SRI LANKA

SRI LANKA

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AN INSIGHT

I first developed an interest in Sri Lanka while sipping beer in Munich with my friend Malte, when he suggested that I should read Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’.  Malte told me he could not believe what happened in Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 2004.

An estimated 40000 people lost their lives in Sri Lanka alone and another half million were rendered homeless or displaced.

Prior to the tsunami USAID (a US governmental aid agency whose claim is “to partner to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing the security and prosperity of the United States”) had already eyed the potential of Sri Lanka to become “another Bali”. The tourism industry could easily attract the rich executives from the Asian booming economies nearby. Though major investments were not possible due to the country’s heavy deficit, aggravated by expensive arms deals of a long civil war (1983-2009). The needed cash injection was offered by IMF and World Bank under the conditions of privatising state-owned land and infrastructures.

This sell-off of Sri Lanka’s resources eventually found strong opposition from citizens and grassroots movements who managed through protests and strikes, to have it reconsidered or halted altogether in some cases.

 

THE DEVELOPMENTS

The tsunami eventually brought about a new chance to push through liberal reforms again. Authorities quickly took the opportunity to expropriate land and use it for lucrative business activities. A new security buffer zone of a few hundred meters from the water was established, blocking the passage to the locals who for centuries relied on the natural right to access the shore and its resources.

Despite having pushed her election campaign with an anti-privatisation rhetoric, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, openly referred to the tsunami as “a kind of religious epiphany, helping her to see the free-market light.” Her new business plan was mostly focused on attracting tourists from India, Russia, China and the Middle East with a target of 1,5 million visitors by the year 2010. She visited the tsunami-struck regions and while posing picturesquely among the ruins she stated: "We are a country blessed with so many natural resources, and we have not made use of them fully…So nature itself must have thought 'enough is enough' and whacked us from all sides and taught us a lesson to be together."

Consequently, as Herman Kumara from NAFSO (National Fisheries Solidarity Movement) highlights, what followed was “a second tsunami of corporate globalisation” that eventually hit the coasts of Sri Lanka.

 

A TEMPLATE

Naomi Klein analyses throughly the dynamics of “disaster capitalism” in her book. She describes in detail how natural catastrophes, political chaos and economical crisis are regularly exploited or even induced by powerful financial groups, governments and individuals. The 2004 tsunami was no exception.

Today luxury-resort beaches, world-famous surfing breaks or snorkelling paradises like Arugam Bay, Hikkaduwa, Kalpitiya, Welligama, Trincomalele are still the “hot-spots” of this aggressive territorial privatisation and expropriation.

The situation is affecting not only the small-scale fisheries, but also the communities and families who depend on it. Globally, this is estimated to be 90% of the world’s fish capturers and trade dependant shore based workers. Half of them are women.

Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, dubbed this practice as “Ocean grabbing”. He warned: “‘Ocean-grabbing’ – in the shape of shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catches, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations – can be as serious a threat as ‘land-grabbing.” Nowadays this is a common phenomenon taking place all over the world.

In Kalpitiya the livelihood of 1 in 5 people are dependant on fishing. As Agrarian Justice writes in his primer “While fishing communities were still struggling to recover from the physical damage and psychological impacts of the tsunami, a quarter of the Kalpitiya Peninsula and its surroundings, was grabbed by Sri Lankan and foreign investors, the military and government institutions for the purpose of developing luxury tourist resorts.”

The dynamics of global ocean grabbing against the small-scale fisheries can be summarised in 3 main practices:

1) Restriction of fishing permits. Fish are declared private property and large-scale fisheries take the lion’s share thanks to lawsuits designed to favour the “sea-lords”.

2) Denial of physical access to the waters - inland shores included. This is mostly caused by the privatisation and sale of “no man’s land” to tourism, energy and agricultural investors.

3) Overfishing, pollution and destruction of entire eco-systems in fishing areas by large-scale fishing fleet, the construction of dams and large monocultures.

The shady players who pull the strings of ocean grabbing are entities such as Wall Street, the World Bank, the IMF, seafood corporations and big distribution chains including Walmart and Carrefour.

Their strategic and political narratives are hypocritically based on the need to feed the world’s ever-growing population while saving the environment through the establishment of so called Marine Protected Areas and Blue Bonds. Since when are such profit-driven groups entitled to set the standards for any kind of ecologically and socially sustainable industry?

Another vicious trend voiced by Agrarian Justice is that “The desire for fresh Bluefin Tuna, the craving for Nile Perch, the appetite for shrimps, the hunger for salmon, the quest for “healthy” omega-3 rich fish-oil (a third of the global catch), are just a few examples of a socially-constructed “demand” that sustains a growing pressure for extracting fish resources by the industry. It is then distributed and promoted through class appropriate versions: 'high-end' labelled markets for urban elites, and cheap seafood for mass consumption by the poor and middle classes.”

