Thursday, December 23, 2010

The World in 365

Photo: Teenie and Weenie in Shanghai, China
With fellow photographer Dan Denardo

2010 was a record year for me as I traveled to 19 countries within a 12 month period. Here's a peak at some of the places I've gone to, what I saw and the friendships I've made.

To see the full album, please follow the link:
The World in 365

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Photo: Breakfast in Huzhou, China

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sole to Soul

Photo: Shoe on wire

When I was younger my mom and I would spend hours at the local discount department store--browsing and trying new and amazing products. We were new immigrants to Canada at the time--with very little money to spend, so needless to say, we spent more time trying than buying.

One day, she had bought me a pair of shoes--blue with purple stripes and orange text that read "TRAXX" on them. They were ugly, I recalled. But having just arrived in Canada, I had very little say as to what was nice and what wasn't. I was just happy to have shoes--but even though I was only five at the time and having no grasp of Canadian culture, I still had the innate human instincts to know that it was "damn hideous." Other kids made fun of me at school whenever I wore them. They'd call me names, push me off the jungle gym, pinched and poked--and for some strange reason, this kid named Chuck took my shoes one day and threw them in the garbage bin. I went home without my shoes that night--only to be yelled at by mom. It wasn't until the next morning when the custodian found it and returned them to my class.

It got to a point when my shoes became my demise. They were two sizes bigger than my feet. When the teacher turned off the lights, the orange text glowed in the dark--and when I ran, sometimes I'd trip, plunging my face--first to the ground. My shoes flew off my feet whenever that happened. Some nights, I'd come home crying, sniffling like a kid without Kleenex, snot running down my nose. I'd walk through the house looking for a place to hide my shoes--and had I known how to use a lighter at the time, I probably would've burnt them. My mom would comfort and console me, promising a new pair as soon as I'd grow out of the one's I had.

On some days, I'd sit on the bench at recess looking out at all the other kids--wishing I'd be in their shoes. Nike's and Reeboks would flood my nocturnal dreams. But when I asked my mom for those brands, she'd turn to me and look deep into my eyes, held me tight and said, "It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you wear, son, as long as it gets you there."

Sometimes, when I'm in the midst of travel, tired and drained of emotions--held together only by hope, I'd think back to those days when I was "that boy with the ugly shoes." In retrospect, I'd come to realize that no matter the distance, it is not the sole that carries me forward--but the SOUL from within that compels me to aim higher, push harder, and go further. And sometimes, when the world just seems unbearable, when all is restless and all is devoid of the fabric that sustains humanity, I just have to look deeper, think clearer to find the stitches to mend and weave back together the very essence of all that is beautiful in our world.

Lately, I've been asked to speak to local youth groups, schools and organizations--and every time I'm up there, I can't help but to look at all the little shoes before me. It comforts me--because when all is said and done, I'm just a simple man with simple ideas, common goals and common needs. It is that common thread that binds us all. And no matter the color, no matter the shape, size, creator or creed--it is the goal at hand--the destination at target that should only matter. Sometimes, as humans, we seldom look beyond the materialistic things that limit us from achieving our goal. We let it define us, control and mentally shape the outcome of dreams--and when one is awake, it is the materialistic notion that dictates why we fail or why we succeed.

It took me two years to grow out of those shoes--and by 2nd grade, I got used to them. After a while, I naturally grew into them, I ran faster, kicked harder, and eventually, the glow in the dark orange text stopped glowing and lost its luster. I simply adapted to what I had.

"It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you wear, son, as long as it gets you there."

Twenty five years later--on the cusp of turning thirty and having traveled to over 40 countries--through wars, devastation, heartache and pain, trials and tribulations, I've never forgotten those words. And to this day, I'm thankful she only paid $5.99 for those shoes.

*Currently filming in Shanghai, China. Due to blogging bans in China, a special thanks to my buddy Chris for posting this on my behalf from North America.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Life is Good

Photo: A little boy enjoying his bowl of noodles--down to the very last drop

I was in my home town of Windsor, Ontario this weekend to visit my parents--and like most weekends at home, I like to take the time to visit our local temple. While talking to friends and local elders, I couldn't help but to notice a little boy enjoying his bowl of noodles. In his own little corner, he confined himself to his bowl--slurping, twirling, spinning and chewing to his heart's content. His use of the chop-stick could make fools out of Iron Chef's. And with every gulp of broth and succulent string of noodle--he finished off with an audible "aaaahhhhh" followed with a smile to showcase his remaining two-front teeth.

Life is definitely good--down to the very last drop.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shades of Thanks

Photo: City Soleil, Haiti. Post Earthquake--02. 2010

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Photo: The streets and canals of Amsterdam at midnight.

"How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb?


One to change the bulb, and forty-nine to say, "I could have done that!"
- Anonymous

Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In The Eyes of a Child

Photo: A boy astonished by the number of pigeons in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. ~Walt Streightiff

Monday, September 20, 2010

Press of a Button

Photo: A lone man sits underneath a tree in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

"I think a photography class should be a requirement in all educational programs because it makes you see the world rather than just look at it." -Ansel Adams

A man once told me that by becoming a photographer, I'd be throwing my life away. He looked into my eyes, put his hands on my shoulders and said it straight to my face--point blank. He called me a fool, a lost--unguided soul. "Anyone can press a button," he said. I was in eighth grade at the time.

I wish he'd see me now--throwing my life away head first--pressing buttons for a living-while getting paid to do it.

I don't know why I'm telling you this, but today, this was all I could think about. I guess, when you're stressed and down to your very last drop of sanity, you find ways to dig deep into the depths of your soul--looking for something to hang onto.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter--does it? It doesn't matter who you've proven wrong or how many hurdles you had to jump through to get to where you are. I guess, all that really matters is that you're there, right?

Sometimes, I often wonder if all I do is "press a button--" because I'm sure there are many that believe just that.

And the sad part'll never change'em.

