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Photos As A Memory Lifeline

My mother and father bringing me home from the hospital.

Not long ago my father found a stash of family photos that my mom had hidden away in a safe place and forgotten. The photos, mostly small black-and-white snapshots, were mostly of my sister and I. In many of the the photos, I was an infant being brought home from the hospital and then later a young teenager, about 14-years-old.

It did not surprise me that about 18 months after my mom’s death that these photos bubbled to the surface. My mom had Alzheimers and like many people with this terrible disease would hide common things in odd places. It’s a habit that confounds the families of Alzheimer’s victims, finding television remotes in the refrigerator and the car keys in a kitchen junk drawer.

After my father had a stroke a few years ago, my sister was desperately trying to find his hospital records for a follow-up doctor’s appointment. She shifted her search strategy to look in places “where no one would ever look,” and fairly quickly found the medical files in my mother’s underwear drawer. Later, my mother said she put them there because they would be safe.

Safe from who or what she could not explain. But recalling this episode gave me some insight into my mother’s motivations in stashing away her prized family photos.

You have to understand that nothing was more important to my mom than her children. For us, she would make any sacrifice. And I can still remember feeling so loved when she comforted me from a hard fall on the playground, after being bullied at school or before a anxiety provoking exam at school.

In the fog of her disease, I am certain my mom was attempting to preserve her memories and recognition of her children. She still remembered the day her own mother, who also suffered from dementia, could not recognize her own daughter. She was not going to allow the thief afoot called Alzheimers to steal her children.

Our family was deeply saddened and shocked when my mother died unexpectedly of a massive stroke. But we also were grateful that she would not have to suffer through the worst of what Alzheimers would have brought in the end.

Instead, my mother died with her children at her side and held her memories of being a mom until the very end. And now, my sister, father and I have those photos as bright memories of her love for all our remaining days.

With my mom and our german shepherd who I a told guarded me with unwavering devotion.

A little older and spending time with my mother and father.

Fresh from The Portrait Garden

“Beauty, intrigue and emotion can be found in every person. Seeing it and composing it is what separates the selfie from the portrait.”

Meet Darko, in the photo below-right, the latest subject to bloom in The Portrait Garden.

Darko immigrated to the United States from Serbia a couple of years ago. He’s living in the Washington, D.C., area pursuing the American Dream, which includes a part-time career as a model. As you can see, with his handsome looks and riveting blue eyes, he’s going to be getting plenty of work.

And that leaves you to ask, “What is The Portrait Garden?”

Let me explain.

About a year ago, I decided to sell my condo here in Washington where I had lived for 10 years. Because the Washington real estate market is so hot, I was able to sell my unit without even listing it. The buyer was willing to pay extra to get a quick closing and move-in date.

So, I had to quickly find a place to live. I settled on a rental condo nearby my old place. But it leaves a lot to be desired. It is on the basement/terrace level and is small and dark. I figured I could stay here a year and give some thought to where I wanted to live and create some studio space.

But it didn’t take long for me to discover my temporary place came with a magical surprise. My apartment has a private, outdoor terrace. The terrace is one floor below street level, which means it catches beautiful reflected light during significant portions of the day. It also has a lengthy wall covered by ivy, which makes an incredibly beautiful background.

I did a photo shoot with my first model, a striking young man from Moscow, right after I moved in. I could see right away I had stumbled into a great photo shooting space. In recent months, I have photographed many models, individual portrait subjects and executives in this space.

The results have been stunning, enough so that I’ve decided to stay in this condo for an extended period. And I’ve decided this terrace that yields such awesome photos should have a name. That’s how I came up with The Portrait Garden.

Beauty, intrigue and emotion can be found in every person. Seeing it and composing it is what separates the selfie from the portrait. And I want to help more clients create a wonderful piece of art that they can display proudly in their home, give as a gift to a loved one and create a beautiful historical record of themselves that will be treasured by their children and grand children.

