Some assignments never go according to plan. On a recent assignment to the city of Hue in Vietnam for the Wall Street Journal it was supposed to be pretty straight forward. The writer, John Krich, had given me all the information and contacts and all I needed to do was to visit these old houses and shoot them. Simple.
But oh no, it was the middle of a very hot Vietnam summer and the country was going through one of its worst droughts to date. Most of Vietnam’s electricity comes from hydro-power and with the government selling all its extra electricity to China and Laos the result is not enough for its own people leading to planned blackouts of entire towns.
Hue was not spared from this. From 5.30am till around 2pm one part of the city would be without power and from 2pm to 7pm the other part would be. Turning up and expecting power was no longer a luxury so I had to work out which house would have electricity when and when I would have to make sure all batteries and laptop was charged. Shooting in a room in 40 degree heat with no fan is not the most pleasant experience!
Friday 26th June saw one of the stories I shot on my most recent assignment in Vietnam published in the glossy edition of The Wall Street Journal Asia Weekend Journal. This cover story written by Bangkok based writer John Krich was about the conservation of old traditional houses in the city of Hue in Central Vietnam called Nha Ruong. These beautiful houses are disappearing fast but a few local residents are battled to save them.
It is also available for viewing on www.wsj.com.
From 30th June until the 14th July I will be on assignment in Cambodia. More specifically Phnom Penh and the Cardamon Mountains covering several stories.
I had been told about this incredible island by a friend in Bangkok. A tiny place in a remote region of Indonesia that hunts whale, sharks and dolphins using spears. It was a place I had to visit and so in April 2010 I had the opportunity to go. It took 2 days for me to reach from Bali and that included a flight! But after plane, bus, boat and truck (in that order) I arrived.
For centuries the village of Lamalera on Lembata Island, with Flores to the west and Timor to the east, has hunted in this way. They are legally allowed as they are catagorised by the IWC as Aboriginal Whaling and really the amount they catch a year, at the most 20 large whales, is miniscule.
But with the opposition to commercial whaling that Japan creates every year often means that this little village also gets branded with the same label. The fishermen are very aware of this as in recent times several western activists have gone to the village to seek alternatives. The issue here is the balance of the village. I have never seen a better example of community sharing, something completely lost in the west. Every catch whether small fish or a 60ft whale is carefully divided and distributed throughout the village, the size of your share are in proportion to your role in the catch. The strong, the old, the young all receive their share. This meat is then either partly consumed or used in a weekly barta market to exchange with inland people of corn and rice. No money is exchanged. It is a place of complete equilibrium and no matter what your feelings for whaling are any interference in this unique way of life will upset this incredible balance.
As one local man put it ” The issue here is not the conservation of whales but the conservation of an ancient culture”. I couldn’t agree more.
To see more images please visit my website www.lukeduggleby.com or my archive
In April 2010 I shot a personal project on an incredible fishing community on a remote island in Indonesia. After giving it to my agency Redux (www.reduxpictures.com) they ran the story as their lead feature. I was lucky enough to be accepted in to the Redux family at the beginning of the year and have loved every minute of it ever since.
A recently completed body of work came from the Dhammakaya Temple located in Pathum Thani Province on the outskirts of Bangkok. Over several months I visited their incredible ceremonies one by one and was awestruck by each. It’s one of the world’s most influential movements, staging Hollywood-style epic ceremonies involving hundreds of thousands of participants and observers, yet few are even aware of Dhammakaya, despite its worldwide centers, millions of members and 24-hour satellite broadcasts. Even in its home base of Thailand, most people know of its influence and prominent members, but little of how the temple actually works, why it attracts such reverent followers or the exact philosophy it follows.
The ceremonies are a photographers dream although their sheer size makes them tricky to cover all the angles in one go. But I was lucky enough to be given fantastic access to the ceremonies that truly left me astounded. Writer Ron Gluckman (www.gluckman.com) came a long to several of the ceremonies to write a piece about the temple.
One of my favourite places in Thailand, the wonderful little town of Mae Salong. Located straddling a ridge in remote Chiang Rai Province this tiny place with a fascinating history. Surrounded by tea plantations and full of tea and noodle shops, it feels like you are in China.nLocals even chat in Yunnanese. A former garrison of a retreating Kuomingtang army the soldiers and their families were permitted to stay where they exchanged guns for tea. I shot this story over several trips between 2008 and 2009 and here it is published in March 2010 in Etihad Airways inflight magazine.
May 15th saw the posting of a photo-story of mine on MSNBC.com. The story was one I shot in Yunnan Province in SW China in 2009 originally for the Wall Street Journal Asia Weekend Journal. Still to this day in parts of China exist living proof of this ancient tradition that is often so demonised by the west. These living remnants of a China of old are all in their 80′s and 90′s and almost look out of place in a society that is changing so rapidly. For several days writer Simon Montlake and I journeyed through the Yunnan countryside in search of the last of the bound feet women.