth and clarity of what the outside world is really like. For a brief moment, I felt a bit tired and jaded about travelling again. You see, when you're on the road for so long the spark of newness fades, and travel can feel like a long, pointless slog, a detour from loved ones, and from life.

I said, 'for a brief moment.'

Then I started thinking back on all the people I've met, the children I've befriended and the handshakes I've cherished. Some memories made me laugh, some made me wince.

But all of them rang true, and reminded me of why I travel, and why I shoot: to learn and grow, to challenge myself, stretch my limits and foster an appreciation of both the world at large and the office chair waiting for me back home.

So, here I go again. This time I'll be travelling west to San Francisco, California--and from there, I head south to the mountain rain forests of Honduras, Latin America.

The journey continues...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Power of Images

Photo by: Ron/ Accra, Ghana
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

There was a time in my life when I actually clung to a routine. Lunch at noon, dinner at six. Months would pass, and before you know it, two years had gone by. Not knowing where my life was headed, I fell into a groove, inching ever so close to being non existent within my circle of friends. By the time I was twenty two, my life evolved around television. I had a job, a salary. I was being paid to write, shoot, edit, and produce tv content for millions to watch. The more television I made, the more I wanted to keep making it--from used car commercials to daily news coverage, there was nothing I wouldn't shoot.

It wasn't until my first trip overseas that I started to appreciate the power of photography and moving images. The way it can tell a story, convey emotions, and transcribe our world unlike any other medium available, caught me in rapture. Upon my return to Canada, I realized the power of my abilities--a super power, much like that of Dr. King Jr or Gandhi, just not in the same realms.

You see, within a simple sequence of sounds and images, I can make you laugh, cry, feel emotions beyond your pallet of symptoms, and at the same time, change the way you think. The way you live. And the way you see the world. That's the power of media. You may not want to admit it, but believe me, it's true. Think about it. Think of how much the media effects your life.

That's why, when I'm with the camera, I can feel the air hum. Neutrons and protons collide about, never ending. I can feel them move through me. No barriers between light and magic, just one frame after another. It's a feeling I can't describe. And like all photographers, I don't think it ever will be--you'll just have to see it in our images.

To all who capture life through a lens, cheers!

UPDATE:
I'm Currently awaiting a new assignment. Should know by tomorrow where my travels will take me next. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dubya Dubya Dubya Dot.

Wow, it's been a long time coming since Al Gore twisted a series of cables and accidentally invented what we know today as the World-Wide-Web. In an era when pre-schoolers have myspaces and geezers have viagra.com, we no longer have the need for human to human communication; instead, we're now conditioned to to live in a virtual world, literally. Who'd ever thought we could catch reruns of Pee Wee Hermans' Playhouse on a computer 20 years after his arrest? Shit, I never thought so. The guy freaks me out to this day! Ah well, if ya can't beat'em, join 'em.

Here's my contribution to pollute the virtual world.
www.sarornsim.com
Special thanks to my good friend, Christian for all his help.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Abducted From The Frontlines

Photo: Courtesy of CBC
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W


As a world traveler, I never like to believe that life is as precarious and unpredictable as it may be. Fate or destiny, whatever you call it--to me, there's a plan. But after reading the headlines today, I am reminded at just how quickly plans can change. Our lives are always changing; sometimes, it happens overnight. All it takes is the blink of an eye, the pull of a trigger--or a simple hello to someone you've never met.

'CANADIAN REPORTER RELEASED IN KABUL'

I was twenty one when I first started at CTV News in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. I was offered the job after returning from a two month assignment filming in Southeast Asia for my final thesis. Not knowing how I was going to start repaying my student loans, I took the job two months before graduation. On March 13, I left behind the metropolis of Toronto and headed for the rolling plains of western Canada. I received my degree by way of a Fed-Ex envelope, folded and crumpled.

Alone and deprived of a regular life, I found refuge in my work. From one shoot to the next, one chaotic deadline after another. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see. Television was my life. And that's when I met Mellissa Fung.

I was working for CTV, a private Canadian broadcaster. CBC was our competition, and Mellissa was their up and coming reporter. Two very different broadcasters with variable angles to the stories we covered. But beyond the media realm, in many ways, we were very much alike--fresh out of college, worked in Toronto, in debt, and new to the television world. There was no place we wouldn't go. Sure we were enemies during ratings season, but when the On Air lights went off, the team work and friendship we shared was unlike any other. Regardless of the logo on our shirts, we were family. And for that, I am thankful.

'SAFE AFTER ABDUCTION'

I learnt of her abduction on the same day she was released.

Understanding the grave nature of her situation, the Canadian media agreed to a voluntary blackout of the story--never leaking it to the public. The media's blackout of her ordeal saved her life. It allowed negotiators to talk freely without having the added pressure of an international media buzz. An industry usually divided by rank and ratings came together to save one of thier own.

Welcome home, Mellissa!

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family in Saskatchewan.
Read the full story

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Got Rice?