So, I want to invite you to a free photo session in The Portrait Garden. That’s right, a photo shoot at no charge. This is a new pricing plan I have introduced with the development of The Portrait Garden. Your photo shoot is free and you only pay for the deliverables, such as digital files and prints, which you purchase after the session. Print and digital file packages start at $450.

Call or email today to get more details and schedule a visit to The Portrait Garden.

Phone: 202-986-1758

Email: Robert@RobertDodge.com

Not all executive portraits have to be super serious. A little levity is a good thing.

Ilya Ricci, a model from Moscow, was the first subject to be photographed in The Portrait Garden.

Camilo’s rich ethnic heritage and Colombia roots make him an intriguing portrait subject.

I don’t require that all my models are ripped. But it’s nice when it turns out that way.

Images from The Portrait Garden work well in color or black-and-white.

 

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Your Portrait

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Many years ago, when I had one of my first newspaper jobs in Dallas, I was frustrated as I tried to think of a holiday gift for my parents. I always tried to think of gifts that were unexpected and a fun surprise.

But that year, I was stumped.

After expressing my frustration to a colleague at work, she suggested I have my portrait made. Of course! It sounded like a great idea as I recalled my mother saying that she really wanted some updated portraits of me and my younger sister. I just knew she’d be pleasantly surprised.

I got some recommendations and found a great photographer and had my portraits made. My colleague’s suggestion was a good one. sm2016-11-04-ilya-ricci-c-robert-dodge-photography-retouched-3322My mom was thrilled and my father was happy, too. A couple prints from that portrait session, along with some of my sister, have been displayed on a prominent wall in my parent’s home ever since.

My mother often mentioned how much she enjoyed having the portraits of her children during their young adult years. My sister and I had left home and were beginning our careers, so as empty nesters, I think those portraits helped my parents keep their children close to their hearts. Those prints are now about 30 years old and look just as good as when they were purchased.

The experience of giving those photos left me with the lifelong belief that there is no better gift than your own portrait. And if you do not want to have your own portrait made, then giving a photo session also makes a great gift during the holiday season. And this is a gift that does not require a trip to the mall or a nail-biting shopping experience on Black Friday.

In fact, you’re going to find that making your portraits and giving them as a gift is an all-round fun experience.

So here’s how it works: We’ll select a favorite location, such as a local park or one of our city’s beautiful monuments. Then we’ll set a date and shoot your photos — and I promise 2016-05-29-justin-clark-c-robert-dodge-photography-hdr-color-nik-final-0303to make that one of the fun parts. After your photo shoot, I will cull down the images to the very best ones. From those selections, you will then make your choices for prints and then enjoy the anticipation of giving your gift.

And the whole package is just $550 — a $200 reduction for the holidays. Just to recap, here is what the fee includes:

  • Pre-shoot consultation on shoot location, apparel and grooming
  • Photo shoot at a pre-selected location, which usually lasts about an hour
  • Password-protected online gallery to view selected proofs
  • One wall-sized print; additional prints available for purchase

Have questions? Ready to book a photo shoot? Give me a call and let’s talk about making some fine-art images for you and those you care about. Call here: 202-986-1758. Or email me at Robert@RobertDodge.com.
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Printing of Vietnam 40 Years Later Is Finito!

Davide Cornacchini (left) and I discuss the color characteristics in the latest pages. I think Davide and I have the same hair stylist.

Davide Cornacchini (left) and I discuss the color characteristics in the latest pages. I think Davide and I have the same hair stylist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOLOGNA, Italy — Printing of Vietnam 40 Years Later was completed late Tuesday afternoon at the Damiani Editore printing facility here.

(Buy the book here: www.Vietnam40YearsLater.com.)

The giant sheets of paper that contain eight pages each on front and back are now

Matteo Girardi checks color registration.

Matteo Girardi checks color registration.

stacked on seven wood pallets at Damiani. Next step: The pages will be shipped to the south of Italy near Naples where another company will stitch the binding. And after that the hardcover will be added. I learned Tuesday that the title and my name will be stamped on the cover with a slight embossing. The white letters will stand out on the elegant black linen cover.

