Whenever I spend time people watching, I always like to imagine what their lives are like. What are they doing? Where are they going? Do they have many friends? Are they lonely? In certain situations, I inevitably end up feeling sad. Not because I feel like my life is so much more grand than theirs, but because I understand that everybody exists living with some degree of hopelessness, and I feel theirs, just as I sometimes feel mine. Their lives, or whatever story I create in my mind, unfold before me, and they disappear from my life just as quickly as they’ve entered it. I think it’s an inevitable outcome for anyone who enjoys photographing strangers, but it seems necessary to me.
As children, we dream of the improbable. And as we enter a new phase in our lives, those dreams fade, and new improbable dreams take their place. This happens again and again, year after year; dreams fading in and out of existence over and over. But sometimes, for reasons that I do not know, a dream stands out above all the others. It’s different than all the rest. It takes hold deep within, and doesn’t let go, gnawing at the subconscious.
When I was younger, I never dreamed of Sarajevo. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of hanging out with friends or playing outside. But as I got older, I discovered the world, and the most important thing it had to offer; a perspective other than my own. It seems so trivial, but when I realized how insignificant my problems were compared to others, it forced me to face how juvenile my life had been. And while I will never claim to be anything other than a twenty-year old at heart, the empathy I have for those around me grows with every trip into the unknown.
Split, Croatia - A young man walks by a school, plastered with graffiti. The sound of children fluttering around classes echo down onto the streets below, filling the surrounding area with an unrecognizable hum. I had parked across the street earlier in the day before I set off wandering around town. After a couple hours, I returned to my car and started packing up, but noticed this giant blank canvas in front of me. I walked back a bit and sat on a knee high retaining wall, patiently waiting for the right person to walk by. Sometimes I would see someone walking, and I would get excited, but a car would pass in front of me just as they moved into position. It took a bit; maybe 30 minutes before Mr. Fannypack found his way into my frame.
Simferopol, Ukraine - If you’ve ever sat in a park or a cafe and just observed what’s going on, you’ll notice that almost every person is on their cellphone. If they’re not directly interacting with someone in the vicinity, they’re glued to their screens. Why is this? What sort of habit has this become? It seems that more than ever before, we’ve become disconnected with our surroundings, never looking up to enjoy ourselves. I’m guilty of this just like the next person, but every once in a while, I’ll step out and just watch. This is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. Observing my surroundings and taking everything in. Often times, I don’t ever see anything I want, and it just becomes a practice in patience, but every once in a while, the stars align and a scene slowly moves together.
In this shot, I watched as subject after subject walked by. I photographed a few other people, but it wasn’t until this kid came by on his phone that I felt like I got something that I really liked. I’m not 100% sure what it is I like about it. It could have been his positioning, or because he was on his phone, but after I photographed him, I felt like I could move on.
Occasionally when things get really stressful, the only thing I want more than anything is to get away and unplug. No phone, no computer, no internet. At night, I imagine the sound of the ocean moving before me, stars trailing out across the evening sky, and I’m the only person around for hundreds of miles. Even if I wasn’t, it’s the feeling that is nice. I have huge amounts of respect for those people that set out on this course, and am constantly looking for an out.
On a past adventure to Iceland, I saw this tiny old home while driving around. Walking up, I peered through windows and poked my head inside. The smell of decay was thick. It’s current inhabitants scurried about, while it’s past inhabitants were nothing more than a memory. That night, I slept in the remnants of an old stone foundation farther up the road. The wind was howling, and it was a nice respite from the incessant gale. After donning my earplugs and rolling onto my back, I stared up into the abyss and sank deeper into the infinite that is the mind.
Kunming, China- One thing that I love and hate about shooting voyeuristically is that I don't know what's going on in the situation. I can sit there and watch for hours and make my own assumptions, but at the end of the day, they're my assumptions, which aren't always correct. This is both a blessing and curse. There is a part of me that really wants to know what those men are talking about, what their lives are like at home, are they happy, sad, who their friends are, etc…, but the other part of me loves that I don't know, nor will I ever know. I've captured a scene that has endless beginnings and endings, but within the infinite there is this one moment, and to me, that one moment speaks volumes.
Hoi An, Vietnam - The markets in Vietnam are like nothing i’ve ever seen. Huge tent cities filled with miles of narrow paths, snaking out in every direction. They have everything; watches, pig heads, bicycles, you name it.
In this photo, I saw a woman who was filling an order a customer had placed. she reached across several boxes filled with grain and grabbed the one she was looking for. Pulling it close, the woman carefully measured out the correct amount for the customer. She was quick and efficient with her time, like she’d done it a million times, and yet there was a sense of calm surrounding her, as if she wasn’t in a hurry. It was a good reminder to slow down and be more conscious of the tasks at hand.
Bamboo scaffolding surrounds a section of renovation on a high-rise in downtown Hong Kong.
When I first visited China, back in 2006, I was 22 years old and completely in awe with how big the world had turned out to be. I wandered around for weeks, taking everything in. It was this experience, along with other subsequent trips that opened my eyes to how beautiful the world can be if we just take the time to look around.
