Muay Thai Madmen
1989's Kickboxer was a not-so-blockbuster that knocked the socks off of every dude is America. In order to avenge his brother's paralyzation, Kurt Sloane (Jean-Claude Van Damme) takes the good fight to Tong Po, Thailand's undefeated Muay Thai madman. The movie is full of Hollywood violence and 80's cliche. Though pure fiction, the film is freaking awesome. What isn't make believe, however, is the art of Muay Thai and Thailand's national obsession with the sport.
Muay Thai is an integral part of Thai culture. The sport has existed for centuries. For an ancient Siam, Muay Thai was the art of the battlefield, an essential close quarters technique. Because of this, King and commoners alike became obsessed with Muay Thai. Despite its violent nature, Muay Thai was even taught as a part of school curriculum up until the 1920's when the nation appealed to reason and acknowledged inquiry rates. It was then that the art went into the gyms and clubs spread throughout the country.
The 1930's ushered the most radical changes in the sport. Cups to protect the groin were introduced and gloves (instead of fabric strips) went on the hands. Stadiums, instead of makeshift rings and courtyards, began popping up during the reign of Rama VII before the second world war.
Muay Thai Today
The fascination persists. Imitating the sport is as much of a Thai's childhood as learning songs about the elephants that foreign visitors now ride atop of. Several nights a week, radio and television stations broadcast the fights to millions of loyal fans.
Outsiders question the obsession with a sport so violent that during the reign of the Tiger King, hands and forearms were bound with strips of horse hair to inflict more damage upon the opponent (Even ground glass was mixed with glue and spread over the strips). But those familiar with the sport agree that the obsession can easily be explained.
At each Muay Thai event there is ceremony. There is ritual. From Chang Mai to Bangkok, Chiang Rai to Samui, Thais and farang (foreigners) fans alike understand that Muay Thai is much more than violent fist-a-cuffs. It is an art form clouded in both mystique and tradition.
Make sure to check out a Muay Thai fight the next time you are in Thailand.
As a portrait photographer, it is always pleasant to receive an assignment request that gets you out of town. Not only do I love traveling and experiencing the Korea that lays outside of Seoul, I love the opportunity to take my camera to shoot subjects that are out of the ordinary for me.
The assignment was dual. I was sent to Busan to not only capture a cover for Hong Kong Express' UO Magazine, I was to also shoot several locations for a shopping editorial.
Model Angel Jion and I hopped on the KTX on Friday afternoon and s[ed our way down to the southern tip of Korea. We had some time to kill so we went to the beach and ate a pizza.
We woke early and headed out to Gamcheon Village, an artist community on the outskirts of Busan. For a couple of hours, Angel and I explored and took advantage of our time on assignment. Once we had the shots we needed, I sent Angel back to her hotel and I got to work on the second part of the trip.
Soon enough, I had all of the good gravy I needed for the editorial client. I gave Angel and rang and we decided to meet back up. With the magazine cover and editorial completed, Angel and I spent our remaining time in Busan exploring the streets and making portraits.
All in all, a decent weekend with a great company (and a cover shot to boot)!
Jazz Kerouac and the Jazz Men of Seoul
Before I started my photography business, I got lost in books. I still do, but not like I used to. I wasn't always a fan of reading until college. It was then that my friend Dennis turned me on to the Beat Generation. Up to that point, my literate life basically consisted of Cliff Notes and tattoo magazines.
But thanks to my mate Burns, my late teens and early twenties were filled with the likes of Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg and Kesey. However, it was the stack of Jack Kerouac novels that I loved most.
Kerouac's staccato verse instantly produced mental images of cigarette wrinkled men blowing their horns with air as fast as their lifestyles. Just reading about it made me want to be a character in the book. I could visualize the scene, hear the jumpy beats and see the beatniks swaying and dancing.
Though, I didn't feel the need to patron the jazz clubs of North Carolina (Are there any?) to prove my visions correct. I perceived to know what jazz clubs were like simply by reading the prose of Beat Master Jack.
Fast forward a decade. No longer do I read Kerouac (Nor do I have the desire to jump in boxcar heading across the country). I have traded my love of Beat literature for a love of Canon and Fuji manuals.
Though I must admit, when a client sent me out for a look at Seoul's thriving jazz scene, I realized that I had the opportunity to again flirt with the scenes Kerouac once set for me. As a portrait photographer, Kerouac fan and musician (the later is debatable), photographing some of Seoul's jazz men was a welcomed editorial commission.
Spending several evenings in Seoul's jazz clubs, I did not find cramped, smoke filled basements and leathered jazz masters. There were no beatniks screaming, "Blow!" I couldn't find a trace of Charlie Parker or Dean Moriarity passed out under a table (Seriously, you must read On the Road no matter how cliche it may now seem). In fact, I found the exact opposite of what I had expected.
In Itaewon's All That Jazz, middle-aged Koreans sat nibbling on lavish cheese and fruit plates. Hongdae's Club Palm hosted lovers more interested in batting eyelashes at one another than the stand-up bass being plucked. Likewise, Once In a Blue Moon's dress code was surprising for even Apgujeong. I was almost turned away because I didn't have a sport's coat. Seriously, it just felt stuffy.
The closest my formative, Kerouac visions came to reality was in a small venue a stone's throw from Hongkik University in the hipster enclave of Hongdae. Without the pomp and circumstance of the other haunts, Club Evan serves bottled beers and crams youthful jazz fans as close to the stage as possible. While there is no blue smoke, there is a lively atmosphere that, I suspect, would make Kerouac proud.
With the editorial assignment finished, I found myself both satisfied with the images and the fact that I had actually been inside a jazz club. In fact, I had been in every jazz club in Seoul. Now, I am dealing with my desire to rummage through a sealed box or two to find some Kerouac novels.
