Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Champagne

Photo of Champagne, France

Behind the scenes: It’s 1994 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Travel Holiday in the Champagne Region of France. His job is to capture the essence of this region with its renowned vineyards and charming, old world towns.

Jeffrey speaks only a little French, but after landing in Paris he loads up a rental car, negotiates his way through the city’s chaotic roundabouts, then finally hits the open road heading toward Epernay, about eighty miles away. His nerves take a beating during the drive, especially without any English signage to guide him, but the beauty of the region creates a soothing natural salve.

The following day several men from the Champagne Chamber of Commerce warmly welcome him with a lavish, three-hour lunch, complete with six different types of champagne.

Vineyard in Reims, FranceJeffrey, who likes to hit the ground running, tries to quell the impatient feeling needling him while the men laugh and linger, making sure the champagne keeps pace with their stories. Eventually the bubbles begin to travel to Jeffrey’s head, forcing him to lose his natural, high-energy need-for-speed, and relax and fully appreciate the lifestyle of this region.

He can already tell that it’s going to be one the cushiest stories he’s photographed in a long time, even if he will have to work hard to photograph everything on his long shoot list.

Haut Viller, FranceDuring the next week he plows through more than 70 rolls of film in the visually rich towns of Reims, Damery, Troyes, Epernay and Haut Viller. He photographs everything from vineyards and chalk cellars to wine bars, restaurants, and galleries to people, architecture, and landscapes. He also shoots details like the street sign honoring Dom Perignon, the monk who discovered bubbly.

After spending a morning photographing the interior of Castellene du Champagne winery in Epernay, Jeffrey heads to his car. Just as he’s about to load up his equipment and move on to the next location on his list, he sees two workers carrying a giant champagne bottle along the road in front of the winery.

Jeffrey knows what he sees before him must be included in the story so he quickly takes out his camera again and begins photographing. He works hard to get the angle which will include both the Avenue du Champagne sign and the shadow. After capturing this quirky moment, curiosity inspires him to find out what they’re doing with the giant bottle.

“Once a week we have tastings in the garden and we bring these large bottles out for ambiance. People enjoy sipping champagne beneath these big bottles,” a worker laughs as he explains in his thick French accent.

Though dozens of photographs from this shoot have been published around the world, this giant champagne bottle has captured peoples’ imaginations the most. It has been published in magazines, on cards, and inside Communication Arts where Jeffrey received an award for it.

This image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikor 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia Film.

Would you agree that this picture begs for a creative caption? I’d love to hear your ideas. Send me your best!

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Indonesia

Photo of a Hindu ceremony in Bali, Indonesia

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Newsweek in Bali, Indonesia. The king’s wife has died, and an auspicious day has finally arrived for her funeral ceremony.

For Hindus, the days between death and ceremony are spent in intense preparation as they organize the myriad details involved in rituals leading up to the cremation. It’s believed the soul of the dead can only leave the body once the body’s five elements of air, earth, fire, water and space have been returned to the cosmos. Once this happens then the soul can depart and find its new life through reincarnation. Mishandling of any small detail can prevent the soul from reincarnating.

Photo of a Hindu funeral floatThe Balinese have spared no detail in this elaborate three-day event, which is taking place in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali.

Jeffrey has been working in Asia non-stop for over a month, and can feel the weight of the pace he’s been keeping—photographing everything from a story on rice in Japan to a feature on the Yangtze River in China to yet another on Beijing’s lively outdoor markets—but he’s also energized by this visually compelling and culturally important event.

As Jeffrey stands photographing next to his friend, Robin Moyer, who is working on assignment for Time Magazine, the two men can’t help but laugh at themselves. Every person in attendance is required to wear traditional dress during this formal ceremony. Photographers are no exception. Not only are both men sporting batik sarongs over their Levis but also Indonesian udengs (wraps) on their heads. While Indonesian men look handsome, the two of them look absurd.

Photo of a Balinese dancer in IndonesiaIt is over 100 degrees with humidity equally as brutal, but Jeffrey pays little attention to the heat. Everywhere he looks he sees a blaze of color. High priestesses carry out blessings and holy water ceremonies, musicians and dancers perform traditional movements, women adorned in vibrant dresses carry offerings atop their heads, and others lead a procession which eventually arrives at the funeral pyre.

