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!

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, 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.
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.


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.


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 it?