Currently, the offending corporations power is gaining even more strength. Through so called “partnerships” or “treaties” (such as the TTIP, TTP, TAFTA, CETA…) their legal leverage is becoming even greater than that of individual sovereign countries alone, and their interests comprise numberless lobbies from the pharmaceutical to the oil industries.

 

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

During my time in Sri Lanka I travelled to some of the most tsunami-affected coastal regions of Sri Lanka, where the killer waves of Boxing Day (2004) hit hard, and from every direction.

One day, I was riding my scooter along the coasts of Arugam Bay when at the harbour I met Sagra, who was returning from a day's fishing. He said he could take me with him on a boat the following day at sunrise. We agreed on time and costs for the following morning and said goodbye.

Unfortunately he never turned up. I was waiting in the darkness and could only see moving silhouettes of busy fishermen. I was asking everybody if they were or knew Sagra, until I captured the attention of Kalua who asked: “How much did Sagra want?” “About 1500rps” I said. He laughed and then told me “Come on, follow me, I’ll take you without charge”.  Well, that was a pleasant surprise.

Kalua likes taking out tourists on his fishing trips, sharing with them his world, his life, and all for the fun of it. Joining us was his son Rosha, more reserved but also very friendly. He drives a tuktuk when he’s not out fishing or surfing.

While I was in Sri Lanka I did occasionally stay sometimes in tourist resorts, right on the beach. There I met happy owners and their happy staff. All glad to have the opportunity to profit form the beauty and richness of this land, and to have a job.

“The beach of Arugam Bay is big, there’s room for everybody, fishermen and surfers” Kalua told me as he smiled with a cigarette in his teeth.

We eventually caught (well…them really) a big “Kingfish” if I remember right. Very profitable. So we went back fairly soon after that. They were happy I brought good luck, and so was I.

Before saying goodbye Kalua asked me a little favour. “If you see Sagra tell him you gave me 5000rps” and he laughed. Funny enough I met Sagra soon after and I did so.

As NAFSO supporter Steve Alston argues: “Yes, we might come back from our 14 days in the sun of a palm tree strewn beach or sunken eternity 5 star hotel pool and feel we’ve had a thrilling time. But this is frequently done at the expenses of the traditional fisher folk whose lives have been destroyed by the requisitions of their beaches and beachside homes to build a modern temple to tourism. Traditional community culture can and is too often bastardised  by the demands of tour agencies for a taste of what believe is traditional culture. Bali most quickly comes to mind as a culture almost buried by its’ modern “reincarnation” for the camera.”

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The next task was to help the NGO 'Room To Read' cover their local projects in Anuradhapura. The education system of Sri Lanka is remarkable: free and compulsory up to the age of 18. Then it comes the job of RTR: boosting the teaching methodology with more up-to-date programs, providing modern libraries, giving individual-based support for the very poor and marginalised such as peasant and handicapped children and counselling for victims of abuse.

I got to know of cases of little girls raped by neighbours, members of their own very family or monks. The latter, I must admit, sounded rather shocking to me giving my pristine idea of a Buddhist monk. But Buddhism here is wide-spread and very similar to clerical catholicism. It can be coercive, more radical and not easily “individually-adapted” as we might practice in the west.

It’s also true that here, just after the tsunami hit, the man-made written rules of the religious divide gave way to a stronger and more humane social consciousness. As Naomi Klein puts it in her book:

“[..]cross-cultural aid was breaking out across the country. Tamil teenagers drove their tractors from the farms to help find bodies. Christian children donated their school uniforms to be turned into white Muslim funeral shrouds, while Hindu women gave their white saris. It was as if this invasion of salt water and rubble was so humblingly powerful that, in addition to grinding up homes and buckling highways, it also scrubbed away in­ tractable hatreds, blood feuds and the tally of who last killed whom. […] Instead of endlessly talking about peace, Sri Lankans, in their moment of greatest stress, were actually living it.”

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My other "pin on the map” was on Damana for a visit to the Vedda people, the longest living ethnicity of Sri Lanka who still follow a primordial lifestyle. They have an hereditary political system and follow Animism, Buddhism or Hinduism. My guide Gamini told me it's believed that they abandoned cannibalism after the intervention of Buddha. Their roots trace back to 15,000BC and there is no census available. Gamini reckons there are about 5000 but the real figures get blurred when you think that more and more individuals are abandoning the millenary traditions if favour of a more modern lifestyle and mainstream religions. This is also catalysed by the compulsory education that the government enforces. This is a controversial issue for me. I am a big fan of free and mandatory education but it’s also a very efficient tool for wiping out primitive cultures. And when I asked the community leader Uruwarige Wannila Aththo what he thought about this topic he said that “all people should be free to choose for themselves.”