Through a series of poor decisions that culminated with a ripped off oil pan in the middle of mine-filled Croatian forest at 2am, I realized at some point, I had strayed from my travel plan.
To be fair, I didn’t really have any plans, but being stranded in the middle of nowhere by myself, 2 days before my departure back to the United States, wouldn’t have been on that list had I written them down.
It all started when I was sitting above Sarajevo in an old bombed out hotel, enjoying a beautiful sunset. The air was crisp, the scenery was magical, and I was in a strange yet exciting city. I felt like I was on top of the world. Nothing could bring me down, except maybe, I don’t know, a group of Bosnian assholes standing next to my car, breaking my window and stealing my things.
I got up and started walking back, but the damage had already been done. They raced off with the contents of my laptop bag and disappeared into the sunset. I ran to my car and drove down the road, but it was all in vain.
Leaving town the next day, I couldn’t help wonder where my computer was, or if it had a nice home. Were the thieves currently accessing all my files? My thoughts drifted off as night fell. I had crossed the border into Croatia earlier in the evening and was currently looking for a place to sleep. For the past week, I had just slept on a pad near my car wherever I could, usually on a dirt road outside of town, and tonight was no different.
I drove down a dirt road for a while, but couldn’t ever find a good spot. There were no pull offs. After a while, a two track emerged on the left, leading up into the forest. “This will be a good spot”, I thought to myself. Driving up the rutted road, I doubted my tiny cars ability to handle the deep grooves, but continued anyway, searching in vain for a nice spot. About 15 minutes into the two track, I scraped the bottom of my car quite hard. Thinking nothing of it, I continued driving, working my way back down the mountain. Shortly after the scrape, I rolled up to a creek. I got out, checked the depth, and swiftly drove across it with great success. Up ahead, the two track merged back onto a gravel road. I pulled up onto the road and my car suddenly died.
I exited my vehicle and walked around the front. Crouching down to look under my rental car, I could see oil dripping out from a mangled oil pan. Electrical wires dangled down, looking very out of place. Dirt and mud fell down from the undercarriage onto the gravel road below. The smell of burning oil hung around in the muggy, stagnant air. I stood up and sighed.
It was dark out, and I was far from any place that resembled a town. I hadn’t seen a vehicle for hours. I stood there motionless for another minute. If it were a movie, the scene would have started pulling up into the skies to reveal me standing in the middle of a dark void, pulling up further would reveal the earth, sitting among the stars. It was at this moment that I realized the succession of bad decisions that let to this point. Exhausted, I pulled my sleeping bag out and laid down in the dirt near my car.
A couple hours later, a vehicle approached, waking me from my slumber. It was an old red jeep. The driver slowed and poked his head out the window. I got out of my sleeping bag and approached him. “English”? I asked. He shook his head and continued staring at the situation in front of him. I tried miming what a broken car would look like, but the hood propped up did a better job than I could. The man got out of his jeep. He was huge, dressed all in cammo. After another 20 minute miming session, It appeared that he told me I could sleep at his house. I reluctantly got into his jeep and we sped off. On the drive, he introduced himself as Marko, I introduced myself as matt, and the conversation took a nosedive from there.
30 minutes later, we pulled up at a small brick house. I followed him inside and was immediately greeted by a huge wasp, buzzing around. There were quite of few of them. Marko ran into the other room and grabbed a fly swatter. We spent the next 10 minutes on a seek-and-destroy mission. I was the spotter, and he was the killer. I would run into a room, shout after seeing a wasp, and he would run in after and kill the wasp. It was a bizarrely awesome experience that I hope to never have to participate in again.
When the wasps were all killed, we sat around a small round table in the kitchen. Marko went to the pantry and pulled out some coca cola. He proceeded to mime out that he was out hunting when he ran into me and that he was going to head out in a minute to try and find something to shoot that night. I expressed how tired I was and headed to the guest room.
As tired as I was, it was hard to fall asleep. My mind raced, thinking about what I was going to do with my broken down vehicle. That coupled with the sound of pacing outside my room left me wide-eyed and alert.
The pacing continued for quite sometime, from the kitchen out on to the porch, back to the kitchen. At one point, I heard a couple rounds of gunfire empty into the night. It was a stressful sleep at first, but my mind became heavy and I eventually wandered into dreamland.
The following morning, I awoke to the sound of pacing, once again. I exited my room and walked over to the small kitchen table. Marko came in and went to the fridge. His back was to me, but when he turned around, he was carrying more Coca-Cola as well as a large assortment of meats. We sat at the table, sharing pictures of our family, miming our life histories, all the while eating meat for breakfast. It was delicious.
Marko walked outside briefly, and came back with a handful of my worst nightmare: Tomatoes. Just to be clear, I hate tomatoes. I would rather poke myself in the eye than eat a tomato, but here I was in a situation where I was definitely going to have to eat tomatoes. My stomach sank. The inevitable was upon me. I watched Marko’s thick hands slice the vile vegetables into small pieces. He slid them toward me. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I vigorously salted the slices and reluctantly shoved them into my mouth.
They weren’t bad.