When the elaborate pyre is finally lit, it quickly catches on fire and bursts into hot flames. It is this moment the Rajah’s wife’s soul is released into the cosmos to seek its karma and reincarnation.

What Jeffrey witnesses is an awe-inspiring celebration of Balinese culture. Gratitude brews beneath his sweat-drenched udeng as he knows once again that his camera has opened a door to a place and time that he otherwise never would have experienced. 

Photo of Balinese MusiciansThis image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, Nikon 80-200mm lens, and Fuji Velvia film.

To view a few more images from this ceremony in Bali, click here or on the photo of the musicians to the left.

What cultural ceremony or event has stirred your soul? I’d love to hear your most memorable moments!

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Vietnam

Photo of Muslims praying at the Central Mosque in Saigon, Vietnam

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is on his way from Thailand to Cambodia to photograph a story about Angkor Wat Temple Complex. In order to enter Cambodia though, he must first stop in Vietnam to get his visa processed. The U.S. still has not re-established diplomatic relations with Cambodia after Pol Pot’s Killing Fields so he’s forced to take a circuitous route.

Map of VietnamIt’s early morning in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and as Jeffrey sits on the rooftop restaurant of his hotel, sipping orange juice and reading his Herald Tribune, he begins mentally planning his day.

Below, the streets teem with motor scooter drivers and vendors as they begin their daily frenetic ritual of eeking out a living. In the midst of the city’s cacophony, Jeffrey also hears another sound warbling in the distance. He knows he’s heard it before in other regions of the world, but never in Vietnam.

An Islamic call to prayer wafts through a loudspeaker, a muezzin’s sing-songy voice summoning Muslims to prayer.

Curiosity instantly changes the course of Jeffrey’s day. Instead of heading to the Dan Sinh Market like he had planned, or photographing the Apocalypse Now Bar or the city’s wide boulevards and French colonial architecture, Jeffrey begins his search for the mosque.

Photo of traffic in Saigon, VietnamFirst he must maneuver through the certifiably insane, always-rush-hour-traffic, then he must get on the back of a motorcycle taxi before he is eventually dropped off in front of the Saigon Central Mosque in the Dong Khoi area.

A sea of motor scooters dots the sidewalk in front of the light blue and white building. Its cool, immaculate structure exudes calm, floating like an island of serenity in the midst of the churning streets outside where sensory overload is the norm.

Jeffrey removes his shoes, and like other men, washes his feet before stepping onto the cool stone floors. The city’s heat, humidity and noise instantly fade away.

Though he isn’t sure what kind of reception he will receive, Jeffrey is warmly welcomed into the mosque and is even encouraged to photograph during Friday prayer.

The men pray on one side and the women on another. Jeffrey’s eye is immediately drawn to the clean lines and undulating pattern of the women praying before him. In no time he raises his camera and begins photographing. After shooting a handful of frames, he  lowers it back down and puts it away, hoping to avoid disturbing this sacred time of worship. Instead he watches and listens, enjoying his unexpected discovery in Vietnam.

What Jeffrey likes most about this photograph is that most people think it was created in Africa or the Middle East rather than Vietnam.  He likes the surprise element, and also the anonymity of the image, which allows viewers to imagine what the faces look like behind the traditional robes.

“It’s also a good reminder that curiosity is often my most powerful tool. If I hadn’t been curious, I never would have discovered this part of Vietnam,” Jeffrey says.

This photograph was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikon 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia film. It was awarded a PATA Gold Award.

Now I’m curious! What is the most interesting or unusual place you have discovered while traveling, simply by following your curiosity?

Africa’s Beautiful Bag Lady: One Woman Making a Difference

Photo of Lori Robinson in AfricaWhen my friend, and fellow writer, Lori Robinson, was seven years old and living in Miami, Florida, she told her mom she wanted to go live in Africa.

Little did she know her childhood dream would turn into a lifelong passion, and culminate several decades later in a simple, yet exhilarating project: The Bag Project.

Lori was twenty-four when she finally made her way to Africa. She’d originally planned to work in wildlife conservation, but her good looks launched her into the world of modeling and television. For three and a half years she dazzled the camera during photo shoots and also hosted South Africa’s most popular live entertainment television show, Prime Time.