Note: Shot above was taken while sitting in the back of a moving pick-up truck going 30 miles per hour...just sayin' :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Train of Moods

Photo: Prague, Czech Republic, 2010

"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses--which paint the world their own hue--and each shows us only what lies in its own focus."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Blogger Note: I've been busy writing, traveling (domestic only), and working on the Haiti feature that will be launched very soon. Thank you for your continued support. I hope this finds you and your family well. Blessings.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lost For Words. Blinded By Hope. Determined At Will.

Photo by Dan Denardo
Location: Port Au Prince, Haiti

It has been two weeks now since my return, and no matter how much I try, every day becomes harder and harder to assimilate back to normal life. I've been relatively quiet lately, hiding from a world of unforgiven truths--twisting and turning in an ever changing light. One thing I've learned from my recent trip to Haiti is that reality hurts--the truth hurts--and it cuts deep into every fiber of my soul.

But like a stubborn fool, I am neither torn nor ruptured--but more so, I am determined--inspired to bring to light what I've seen, bent on transcribing emotions into written prose. So with hope and a prayer, I write.

Sometimes, when dreams become too real, I awake to find myself deep in thought, lost and alone in a sea of darkness as I try to find words to best describe how I feel. Emotions run rampant, and sometimes, it's hard to decipher what is real and what isn't--am I dreaming or is it a fragment of my imagination? How do I describe what I have seen?

I am lost for words, blinded by hope, determined at will.

Sometimes, I just don't know anymore...

Blogger Note:

In the next few days and weeks I will be revealing a website that tells the "true story of HOPE in Haiti." A photo essay and an extensive reportage of my recent trip with fellow photographer and close friend, Dan.

I apologize for the lack of posts as of late, but between work and catching up on normal life and writing for this feature, sometimes, it really does become extremely hard to decipher what is real and what isn't. Is it really July already? I also have to stop writing 2009.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Without A Camera

Photo by: Dan Denardo
Location: Port Au Prince, Haiti

Lately, I’ve been in and out of darkness, traversing through land, sea, and air—catapulting myself across oceans in every direction—back and forth. I’m tired, drained of emotions, exhausted beyond comprehension.

During the last two months, I’ve traveled to over sixteen countries, four continents, and six different time zones. I’ve seen night for day and day for night. I’ve been to the ends of the earth and back—from the toughest terrains to the wrenching heartache of rubble and despair. From the Himalaya’s of northern India to the depths of desperation in earthquake torn Haiti. The world just seems so much smaller than it used to be.

Sometimes, amidst my travels, I’d find time and space for myself—alone and desolate, just me and my thoughts—I’d sit there wondering where else I’d rather be. Dust and dirt littered my hair, the stench of body odor of days past permeated through my pores, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better or worse, it always does—one way or another. But at the end of each day when I’d lay my head to rest, I’d look up into the abyss and stare into complete darkness—close my eyes—and gently smile to myself as I reflected upon what I had done. And at that very moment, I knew that this was my place and time, my calling—and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Most recently, I’ve just returned from an assignment in Haiti with my good friend and fellow award-winning photographer Dan Denardo. It was harder than most assignments—because this time, I went in without a camera and dared myself to simply write about my experience and turned the challenge of shooting photo’s over to Dan. Words cannot describe how hard it was for me to give up my tools, but I knew that there was no photog out there better than Dan. His work is world class.

Robbed naked of my cameras, I walked the beat of a journalist—writing and etching my thoughts on paper as the sound of Dan’s shutter echoed just inches away from my ears. From one tent city to another, one mound of rubble to the next, we ventured into some of the most sordid environments known to man. But in the midst of darkness and despair prevailed an underlying truth that most media outlets do not talk about—and that truth, is HOPE. There is more to Haiti than broken homes and shattered dreams, carnage and desperation—there’s more, a lot more.

Through Dan’s stunning photography and my words, I hope to bring to you stories that will touch you, reach deep into the depths of your heart and instill within you a profound understanding of our world—in all her glory—and suffering—and at the end of it all, you and I, and all those we reach--shall be changed.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Darkness and Beauty

The train tracks that lead to Auschwitz Concentration Camp--Site 2. Auschwitz, Poland.

It's weird taking photo's at a place like Auschwitz. It's beautiful yet haunting. I'm currently on vacation in Europe . Will write soon.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Video Blog: Land of Contradictions

Video Note: Please excuse the quality of this video. It is by no means a professionally done piece. I'd like to try something new so I shot this with a flip cam and edited on my laptop.

Video Transcript:

So I've been here for almost three weeks now, and no matter how I look at India, it is to me, a land of contradictions, of darkness and beauty, pain and reward--to those who call her home and those who come here to seek a profound understanding of the world upon her shores.

This is my fourth assignment in India in less than three years--and every time I'm here, I am forced to become someone I am not, someone who--in the midst of trials and tribulations on everyday life, some how, finds it extremely difficult to survive in India being the person that I am groomed to be. The clothing I wear, the hue of my skin--and even the whiteness of my teeth makes me different. The way I walk, eat, sleep, and look at people clearly dictates that I am an outsider. The fact that I am a photographer pointing an unknown object in people's faces is only a fragment of what divides me and India. And to me, it makes me uncomfortable.

I am always one to believe that the world is one. A mere microcosm of our universe abundant with people and beings that define the very essence of our planet. And no matter how unique or different we are from one another, I believe that our dreams are many, yet our goals are one--and because of that, I keep telling myself that the discomfort I am feeling is merely a phase and as the days go by, with every sunset and and sunrise, that feeling would slowly dissipate.

Sadly, after three weeks, it hasn't.

Being here takes your breath away--literally and metaphorically. The sights and sounds of everyday life here is enough to wake your senses--but the poverty and struggle of most Indians that live in the most sordid conditions is enough to wish you were only dreaming. With every one thing beautiful includes an equal amount of a reality that holds no mercy on what is opposite to beauty.