Ron purchasing a deep fried owl from a local street vendor in Tamale, Ghana
Photo by: Bruce Buursma- International Aid
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W

It has only been two weeks since my return from Africa and already I'm itching to go back in the field. Hurdling across oceans, from one wild destination to the next, one village to another. I'm starting to think 'motion' is what keeps me alive. That...and the rice.

I blame it on all the rice I eat. Every where I go I find rice. From India to Japan, Honduras to Cambodia, rice is the staple of the human diet. There's rice cakes, rice balls, rice cereal, rice soup, rice pudding, rice wine and even rice-cream and rice-sickles. Shit. I don't think I've ever been to a country that doesn't have rice. And if I were to ever land in such a sordid and inhumane environment, I think I'd die and go to hell (heck I'd already be there)!

One question I constantly get is "do you eat what the locals eat?...Like all that gross stuff?" Heck yeah! As long as there's rice with it, I'll eat it! Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the food I encounter is far from bizarre. It's delicious!

My favorite as of late: Deep fried fowl with a splash of African dirt (for crunchiness). With rice, of course.

Bon App├ętit!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Funny eh?


Photo by: Bruce Buursma- International Aid
Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43°37′25.0″N 84°13′45.7″W


When shooting in the field, anything can go wrong. You just never know. Luckily for me, I have a team of qualified video guru's to fine tune and inspect every intricate detail of my equipment. But no matter how many times they super-glue a piece together or make sure something doesn't easily break off--I, being the experienced shooter that friends and colleagues adore me to be, some how find myself in creative and uncalled for moments that defy their every wish.

Example number 1: during my trip to South East Asia earlier this year, I came back with four broken filters, each costing over $300. My excuse: butter fingers in hot weather. Example number 2: While in India, the situation called for impromptu run-ins with a certain 'sacred' water buffalo--the result, a shattered microphone holder. The cost to fix that would've been a mere $30 had I given it to an engineer, but being the handyman that I'm not, I tried fixing it myself. Sadly, the final cost to rehabilitate my Sony quickly jumped to $500 and earning it a trip back to its motherland. Sushi anyone? My excuse: Inflation and economic turmoil.

OK, so drilling that hole into the camera was a bad, bad idea. But cut me some slack, will ya? Being a field photog isn't as easy as it looks. Sure I get to see new places and meet interesting people, but think of all the delicacies I respectfully 'have to' savor, the odors I must inhale, and of course, the things I run into. From on coming traffic to stampedes of curious children, my camera constantly acts as my shield. It's inevitable that somethings gotta' break!

As illustrated in the photo above, I tend to attract on-lookers whenever I try repair something. Come'on, it ain't that funny...is it?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Being True To The Lens


Photo by: Bruce Buursma- International Aid
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

Through my travels, my life has changed. The places I visit, the people I meet, and the history that I've learnt has molded me to become the person that I am today. I've come to the conclusion that life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. No. It's more than that. But rather, in it's purest form--life is a tapestry of events that culminate into an exquisite and sublime plan--orchestrating a symphony of fate and destiny.

And because of that, I have hope.

It has been a week since my safe return home, yet, much like my partner Bruce from International Aid, a piece of my heart remains with the people of Ghana. It's a strange feeling to be sitting here, putting thoughts into prose, reminiscing about a journey that I've captured and stored both digitally and mentally. The heat, smell, dust and dirt are miles away, but the images of the people, their smiles and laughter still linger in my mind. And for that, I am grateful.

You see, through the years, I've taught myself by trial and error how to capture the world, exposing all that is real and true to the story. I used to be proud of my ability to capture images of pain and suffering, moments caught in time depicting poverty and need. I used to wear my camera like a badge of honour--thinking that it would shield me from any guilt I'd feel afterwards for taking pictures of those in need. Then, when I get back and watch what I've filmed, reality kicks in, and the human in me prevails. As a result, the guilt of capturing sadness and sorrow, of finding beauty in suffering--is enough to haunt me in my sleep. I no longer felt human.

During my time in Ghana, I made a solemn vow to myself that I would view Africa in a different light, exposing all that is beautiful by capturing what some fail to see--the beauty of its people. What I didn't want were the iconic shots of dying children, flies covering their faces. The world has already seen that many times over, and I no longer find beauty in suffering; nor do I think it should be the sole reason for people to react and help. As humans, it's our obligation to do so regardless. (A great story from D2)

Sure there were times when capturing the plight of people suffering was unavoidable, but it was captured from afar, utilizing all my glass to frame the shot. I beleive in capturing a scene with respect--rather than shoving a camera in one's face. Yet, when the scene was too cruel to capture, my camera remained off. I had to keep true to my promise.

Shot after shot, my images portrayed a country on the verge of prosperity. A montage of smiling faces stream through my lens as I capture light and sound. The poverty is undoubtedly visible, but our focus was on their 'progress, not poverty.'

As captivators of light, we hold the power to tell a story unlike any other. But by allowing our audience to dictate what we capture, we are no longer doing it for the good of all, but more so, for the satisfaction of man.

Sorry 'Save The Children,' you won't be finding any of my shots useful any time soon.