It may have been Lori’s modeling career that first opened the doors of Africa for her, but it was her heart that took her back again and again.

Lori Robinson in AfricaOver the past thirty years Lori has traveled extensively throughout the continent and has been deeply involved in the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). Currently she travels twice each year from her home in Santa Barbara, California to East Africa where she leads tours and also participates in volunteer work with JGI.

For part of her stay, she resides in the small town of Tenguru, Tanzania. It’s here that Lori has made an impact on the lives of thousands of Tanzanians with her Bag Project.

Watch this short video to see Lori’s project in action.

“The simplicity of it, is what makes it work,” she says as she flashes a quick smile.

“It began six years ago when I was in Tenguru and noticed a problem plaguing the beautiful landscape; plastic bags were everywhere. They were blowing in the wind, tangled in the trees and fences, stuck in rivers. They were strangling the environment.

“Not only that, but grazing goats and cows were also eating the bags, and frequently dying as a result—a devastating loss for a family who relied on the animal for its daily milk. It was a really big problem.

“Another issue is that stagnant water collects in the folds of discarded bags and is known to breed mosquitoes carrying malaria,”

Lori estimates that nearly every person in rural Tanzania uses and tosses out one plastic bag each day. That may not sound like a lot, but when you understand that most villages do not have trash pick-up or recycling, that means all these bags are drifting in the environment.

Her solution? Simple. Canvas tote bags.

Lori Robinson's bag projectLori has collected tens of hundreds of tote bags in the U.S. and taken them to Tenguru, where until now they had been virtually non-existent. In 2005 she brought over her first shipment and set up a stand at a local marketplace where she distributed them. Her only requirement? Each person had to collect at least twenty-five plastic bags and bring them to her in order to receive a free canvas tote bag.

Lori was astounded by the response. She was literally mobbed. During her latest trip in February, she distributed 1,100 canvas bags in two hours–all to members of the community who had proudly helped cleaned it up. Some had even walked ten miles to receive one. It’s a win-win for everybody. “Totes that might otherwise end up in our garbage dumps in U.S. are replacing plastic bags that would otherwise end up on the roadsides of Africa,” Lori says.

Photo of plastic bags in AfricaLori has personally received and transported over 33,000 plastic bags to the Arusha, Tanzania dump. Even more exciting is that now well over a thousand people are equipped with canvas bags, which means these shoppers will no longer be adding plastic bags to the environment. She estimates that in the next year they will save the region more than 400,000 plastic bags.

I asked Lori to tell me what surprised her most about her bag project, and this is what she said:

“The most wonderful and surprising thing is how easily everything fell into place. The inspiration of giving totes in exchange for litter, getting the thousands of totes through customs, getting the message spread in the village that I was doing this project—there were so many pieces to the project that seemed like potential obstacles, yet nothing got in the way. I am also wonderfully surprised by all the people here who have taken this project on to collect totes, give money, and spread the word. It has been so great to watch the project touch others to be called to act. I often say it was divinely inspired because I was completely in line with what I was supposed to do. When that is the case, things happen effortlessly.”

Lori believes Tenguru could become a model of progressive, sustainable living for rural Africa. She will be going back in January and August 2012 with more totes.

When I asked her how somebody could help or get involved, she said:

The best way to help right now is to:

• Share the video so others can see how damaging plastic is to the environment.

• Travel with Lori to Africa on one of her Trips with a Cause (www.africainside.org).

• Donate money for extra luggage fees, garbage dump fees (for all the litter collected), and for paying people on the ground in Tanzania who help make this project so successful.

Click on this link to make a donation: http://www.crowdrise.com/africaInside/fundraiser/africabagproject

Or donations can be made to the Tribal Trust (a non profit accepting donations on behalf of this project) and sent to Lori Robinson at PO Box 31199, Santa Barbara, CA 93130.

If you ever doubted that one person could make a difference, Lori is living proof. I hope you will help support her project in whatever way you can.

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Russia

Photo or restoring Russian church in Moscow

Behind the scenes: It’s 1991 and Jeffrey is working on assignment for Travel Holiday in Moscow. Preeminent writer, Orville Schell, has written an in-depth piece about the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox church, and Jeffrey has been hired to photograph the story.