On the other hand there were cases in the past that the whole community benefitted from having an educated lawyer among their people who helped defending their rights in a courtroom.

With the help of a translator I also asked the Chief what he was foreseeing for his people in 20 years time. His look turned deep, lost and he stared at me for a few seconds, perhaps wondering if I could give him such answer. He then simply replied: “I have no idea”.

The bushman who was hosting me had 6 kids and a wife (which I was never allowed to photograph). 2 of them handicapped, apparently due to inbred relationships which are very common among the Veddas. His name is Gunabande and he is a man who likes to have a laugh. He kept trying to teach me his language, just to laugh at me trying to repeat his words. But he would then turn all seemingly serious, shake both of my hands and ask with his eyes wide open hundamai? (all right?) just to make sure I wasn’t getting upset. I also had to learn a very important word, addisinè, which means “no rush”. It was very useful when we were walking (the marathon) up and down the woods looking for their precious honey.

Despite the cultural and linguistic divide I clicked much more with Gunabande than with my two guides. They treated me like a king while considering our hosts as inferiors and servants. On one occasion I asked why we were not having dinner all together. They told me that, referring to the Veddas, “their stomach has no bottom”. I just couldn’t accept that and I insisted to eat all together. One by one the Veddas respectfully sat next to us and shared one plate of curry among all of them.

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TRAVEL FOR THE LOVE OF IT

What follows is just a selection of random travel shots, for those who believe that "it's the journey, not the destination".

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And I would like to add that, perhaps, sometimes…

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Resources: Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, The global ocean grab by TNI Agrarian Justice Program, Struggle over the Nagombo Lagoon by Herman Kumara, myself and my own opinions.

THAILAND - Bangkok

THAILAND - Bangkok

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Stop-over of 3 days here before flying to Colombo. The night shots were taken in backstreets around Sukhumvit. [nggallery id=96]

USA - Hawaii

USA - Hawaii

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Since I had to cross the Pacific I also paid a visit to my friends Peter and Suzy who kindly coped with me for a few days :) Here are some shots from the Big Island, or Hawaii.

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I had to see Mauna Kea (some claim it's the highest mountain on the planet if measured from its base in the ocean). The summit at 4200m is home to super telescopes and arrays like the famous Keck.

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While there I also took some behind-the-scene shots of a local TV show that Peter was directing. Ronald Gordon, PhD. Professor of Communications at the University of Hawaii interviewing Dr. Gay Swenson Barfield, co-founder (with Carl Rogers) and former Director of the Carl Rogers Peace Project.

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COLOMBIA - Bogotá

COLOMBIA - Bogotá

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I have started off this round trip in South America, hoping to have more chances to push through a couple of personal projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon and in Honduras. Unfortunately it didn't work out, at least not this time. So Bogotá turned up to be the first stop of some sort of "my long way round" to Sri Lanka.

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New York City 2014

New York City 2014

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I was here briefly for the opening of the International Photography awards. It's always overwhelming to see your work on display :) [nggallery id=106]

And... I had to take a few shots around Manhattan

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Felix Baumgartner

Felix Baumgartner

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I photographed Felix with his mum Eva at Redbull Hangar 7 in Salzburg for a British Sunday paper.

For those who may not know, Felix Baumgartner is the Redbull man who jumped off an air baloon at an altitude of 38.969m. The stunt gave him the world's record for the height of the jump and for being the first man breaking the sound barrier outside a vehicle. For 17 seconds difference though the free fall time record is still held by Joe Kittinger's 1960 jump.

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INDONESIA - Pacu Jawi

INDONESIA - Pacu Jawi

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1st Place "Competitive Events" -  INTERNATIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS 2014 http://www.photoawards.com/winner/index.php

Batusangkar, Indonesia

The pacu jawi(cow race) originated in the Minankabau region of West Sumatra. It is held on rice fields as a celebration or auspice of good harvests and possibly increase the value of well performing cows and bulls. Jockeys also bite the animals' tail to increase speed.

What follows is more about the journey there and back. All information I've managed to have on the actual event is above :)

I came across some pics of the race when I was planning my crossing from Singapore to Padang. I googled all the names of districts and towns I could find on the map and clicked on "Images". Eventually I saw some images that just stunned me. Pacu jawi suddenly became my n.1 priority. Unfortunately there was little details on precise location or calendar events though. All locals I could get in touch with from Munich knew little or nothing about it so the research would have to be done once in Sumatra.

