[ 古北口長城 ]
[ Kodak EIR Infrared ]
In the Spring of 1933, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded China and carried out massive air-raids over the Gubeikou Great Wall, a gateway into Beijing. The bloodshed here inspired the chilling 《義勇軍進行曲》(March of the Volunteers) that later became the PRC national anthem.
Used to be something I only hear about in the news, until today.
Exactly how one survives a genocide?
How to un-see and un-hear all the human atrocities?
In experimental science, we talked about memories being labile every time they are retrieved.
But what if the events are so horrific that a mere recall is itself another torture?
He lost his faith in humanity.
Love has no meaning.
He had everything taken away from him in the most brutal way possible.
In this context, his HIV diagnosis was the least of our concerns.
He has nobody to talk to.
How can one form relationships when it's difficult to even interact with others?
Meditation has helped. But every time he succeeded in conjuring a small fragment of peace, that evil world from his past came crashing in, destroying the precious little seed that he has.
Can he ever learn to trust again?
How many more times will he lock himself up, shutting down the world?
How many more times will he clutched his fist and cracked his knuckles?
Will that look of despair and terror ever extinguish?
This man deserves a second chance.
So I risked breaching the code of conduct and broke my silence.
"How about non-human contact?"
Finally, the idea of a pet, a prospect of unconditional love, brought a smile to his face.
"In a way I did feel that the artist in me was dying a little bit..."
"I do not want to sit and make a nest and be comfortable..."
"I don't want to have comfort, I don't want to have a family, I don't want to have a flat - so I destroyed in a way everything I had in order to be able to build."
"It is almost like a delete button and you just want to start fresh."
Last time I went home, I found my old SLR.
The paint has started to peel and when I removed the lens cover, broken glass showered down my lap.
Actually, nobody had time to find out. I cursed the air and took off again.
Two years later, my world imploded. I quited my job, sold all my stuff in America and moved back to Hong Kong.
My bedroom in HK is smaller than the bathroom I had in Kansas City. To make it less claustrophobic, I had to rearrange everything in order to have 2m square of floor space.
That's when I rediscovered this SLR for a second time.
And that's when it surprised me a second time.
Peeking through that slit around the back, were some small letters "ISO400...". The camera was still loaded! There's a roll of film inside!!
Quickly got on my feet, I popped out the long-dead battery and started googling.
"Nikon F-601... the first line of Nikon cameras that use Littery batteries..."
Fuck! Where the hell can I find a first generation battery?!
One good thing about Hong Kong is, old or new, it does have everything.
An hour later my granddaddy Nikon powered up, flashing some error message and a "10".
Does it count up or down? Ha! Either way, these would be the last frames in my last roll I took before switching to digital.
I pressed rewinded, opened the back and...
Shit. Why are the shutter blades all crooked?
Strange. Gold and green? That's neither Kodak or Fuji.
Sainsbury's?!! The supermarket?!! From England?!!
They made films?!!
When I was still a student in the UK?!!!
That's... counting my fingers... more than 10 years ago!
It's been sitting there unfinished and forgotten, enduring a decade of digital assault?
This is a time capsule!
What's in it?!
I don't want to leave India like this...
I love Hampi, a 15-16-17th century archaeological gem in Southern India, and the peaceful village of Virupapuragadda across the river. People here are relaxed and friendly, very down to earth. With a laid back vibe and thousands of ancient ruins dotted around paddy fields and banana groves, it was a traveller's dream.
But not for long.
However prepared, backpacking through India is hard work. After 10 days, I thought I've finally found a place I love.
Many people choose to stay on the North side of the river. The place has a great vibe and good mix of local peasants, small businesses and travellers. Climbers come for the giant red boulders, hippies come for the yoga ashrams, gap year students zoom around in their mopeds to go swimming in the lake, others found it a safe haven to just chill out and do nothing.
With a UNESCO World Heritage status comes a grant plan to redevelop Hampi into a world class resort.
Hampi, so rich in history, didn't see it coming. That the Main Bazaar would be destroyed again 500 years later. Only this time not by foreign invaders.
The week before I arrived, the Indian government knocked down all the small businesses and homes along Hampi Bazaar, destroying neighbourhoods displacing hundreds of villagers to 4km away. Will they crossed the river and come to Virupapuragadda?
2013 Feb 26, 8am. A loud mechanical noise woke me up. But this was rural India. It's not the garbage truck!
F*ck! I rushed out of my straw hut and there it was. A bulldozer working its way down our street, one by one knocking down shops and houses and hotels, escorted by 30 policemen. They said they need to widen the road.
Despite a temporary stay issued by the High Court in Bangalore, nobody could stop this menace. Paradise lost. Laughing Budha? Gone. Mango Tree? Gone. That little shop I bought my water? Gone. The internet cafe I uploaded my last facebook pictures? Gone. All those great places recommended by The Lonely Planet? Good luck finding them now.
The police wanted to know why I took pictures. But if they had the guts to carry this out, I had the guts to photograph it. What used to be the entrance to my hostel.
I don't want to leave Hampi like this... the least I could do was to document this ruthless redevelopment and let the world know how a government turns an archaeological heritage site into a golden goose.
He wanted 300 Rupees for a sunset Taj Mahal boat ride. I surprised him by giving him a polaroid :)
We live in the 21st century, but there still parts of the world where people live in dire conditions, with no access to safe water, let alone cameras and photos. Tourists love taking pictures of the locals, who rarely get to keep any of the shots. So I started my "Give-a-Photo" project in 2011, traveling to remote Mountainous regions in Tibet, taking and giving out polaroids to young mothers and their kids. Encouraged by the great responses I received, I again set out with my Fuji Instax 210 camera and more than a hundred polaroids, this time to India.
Apart from young families and whoever wanted a picture, I also tried to reach out to street kids who asked me for money. Some had no shoes, some didn't have pants on. But I hope that from the polaroids, they will see how beautiful their smiles really are. The world can be a tough place. Best of luck in making something out of your lives. I don't have the means to scan all the polaroids before handing them out. But you get the idea :)
Traditional polaroid works best, I found out. Some of the kids were a little confused at the beginning, seeing the blank white things I gave out. But as the colors and images slowly appeared in front of their eyes, their faces started lighting up and it's magical :)