One of the things that stands out about my experience here is the quality of Damiani’s printing. The colors are rich, saturated and simply beautiful. There is a depth to the photos that is difficult to achieve in book printing. I think the skilled artisans at Damiani are printing books that rival the very best fine-art digital printing used to create limited-edition prints for art collectors. I am so happy that Damiani is my publisher and I am looking forward to sharing these books with buyers.

(Buy the book here:

www.Vietnam40YearsLater.com.)

Printers put new plates on press (left). Pages are turned over to print on reverse side.

Printers put new plates on press (left). Pages are turned over to print on reverse side.

As the big sheets roll off the press, Davide checks them for color, contrast and other characteristics.

As the big sheets roll off the press, Davide checks them for color, contrast and other characteristics.

Pages that were printed Monday were run through the press on Tuesday to print on the reverse side of the sheets.

Pages that were printed Monday were run through the press on Tuesday to print on the reverse side.

Davide takes a sheet and makes sure that the images are in proper sequence.

Davide takes a sheet and makes sure that the images are in proper sequence.

A close-up of one of the sheets reveals the book will have portraits of Vietnamese people.

A close-up of one of the sheets reveals the book will have portraits of Vietnamese people.

Damiani tries not to waste paper. But there is some in every book printing.
Damiani tries not to waste paper. But there is some in every book printing.

And here is Vietnam 40 Years Later stacked on seven pallets about 2,000 pages deep.

And here is Vietnam 40 Years Later stacked on seven pallets about 2,000 pages deep.

 

Presses Roll for Vietnam 40 Years Later

Starting the day with Andrea Albertini (right), president of Damiani Editore, with the first pages of Vietnam 40 Years Later.

Starting the day with Andrea Albertini (right), president of Damiani Editore, reviewing first pages of Vietnam 40 Years Later.

 

 

BOLOGNA, Italy — A photographer’s dream began rolling off the presses today — my dream to be precise.

In full color, broad white sheets that contain eight book pages are being printed here at the Damiani Editore printing facility in Bologna, Italy. The printing of Vietnam 40 Years Later is the culmination of more than eight years of work, nine trips to Vietnam, the editing of tens of thousands of images and the final crafting of what I believe is going to be a beautiful book.

The Damiani team is printing 2,000 copies of Vietnam 40 Years Later, which will be released March 1 next year as part of the semi-annual release of photo books in the

Electronic adjustments fine-tune color in images.

Electronic adjustments fine-tune color in images.

Spring. The book contains 110 pages of beautiful color photographs that will update Americans on what has happened to Vietnam since the end of the American-Vietnam War nearly 40 years ago. There are about another 25 portraits of Vietnamese people from all walks of life, something of a reintroduction of the Vietnamese people to Americans.

The book contains a eloquent foreword by Andrew Lam, an award-winning Vietnamese-American journalist and book author. I also have drawn on my writing skills to pen a photographer’s essay.

Damiani is one of the world’s leading publishers of photography and art books. And being on hand to see the team at Damiani work has given me an insight to why they have this well-earned reputation. As the pages roll off the press, I am blown away by the amazing details in each photo, the stunning colors and contrast that gives the images enormous depth. The quality challenges the very best digital printing that we now use for fine-art prints.

My day at Damiani started early and the company’s president, Andrea Albertini, had a table stacked with proofs, known as blue prints, for me to review. I was asked to proof the pages one more time, making sure the sequence of photos was correct and that all the text was clean with no errors. This always makes me nervous because my talents are not in proof reading; I was always the writer who benefitted from the sharp eyes and editing skills of my editors.

Final adjustments are made to the press (left). Pages are stacked on pallet.

Final adjustments are made to the press (left). Pages are stacked on pallet.

After proofing all the pages, the first press run started. I moved to the pressroom where Damiani’s highly skilled printers were examining the first pages. They are checked to make sure the color plates are in register and to make adjustments in various inks to get the best colors and contrast.