From Batam, going through Buton, Pekanbaru, all the way to Padang, I had been asking everyone I met but only managed to get more confused as nobody really knew much or anything about it. Only in Padang the receptionist in the hotel I was staying at took me and my cow race obsession in sympathy and did some research for me until she found the number of someone called Abraham who apparently was promoting the event but when she called she was told that there was no race planned before January 2013. The interest on pacu jawi had grown on me so much that I actually felt depressed for a few days after the bad news. My return flight was scheduled for the end of November and who knew when I was able to be there again? I kept the number anyway for a possible trip in the distant future.

I then carried out with my itinerary to the Mentawai Islands but the cow race was still haunting me. As soon as I got back to Padang I called the number myself 'cause "hope is the last to die". The phone rang for ages until Abraham picked up. He told me that he couldn't guide me but if I was interested there was a race planned the following day in the afternoon in a rice field near Batusangkar. I couldn't believe my ears!!! "No problem, that's enough" I told him "I'll find my way!!"

In the morning I got a travel (small bus) to Batusangkar. I asked anyone on the bus for directions to the paku jawi. I tried English, Spanish, French and body language but no luck. As usual I got some "aaahhh yes, pacu jawi" correcting my pronunciation and then "sorry, I don't know". Frustrating, very frustrating. At some point during the journey, a man with all his family and an incredible amount of luggage and boxes sat next to me. He apologised for the inconvenience as we had to travel packed like sardines and started talking to me in fluent English. He had worked as a waiter for 8 years in Bali and gathered enough money to buy some land in the area for rice growing and moved back there with his family. When I asked him about the pacu jawi he told me "I don't know where or when it's held but as soon as we get to Batusangkar I'll help you finding it". Cool! The rest of his conversation was a massive complain about Indonesia's corruption. The rest of mine was about Italy's.

When we finally got to Batusangkar it was already 3pm. The bus stopped in front of a moto-taxi service and as soon we touched ground we were surrounded by half a dozen roaring scooters. My friend asked around for pacu jawi. All the drivers pointed their arms in different directions. Nobody seemed to know where it was actually happening and a discussion started. My friend looked at me and shrugged his shoulders in disappointment. When I was about to start kicking something suddenly everybody got quite. A big shady figure with paper-thin, barely visible flip-flops and a cigarette in his mouth came out from the moto-taxi office. He instructed a driver to take me to a certain rice field - I guess - and pointed his huge arm in that direction. My friend smiled and clapped his hands to tell me to jump on the scooter and hurry. I did so and I started another "God knows where, how long and how much" journey. The young driver didn't speak a word of English but I fully understood him when he asked me to get off the bike as the police were in front of us and I was not wearing a helmet. I walked around the block and then jumped again on the scooter when we lost exposure to the cops. We arrived at destination, I paid him something like 30000INR and then he speeded off again. I looked around and all I could see was mud and some sort of ceremony happening. I'm sure I looked lost but so did the people around me when they saw me. It seemed to be a wedding or something and I couldn't see rice fields or cows. I didn't know what to think. I've never liked wedding photography and didn't think it was time to start. A man invited me to follow the  procession. Next to me were many decorated army officers and I was struggling to keep a balanced walk on my flip-flops in the mud with the camera bag swinging behind me. I walked like a Honda's Asimo along the crowd 'till we finally reached a massive rice field. I saw the splashes flying from the terrace below. "Here we go, the pacu jawi is happening!!!" I thought. But then my left flip-flops gave way to the wait and I found myself stuck with one leg knee-deep in the mud. F.....lipping hell! I really had to get down and dirty. When I managed to get out of the mud-trap I stuck the flip-flops in my pockets, I cleaned my hands on my trousers and got the camera out. I only cared about the front glass. The body was brown in no time. I found myself a nice point of view from the edge of the terrace above the race ground and started shooting. I changed position and placed myself right at the end of the race track but I was too much stuck in the mud to dodge the furious cows in case of emergency so after a few shots I got back to the safer upper level.

In the late afternoon, after the race finished as it was getting dark, everybody seemed to disappear. I followed the crowd - again - and found myself in the parking lot where I was dropped off, full of mud, with no idea how to get back and where. Near me there was a group of boys and some of them had a scooter. I approached them but nobody spoke English and understood where I wanted to go . The places I was mentioning didn't seem to make much sense to them until one of them hinted to sit on his scooter. I tried and clean myself as much as I could with the little drinking water I had left but I was still pretty covered in hardened mud all over. He took me on his bike anyway. Half way through the journey he stopped in the middle of some rice field, he smiled and pointed at a small canal nearby with clean running water. Good lad! I finally managed  to get most of the mud off myself and the infamous flip-flops. We then carried on to Batusangkar. He left me in front of a taxi office, I paid him 30000 rupiah and he came back with some change and some sweets for me.

