Death Cab for Cutie: Beijing

A growing music scene highlighted by Indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie's first visit to China

(If you have the time, make sure to check out Split Works Media and the Jue Festival for Music and the Arts.  These are the people who are working really hard to promote the arts and music in both Beijing and ShangHai as well as working really hard to bring such amazing acts like Death Cab for Cutie to China.  It does my heart good to know that there are people in China like this.  For both my wife – (Art Director, Art Teacher, Painter, print designer)  and for myself  (photographer, musician, and designer) things like this are huge – and truly important.  They are part of seeing a culture grow and seeing the arts in China valued.  So go check them out!)

The first time I saw Death Cab for Cutie play was in March of 2002. Last weekend (almost ten years to the day) I was in Beijing shooting Death Cab’s first appearance in China as one of the official photographers for my friends over at Split Works Media as part of their annual Jue Festival for Arts and Music.  It was a fantastic experience both as a photographer and a music lover- not to mention as a huge fan of Death Cab for Cutie.

I’ve lived in China for about four years now, mostly working as a photographer in the western parts of this country.  In that entire time I can honestly say that I hadn’t been to one concert that was worth the cost of a taxi ride to the venue.  The culture of music in the west is a far cry from that on the more modernized Chinese coastal areas.  This year I’ve been doing more and more work on the east coast and have been exposed to China’s growing music scene.  For music lovers, it’s abosolutely fantastic – a dynamic, growing, and vibrant music scene.  Something to really get excited about.  For those interested in the culture of it all, it’s equally mesmerizing.  It’s really a special time in China for the culture of music.

As a cultural photographer and music lover, it was a fantastic weekend.

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Guest Post: Baron Batch

Guest writer Baron Batch talks about how humanity and photography go hand in hand

Today’s post comes from my friend Baron Batch.  Baron is a photography, philanthropist, and a professional football player on the side.

I’m glad to have Baron posting today and I’m especially excited about the topic – Humanity and Photography.  If you’ve been following along the last few months you will notice we have talked a lot about humanity and photography and their corrolation (here, here, and here).  Specifically we have talked about how to value humanity when entering new cultures – human first. photographer second.

I was glad to get Baron’s story about working for an NGO in Haiti as a photographer.  His story resonates with many stories I’ve heard of photographers visiting new cultures for the first time and is a strong reminder for us all to value the person over the picture.

To shoot or not to shoot?

That was the question that rubbed my mind raw like a pebble in a shoe as I walked nervously through the streets of Port Au Prince Haiti in January of 2011. The thought of pulling my camera out made me uncomfortable. Realistically the camera I was using was worth more than most Haitians make in a lifetime – and when you’re a foreigner the locals know it. Even though I was black like the rest of the Haitians, they looked at me the same as all the other foreigners – with a stare that simply said, “How dare you?”

My hands and mind were in conflict with my heart as I continued to walk though the streets of this unfamiliar world. This was unlike anything that I had ever seen or experienced, and I’m sure that my facial expressions showed it. Actually, I know that my facial expressions showed because of how the locals looked at me.  It was a look of disgust blended finely with obvious anger. “Snap out of it Baron, you aren’t at the zoo.” Is what I kept telling myself as I walked. “These are people. This is where these people live.

I thought. “This is their home. You are a visitor here.”

I was on the trip to document a medical team photographically – it was my sole purpose on the trip. We had come to Port Au Prince to do some trading in the city, and I had yet to photograph anything. We passed collapsed buildings, churches, and schools that I recognized from other photos that I had seen on CNN and other mainstream news outlets. The photographer in me said, “Pull out your camera right now and get that shot!” But my heart simply said, “Don’t.”

I began to take out my camera and disregarded every fiber of my being that was screaming for me to put it away. Before I got my camera completely out of my bag, I witnessed something I will never forget… something that will forever give me perspective on the importance of respecting others and valuing humanity before anything else.

As I began to pull the camera from my bag I heard a scream followed by a barrage of words that I didn’t understand. I quickly looked up, startled, at the commotion only to see a Haitian woman leaning out  her window screaming at a group of Americans. She was screaming in Haitian Creole. I don’t understand Haitian Creole one bit, but a pissed of demeanor is universal. I stared across the street as the woman continued to yell at the Americans all while they continued to take pictures. Not sure what was taking place I turned to our translator and asked “Why is she so mad? What did those Americans do to piss her off? What’s she saying to them?

Our translator replied, “She is angry because they are taking pictures by her old house that was destroyed in the quake. She says that her family is still under the rubble. She just wanted the Americans to go away.”I looked up and I could see that the Haitian woman had streams coming down her face.Then it hit me. The Americans across the street were not only posing for pictures by a woman’s home that had been destroyed, they were walking on the graves of her entire family.