Even though I spent decades in the newspaper business, this is my first book and I am the novice here this week. I am shown the first pages and they actually look fine to my untrained eye. But the printers tell me the images look flat and they are going to boost the cyan a tad which will add contrast and depth. The adjustments are made, new pages roll off the press and examined. Indeed, this batch sparkles a bit more and the images have considerably more depth.

Checking color registration for the book cover.

Checking color registration for the book cover.

As this process is repeated throughout the day, I am asked to approve proofs of the pages before they are printed. And with each set, I think I am getting a little better at seeing some of the very subtle differences once the fine-tuning takes place. In any event, I can tell my book is in the hands of skilled artisans who care and take pride in their work.

By the end of the day, half the book is published. The sets of pages are stacked on crates overnight. Tomorrow the pages will be reloaded into the press so that the other half of the book can be printed on the reverse side.

I end the day having dinner with Andrea and learning more about book publishing. I go to sleep tonight feeling relieved that I will not be responsible for reloading the pages into the press and making sure the photos are printed right-side up!

Buy your book now: www.Vietnam40YearsLater.com.

 

Andrea (left) and Johnny inspect the first pages of Vietnam 40 Years Later.

Andrea (left) and Gianni Grandi inspect the first pages of Vietnam 40 Years Later.

 

 

Davide Cornachini, a printer at Damiani. inspects page for color registration.

Davide Cornachini, a printer at Damiani, inspects page for color registration.

 

The Damiani printing team inspects the first pages of Vietnam 40 Years Later for color, contrast and other details.

The Damiani team inspects the first pages of Vietnam 40 Years Later for color, contrast and other details.

 

 

Printers test the color in the photo after a through a laminate that will be placed on the book cover.

Printers test the color in a photo through a laminate that will be placed on the book cover.

 

 

As the day progresses, each set of eight pages is stacked on wood pallets. The finished pages will go to a book binder.

As the day progresses, each set of eight pages is stacked on wood pallets.

 

Sheets of book pages appear to fly through the press as the printing moves into full pace.

Sheets of book pages appear to fly through the press as the printing moves into full pace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnam 40 Years Later Goes to Press

The cover photo tells much of Vietnam's history from ancient times to the present.

The book’s cover with a photo tells much of Vietnam’s history from ancient times to the present.

 

 

BOLOGNA, Italy — Vietnam 40 Years Later will go to press this week with the three-day production process beginning here on Monday.

Traveling from Washington, D.C., I arrived today in Bologna, the headquarters of my publisher, Damiani Editore. I will be on hand through the process to report here on the production process and printing of the book.

Vietnam 40 Years Later is the culmination of nine lengthy trips to Vietnam over eight years. It also is the result of countless Vietnam 40 Years Later is the culmination of culling and editing more than 200,000 images that were made for the book. In recent months, I worked with editors and designers to narrow the selection to about 100 images plus another 25 portraits that are now Vietnam 40 Years Later is the culmination in a contemporary design. You can learn more about the production of the book from the accompanying video.

See the Video

Buy the book here: www.Vietnam40YearsLater.com

Selecting the cover photo was difficult. But in the end, the woman selling the baguettes in the streets of Hanoi became an obvious choice because it beautifully tells the history of Vietnam. Note that the woman is wearing the traditional conical hat as her ancestors have done for centuries. But also see that the rest of her apparel is fashionably western, showing that she too hopes to be part of Vietnam’s future as a player in the global economy. Her baguettes remind us of the French occupation. Finally, the blurred motorbikes symbolize the rush of Vietnam’s youthful population to embrace the modern pop culture of the larger world. And as one young man looks back at the older woman, we must wonder if in the end she and her generation will be left behind.

While the book is being printed this week, it will not be publicly released until March 1. That will place it in the marketplace during the year leading up to the 40th anniversary of the end of the American-Vietnam War.

