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.


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!


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.


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,
Gracious, Honduras

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


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...