After polishing off the rest of the Coke, Marko pulled out a big map and laid it on the table. It was a map of the local area accompanied with large zones marked with red cross hatches. Marko pointed to where we were, and where I was last night, which was smack dab in the middle of one of those red zones. It wasn’t until his miming became clear that I realized what he was saying. Apparently I had been driving through an area that had a lot of landmines. Fortunately for me, I didn’t wander off the road and find any of those. I laughed nervously, grateful that my fate was so far favorable.
A few moments later, Marko pulled out his cell phone. I handed him the number to the rental company in Zagreb, and he made a couple phone calls. An hour later, a flat bed tow truck arrived; ready to take me back to the capitol city. It was a moment of extreme thanks and relief. A man that I had met in the middle of nowhere had turned my catastrophe into a lesson in human kindness. I hugged Marko, and climbed into the passenger seat of the tow truck. As the truck slowly drove off, we waved goodbye.
4 hours later, I was at the airport chatting with the rental folks at the counter. They came out to do the mandatory post trip inspection. I thought it was rather funny handing back the keys to a vehicle that looked like it had taken part in a demolition derby.
I checked into the airport hotel and promptly climbed into bed. I stayed there for the rest of the day, snacking on a loaf of bread and jam that had accompanied me throughout the ordeal. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to leave the hotel. I was content just laying there, thinking about the adventure that I had just survived, wondering where my next one might take me, and what sort exciting things would happen in the future.
Baffin, Canada- Post-holing up The Beak was one of those memories that, in my mind, i've relegated to Type 2 fun. Had I not been with an amazing crew, It most certainly would have been closer to type 3 fun.
We departed from our base camp down in Sam Ford Fjord on Baffin Island, early in the morning. It was light outside, but only because it's always light outside at that time of year. We glided across the frozen sea on snowmobiles, the arctic wind whipping at our covered faces. Rolling up at the base, we geared up for the long climb ahead. This was a scouting mission so the BASE jumpers could get some test jumps in. Filming would begin the following morning. As we trudged up the backside of the cliff face, the sun beat down on the snow, burning our already tan faces. Wind blew by us, drowning out the heavy breathing. The group slowly crawled up the backside, hitting false summit after false summit.
When we finally reached the ridge, the launch point stuck out like a sore thumb. We stood there looking around at some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. In front of us, a wind swept frozen fjord extended into the vast arctic wasteland. Behind us, a glacial remnant of the forces that have shaped the landscape for a millennia, creaked and groaned as it scoured it's way down through the rock. The silence was deafening.
The build up of adrenaline was electrifying as the BASE jumpers checked and rechecked their equipment. After what seemed like an eternity, they were ready. The three of them perched at the edge of the cliff, issuing words of encouragement, and in a moment they were gone, rocketing toward the frozen ocean below. My eyes were transfixed on the spot where they had been standing, but I looked down in time to see their parachutes open up. Screams of excitement interrupted the unnerving silence, and we watched as they effortlessly steered their canopies down to the valley floor. Once again, we were soon bathed in an inescapable quiet. Our reason for being there had just jumped off the cliff. We looked around, exchanging congratulations of our own, and started packing up our things for the hike down, which ended up being substantially easier.
It's interesting how fleeting these moments seem. Timy Dutton, one of the BASE jumpers on the shoot, died last week in a skydiving accident at one of his favorite jump locations. Time stops with the passing of friends, and while he is no longer here, the impressions that Timy made on all of us will last forever, which is a comforting thought.
In Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, a structure that looks coincidentally like the Arc D'Triumph in Paris looms over a bustling square. As you approach the massive structure, you realize that it is in fact a replica of the one in Paris, except with a little Asian flare.
Back during the cold war, The U.S. Government gave Laos massive amounts of concrete to make another runway at their airport . Instead of making a runway, they decided to make the replica (ballin!).
Wandering up the stairs, past all the merchants selling souvenirs, I passed a young boy, sitting in a red plastic chair. He seemed bored, as if his youthful adolescence was being squandered. His father, close by selling trinkets, loudly beckoned to me to purchase some wares. I smiled kindly and declined, interested more in the suffering taking place nearby.
I chuckled as I shot the photo, amused by the irony of being bored while sitting in a giant replica of the Arc D'Triumph in Vientiane, Laos.
Simferopol, Ukraine- After spending a couple weeks filming rock climbing in Ukraine, I was able to take a day or two for myself and wander around Simferopol, one of the larger cities on the Crimean peninsula. The lackadaisical people floating in the sea were replaced with anxious workers scurrying about, trying to find a means to an end. The cool breeze coming off the sea was replaced with a smoggy feeling of desperation, perpetrated by industry and the old Russian cars clogging the streets.
In a quiet square tucked away from the mayhem of the city, a few people walk by heading to work. As they pass, their long shadows extend toward a large statue built by the old empire. Continuing, they cross the square until reaching a massive building looming overhead. Quickly ascending the stairs, they disappear inside, away from the traffic and haze of a city desperate for change.
Xi'an, China - Lonely silhouettes pass in the night. Like wraiths they float by, their journey unknown to all.