As we approach this anniversary, I offer an updated and more hopeful vision of Vietnam than the one of war time violence that still haunts the memories of many Americans. I present a Vietnam in motion, a nation with one foot deeply planted in ancient Asia and one leaping like an energetic tiger for the new world. Andrew Lam, the gifted Vietnamese-American journalist who wrote the foreword, refers to Vietnam as “an active verb,” or a “country barely discovered.” But this book is not naive in its presentation, noting that Vietnam is at a crossroads and must realize that its recent human rights abuses and limits on free speech are counterproductive to its ambitions of becoming a modern 21st-Century economy.

I am looking forward to reporting on the printing process here so please check-in this week for updates. And in the mean time, you can make a preproduction copy of the book with the link here. Books ordered now will include a limited-edition print and an autographed book.

Buy the book here: www.Vietnam40YearsLater.com

Damiani to Publish Vietnam 40 Years Later

From the book, Vietnam 40 Years Later, bull races near Chau Doc.

From the book, Vietnam 40 Years Later, and a FotoWeekDC contest winner: Bull races near Chau Doc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(My studio issued the following news release today:)

WASHINGTON, D.C.. October 3, 2013 — Photographer Robert Dodge announced today that he has signed with Damiani Editore of Italy to publish Vietnam 40 Years Later, a colorful and compelling exploration of Vietnam four decades after the end of the war. The book also became available today for pre-publication sales at: Vietnam 40 Years Later.

Vietnam 40 Years Later will contain about 100 beautiful photographs that challenge Americans to give-up their horrific war-era memories of this Southeast Asian country in favor of a more hopeful and modern vision. The book is scheduled to be published in March 2014, just one year before the 40th anniversary of the end of the war.

“I am especially proud that the book will be published by Damiani,” said Dodge, noting that the Bologna-based company “is one of the world’s most-prestigious publishers of art and photography books.”

The book is the creative result of an eight-year project that will give viewers a fresh look at Vietnam. “Vietnam is no longer a war. It is a country,” Dodge said.

Robert Dodge Photography also announced today that images from the book have won top honors in FotoWeekDC’s Uncover/Discover contest. The images will be seen as large prints and projections during the international photo festival in November in Washington, D.C.

A video of Dodge photo shooting in Vietnam and talking about the book can be seen at: Vietnam 40 Years Later.

From the watery and lush farmlands of the Mekong to the lush green rice paddies of the Red River region; from the crystal clear waters and sandy beaches of the coastline to the tropical mountains of the north; from the historic corridors of Hanoi to the bustling business, fashion and media center of Ho Chi Minh City, Dodge provides a captivating cross section of a country that has shaken off its violent past and now appears to be in constant motion. To be sure, Dodge’s exploration reveals a country at a crossroads with serious economic and political challenges. But whatever Vietnam ultimately does to fix its economy or confront human rights issues, Dodge has provided viewers with a new and insightful perspective on a country that is once again connected to the United States and the West economically, politically and militarily.  

He also draws beautifully from his decades as a journalist to show readers he also is a seasoned writer. In a compelling essay, he tells how his experiences as a war-era Baby Boomer instilled him with a keen interest in Vietnam and was the inspiration for his photo exploration.

Dodge is accompanied by Vietnamese-American journalist Andrew Lam, who has written an eloquent foreword, drawing on Dodge’s photography to reflect on his own life as a Vietnamese refugee who found success in America as a journalist and award-winning book author.

Robert Dodge is an award-winning writer and photographer based in Washington, D.C. Prior to going full-time with his photography in 2010, Dodge was a Washington correspondent for The Dallas Morning News. He covered economic, heath care and education issues from Capitol Hill and the White House. In 1994, he won a Dallas Press Club Texas Katie Award for his Sunday magazine article, Mr. Bentsen and the President. In 2011, Dodge received an Honorable Mention in the Santa Fe Workshops contest called “LIGHT” for the image Tram Ton Pass captured near Sapa, Vietnam. The image was one of 50 contest winners selected from 2,777 entries by 751 photographers from throughout the world.

Andrew Lam is the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora and East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres. He is also a senior editor and writer at New America Media and a commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. His latest book, Birds of Paradise, has received high praise from critics and readers. Lam, who was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1975 when he was 11 years old, is the recipient of many awards and honors for his work.