The divide is unmeasurable. The rich and poor, the new and old, the normal and the paranormal all collide in a sea of unforgiving truth that speaks a language I cannot understand.


I am here for one more week to finalize my assignment--upon which I will be heading back to Haiti for my second tour. I hope this finds you well and I apologize for not having the chance to write more often. Lately, my days have been starting early and ending late--but I do manage to update via Facebook with a few lines ever so often. Please feel free to join me and follow me via Facebook.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

India Young and Old

I am currently filming in India and will be here until the end of May. I hope this finds you well. To view the full album entitled Intimate India, please feel free to add me on Facebook by clicking on the link to your right.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Momma, I Love You

Dear Momma,

We've come a long, long way, momma--from fear and starvation to hope and happiness. And through it all, it is because of you--because you refused to let go, to be blinded by war and wreckage, hatred and evil. You see what others overlook. You feel when so many cannot--which is why, momma, in a world of kings, you are my queen.

I'm writing to you, momma, 9000 miles away--but no matter the distance, no matter the oceans or islands that keep us apart, no matter the time or tides that divide us, I am yours and you are mine. I breathe because of you. I walk upon this earth because you are my guide--at every turn and every corner, land, sea or air, you are there for me. And I promise, momma, that when you shall need me, I will be there for you, too.

Through the years, you've shaped me to become the man I am today. You've molded me to be not like you in face and figure--but in thought and theory to challenge like you, to defy those that cannot define the difference between right and wrong--and to prove to so many that, like you, small yet strong, odds can be beaten. Momma, you are my hero.

Your smile makes me smile in my time of need. Your voice--even though at times I cannot hear, resonates within me everywhere I go, telling me how much you care. And because of that, I keep pushing forward--knowing that whatever I do, where ever I go or how lost I get, in the end, I will always find you. That, momma, is more than any son can ever ask for.

Momma, on this day and everyday, know that I love you with every beat of my heart--and I thank you for all that you are and all that you've given to me--and the world.

Your son, always,

Blogger Note: I am currently on foreign assignment in Mumbai, India. I will update soon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How To Pack For Foreign Assignments

Living life on foreign assignment is no ordinary task. It takes planning—lots of planning! So much so that it ultimately takes priority over many facets of my life. The more I plan, the better I am prepared for the unknown.

In 2009, I traveled to 17 countries within twelve months. 279 days of my life was spent traveling. In total, I circumvented the globe 4 times. A few readers have asked several times how I do it. How do I jump from one country to another and stay safe, healthy, and organized? Today, I reveal to you how I prepare for each and every assignment—and how I manage to adapt to the many facets that shape my life, and my career.

The War Room:

Tucked deep in my unfinished basement is an area where I call “The War Room.”

I know it sounds cliché, but believe me, I approach a lot of my scenarios the same way a soldier would in the field. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained by the military—or maybe it’s simply the fact that I have a lot of respect for the men and women that defend our nation. It’s both. They know how to get things done—and they’re good at it!

Organization is key. After spending hours of research about a country or geography, I’d make a mental note of what I need to bring, how I’m going to survive, and what challenges I might face. Then, I head downstairs to the war room. In it, is a collection of gear that I’ve purchased in bulk and kept in stock for quick access and replenishing. From clothing to first-aid, personal care items to knives, toothbrushes to flashlights, I have everything labeled and neatly categorized. Sometimes, my assignments are back-to-back with only quick pit-stops at home before heading out again to another country—so being organized and well stocked with supplies saves me time from having to go shopping and allows me to rest in between assignments. For instance, I never have to worry if I’ve got enough toothpaste or power bars in between my assignments from India to Haiti. I’d rather rest and get my bearings in the 48 hours I have before heading out again.

Hot and Cold

On the right side of the room is Cold Gear. On the left is Hot Gear. Doing this allows me to quickly identify what clothing and equipment I need--depending on the destination I am going to and the temperatures I’ll be facing. Socks and underwear, base layers, mids, and outer shells are all separated for specific weather conditions. Footwear, rain gear, sleeping bags, tents and even cooking supplies are all taken into consideration with weather. It’s an important element that I constantly keep in mind.


For those that know me, know that I am one of those guys who buy fours of everything I own. Sometimes even five or six of everything. This allows me to pre-pack before going on assignments back-to-back.

Sometimes, I’d have three to four backpacks fully stuffed and ready to go before leaving for my first destination. When I return for my pit stop, I simply grab the next backpack in line and take off again.


I spend a lot of time making sure my first aid kit is always up to date. I’m a big fan of assembling my own first aid kit and avoid buying pre-packed kits. Most of the kits you see on the camping store shelf is designed to look like you’re getting a lot for your money, when in actuality, most of the things in there will never be used. My kit is basic and kept simple for 1 reason: In an emergency situation, I need to know where everything is and what it’s used for.

When preparing for any foreign assignment, I put together two kits: 1 for trauma and 1 for basic cuts and bruises that I carry with me at all times. The kits include the following:


2x C-A-T Combat Application Tourniquets (For arterial bleeds)

2x Latex Gloves

2x QuickClot Gauze and Hemostatic Bandage

2x Emergency Trauma Dressing (4inch).

1x Scissor

1x Roll of medical tape

Basic Cuts:


-Hydrocortisone cream

-Alcohol wipes

Planning Makes Perfect

Again, I can’t reiterate enough about the importance of planning in what I do. If you intend to do this type of work/travel for a living, learn to keep yourself organized and stay ontop of your game by being prepared.

If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me or message me on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The World In Your Living Room

It was a Saturday afternoon just like any other. Having just returned from a foreign assignment, I was devoid of civilization--and like many Saturday's in my home town, there wasn't much to do. So being the geek that I am, I ventured into the nearest electronic store to see what new gadgets I could find.

Walking aisle by aisle, I skimmed every product with a fine-toothed comb. Many things caught my eye, but looking at the price tag made me lose focus. Too many zero's, not enough decimals. So I kept walking.