It’s a mind-numbingly cold January day when Jeffrey walks through Red Square with his interpreter, Alexi. People all around are dressed in heavy wool coats and classic fur caps. Jeffrey wears his American version of warmth—expedition weight Patagonia gear—but he still cannot feel his fingers or toes.

St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, RussaOnce he enters St. Basil’s Cathedral though, Moscow’s iconic nine-domed masterpiece, and he’s lead through a series of dim, narrow chambers, he is instantly warmed by what he sees transpiring behind closed doors. A small group of artists is painstakingly restoring the frescoes and woodwork of this magnificent16th century structure.

Jeffrey and his interpreter see a dark-haired woman perched high atop scaffolding, restoring the face of an angel on one of the domed ceilings. When the woman sees the two, she immediately stops what she’s doing and looks down from above.

Jeffrey simply smiles and says in his best Russian, “ZDRAST-vwee-tye” (hello). “KAK VAS za-VOOT” (what is your name)? “Menya zavut Jeffrey” (my name is Jeffrey).

She can tell by his clothing that he’s not Russian. A broad smile crosses her face when he continues with every Russian phrase he has learned. Even though his grammar is nowhere near perfect, his accent is strikingly authentic, and in a matter of minutes he has endeared himself to the artists around him.

Restoration of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, RussiaIn no time they are all laughing and showing him into other back rooms, speaking to him in Russian as if he should understand every Cyrillic word. Jeffrey doesn’t need to comprehend a thing; their pride in what they are doing says everything.

It is a new era in Russia. Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership and policy of Glasnost (openness and freer discussion of issues), the Russian Orthodox Church is slowly coming back to life.

Prior to Gorbachev, the Soviet regime was committed to the complete annihilation of religion. Based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, atheism was the official doctrine of the Soviet Union and it became a high priority for all Soviet leaders in the Communist Party.

Not only did the state destroy churches, mosques and temples, but it ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept. And just like all private property, any Church-owned property that wasn’t destroyed, was confiscated and put into public use.

_____

When Jeffrey arrives in Moscow, he senses the delicate dance of the new political and social freedoms unfolding around him. Russians are clearly embracing change, but they’re also cautiously optimistic, knowing things could change again quickly during this turbulent political time.

Russian woman praying at a Russian Orthodox chuch in Moscow, RussiaDuring this assignment, Jeffrey photographs nearly a dozen churches—previously confiscated religious buildings that have been returned to the church–some still surrounded by barbed wire, some with gilded onion domes shimmering in all their glory, and some even holding  elaborate services once again.

As Jeffrey climbs up the rickety scaffolding inside St. Basil’s Cathedral to photograph the artist painstakingly restoring the frescoed ceiling, he knows he’s about to create an image that perfectly symbolizes the renaissance of the Russian Orthodox Church. One person at a time, one brush stroke at a time.

Russian Orthodox Church ceremony in Moscow, RussiaEleven months later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the government of Russia begins to openly embrace the Russian Orthodox Church, and the number of the faithful rises once again in Russia.

The photograph above was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikon 24mm lens, SB-16 flash, and Fuji Velvia film.

To view a few more of Jeffrey’s photographs of Russian Orthodox Churches, click on this link:  See More Churches

Vote for the Next Picture of the Week

I want to know what you think! Take a look at the four photographs below and let me know which one you’d like to hear about in next Thursday’s Picture of the Week. Leave your vote in the comment box and whichever image receives the most votes will be the next Picture of the Week. Voting ends Wednesday (11/16/11) at noon (so I have time to write the story)!

1) Saigon, Vietnam

Photo of Muslims in Saigon, Vietnam

2) Moscow, Russia

Photo or restoring Russian church in Moscow

3) Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Photo of Khmer dancers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

4) Champagne, France

Photo of Champagne, France

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: China

Vis a Vis magazine cover

Behind the scenes: It’s 1981 and Jeffrey is photographing in Beijing, China. On this day he’s intent on capturing the beauty of the Summer Palace, the former warm-weather residence of China’s imperial rulers.

As Jeffrey crosses a narrow covered walkway, intricately carved and painted with imperial scenes, he notices an elderly gentleman sitting on one of the wooden railings. The man, who seems content to do little more than take in the day’s events around him, is dressed in a Mao jacket and a traditional cap. He is also wearing some of the most exquisite glasses Jeffrey has ever seen.