Purchase the book here: Vietnam 40 Years Later.

Feeling the Benefits of Fitness Thousands of Miles from the Gym

High atop a mountain of salt, I try and get a good angle on this worker depositing freshly harvested salt.

High atop a mountain of salt, I try and get a good angle on this worker depositing freshly harvested salt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third in an occasional series. All photos by Ly Hoang Long.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On my recent photo shooting trip to Vietnam, my friend and colleague, Ly Hoang Long, took a bunch of candid shots of me while I was working. The idea was to record my last photo shooting trip for my book, Vietnam 40 Years Later, and to also create some images to promote the publication.

As he always does, Long took some great images. And as I looked at them I realized they were about more than our photo shooting trip or the book. I observed with some satisfaction that the images stand as a testament to the success of my fitness program and the creative benefits that flow from being more fit and healthy.

On this trip I also was accompanied by Khoa Tran, a very talented photographer and videographer based in Saigon. Khoa helped me find some great portrait subjects in Saigon and in the Mekong. And he also shot some great video of me working that will be used for a trailer on the book. Khoa was sufficiently impressed with my weight loss that he is now participating in a fitness boot camp in Saigon.

During this trip, I shot in most of the widely different environments that Vietnam can dish up. We worked on the steamy streets of Saigon, on the murky Mekong River at the

Left, locals often enjoy seeing their images. Right, running somehow did not keep my shoes dry.

Left, locals often enjoy seeing their images. Right, I can run again but that did not keep my shoes dry.

floating markets in Can Tho, under the searing sun on the coastal salt fields in Nha Trang and the humidity-filled air of the rice planting region north of Hanoi. And we often got up before dawn and finished just after sunset.

Photographers who travel to such far-flung destinations will tell you those hours and conditions are typical — and often times far worse. But back in the day when I was 40 pounds heavier, this kind of schedule was devastating. I would end the day totally exhausted and every flabby muscle in my body ached.

No one can be at their creative best when they feel that way. And being overweight and out of shape also compromises your safety. I am certain that my obesity played a role in 2008 when I lost my balance and fell off a mountain-side rice paddy and totally blew out

Khoa and I try to get a smile from our young subject.

Khoa and I try to get a smile from our young subject.

my left knee.

To be sure, I got tired on this trip. But it was nothing like before and each day I was ready to attack our shoot list with new vigor.

And so, as I look at the photos, I am very proud of my 40-pound weight loss and I can see the beginnings of a more athletic body. But the photos also are a reality check. They give me an objective view of what remains to be done: I still need to lose another 25-to-30 pounds.

Based on the benefits I’ve enjoyed so far, I can’t wait to get lean and mean. I return to the gym where I am lucky to have a personal trainer who I believe is this city’s very best. I also return with my highest level of enthusiasm and energy ever, which more than anything else will propel me to success.

That’s what happens when fitness and creativity work together.

With the mountains of far North Vietnam as our backdrop, Khoa Tran checks his camera settings and sound for our video.

With the mountains of far North Vietnam as our backdrop, Khoa Tran checks his camera settings and sound for our video.

This Nha Trang fisherman and his buddies in the boat were great and willing portrait subjects.

This Nha Trang fisherman and his buddies in the boat were great and willing portrait subjects.

We were lucky to show-up at this school the day they weighed and measured the children.

We were lucky to show-up at this school the day they weighed and measured the children.

When it was time to do my video, I had established a bunch of new friends.

When it was time to do my video, I had established a bunch of new friends.

 

Moments of Pure Wet Joy

The Myanmar New Year was welcomed with some spirited dancing -- all fueled by water, alcohol and holiday spirit.

The Myanmar New Year was welcomed with dancing, fueled by water, alcohol and holiday spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MANDALAY, Myanmar — Last week marked the beginning of this country’s New Year. And these people know how to throw a party. For four days, they danced, drank a bit and hurled water all over each other during the Thingyan Water Festival.