I had to wait a little for the shared taxi to fill up with other people but then off we go, the driver boosted the car stereo and speeded off to Padang. He spoke no English. I tried to ask him what time we were getting back to Padang but I got no answer, just a laugh. So I pointed at my watch-less wrist trying to make him understand my question. I wish I never did that. He laughed again and said "yes yes no problem!" and he pushed on the accelerator like a lunatic. I had the craziest drive of my life. The road to Padang is one of the busiest of Sumatra. It's a simple road with one lane for each direction and this guy was taking over cars that were already taking over themselves - as you do in Indonesia - but he was definitely taking reckless-driving to a new level. Basically, he was racing. I could read the disappointment on his face when we were taken over by another car. He then started a chase and at some point he run out of space in the opposite lane and had to go through a gas station on the other side to avoid impact with incoming vehicles. I consequently fastened my seatbelt and stopped asking questions. The other passengers behind me (I was in the navigator seat) complained loudly. He laughed again but finally slowed down untill we eventually reached Padang.

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INDONESIA - Mentawai

INDONESIA - Mentawai

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The Mentawai people have their own language, traditional law and religion (animism). Their society is based on equality, there's no hereditary title and there are no subordinate roles. Their origins were unknown to me before receiving info in the comments below.

The elder shamans normally gather to discuss issues concerning more than one family or village which could be the nomination of a new religious leader (also spokesperson for the outside world), the planning of a new plantation, deforestation issues and so on. These kind of meetings are also occasion for big celebrations and every work-related activity stops.

They Mentawai people saw all sort of explorers reaching their coasts, from colonial interpreneurs to missionaries to modern-day travellers.

The first one who tried to convert them to protestantism was the German missionary August Lett who was eventually killed by some islander 8 years after his first landing. The mission though managed to survive its founder's death.

The old generations used to sharpen their teeth and cover their bodies in tattoos, generally carried out with stick, needles of any sort, coconut ash and sugar cane juice. These practices are slowly fading away among the young generations, attracted to a more modern lifestyle. Pressure from the mainland government is also responsible for this change.

My host here in the village of Rorogot is a shaman called Cuki "good man" Soromut and he tells me - through my local guide and interpreter Sarul - that many years ago it was caught with a "fresh" tattoo by the Indonesian authorities and consequently imprisoned for 12 days. He is a shaman, with great sense of humour and doesn't know how old he is. He can practice tae (voodoo), loves chain-smoking and sucking lollypops - just like any other Mentawai person - which we were advised to bring in large quantities to conquer souls and minds of the locals.

Four generations of his family live in Cuki's uma (long house). They are considered to be a rich family as they own 55 pigs, about 20 chickens, 250 palm trees and "many many" banana trees.

Their existence is based on farming, fishing, jungle gathering and hunting. As currency they use land, animals or sagu (palm trees). For a full body tattoo for example you should pay 6 pigs. A wife will cost land, a small house - that the groom has to build himself - and minimum 20 pigs, depending on how attached the father is to the girl.

When you live the Mentawai way of life you suddenly realise how close your existence is to our planet Earth. We went out for a trek in the forest and whatever kind of food or herb or building material we found, we collected it and brought it back. One time was the tree for its precious cortex used to make clothes. Another time was the root to make the poison for the arrows and so on. We found and we gathered. The dinner itself is often decided according to whatever animal or insect is found during the day.

We shape the land and try to control the power of nature. We constantly collect and use, eat and assimilate the available resources. We are like walking and thinking extensions of the planet we live on. Eventually our mortal remains are once again molecularly reunited to "Mother Earth". And our souls…well…I have no idea. Here they believe that the soul leaves the body to become a wandering ghost.

Traditional Mentawai people and lifestyle are believed to be virtually extinct in 20 years from now.

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INDONESIA - Nagari Sungai Pinang

INDONESIA - Nagari Sungai Pinang

From Singapore, after three days of taxis, busses, boats and scooters, I finally got to this little village south of Padang in order to meet my guide to Mentawai and plan the trip. People asked me why I didn't fly and I wondered that myself too a few times. Especially when I dropped my mobile phone somewhere on the bumpy road from Buton to Pekanbaru and when I almost fell in a canal one night in Padang, while wondering the streets in search for a place to sleep after my flip flops gave way to the wait of my luggage and the heavy rain. Those are the moments you wonder why the heck you decided to leave your comfort zone. Aaaaaaanyway, Sungai Pinang is the perfect beach place to be if you don't want phones, TVs, internet and other bule's (tourists) bother you. Apart from 3 small bungalows and a tiny guest house the local economy of this 200-strong community is mainly based on fishing and rice growing.

Here I'm gonna spend my last few days before making my way back to Singapore and eventually catch my flight back to Europe.