Photo of the summer palace in Beijing, ChinaThe spectacles rest slightly askew on the man’s nose. The etched hand-tooled silver that frames the circular glass is worn to a salient patina; the crack in the upper left-hand lens holds a story from long ago.

Jeffrey cannot take his eyes off the man whose face perfectly symbolizes traditional China. When the man glances up, Jeffrey asks—through his interpreter—if he would mind having his portrait taken. “Please be sure to tell him how much I admire his glasses,” Jeffrey adds.

The man’s eyes twinkle from beneath their narrow openings. Then his soft, gravely voice begins wrapping Jeffrey in staccato Mandarin, almost as if the man has been waiting his entire life to share this moment. Jeffrey, who has studied a little Chinese, can only understand part of what he is saying, and must wait patiently until his interpreter finally relays the story.

“He says that he is 84-years old and these glasses have been in his family for two generations. His father wore them most of his life, then when he died, they were passed on to him. He said he would be willing to sell them to you for ten dollars.”

Jeffrey is horrified by his offer, imagining all the things that have passed through these lenses. He takes a moment, then simply says to his interpreter,

“Tell him ‘thank you very much for your generous offer’, but I will pay him double if he promises to never sell these glasses; to always keep them in his family.”

The man squints his eyes in delight, then agrees. Finally Jeffrey creates his portrait. A few years later it becomes the cover of Vis a Vis, United Airlines’ inflight magazine, when they publish a 10-page portfolio featuring Jeffrey’s China photographs.

This photograph was created with a Nikon FE camera, a Nikon 85mm lens and Kodachrome 64 film.

Photo of rowboats at the Summer Palace in Beijing, China

PS: The answer to Tuesday’s challenge is Tibet (November 8th post). You’ll have to wait to hear Jeffrey’s stories to fully appreciate his reasons.

The Geography of Bliss

Geography of Bliss book cover photograph

As many of you may know, reading is one of my passions in life. Earlier this year I blissfully added another title to my ever-growing, eclectic list of favorite books — The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Place in the World.

In this funny travel memoir, Eric Weiner, veteran NPR foreign correspondent (and self-proclaimed grump), travels the globe intent on finding the happiest places on earth and discovering what makes them that way.

Using both the wisdom of ancient philosophers as well as the modern “science of happiness” to guide him, he spends a year journeying around the world. Starting in The Netherlands, Weiner tracks down Ruut Veenhoven, the proprietor of the World Database of Happiness and the godfather of happiness research. From there he ventures to Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and back to the United States.

The Geography of Bliss is not only a fascinating travel memoir, but a funny exploration of the science, psychology, and geopolitics of happiness. It also offers a provocative perspective on what happiness is — and isn’t — and where we might find it. 

Wiener raises such questions as:

Porrait of author David Weiner“What if you lived in a country that was fabulously wealthy and no one paid taxes? What if you lived in a country where failure is an option? What if you lived in a country so democratic that you voted seven times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then?”

Kirkus Reviews says, “…this wise, witty ramble reads like Paul Theroux channeling David Sedaris on a particularly good day.

As I romped through Weiner’s book, I couldn’t help but think about all the places Jeffrey has traveled in the world, wondering which countries he might think are the happiest.

While Jeffrey doesn’t have data from the World Database of Happiness to back up his conclusions, he was glad to compile a list of some of the happiest places he’s been to in the world. His findings are based purely on personal experience.

__________


Jeffrey’s Top Five Happiest Places in the World

1) Bhutan: Perhaps it’s Bhutan’s way of measuring its well-being–Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product–or perhaps it’s because Bhutan is a country mostly inhabited by devout Buddhists, but this Himalayan mountain kingdom is steeped in happiness. After working on assignment in Bhutan several times over the past two decades, Jeffrey, like Eric Weiner, ranks it as one of the happiest places on earth. “People seem content without possessions in this remote, landlocked country and find solitude away from the bright lights of nearby bustling civilizations,” Jeffrey says.

Photo of a monk teaching a child in Bhutan

Photo of women in Bhutan

Photo of Bhutan

2) Thailand: Weiner explains that Thailand is one of the happiest places in the world because its residents are taught not to over-think things. While most Americans agonize over every detail of life, Thais are much more relaxed. Jeffrey has been to Thailand too many times to count, and sees the Thais as “Content, confident, and strong people who have a relaxed approach to life.” He reminded me that Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that has never been colonized. Perhaps their independence has contributed to their inner happiness?