Large screen TV's always catch my attention. The way moving images danced on it's glossy screens made everything so real--almost touchable. Standing in front of one--for a second, I thought I was some place else. The video played seamlessly smooth with music thumping to the psychedelic beat of an under ground night club I'd be afraid to be in. Surround sound speakers made me lost, confused--wondering where the hell all that sound was coming from. It was amazing--yet at the same time scary.

It didn't take long for a salesman to notice my disoriented look. He asked if I was "interested." To which I replied, "huh?"

And before I could even gather my thoughts, he started spewing out facts and figures I had never heard before. In one ear, out the other. So I just stood there and smiled.

Ten minutes later he starts selling me an extended warranty plan on something I never said I was going to buy. And just when I thought he was going to shut up, he says, "But THAT'S NOT ALL...if you buy this whole system today, I'll throw in a special edition Travel DVD that has all the countries covered! You'd never have to leave home...heck, it's like having the world in your living room!"

I laughed and walked out.

Driving home, I couldn't help but wonder how many people have fallen for this deal. For the price it cost to own that system I could probably trek through all of South East Asia, venture through the Himalaya's and through to Europe.

It's funny, I get people telling me all the time how lucky I am to travel and how they wouldn't be able to do it. But at the same time, they wouldn't have a second thought about spending $8000 (U.S) on an entertainment system so they can sit and have the world brought to them instead of going to it.

A waste of money, if you ask me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Man Behind The Camera

Photo courtesy of John Narvalis
2010 CSC Awards, Toronto Canada

“I was born in a refugee camp along the Thailand and Cambodia border. Every morning, I’d awake to the image of a man behind a camera. Wiping my eyes, I’d see him clearly, in perfect focus as he focused his lens. They were filming the movie The Killing Fields outside my tent. And at that very moment, at the age of three, I wanted to be that man behind the camera. Twenty five years later, tonight, I can proudly say that I am that man.”
-an excerpt of my speech from the 2010 Canadian Society of Cinematographers Award.

Sometimes, it’s easy for me to forget the very reasons why I do what I do. Deadlines come and go, stories change, schedules fall through—and before I know it, the day is done. In my life, there are days when the world just seems untouchable—when no matter how hard I’ve worked or how far I’ve gone, it just isn’t enough. And at that very moment, professionally, I just want to give up, but personally, I know I can’t. So I work harder, push further. And with hope and a prayer, I tell myself that what I’m doing is not just benefiting me as a person, no, but also those who seek an understanding of the world through my images.

So because of that, what I do on a daily basis is not a job, but a journey. It’s my calling. My way of understanding myself--and at the same time helping those who want to understand others.

I began this journey at a very young age. Foolish and stubborn, I followed the path least traveled. Today, I am still that fool. I am still that stubborn-hard-ass that looks to defy those who say I can’t. God has blessed me with enough foolishness to believe that I can make a difference in the world—so that I can attempt to do what others claim cannot be done. So with his permission, through my images, I am going to do just that—no matter how long or desolate that road may be. I am determined.

Sometimes, amidst the chaos and calamity of my world, I trip and fall into the abyss. I lose sight of my vision—and so with prying hands, I try to quickly find my way back. And when I do, that vision becomes clear again—and like that three year old wiping his eyes in the morning, I can see that man behind the camera. Except this time, that man is me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When The Wind Howls, I Hear Their Cries

Photo by: Paul Emanuel / City Soleil, Haiti.

Sorry. I've been in hiding lately. Not from anything or anyone, of course, but mainly from myself--my own emotions after returning from a land left raveled by nature, scorched and scathed by a world of uncertainty.

I don't know what happened, really, but upon returning, I felt the need to disconnect--to find myself again and live life upon a world in which I could call my own. Being in Haiti was tough. Mentally and physically, it left me charred to my core, reducing every bit of hope I had had for humanity to nothing more than dust--a mere fragment of a dream. There are moments in life when you find hope, when you see it in your eyes and you savour it for every thing it's worth. Then, sometimes, when the truth is so real--so true and trivial, there's no avoiding what horrible things may come. That's what it was like for me in Haiti. By the time I had left, I had lost hope for the people who continue to suffer. I saw too much to fathom, too little to hope--any longer.

It scared me. I spent nights sitting up in my tent wondering what was wrong with me. I wanted to cry but I couldn't. I wanted to scream, but didn't. The feeling of helplessness ripped away at the very fibre that made me whole. I no longer felt good at what I was doing. It got to the point when I couldn't shoot any longer--and for the last few days in Haiti, I kept my camera pointed down. There was nothing more I could shoot.

Returning home, friends would ask me how it went. I'd turn to them--and sometimes, I didn't have to say a word--for they had already known--just from the look in my eyes. Thank you, friends, for understanding.

I've spent days unpacking and re-packing, going over every little piece of equipment I had brought to Haiti and making sure it was still in tact. But in the midst of inspection, I realized that I needed to do the same to not just my equipment, but also to myself--to look deep into my very own soul and see if I am the same as I had left. In retrospect, I am not. I don't think I will ever be the same again.

Lately, I've been lost for words--not really knowing where to begin or even why. Taking deep breaths, I feel my chest convolving in disarray, my heart beating in disbelief that I am here, safe, fed, and sheltered. Sometimes it's guilt. Other times, I'm just truly thankful. There's an imbalance in me that can never be defined--nor can it be felt unless you've been there yourself.

Because every time I see a tent I am reminded of Haiti. When the rain falls, I think of them. When the sun rises, I pray for them. When the wind howls, I hear their cries.

Blogger Note: I am currently on foreign assignment in Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dispatches: Photog In Peril

Photo by D2 Photography

There’s a welcoming breeze tonight. Gentle and calm, just enough to brush the whiskers of your arm—cool and collective. In my tent, I’m typing to you via a satellite internet connection from the safe house I’m staying at. Communication is slow, banks are closed, grocery stores are merely open long enough to keep items in stock from those who can afford to shop. All the roads are congested with traffic. Debris from fallen buildings block certain intersections from being entered. It’s chaotic here, to say the least. Water is scarce. Electricity is only available to certain parts of the city, intermittently.