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SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE

The first day I got on an open-top bus for some recce around the city but I didn't see anything really exciting, not many inspiring places to drop a car in. Cities are hard to shoot without getting cars and people in the frame but a parallel world of empty scenes and light shows seems to surface at night in Singapore. People on the street seemed to be rather keen on being photographed too.

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AUSTRALIA - Sydney

AUSTRALIA - Sydney

Thank to my friends Lauren and James my stay in and around Sydney was super. Lauren was my driver, assistant, producer, location scouter and tour guide. Thanks Lozza!!  Love you!!!!!! :) [nggallery id=74]

FIJI - Nacula Island

FIJI - Nacula Island

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A stop here since it's on the route LA-Sydney, even if for just 2 days, was a must. After a couple of location shoots and a quick visit to the nearby village on Nacula Island, I spotted a hammock under the palm trees on the beach and that was the end :)

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USA - Los Angeles

USA - Los Angeles

Plenty of good locations to shoot downtown and elsewhere but sick of the bad weather, I decided to go to the desert. I thought to myself "What are the chances that will rain there?". Well, eventually it did but for only 10 minutes. So I booked a room in the town of Indio, about 3 hours drive east.

The drive-in motel reminded me of freaky No Country For Old Men for some reason and I wasn't too "impressed" either when I found a copy of the bible in a drawer.

After overcoming my made-in-Hollywood paranoia I managed to make my way to Joshua Tree National Park and shot a multitude of locations.

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Once back in town I enjoyed some rush-hour-nerve-wracking traffic congestions while shooting locations in - finally - sunny LA :)

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Many thanks to my friends Peter, Suzy and Michael for making my stay here in LA just great!

USA - New York City

USA - New York City

Finally on the road again!!!!! This time the plan is a quick 2-month-long (October+November) around the globe location shooting trip for my CGI stuff (backplates and HDRs) that should keep me busy in the coming cold, dark and claustrophobic winter time. The set itinerary for now is New York City, Los Angeles, Fiji, Sydney, Singapore and a-still-unplanned Indonesia.  The latter mostly based on a documentary/travel key instead.

The stitching and processing time for the location shoots is proving rather time consuming and an average of 2,5 days per stop excluding travelling time - here's a piece of my analytical Saxonised side for you ;) - doesn't help a regular and quick update of the blog. As a matter of fact doesn't help keeping in contact with family and friends either - sorry mum!!!

I am already half way through my journey, in sweaty equatorial Singapore and I finally managed/decided to "chill and update". I only have a NYC kind-of-done gallery to post for now but… watch this space :)

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ITALY - La Spezia

ITALY - La Spezia

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Greatings from Italy - I miss these views

BRAZIL - Pitangueras Beach, Guarujá

BRAZIL - Pitangueras Beach, Guarujá

This is a series of "behind the scene" of a fairly typical Brazilian beach that I took in 2007 when I was in Brazil visiting friends. I thought they would attenuate my need for warm countries a little but I think it's working the other way around. I shot this on an many-times-x-rayed b/w film with my old Olympus OM10. I had to have it processed manually by a Japanese chap who had converted his wooden-floored sitting room into a photo-lab at the 15th floor of a building in Sao Paulo.

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Munich - Slut Walk

Munich - Slut Walk

It all started when Constable Michael Sanguinetti of Toronto Police Service said during a crime prevention forum that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized". He later apologized for his remarks but on the 3rd of April 2011 right in Toronto, a crowd of about 3000 people gathered for the first time for a public protest which echoed all around the world under the name of "Slut Walk". So, on August the 13th about 350 people took on the street and joined Munich's first Slut Walk. I thought I couldn't miss that and went there with the intention of shooting another time-lapse video along the lines of the surfers' one but it was a looooong walk! about 2 hours from Goetheplatz to Marienplatz and I'm still putting together the footage but here are some stills.

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[...] Eventually, here's also the video.

In my mind, for some reason, this was going to be a not-so-dynamic event so I got to the meeting point thinking "ok, let's find some nice spots to shoot from and easy peasy" but no, after a 2-hour chase and 3214 frames this is what came out of my unsteady cam.

http://www.vimeo.com/32831536

Munich Surfers

Munich Surfers

River surfing here on the Eisbach (Ice River - a tributary of River Isar) started around the year 2000. These waters approach 1°C in the cold season and flow at about 5m/sec. Although swimming is prohibited here, surfing is not. The only fatalities occurred over this wave seem to have been reckless swimmers rather than surfers themselves and this was the principle behind the city council's decision in 2008 to accept the "Save the Eisbach" petition and not to ban this activity here. Cool, literally. http://www.http://vimeo.com/32832556

Forget about Bayron Bay, Wakiki or Bali, the perfect wave is here in Munich!