Photo of kid at the feet of a Buddha in Thailand

Photo of a monk wearing Ray Bans

Portrait of a Karen woman in Chaing Rai, Thailand

3) Ireland: It could be the melodic lilt of the Irish accent, or the ease with which Irish people smile, or perhaps how they genuinely enjoy helping others–whatever the case, the Emerald Isle ranks high on Jeffrey’s list of happy places. Let’s not forget the Guinness!

Photo of an musician in Doolin, Ireland

Photo of Dublin, Ireland

Photo of Stephens Green in Dublin, Ireland

4) Micronesia: This island chain dotting the Pacific Ocean just north of the Equator is home to people who enjoy a slow, simple life, warm weather, bountiful food, and a classic island lifestyle still devoid of hordes of tourists. No traffic jams, no deadlines…just happy, mellow people.

Photo of women in traditional dress in Truk, Micronesia

Photo of a fisherman in Micronesia

Aerial photograph of an island in Micronesia

Photo of Micronesia

5) Australia: Jeffrey has worked Down Under multiple times and each time he has been met with happy, active, and laid-back Aussies–particularly in Tasmania. “There seem to be few worries in Australia,” Jeffrey comments.

Photo of a vendor at Salamanca Market in Tasmania, Australia

Photo of a girl in Australia holding a koala

Photo of people swimming in a waterfall in Northern Territory, Australia

Photo of horseback riding in Victoria, Ausralia

In The Geography of Bliss, Weiner visits Moldova, which according to his research, is the unhappiest place on earth. By illustrating what makes Moldovans miserable he reinforces his findings about what makes other people happy–kind of like the Tibetan proverb, “Pain exists to measure pleasure.”

I’m not sure the happiness researchers ever polled people in North Korea though, which is Jeffrey’s number one pick for the unhappiest place on earth.

Photo of North Korean children

Photo of North Korea

Photo of North Korea

Here’s a challenge for you. Take a look at the list below which features many of the places Jeffrey has traveled, and see if you can guess which country he considers one of the saddest places in the world, but whose inhabitants are still some of the happiest people he’s ever met.

Antigua, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Chile, China, Christmas Island, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, East Timor, England, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Macau, Malaysia, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, North Korea, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand Tibet, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Leave your answer in the comment section and find out the answer on Thursday! Also, I’d love to know YOUR IDEA of the happiest place on earth!

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Machu Picchu

Photo of Smithsonian Magazine CoverBehind the scenes: It’s 2002 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Smithsonian. His job is to capture the mystique of Machu Picchu, Peru’s famous ancient Inca ruins.

The name Machu Picchu, or Old Mountain, comes from the Quechua Indian term for the 9,060-foot peak looming over the site.

Renowned author, Fergus Bordewich, the writer for this story, describes it like this:

“Although I had seen many images of Machu Picchu, nothing prepared me for the real thing. Stretching along the crest of a narrow ridge lay the mesmerizing embodiment of the Inca Empire, a civilization brought to an abrupt and bloody end by the Spanish conquest of the 1500s. On either side of the ruins, sheer mountainsides drop away to the foaming waters of the Urubamba River more than a thousand feet below. Surrounding the site, the Andes rise in a stupendous natural amphitheater, cloud-shrouded, jagged and streaked with snow, as if the entire landscape had exploded. It is hard to believe that human beings had built such a place.”

Jeffrey, after five days of walking every angle of this massive site, climbing slippery mountainsides with his heavy camera fannypack, meeting with archaeologists, trying to scope out unique views of this much-photographed destination, realizes he still isn’t satisfied that he’s created a cover photograph.

On the last day of his assignment, he’s up at sunrise once again trying to capture the best light. While standing at a common overlook, where most tourists go, he gets his bearings for the day and begins fiddling with his camera, choosing a lens, making sure his equipment is set properly.

When light hits the ruins he shoots a few frames right where he’s standing. He’s so focused on the composition that he jumps when something suddenly enters his viewfinder. Our of nowhere, a llama has walked into his photograph.