"He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets IT- everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows its not the tune that counts but IT."
- J. Kerouac
White Lies Burlesque
Asia, in general, likes to keep the sexy behind closed doors. That is why the White Lies Burlesque Review have an important role in Seoul's eclectic nightlife. These cats intend to bring the boudoir under the bright lights. While the group has had its share of controversy, the overall impression from both the foreign and Korean population of Seoul has been overwhelmingly positive.
Burlesque in its purest form is sensual storytelling made popular in years long past. But don't think that a trip out to see this crew with be full of sorid men and 1920's jazz music. The performers of this troupe (male and female) bring a new twist to the old burlesque tale, enchanting mixed crowds with pasties and poi (fire spinning), strip and swing.
Each one of the rotating members brings their own talents and personality to the stage. This is not surprising seeing that individual members of the group greatly contribute to the artistic and intellectual capital of Seoul's foreign community when they aren't on stage.
If you are looking for a interesting date night or simply for something different, check out White Lies at one of their frequent performances in Seoul (or internationally). Be prepared to be out late and pay the babysitter overtime.
Who Are The New Block Babyz?
Who ever heard of the New Block Babyz (NBB) anyway? When I was asked by CrayonBeats magazine to capture some street images of K-Pop group NBB, I immediately asked myself, "They mean New Kids on the Block?" Of course they didn't mean New Kids. If they had, I would have just died and gone to Heaven (kidding). Obviously, I still have a soft spot in my ear for 'Please Don't Go Girl.' They meant New Block Babyz.
When I arrived in Hongdae for the shoot, I began to prepare my gear. Nothing fancy. While my Canon 6d was being prepared I readied my 600d and a single 17-40 USM L Series lens. In fact, it was the lightest I have traveled in a minute. I was tired and wanted to go home after a day of work. I wanted to play Call of Duty. But my energy level picked up as the members of the group slowly trickled in.
Minutes into our shoot, we were interrupted. Young girls noticed us and wanted their pictures taken with the Babyz. So, these kids are somewhat known? Perhaps they play the local YMCA every other Saturday night?
Oh no. On all accounts I was wrong. Indeed these jokesters are making a name for themselves in this behemoth of an urban center. Needless to say, I was shocked when I later found out that an NBB member was, in fact, a VJ for Korean MTV.
At some point New Kids on the Block were NBB, young and talented (or at least marketable) and full of zeal to be larger to the public than Jesus Christ himself. Sometime, twenty years from now, a photographer will be going to shoot the next generation of Block Kids or Babyz or whatevers and thinking, "If this shoot was of the New Block Babyz, I would die and go to Heaven."
It cycles back doesn't it.
I was on the way to see a good buddy in Leicester, North Carolina when I saw a marque outside of the local Qwikstop gas station. The marque had been changed to say, "Linda Johnson writes bad checks and owes us 62 dollars." Naturally, I wanted to pull off and take a snap of it but there was a beat up Ford on my tail that was in no mood for me and my Canon 6d.
Who is this Linda Johnson anyway and why would she do the Qwikstop like that? Is she a mother who needed to get some bread and a tank of gas to get her kids to school? Is she a professional in one of the few million dollar homes in Leicester who had forgotten her weekly transfer from her money market account to her "spending money" account? Is she some meth head?
Driving on down the valley I thought about how impolite it was for the Qwikstop to air Linda's dirty laundry like that. But, the fact remains that Linda robbed the Qwikstop. In a small rural town like Leicester, everyone is sure to know Linda. I can image her walking into the little church off of Browntown road this Sunday. All 62 members of the congregation will welcome her and then whisper down the pew, "Did y'all see the Qwiky sign? Hope she puts cash in the offering plate."
Individuals will occasionally do businesses wrong and, in this case, may be publicly shunned for it. But, more often than not, it is the individual who is wronged by business.
Within an hour of being exposed to Linda Johnson's checking habits, I saw some boys fighting their own battle. In the middle of a somewhat abandoned Ashley Furniture parking lot (Tunnel Road, Asheville, NC) was Dirk Helming and the lads. Hundreds of cars were passing by as they usually do in this location next to both the mall and Best Buy. And here it was again... a public shaming. The airing of transaction gone wrong. In Dirk's case, it was the individual who was bent over the bad end of the bargain.
According to Dirk, he had purchased two couches from Ashley Furniture Company that were, upon delivery, defective. Instead of replacing the couches, Ashley Furniture had frequently sent employees to make repairs as needed on the couches instead of returning Dirk's hard earned cash or supplying a replacement item (Who in the heck wants to have some cats come over to their house and disturb their American Idol to have their couch serviced?).
So, what is Dirk supposed to do? Eat the money? Keep having the lower level goons disturb Duck Dynasty every other week? No, Dirk Helming is no push over. Dirk and his gang of street toughs (see above) decide to go down to the Asheville Furniture and spend their day letting every car, truck and SUV in eyesight know that they got done raw. Apparently Ashley Furniture was none to impressed that their "laundry was out in the sun." Of course, they called the police.
The police, being a representation of the working man, simply asked Dirk and the lads to move to the far end of the parking lot. Being a respectful Christian man, Dirk abided by the law's request and continued his public shaming of Ashley Furniture Company. I wonder if Dirk has gotten a refund yet? Either way, at least he did what he could to take the fight to big business and set an example for his son. Don't be a pushover. Don't roll over and take it. This is America.
As I rolled out of the parking lot to the Best Buy (to price a Canon 430 ex ii flash), I thought of Linda Johnson and wondered if she was going to call the po-po about the Qwikstop sign.