The Muxes, or third gender in the predominately Zapotec communities of Southern Oaxaca, enjoy a prominent and celebrated place in contemporary culture. To be born a muxe is to be born in luck, and their acceptance predates the Catholicism that arrived with Spanish colonization. They often cross-dress and display the aspects of both genders much like the priests and gods of ancient times.
They do not consider themselves homosexuals, but rather a thing distinct - many wear female clothing, but some do not; some take male lovers, while others marry and have children; some have their own businesses, while others stay home and help with household chores. To be a muxe could encompass many things, and they have found themselves increasingly involved in the region's social, economical, and political sections.
My high school English teacher once told us that one of the reasons we read is to experience a life we could not possibly experience otherwise. Our lives are too short or we don't have the necessary resources or perhaps we're just too afraid. When I was young I had a vision of what life outside my own would be like. To this day I still have recurring dreams about places not as they are but as how I dreamt them to be like as a child. Things are never as they seem to be, but they are still fantastical.
Mexico was a decision catalyzed by a tourism commercial on television and a friend willing to host me. I spent a week in Mexico city, but the magic happened only when I left to explore the surrounding townships. The people that I have met and the things that I have seen, it was like an exercise in magic surrealism. I remember this one morning when I offered to help an Azteca Dance Troupe pack their instruments into a van after a performance outside a pyramid and they offered me to come along. Minutes later, I was on the back of a truck riding along a Mexican highway going from location to location talking about Canadian ganja and related topics. Then the engine blew up and there was a little bit of fire and smoke and there were some concerned faces and crying children, but then we had ice cream and everything was good again. It was a good day, like all days.
There is a magic that is present in the townships surrounding Mexico City. It exists to be captured.
Living in Default
In the Burner community, the Default World is the normal world - the base reality from which we came and to which we return. Tens of thousands journey home every year to a temporary city built in the middle of the desert and it is there that we express ourselves in a manner most befitting of our true nature. These are not merely the costumes of a psychedelic camping trip, but a statement of our identity. This ongoing series of portraits seeks to explore the question of said identity and its maintenance in the Default World.
Happy, No Happy
My documentation of life by the tracks in Central Bangkok came about with a conversation I had with a man who lived there. He invited me into his home and offered me food and drinks and asked me simply, "Bangkok: happy, no happy?" In that instant, I had an epiphany. Here, in this tiny sliver of land, we can find all the ranges of emotion that encompass the tragedy, beauty and hope of the human spirit. From a blind man awaiting cataract surgery to an elderly woman comforting a frightened child as a train passes by, these photographs are tiny windows into the lives of the people that live in this community. I hope that within these images, we can find something of ourselves in their frailties and strengths.
Muay Thai, also known as the Art of the Eight Limbs, is ingrained in Thai Culture: it is played on every television set, taught in every city and village, and remains the salvation of those who have no other means of livelihood. These images are a glimpse into a life of discipline and sacrifice that is incomprehensible to most of us. During matches, they fight through a haze of pain, moving like dancers on a canvas floor stained with their blood, to the noise of the crowd and sinuous notes of traditional music. They are bruised flesh, bone and muscle, yet still what they endure while fighting is insignificant to what they endure during training.
Fighters are trained at an early age under a regimen so brutal that their bodies are rarely able to sustain careers past their twenties, yet despite what this life demands of them, fighters continue to do so for survival on the most basic of levels. They do it for the body, which is to be fed and sheltered; and they do it for the spirit, which is to be noticed and adored, the attainment of their dreams and desires.
Black Rock City becomes Nevada's third largest city for one week every year during the Burning Man festival. This event has grown drastically over the years and draws in a following that borders on religious. These are the images of Burning Man.
The Salton Sea, in Southern California, was once a resort destination for the rich and famous, but now it is an ecological disaster, abandoned and neglected. It is fed by agricultural runoff and the highly polluted New River. The sea's lack of outflow results in increasing salinity and bacterial levels as well as algal blooms that kill all but the hardiest of fish. These dead fish have, in turn, severely affected the area's massive bird population. The smell of the polution and algal blooms coupled with the dead fish and birds have significantly curtailed the area's tourism. Resources such as fresh water that can help save the sea from further environmental damage are diverted to nearby areas such as Palm Springs. Needless to say, the future of the Salton Sea is uncertain.
Our family made the dangerous decision to escape as one of the boat people; part of the large exodus of Vietnamese refugees that fled Vietnam in the late 70's and early 80's. We boarded a small, half covered boat with some other families and it felt like a long time before we were picked up by the Hong Kong fishing vessel that found us. From there we went to a refugee camp, where we were processed. We lived stacked on top of each other in warehouses next to a military training facility and it was there that my father was interviewed by representatives of a church in Canada that eventually sponsored us.
Growing up in Canada, my childhood was an experience of being in limbo; I was different and unsure of myself, with a sense of being disconnected, as I had very little in common with the people around me. This feeling persisted until an opportunity to return to my birthplace presented itself. My homecoming was an answer to who I am, but also alien to me, though everything that was incidentally familiar to me became a part of me; from the language to the skin tones to the way we sat and the food we ate, even to the smells of what I imagined home to be like.
It is generally understood that the Vietnamese are close: they are close to their family, children and elders; they are close to their traditions and ancestors; and they are close to their history. As their country shifts into the future, these intangibles, essential to being Vietnamese, remain unchanged. These images, made possible by a grant from the Canada Council of the Arts, show the intimacy, hope, and despair entwined between birth and death, with all the glory and celebrations in between. They are images of my birthplace, friends, family and neighbours, from my place of birth to the ravages of agent orange and unexploded ordnances of the demilitarized zone to the red light districts of Hanoi - frozen glimpses into the lives of a people and country on the cusp of change, a portrait, ultimately, of myself.
The purpose of this essay is meant to explore the remnants of man's abandonment of the Salton Sea and nature's efforts to reclaim her land. There is a beauty that lies beneath the death and decay of this desert sea's landscape and it is my hope to convey some of the qualities that have fascinated me about this place. This region is important not only to the people that still live there, but also to the large avian population that depend on the sea. It is worth preserving.