Every minute I’m here I become closer to those I meet. They’re no longer strangers to me anymore. We connect. We talk and laugh. But when I’m alone, I realize that the closer I get, the harder it becomes for me to be here. And obviously, the harder it becomes for me to leave them behind. Yet, having been away from home for so long now leaves me yearning for a warm shower, clean clothes, and a goodnight sleep. It’s a bitter sweet feeling.

I’ve been here for a week now—and to be quite honest, I don’t think I can handle much more of the emotional pain that comes with this assignment. Everywhere I turn there’s people suffering, children running naked, crowds rushing for rations being handed out. Seeing tents remind me of my time as a refugee. Listening to the unfamiliar language—yet universal motions of people begging tears me to pieces.

And I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much this time. I’ve been in situations like this many times before—but as I’m typing this, I’ve come to realize that perhaps it’s because I can relate to them so much more than I ever could in other places. And it hurts. Selfish, maybe. But I’ve thought about it long and hard—and you know what, despite the lens before me, I’m human, too. When I put my head down at night, it’s hard for me to fall asleep—to find closer to my day—which, some nights, I don’t think there ever will be.

For the past few days I’ve been in and out of City Soleil, a part of Port au Prince that has been forgotten by the outside world. I’ve got amazing access—and an equally amazing story to cinematically put together. Truth-searching is hard—especially when the truth hurts. But thankfully, I have you—my dear readers and friends who have sent me countless emails and messages via Facebook. Your words of encouragement mean the world to me. You remind me of my calling and my obligation to the art I have inherited. I am forever indebted to you.

I have two more days here before heading home for some much needed rest—and then, after a few days, I’m off again to my next destination: Kuwait.

I will write again soon. I hope all is well. Please take care of yourself—and each other.

Blogger Note: For up to the minute status updates and to see some photo's from Haiti, join me on Facebook.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dispatches: City Soliel

Cell Phone Photo: Driving through City Soleil, March 11, 2010

I'm emotionally drained, physically exhausted. Too tired to think, too weak to talk. The day went by fast. Too many thoughts, too little time.

I'm not going to explain to you the disaster, nor am I going to show you images of people suffering. Truth is, I'm sick of seeing it on mainstream media, and I'm sure you are too. That's not why I came here.

I came here to tell stories, to bring meaning to suffering, to give a voice to those who are muted by the few who are overly vocal.

Part of my job involves truth-searching, simply by walking the beat of a journalist. On days like today, I'd scour certain areas without a camera and arm myself with nothing more than a pen and note pad. People look at me eye to eye. We talk--human to human, and through words, I'd develop my story and determine what I shoot and how I shoot it.

In Haiti, there's a section of Port au Prince called City Soleil (Sun City, pronounced 'Solay'). Heavily fortified for decades by gangs and guns, few people enter this area and make it out alive. Known by the international community as one of the world's most dangerous slums, City Soleil is currently home to thousands of Haitians who live in the most sordid conditions humans can fathom. The United Nations security team dare not enter this part of the city. Instead, they guard the perimeter and only enter when foreign nationals are caught between the lines.

I entered City Soleil yesterday. Driving through in our un-marked pick-up truck, people stared at me thru my window, some waved, children smiled. I decided to venture there because no one would. Aid groups ignore this area. Journalists can't find the ratings to justify such stories to be covered. So there I was.

I was guided by a local who knows the area well. He's young, trusted, and accepted. A few times, we had to stop on the side of the road so he could call his people a few blocks up--and we'd wait. When all was clear, we proceeded.

When you first get to Haiti, you're blown away by the number of tents scattered throughout the cities. Companies like Coleman donate their brands through aid groups for distribution--and like a finely decorated store window, you'd pass by a parade of logos--as far as the eye can see. But sadly, in City Soleil, the world has strangely forgotten about their existence. So instead of water-proof tarps with double layered sun resistency and break-proof poles, they use thin bed sheets that are riddled with holes, sticks and stones to hold everything together, and with hope and prayer, they call it home.

Walking through some of the hardest hit areas, you can smell the scent of human waste and rotting garbage. It's enough to make you vommit--but through respect, you hold it in.

I couldn't sleep last night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw their blinding stares, the linen walls they call home and the children that called me 'friend.' Laying there alone in my tent, I couldn't help but to remember the time when I too lived within linen walls--when as a refugee, I too lived in tents that were held together with nothing more than a string of hope.

I'm going back to City Soleil. It's a story I need to tell and capture with my lens.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dispatches: Haiti Flight 1291

Photo: Passengers on board flight 1291 try to get a glimpse of Port Au Prince from the air as the plane slowly descends.

At 35,000 feet, the plane fell silent. The hum of a jet engine filled the cabin as children slept, mothers and fathers sat there staring into the abyss as if the seat in front of them held their fortune. To my left, a lady sat there twitching her thumb, head held low—neither asleep nor really awake. Rays of light spilled through the windows, glistened off her dark—velvet skin, casting a reflective stroke of light off the contours of her face.

Every now and then I’d catch her peeking at my watch, wondering how much longer until we land. The plane would veer left, then slightly right, slowly descend and gradually climb again. She’d turn to her left, look out the window and realize that we’ve yet to push past the clouds that enveloped our plane. A few minutes later, she’d return her eyes to my watch—counting every second that went by.

Flight 1291 wasn’t just another flight for me—and neither was it for the 200 or so Haitians returning home for the first time after the quake. For Silvia, this was her first trip back since leaving as a child.

Looking into her eyes, I can see her fear, sorrow and the unknown. Asked if she was excited to finally be home, she softly replied, “no,” paused, and silently turned her head the other way.

Flight attendants passed out snack-boxes of cookies and juice, but few had even opened their box. Looking over to Silvia, I saw her packing hers away—perhaps saving it for a loved one.