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Palestine 2004

Palestine 2004

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Not having a great deal of new pics to upload at the moment, I thought that a post on my 2004 experience in Palestine would fit well in the blog. So here it is...
I left for Palestine on the 14 October 2004. I don't exactly know the reasons behind my interest in the current issues of this troubled land but after following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a few years and being sick and tired of constantly changing my mind according to the paper I was reading or the news I was watching, I decided to go and see for myself. It might have been the idea of people blowing themselves up that I couldn't find explanations to or knowing that those fascinating places mentioned in the New Testament (I was brought up in a catholic environment) like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and so on, were now the battlefields  of diaspora. Furthermore, I quite couldn't understand why Jewish people were still being targets of violent attacks and so called anti-semitism.
So I took my cameras, a bunch of b/w and colour films and left flat and job in London to spend a month there and try to understand more.
The adventure started at Gatwick airport. I went past two armed officers and started queuing at the check-in when a security member approached me and asked me to move aside for a few questions:
•  Where are you from
•  Why are you going to Israel
•  Why are you traveling alone
•  Who do you know there
•  Where are you going to stay
•  Who are you going to stay with
•  What's her name
•  What's her surname
•  If she's your friend why don't you know her surname
•  Where is she staying
•  Is she from Israel
•  Why is she in Israel
•  Who is she with in Israel
•  How long have known each other
•  Why are you going to Israel
•  Why have you decided to go to Israel
•  When did you decide to go to Israel
•  When did you buy your ticket
•  When did you decide to buy your ticket
•  Why are you going to Israel
•  Why is your passport brand new
•  Who do you know there
•  Why are you going to Israel
•  Do you have any reference
[...]
She then gave up and another lady came and started to ask:
•  Where are you from
•  Why are you going to Israel
•  Why are you traveling alone
[...]
After the questionnaire she told me I couldn't go because I had an open ticket and the custom at Ben Gurion would never let me in. I argued that the ticket was issued by an Israeli airline, my passport was valid and there was no reason for me not to go. She said she would double-check with her manager and left.
Next, a man came up to me. He asked me to follow him with all my stuff into this little room where another 4 men were ready for me. “Mr Messina, please empty your bags”. As they searched they asked me:
•  Where are you from
•  Why are you going to Israel
•  Why are you traveling alone
[...]
At the end they let me re-pack my stuff back (fortunately -or not- I went to the airport 4 hours before departure) and then introduced me to this girl who said she was studying photography and she would have taken the same flight. I didn’t know what that meant but I knew I was officially off to Tel Aviv.
Once at Ben Gurion Airport the officer at the custom, without any question, stamped my visa and I was finally free to travel.
I got a sherut (shared taxi) to East Jerusalem. The driver dropped me off last and left quickly without asking for money and I went to the hostel. The first night I experienced the Ramadan evening celebrations from my room. One horn would trigger another dozen, with solo of car alarm and background of megaphone. The guests of the room next door were also having fun too shouting and playing football with something I have no idea what it was. From the noise it could have been a wooden ball.
In the morning, after some random sleep, I managed to go to the bus station and got a bus to Ramallah. The driver stopped before getting into town and I couldn't understand why. One courageous lady noticed that I was completely lost and told me to follow her from a distance. We were then walking, head down, through an Israeli checkpoint in Qalandia. People were queuing in the other direction. Nobody was queuing in ours. She went and got a taxi to Ramallah for me and then she disappeared. As soon as I got off that taxi my experience in the Occupied - or "Not Conquered Yet" - Territories had begun.
I talked to as many people as I could but my knowledge of Arabic was very poor but good enough sometimes to make them laugh and break the ice. I had felt most welcome almost everywhere I went ("Italiano? Welcome welcome!") therefore, after two weeks, I decided to stay in Ramallah to have, inshallah (god willing), an easier access to the places and the people I wanted to see.
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The first day in Ramallah I was woken up by a helicopter flying nearby the hotel. The Tv was still on from the night before and the CNN was broadcasting live images of Arafat getting into the helicopter just passed by. He was off to Paris to undergo medical treatment for his mysterious disease. I ran to his compound (muqata) and managed to get one shot of the chopper taking off.
Soon after coming back from the muqata I left Ramallah to go to Jenin (about 50km). On a shared taxi it took about 5 hours. The checkpoints and the wall (Israeli barrier) don't make traveling across the West Bank an easy task. Soldiers decide whether you can go out of town or go back home. They are rather young and generally temperamental and that can make the crossing a little scary. One little girl in Gaza for example had been recently mistaken for a suicide bomber and riddled with 20 bullets. She was 13. Personally, I must say, I was treated very well compared to the Arab folks, especially the ones who don't speak hebrew. The checkpoints are normally shut at night. While traveling I constantly had to stop, get off the vehicle, queue, be searched and then, if lucky, get across and wait for another bus or service.