I put my camera back in the bag and didn’t take it out again the entire time we were in Port Au Prince. I didn’t take a single photograph there.
Human decency and photography should go hand in hand for this reason. Especially when you are the visitor. I’d like to say that I knew this before experiencing this story, but that would be a lie. In all honesty I was about to go walk on the graves of the Haitian woman’s entire family oblivious to the fact that they rested under the rubble. I’m glad that I didn’t. What I learned that day is to never let your humanity be compromised. That is a truth that I’ll always carry with me no matter where I go, especially with my camera.

We are all humans before anything else. If you miss this one simple point you have missed everything. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than you. And it’s for sure bigger than a single photograph.

Seda Monastery, Northern Sichuan 2011

Norther Sichuan in Ganze Prefecture - The Largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world

SeDa School/Monastery/Nunnery Pano

Above:  A pano of SeDa.  It’s hard to understand the scale until you see the full image.  Check it out here.

About a year ago my business partner, Jamin, and I spent four days driving from central Sichuan all the way back to where I live in Qinghai.  Driving all the way through Sichuan is a treat.  Ganzi/Ganze prefecture has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  So much great culture in that area of Tibet.  I wanted to post about my trip there now because this area has been in the news quite a bit over the last few weeks for ethnic tensions.

Travel bloggers, agencies, and books will tell you that Labrang monastery in Gansu is the largest monastery in all of Tibet.  However, this is no entirely true.  SeDa (also called Sêrtar) is a monastery, nunnery, and a schools all combined into one with a population the swells to over 40,000 people during certain times of the year.  That’s over 5 times the population of LaBrang, which most consider to be the largest.

Few foreigners have visited this area because it’s often closed and extremely remote.  After hearing about it years ago, I was excited to be able to visit it.  Even though I knew it was big, taking in the size and population was really hard.  It was difficult to believe such a place existed – a virtual city that covers three different mountain sides.  I was pretty happy to have been able to visit.

Below are pictures that I was able to take during my time there.  All these are ‘new’ to the blog and haven’t been released either here or my portfolio.  Take a look and enjoy…


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2012 Workshop Destination & Interview

Images of Bhaktapur, Nepal & a quick Q&A of our 2012 Tibet/Nepal Tour

A few days ago Matt Brandon, Jamin York and myself got together on Skype to discuss our 2012 Lhasa, Everest, Nepal Overland Workshop.  We covered almost every aspect of the workshop.  I mentioned quickly that one of the best parts of the trip for me was our day in Bhaktapur, Nepal.  Bhaktapur is a small community outside of Kathmandu city still located in the Kathmandu Valley.  The amazing think about Bhaktapur is that the local community has made an amazing effort to preserve their culture and way off life.  It truly is a city trapped in time.  Ancient city walls, buildings, shops, and architecture all filled with people doing life much the same way that have for thousands of years.

In this year’s tour we will be spending a few days in Bhaktapur. I couldn’t be more excited about our time there.

If you are interested to know more about the entire tour, I strongly suggest you take a listen to our short interview below.  We cover quite a bit of ground in this interview.

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2012 Tour Schedule

Plateau Photo Tours 2012 Workshop Schedule

I’ve been getting quite a few emails asking if our Plateau Photo Tours 2012 tour schedule is finalized or not – I’m happy to say that we have finalized all our plans on two amazing trips that we are offering to the general public.   I’m excited to be partnering with my good friend and fellow photographers Matt Brandon and Jerod Foster for two separate trips through some amazing parts of Tibet and western China.

The two trips are are offering in 2012 are below:

It gives me great pleasure to announce Plateau Photo Tours annual Lhasa, Everest, Nepal Overland Tour and workshop.  Last years tour was a ton of fun. We continue to call this trip a ‘bucket-list’ trip because, well, you’re going to see some amazing things!  If you are interested in what all the tour entails, please visit our Plateau Photo Tours website.

The overland route connecting Lhasa, Tibet with Kathmandu, Nepal is one of the most beautiful and and sought-out land routes in all of Asia. Covering a distance of 600 miles, this workshop will take us from the ancient Tibetan capital of Lhasa to pristine high altitude lakes, winding ancient rivers, beautiful farming valleys, Everest Base Camp and over the Himalaya Mountain passes to the ancient Nepali city of Bhaktapur. We will be visiting the most famous monasteries and temples in all of Tibet while spending 13 days immersed in the unique Himalayan culture. Join us on the Roof of the World to get up close and personal with Himalayan culture and the adventure of a lifetime!

We like to consider this workshop as a ‘photo tour with a strong teaching element‘.  Most of the teaching will be done on the field in an organic fashion – we will have some specific teaching areas we will cover as well.  Also, we will have reviews and teachings most evenings to cover events from the day and to prepare for the next.  However, we understand that you will want to get lost in the endless alleyways of Lhasa and wander around monasteries to find your own adventures.  Their will be no ‘flag-totting tour guide following‘ whatsoever.  We’ve built time in for everyone and those who want one-on-one time with the instructors will get it.  Those who want to simply shoot will get it.  We’ve built the tour around flexibility, community, discussion, freedom and your ability to learn what you want from our instructors while also having the opportunity to shoot what you want.

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