It’s hard to explain the emotions on flight 1291. Perhaps, it’s unexplainable. But sitting there, looking at Silvia, listening to the deafening hum of utter silence, every emotion I had ever felt in my life felt incomparable to that of hers.

Sometimes, words just can't explain.

Blogger Note: I'm currently safe in Port Au Prince. My team and I are staying at a safe house, but due to the structural damage of this building, we're forced to sleep in tents in the compound. The whole 2nd floor is gone, and the rubble is thrown all over. Driving to the safe house, tents can be seen as far as the eye can see. Tomorrow morning I will venture into the epicenter of the quake. For status updates and mobile picture uploads, please feel free to add me on Facebook.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Photo Essay: Santa Rosa de Copan

"Baby Fan"

"Forever Young"

"Street Fighter"


"Growing Old"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Smile of Hope

Photo: All smiles for Christian as he is being fitted for a prosthetic limb.
Current Location: Santa Rosa, Honduras

His name is Christian David Flores--and to me, he's my angel.

Every now and then my camera takes me to places that take my breath away, digs deep into the depths of my soul and leaves me speechless. There are times when I thought I'd never see anything more beautiful, that the bounty before me is served on a silver platter, that God has given me more than I'd ever asked for. Through my lens, I've seen the Pyramids of Egypt, the jungles of Borneo and even the sprawling walls of China's greats--and at those very moments, I'd indulge in sacred beauty. Then, on the brink of salvation, when it becomes all too prevalent, he has a notion of reminding me how beauty is derived, how ultimately, it is not the destination that defines beauty, nor do mountains, rivers and water falls--but through light, he guides me, and somehow, I meet people who confirms his acclamation.

Christian is five years old. When asked what he wanted to become when he gets older, he looked up at me, gave the biggest smile I had ever seen, and in a sweet little voice, he said in Spanish: "I want to become a coffee drinker." We laughed, he jumped in joy with hands in the air, and within seconds, I saw in him something different--something I haven't seen in a long, long time. I saw hope.

Born with one leg, Christian is a symbol of beauty, of love, of humanity and the human spirit. With the help of a prosthesis, he runs when other his age can barely walk up-hill in his village. He jumps and climbs--and like all children, his laughter fills your heart with warmth. Asked what his favorite sport is, he replied, "soccer."

Challenging me to a game of one-on-one, in Spanish, he'd speak words I couldn't understand. All I did was nod and smile--which in return, he nodded and laughed. And so we'd play, kicking the ball back and forth--and when he pointed to his forehead, it meant he wanted to head-butt the ball. For a while, all my worries were gone--my aches and pains from constant travel had vanished, and like a child again, I laughed for no real reason--except at the fact that someone special was laughing with me.

Walking into his bedroom, a small Honduran soccer jersey hung over his bed. With walls made of mud, it was probably the most prized possession in his home. Looking down, I noticed a little teddy bear sitting by his pillow. "You still sleep with a teddy?" I jokingly asked. He nodded and smiled. Grabbing my hand, he showed me the prosthetic limb that he designed for his teddy bear. And just like his, he could put it on and take it off. "Mi amigo," he said. At that very moment, I merely cried.

That night, I went to bed in my hotel room realizing how lucky I am to have met him. I am forever thankful that there are people like little Christian David Flores in this world.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two Column's of Fame

Cinematographer Heading to Haiti
By Ted Shaw--The Windsor Star

February 26, 2010

Windsor's Sarorn (Ron) Sim is donating his talent with a camera to relief efforts in Haiti.

The 29-year-old filmmaker will volunteer his services to record the efforts of several Non-Government Organizations, or NGOs, in the earthquake-ravaged country.

The film will then be turned over free-of-charge to the NGOs for promotional and fundraising use.

Sim is employed by Dow Chemical of Midland, Mich., to shoot films around the world. When his travels take him to Third World countries or places reeling from disaster, he offers his services to local NGOs.

"I'm not a doctor or a medical worker," said Sim.

"But I have a talent and this is how I can make a difference."

A native of Cambodia, Sim was just five when he immigrated with his family to Windsor in 1985. He attended J.E. Benson elementary school and W.D. Lowe high school before studying cinematography at Oakville's Sheridan College.

Since graduating, Sim has worked for Discovery Channel and CTV in Canada, and currently freelances for BBC-TV. His film work has aired on documentary specials on the National Geographic channel and Discovery Canada, as well as news outlets around the world.

His film has also won awards, and recently footage he shot for an NGO in India was nominated for a prize from the Canadian Society for Cinematographers.

This weekend, Sim will travel to Honduras to document the work of the Central American Medical Outreach organization.

The day after arriving back home, on March 10, Sim will head to Haiti's tent cities in Port-au-Prince, where he'll record the efforts of Michigan-based Pure Water for the World, a group which donates water purification units.

"I want to use my camera to tell stories that affect people," Sim said.

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shadows of Fate

Photo by: D2 Photography

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm the person I was born to be, if the life I've lived really is the one I was meant to, or if it is some half life--a mutation engineered by fate, cobbled together by the will to live.

In my life, I've seen beauty. I've seen the sun paint the desert, the ocean ebb and flow to the sound of crashing waves in the distance, the rise and fall of water and rain. I've seen places I can't pronounce, people I'll never forget, horror I wish I hadn't. I've seen it all, yet never enough.

There are times in my life when it all happens too fast, when the winds of change casts doubts on the road ahead, when wrong becomes right and nothing is left. There are times when I look at myself and see not the man I am, but the boy I once was--and I smile. And there are times when I'd see nothing at all. Mere shadows of fate glistening off the contours of my soul.

Sometimes, I stand alone, lost, waiting for something I cannot define in words--but rather, in rays of light. Most times, it finds me before I find it--and within the blink of any eye, we dance to the tune of a camera's shutter, of strobing lights and sweaty palms--and for a fraction of a second, I'm able to see myself, yet again. When I am lost, only my pictures define my existence.