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It was the olive harvest season and not being able to access water supply facilities or traveling free within the territory makes it hard for such a business based on temporary labourers. Like Faiek for example who is 77 and left almost alone with his wife to harvest 600 trees. One barrel is sold for 40 us dollars but it costs him 80 to produce such quantity. The access to his village has been restricted because of the nearby israeli settlement. He told me that once he was picking olives with his son and a soldier threatened to shoot his son if he didn’t stop and leave (his own property). Faiek didn’t stop and argued that not only his son but also the whole family was going to die without olives. The soldier eventually left without firing a shot.
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Most of the people I met told me one thing: “See how they treat us? Go back to Europe and tell everybody what’s really going on here!” I heard this from a doctor I met in a taxi to Jericho. He was carrying medicines for a relative but he wasn’t allowed in town. I’ve heard it from Muhammed whose girlfriend is now on the other side of the wall. I’ve heard it from improvised tourist guides who took me to the middle of nowhere and robbed me of all my cash but didn’t take my camera. Nader, from Nablus, same again. His town according to UN statistics, suffered the highest level of damage by the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) to structures and infrastructures during the Al-Aqsda intifada. He has two friends living in Italy and he would like to join them but his israeli ID was torn apart by a soldier and now he can’t even leave Nablus. “In Hebron is even worse” he tells me. “It’s one of the holiest places in jewish history. There are about 160000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli living there and you have 15 or so checkpoints within the actual city”. The level of tension and violence between the IDF and the Palestinians there has been so harsh that an NGO (TIPH) was created only to observe these checkpoints. “We look at the soldiers humiliating the Palestinians” as I was told by one of its members “but at least, if we are here, they don’t shoot them”.
Ashraf studies music at the university of Ramallah and he tells me about living under occupation. “I was very angry at them. Why they had to shoot the instruments and shat on the desks?” referring to the damage left by the IDF in his university during the 3-week-long siege of Ramallah in which also banks and petrol stations were robbed and emptied and his neighbor shot dead as she was hanging the clothes outside to dry. “I don’t want to see us Palestinians as victims" he told me, "but rather as people who resists. We resist, and I do it through music and poetry. I do it by carrying on with my life and trying to follow my dreams, despite the occupation”.
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My time in Palestine was coming to an end. The return flight was in 3 days and I went back to Jerusalem to send to myself some backup copies of my work. Just after dropping my stuff at the DHL, I heard the news of the death of Arafat.
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Some Israelis were already having some sort of street celebrations even though my feeling was that most of them were worrying for the uncertainty of the consequences. I decided to go back to Ramallah as soon as possible before the IDF decided to close it. When I got there every shop was shut and there was barely no people in the streets. I went to check the films I dropped for scanning but no luck, the shop was closed. I eventually got hold of them a month after leaving the country when the shop reopened and had my negs posted to me. You couldn’t find much for sale and a 3-day banana-and-bread-only diet was about to start. The following evening, all of the sudden, the streets repopulated all at once with thousands of people marching to the muqata to secure their places for funerals of the raiss that was going to be held the next day. Tv crews were unable to communicate or broadcast because of the drone flying above that was blocking any signal. We could hear it but it was impossible to spot. Someone tried to shoot it down but with no luck as far as I know. The morning after, 12 November 2004, thousands gathered around the muqata. A number of them with guns shooting in the air. Few ambulances were called in for people suffocating in the pressing crowd and apparently being hit by bullets coming back down.
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Yasser Arafat received his state funerals in Cairo and his coffin was flown back in the afternoon and quickly buried in his compound where he had been confined for almost three years. Despite allegations of corruption and widespread political opposition, the raiss, was an icon for Palestinian people and many saw in him the image of the struggle against the Israeli occupation and a staus-quo figure. Nobody knew who was going to take his place and what was going to happen next.
I came back to London on the 14 November 2004 with a question in mind: why Palestine too, doesn't have the right to exist?
And I'm not the only one...
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Munich here I am

Munich here I am

This is an update form my new base in Germany. I have recently moved to Munich and have been busy doing CGI post-production work and some location photography. I only have a few shots that I can share and here they are: Munich, taken after a shoot at the Haus der Kunst (Modern Art), Berlin, where I went last weekend for a quick catch-up with my old friend Masumi and some more location stuff for CGI taken near my hometown last Christmas. Hopefully more new photos from this part of the globe will follow soon. So... viel spass for now! [nggallery id=60] Munich

[nggallery id=61] Berlin

[nggallery id=59] Bergamo