It’s been great soggy fun.

Here in Mandalay, there were four colorful stages erected, one of each on the four sides of the large moat surrounding the old palace. The big platforms, funded by corporate sponsors, have several levels, including a stage for performers and a couple of rows of seating equipped with powerful water hoses to drench celebrants who pass by the stage by foot, motorbike, open Jeeps and pick-up trucks. (A special thanks goes to a company called ASK, whose friendly owners allowed me access atop their stage to shoot photos of the revelers below.)

When a vehicle moved into the water it was time to stand-up and dance.

When a vehicle moved into the water it was time to dance.

All these vehicles laden with celebrants pour into the streets, competing for a chance to pass by one of the huge water platforms. Once they get their time under the water, they go wild, dancing to the pop and hip hop sounds blasting from the stage and gyrating under the steady stream of water. In short order, the streets become flooded and traffic stalls in gridlock.

On side streets throughout the city, children, teens and even a few adults line the streets with buckets of water. As pedestrians, motorbikes and others pass by they are given a generous splashing of water — including some that has been chilled with ice. Being doused is considered a blessing, a cleansing of bad luck and sins from the previous year and a generous wish for health and prosperity in the year ahead.

Denying a well-wisher the pleasure of giving you a good dunk would be rude. And, westerners are not given a pass, including those toting expensive camera equipment. By the time I had left my hotel and walked the four blocks to the major festivities, I was soaked to the bone. And many of the celebrants who blessed me with their water were thoughtful and downright artful in avoiding my camera.

As I approached many people walking up the street, I would point to my camera. They would respond by holding up their arm or pointing it out to the side, a signal that I needed to hold the camera out from my body. Then I got hosed.

This young man was in in his own world, singing and dancing to the music.

The young man wearing the sunglasses was in in his own world, singing and dancing to the music.

This is one of the rare times that the military government tolerates congregations of large numbers of people. And so, the Burmese make the most of it, drinking, dancing and enjoying the spray of water under Myanmar’s sizzling hot sun.

No matter how forceful the water, this guy could dance, dance and dance.

No matter how forceful the water, this guy could dance, dance and dance.

And they dressed up sassy for this party. Black was the most popular color, with men wearing fashion-label black jeans, black boots and silver-studded black belts. This was topped off by their best clubbing shirts, as well as western hair fashions, including many with orange and blond coloring.

And once they had been soaked to the bone, few peeled off their shirts. Fashion had priority.

Haberdashery aside, one of the most striking visuals to me was watching thousands of predominantly straight men dancing together. In many Asian cultures, men frequently leave girlfriends and wives at home when they go out to party. Sadly, women’s roles are still limited to keeping the house tidy, preparing food and making babies. Men are for fun — and so they strike out to such events often with just their buddies.

There was more than tea in that bottle.

There was more than tea in that bottle.

Combine this practice with their lack of inhibition in expressing their affection for one another and I was sometimes wondering if I was at the water festival or a gay pride weekend. I feel badly about practices that relegate women to second-class status. That’s just not cool. But there also was joy in seeing these guys truly enjoying their friends, dancing, arms around one another and giving many hugs.

And there were other social-political undercurrents at work: These young people have gotten a taste of freedom and they like it. Myanmar President U Thein Sein has promised to move the country to democracy. No doubt he sees the western fashion styles of his country’s youth, hears their music and knows where they want their country to go.

Early in the day, traffic moves freely around the big water platforms.

Early in the day, traffic moves freely around the big water platforms.

By late morning the streets are packed and Mandalay's police are overwhelmed.

By late morning the streets are packed and Mandalay’s police are overwhelmed.

It's not a great time or place to have your vehicle breakdown but these guys try a speedy repair.

It’s not a great time or place to have your vehicle breakdown, but these guys try a speedy repair.

And finally the traffic, people and water come together to create a massive, soggy party.

And finally the traffic, people and water come together to create a massive, soggy party.

Celebrants dressed like they were going clubbing. And they danced that way, too.