In reflection, maybe some questions aren't meant to be answered--but just accepted. Maybe the life I live is merely the life of someone else, but borrowed. Maybe...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Touch an Angel

Photo: Along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. 2008.

"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. " --Mother Teresa

Blogger note: I'm currently packing for an assignment in Haiti and Honduras. I hope this finds you well.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

L is for Lily

Photo: Ron and Lily, 1986
Note: For those who do not know the history of me and Lily, please read here on a previous post entitled: My Girl

Dear Lily,

Today is Valentines day, and for some devine reason, I awoke this morning with you on my mind. Last night, I dreamt of you, felt cupids arrows puncture the bottom of my bum--and when I looked down, I saw none other than you. It reminded me of when you bit me...down there.

Wiping eye-poop from my eyes, I sat up on my bed, felt my heart pounding in disarray as I quickly realized that you were only in my dreams, a mere synapse of a moment as my soul wondered through my sleep. Looking into the darkness of my room, I remembered you.

Our first Valentines day was spent together in Mr. Vee's first grade classroom. You looked beautiful that day, dressed in pink with pony tails protruding from your head. Looking at you, I saw my world unfolding in slow motion, complete with dreamy white haze, romantic music and doves flying thru the air. Goose bumps rippled through my body as I sat there and smiled. You turned around, saw me gazing, and handed me my first and only Valentines day card. "Lily" was what you wrote.

It was perfect. On it was the picture of a dinosaur, and in huge red letters, it had a pre-typed message that read, "YOU'RE DINO-MITE."

Walking home, I felt the warmth of your love fill my soul. And when the wind howled, I heard your name. Held tightly in my yellow mittens, I cradled your card in both hands, carefully making sure I'd never lose it.

There were no candle lit dinners that night, no phone calls to say hello or even messages to say goodnight. But I did pray for you, for us, forever. And on my mirror was your card, held up with glue and gum, watching me while I slept.

Lily, I've gone through twenty three Valentines days without you since. I've travelled the world looking for you, searching for your smile once more. I've seen the sun rising over the Ganges, the mountains of the Himalayas, and the plains of the Sahara. I've felt the northern winds gusting through my hair, heard the cry of infant angels, and even touched the hands of sacred Gods--but nothing ever comes close to that sight of you, your touch, your voice, your smile and smell, beauty and grace.

If wishes came true, I'd wish for you. If dreams were real, I'd never stop dreaming of you...because on this day and everyday, I LOVE YOU.

Forever yours,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter Expedition

It's a blistering minus 20 degrees as we ventured onto the frozen tundra of Northern Ontario, Canada. I'm with two of my closest friends: College roommate Steve and childhood buddy Yean--and together, we've decided to test our man-hood...or in my case, luck.

We've talked about this trip for years, but due to a hectic work and travel schedule, this trip was postponed year after year--until now. Here's a few snapshots from our trip.

Yours truly trekking through the snow covered canopy of Algonquin Provincial Park.

College buddy Steve trekking through the woods.

Buddy Yean chopping up some fire wood.

Yours truly punching a hole through the ice to fetch water. (Sexy hat courtesy of my good friend Dan).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Humanity in Haiti

Photo: Cindy Terasme screams after seeing the feet of her dead 14-year-old brother Jean Gaelle Dersmorne in the rubble of the collapsed St. Gerard School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday.
Photo Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

A very good friend of mine phoned me the other day after viewing some disturbing images from Haiti. Her voice trembled in horror--and after describing to me in detail the images of dead bodies and crying children, she asked me a question that reverberated deep in my mind: As a photographer, how would you have covered the Haiti disaster?

Below is a blog post that I hope will not just answer her question, but also give everyone a better understanding of what it's like to cover such events. The following are from my personal experiences covering Afghanistan, post-tsunami in South East Asia, and the recent earthquakes in Sichuan province, China.

Capturing All That Is True:

I close my eyes, pretend to sleep. Maybe I am sleeping. Truth is, when you're in a hostile zone, it's hard to tell. Coiled in a dirty sheet, sweat-soaked, my hair matted with the day's dust, and grains of sand in my mouth, I dream of work.

Sometimes, I'd see myself with the camera on my shoulder--hitting the ground running, locked and loaded. There's nothing like that feeling. As a photographer, you run towards what everyone else is running from--thinking some how that the camera on your shoulders will protect you, not really caring if it will or not. Scene after scene, the action moves through you like a funnel--and all you can do is capture as much as you can, as fast as you can. In my dreams, I just breathe, keep moving, breathe, keep my head low, breathe, keep moving, try to stay alive.

I wake gasping for breath, unsure where I am. Lately, that dream has been re-occurring--and after watching much of the media coverage from Haiti, I keep imagining myself there--alone and armed, capturing with my camera the chaos of looters and debris, dead bodies and orphaned children alike. It's a sick imagination, but when you view life through glass, the only thing that stands between you and your pride is the sheer fact that truth is in your eyes--and capturing it is the only salvation you have.

Images frame themselves, and after taking just a few, your soul is conditioned to accept all that is before you--no matter how it makes your heart wrench in horror. There are times when you'd question yourself, ask whether it's right or wrong, justice or injustice to capture the plight of human suffering--but there's no time to find answers--it's just you and your camera, the world around you, and sheer adrenaline pumping through your veins a thousand miles an hour.

But believe me, I'm not a war junkie. I don't seek adrenaline, nor do I find it rewarding to see pain thru my lens--and to be honest, for the photogs in Haiti right now, I doubt they do too. They're husbands and wives, fathers and mothers just like you--just like the many that are trapped and left to die in the rubbles of Port-au-Prince. They are there because they believe in truth-seeking, in the notion that the world needs to mourn with those who have lost lives and life themselves--which in the end, ultimately--they are there because the stories and images they send back causes us to react, to find that thread that links us all as humans, to find the humanity in all of us.