Photo of a girl in Cuzco, PeruIt’s like a gift, a quirky detail of Machu Picchu that brings the ancient ruins to life. Jeffrey does not move, and is able to shoot three or four frames before the llama walks away. Fortunately, Jeffrey knows he has just nailed the cover–especially before a gaggle of tourists rushes over, trying to create the same photograph.

As he ponders the luck of that moment, and thinks back to how hard he has worked over the past five days, he knows his credo couldn’t be more true:

“The harder you work, the luckier you become.”

This photograph was created with a Canon EOS 1V camera, a Canon 20mm lens, and Fuji Velvia film.

To read Fergus Bordewich’s mesmerizing and extensive article about Machu Picchu, click on this link: Smithsonian Magazine—“Winter Palace.”

I’d also love to hear from you! If you’ve been to Machu Picchu, drop me a comment and tell me your most memorable moment. And if you haven’t, would you ever like to go? It’s now in the running as one of the NEW Seven Wonders of the World.

Photographing Daunting Democracy and Cambodian Peace

Photo of the Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, ChinaSUMMER 1989: Jeffrey arrives home safely from Beijing and I count my blessings that he has avoided harm while photographing the Democracy Movement and its grim aftermath.

I can see in his eyes though, that he’s changed by what has transpired; not in ways that others might notice, but in subtle ways–mostly in the intensity of his resolve.

The brutality of the Chinese government lights a fire in his consciousness that later propels him to create a powerful visual testimony of what took place during the massacre (a story that will be chronicled in my book).

That summer, while we both process everything that has happened, we’re happy to have the luxury of multiple uninterrupted weeks together…at least in between doing several photo shoots for Business Week, Rolling Stone and The New York Times. We’re in the same time zone though, and able to have dinner together nearly every night, so we drink in each others’ presence and appreciate the time we have together. We even manage to squeeze in things like hiking and cycling, concerts and movies, just like other couples.

Normalcy helps balance out the underlying sadness and anger we have about all the young, innocent people in China who have been murdered. Life marches on though, and it becomes clear why journalists must move on too; otherwise they would be paralyzed by what they have experienced.

September arrives in the blink of an eye and Jeffrey leaves me amidst the blaze of golden Aspen trees and heads back to Southeast Asia–this time to photograph the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia. The Vietnamese have occupied Cambodia for more than an decade and it’s a cause for pomp and celebration in Phnom Penh when the last soldiers leave.

Photo of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, 1989Photo of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom PehnPhoto of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom PenhPhoto of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom PenhPhoto of Vietnamese soldiers leaving Cambodia in 1989Photo of the Cambodian dancers during the withdrawal of the Vietnamese in 1989Photo of withdrawal of Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom Penh

In between this assignment in Cambodia and his next one in China, Jeffrey calls me from Bangkok. My heart melts from the sound of his voice.

It doesn’t take long before he’s telling me some crazy story about sharing a ride across Vietnam to the Cambodian border with three journalists from the Iranian News Service.

Knowing he’s safe and that he’s successfully completed his assignment in Cambodia, it’s impossible for me to repress my laughter when he describes being squished in the back of a tiny, sweltering rattletrap car, suffering through hours of heated conversations with three big Iranians who still consider America the Evil Empire.

“You think that’s bad,” he laughs, “You can’t believe the piece of shit Russian helicopter from the 60’s that I flew in across Cambodia. I thought the thing was going to disintegrate during take off. Parts of it were literally held together with duct tape.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, but when he begins telling me the details of how a Thai journalist had bribed his way onto the helicopter with a bunch of Vietnamese generals, and had invited Jeffrey to join him so he could save three days of driving to a ceremony for the withdrawal of Vietnam’s military, I can picture it all as though I’m watching a scene from an ill-fated movie.

The barefoot Cambodian pilot. The dripping humidity. The porthole windows. The sickening noise of the rotors straining to lift the aircraft.

I count my blessings that Jeffrey’s story doesn’t end with an explosive crash like most Grade B action movies.

“Needless to say,” Jeffrey sighs, “I’m happy to be back in Bangkok.”

Needless to say, I’m glad he is too.

I also realize at that moment that while this life we’re just beginning together verges on nail-biting insanity, I also know I’m already hopelessly in love with the guy on the other end of the phone.