Celebrants dressed like they were going clubbing. And they danced that way, too.

Young men danced with their buddies to welcome in the new year.

Young men danced with their buddies to welcome in the new year.

Many party goers jumped off their vehicles and danced in the streets once they were under the water.

Many party goers jumped off their vehicles and danced in the streets once they were under the water.

Getting high atop the vehicles appeared to be the prime location for some seeking water and music.

Getting high atop the vehicles appeared to be the prime location for some seeking water and music.

Sometimes the revelers just needed to take a rest from the spray, dancing and hot sun.

Sometimes the revelers just needed to take a rest from the spray, dancing and hot sun.

The water provided cool relief to those seeking a break from Myanmar's hot sun.

The water provided cool relief to those seeking a break from Myanmar’s hot sun.

In a country that allows few large public celebrations, the water festival offered an outlet for youthful expression.

In a country that allows few large public celebrations, the water festival offered an outlet for youthful expression.

And when they were not doing their own dance, celebrants cheered on their friends.

And when they were not doing their own dance, celebrants cheered on their friends.

By the end of the day, Mandalay's streets were clogged with water and traffic.

By the end of the day, Mandalay’s streets were clogged with water, people and traffic.

 

Photo Friends Across Borders

Long Ly, right, and XXX XXXX take a break from shooting to talk.

Ly Hoang Long, right, and Nyaung U Than Htay take a break to talk at a monastery in Mandalay.

 

 

 

 

MANDALAY, Myanmar — When I first began working on my Vietnam 40 Years Later project in 2006, I met a Vietnamese photographer named Ly Hoang Long. I had no idea that Long would not only become a good friend but also would help make my book project a success.

Long lives in DaLat with his wife and two sons. I was visiting DaLat, located in the mountains northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, on a photo shooting trip and had come across Long’s website and really liked his work. I emailed him and more or less invited myself to visit his studio.

I was warmly welcomed. And Long took the day off to show me around DaLat and go photo shooting with me. He subsequently agreed to be my photo guide and we have traveled throughout Vietnam together, from the far reaches of the Vietnam-China border to the southern tip of the Mekong Delta. It was Long who was with me in 2008 and rescued me when I fell off a mountainside rice paddy and blew-out my left knee.

Long is somewhat modest about his standing in Vietnamese photo circles. But I will tell you he is one of the most-respected photographers in the country. He has built a successful stock photography business, is the recipient of many awards and is frequently asked to organize and judge national photo competitions. I also have learned a lot by working with Long. In the beginning, I saw Vietnam mainly as a landscape subject. But watching Long work inspired me to expand my horizons and start shooting images of people in both the countryside and the urban areas. And that in turn helped me shape my Vietnam portfolio into a book project.

And so, a couple of months ago, when Long invited me to join him on a photo tour of Myanmar I did not have to think about it twice. For 10 days I have traveled with Long and four other Vietnamese photographers on one of the most successful photo trips I have made.

One of the highlights was meeting Myanmar photographer Nyaung U Than Htay, who enjoys a status in his country similar to Long. Htay accompanied us during some photo shooting stops in Mandalay. During one stop I captured the accompanying image of Long and Htay talking at a monastery. The smiles tell me they enjoy one another and will both benefit from their new and growing friendship.

It’s a good example of the cultural and human growth that takes place when formerly restrictive governments open their borders and extend freedoms to their people. I think good and creative things are going to happen as a result of Long’s and Htay’s friendship.

I also had a chance to talk with Htay during a coffee break. I asked him how long he had been a photographer and what had inspired him to pick-up a camera.

He explained that his father had been an artist and photographer. After having difficulty making a living in a small town, his father and mother moved to the larger city of Yangon. And then in 1949, his mother became pregnant with Htay.

“There was a civil war on then and that meant I would probably be born at home,” he said. “My father set up everything for the delivery in the darkroom. And when it came time, I was born in the darkroom. And that is where it started.”

Additional resources:

Ly Hoang Long’s website