For those who work in my field, there are no right or wrong ways to cover such an ordeal. There are no text books that explain how and why. Censored or not, we capture what is true. Some photos will seem inhumane and cruel, while some will naturally inspire--but as all things are in life, there's always an injustice when finding balance with reality.

In the aftermath of disaster, we are reminded that life can be unimaginably cruel. That pain and loss is so often meted out without any justice or mercy. That "time and chance" happen to us all. But it is also in these moments, when we are brought face to face with our own fragility, that we rediscover our common humanity. Through our lens, we look into the eyes of another and see ourselves. And so as photographers, we lead the world in this humanitarian endeavor--simply by capturing all that is true.

Blogger Note: I'm currently working out logistics on when I will be dispatched to Haiti in the next few weeks. Please stay tuned.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

From Refugee to Reverie

It’s cold. The air lingers silently around me, caressing me, permeating into every pore of my body. I awoke this morning to the darkness of night, stars glistened through my window as I laid there in reverie—in bed, wondering what today may bring.

Sometimes, while in the midst of waking, I’d get flashbacks of days gone by—moments that defined me, shaped and molded me to become the man I am today. In the dark, I’d see light. I’d see images of my history, my family, and the journey we’ve made together to escape war and slavery. I’d see it all unfolding again in my proverbial mind—merely making its way into reality. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe—just too hard to accept.

Through my work, I live in the sanctity of dreams come true, of luck and fate. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this, but through magic and miracles, I am able to view the world in ways few will ever imagine—let alone dare to dream—and because of that, there’s not a day that goes by that I am truly thankful.

I was born in a refugee camp straddling the border between two nations—devoid of citizenship, defected by war—yet, I’m proud to say that my life defies all that of tears and sorrow. I’ve come a long way from being that little boy in a refugee camp, but no matter how long or fast or narrow that road may lead, I’ll never forget who I used to be.

Twenty five years ago, I awoke every morning to the sounds of a bustling refugee camp. Today, I awake to a world where dreams do come true, where lives are cherished and people are loved--but today, for some reason I can’t help but to be lost in reverie of years long past.

Never before shown to an online audience, I AM KHMER is the story of my family reuniting after twenty five years of separation. Released in 2001, this feature documentary film is told through my words—yet, the story mirrors that of millions of refugees around the world who seek a better understanding of who they are. Produced and written by Sarorn Ron Sim and Steven Bray. Edited by Richie Mehta. Copyright 4Di Communications 2010. (Streaming through YOUTUBE in a five part series).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Capturing The Olympic Flame

It's 8am, and as the frigid-arctic air permeates through my layers of clothing, I'm being ushered into the media zone to go over the "do's and dont's" of covering the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay.

Security is tight around the flame. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers dressed in running outfits guard the flame at all times as it travels from street to street, community to community--ultimately making its way to the 2010 winter games in Vancouver. The Olympic flame travels in a bubble of security, closely watched by armed officers disguised as runners, ordinary citizens cheering on the sidelines, and even riding alongside it on bicycles. In major cities, helicopters hover closely above it, scanning every perimeter and keeping a close eye on crowd control. Photographers and bystanders alike push their way as close to the flame as possible, but as the RCMP officers near them, they quickly get pushed back--some by using brute force. One photog told me that a Toronto Star shooter tried getting too close and was forced to the ground by an array of RCMP guards. The photog lost his two front teeth in the ordeal.

Fortunately, I've been able to keep my shinny whites and avoid this hassle by being granted a seat on Media One--the vehicle used to transport photographers. Inside Media One, we're given the best seats in the house to capture each runner with the flame. Positioned directly in front of the runner, we come face to face with them as each torch bearer run 300 meters down ice and snow covered streets--holding the flame above their head.

I'll be covering the Olympic Flame for a few more days before making my way south of the border to Salt Lake City, Utah to meet with the USA Speed Skating team. Below are just a few snapshots. Hope all is well. Please take care.

The view from Media One at night--following an Olympic Torch Bearer.

The view from Media One during the day time following an Olympic Torch Bearer. Crowds line the streets.

The view from inside Media One as we follow an Olympic Torch Bearer running with the flame. Photo: Chris Bolin/Canadian Press

Media One from the outside. Photo: Chris Bolin/CP

Posing with Olympic Torch Bearer Marie-Josee Raincourt and producer extraordinaire Jonathan Moser. Photo: Chris Bolin/CP

A mad-man with the torch.

Interviewing Olympic Torch Bearer George Pietersma.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I'm Relaxed and ALIVE!

Photo: "Photog on road"

You know, relaxing is weird. It's like being on this never-ending high of nothing-ness--just random thoughts going through your head--in one ear out the other type stuff. Man, I've been on vacation since getting back from my assignment in South East Asia, and ever since then I've been doing absolutely NOTHING!

I've been waking up every morning with this eery feeling--hard to explain--but it's like that feeling you get when you arrive late for work and you just know someone's watching. Or you know--that feeling you get when you order three pieces of chicken but when you get home and open your box you see not three but FOUR? Yeah, that feeling exactly! Guilt! It's scary because I feel this way even though I'm on vacation and I'm not even supposed to be at work! Lately, it feels like I have NO life. I'd wake up, have breakfasat, do my daily excercises, take my vitamins and all of a sudden I'd be lost--dazed and confused like I'm some sort of hobo looking for a train to catch.

I dunno, having just returned from a big assignment and being constantly on the move--and then all of a sudden be on lock-down is mind boggling to me! I feel like I should be at some insanity hospital--or whatever they call it. Or maybe I should just find some petty crime to commit just to get some excitement in my life. I dunno man...but all I know is that I'm pumped for my next assignment. I can't wait to get out there and start shooting again! Grrrrr!!!

Damn, I sound like some psycho maniac that hasn't seen daylight since Al Gore invented global warming! Speaking of global warming--I dont know about you, but it's freakin' cold in Michigan! Global warming my **s.

Blogger note: Currently packing gear for next assignment. Next post will be from the road again.