Photos and Text by Liza Linklater
Life is an ever-changing journey, and in spite of recent events in our troubled world we must continue on our way. We have to keep moving, experiencing new cultures, learning and broadening our horizons. This is what keeps us alive.
I was very fortunate to live in Bangkok, Thailand from 1998 to 2003 (and previously from 1983-85). As an Asiaphile, I have a deep respect and affection for Asian people and their cultures. For this series of portraits taken between 1999-2002 in Thailand, Burma, India, Vietnam and Bhutan, I always asked permission first. These are more than travel images; I would describe them as environmental portraits, or portraits of people in their environment.
As an observer of these societies, I always want to know more about the people I see and meet. What I love most about this style of documentary photography is that it allows me to enter the lives of strangers, however briefly. If we share a common language, we always have a pleasant conversation; if we don’t, there’s always a feeling that we have, at least, spent an intimate few moments with each other.
Some of these journeys have taken me to places that are little known to outsiders (especially Ladakh in northwestern India; Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom between India and China; and northwestern Vietnam) and it is a privilege to have been allowed to meet with people there. It is also heartening to know that there are still some places left in our globalized world where people’s traditional ways of life are being maintained.
The experience of travel brings such joy – visiting, photographing and learning about other countries and cultures – and it is definitely what I enjoy most in life.
A Flower Offering
Leh, Ladakh, India 2000
One of the most enjoyable photo shoots I’ve ever had was with these Ladakhi women in the streets in Leh. Ladakh is the predominantly Buddhist part of the state of Jammu/Kashmir. Ringed by snow-capped Himalayan mountains, Leh, Ladakh’s capital is situated at a height of 3,500 metres. The people are delightful – and this is how the women dress every day.
In a Karen Village
Chiang Rai Province, Thailand 2000
On this trip with the Canada Fund Coordinator to northern Thailand, we met with a group of Karen women who had received funding for a development project. The Karen people are the largest ethnic group in Thailand after the majority Thais. Karen women are known for their weaving, which is done on a back strap loom. During the meeting, all of us were sitting on the floor except for the two captivating women in this photo.
Novice Monks at Diskit Gompa
Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India 2000
In order to reach the village of Diskit and its monastery in the Nubra Valley, one must cross the Khardung-la Pass, which at 18,380 feet (5,606 metres) is the highest motorable road in the world. Seventy friendly monks (including several young novice monks) live at the 350-year-old gompa (monastery). It is truly a magical, spiritual place with its stark mountain views.
Mr. ‘B’ at Siam Square
Bangkok, Thailand 2000
One Saturday afternoon Mr. ‘B’ was hanging out with his artist friends at Siam Square, a shopping area frequented by young people. They came to Centrepointe, a spot where musicians play. He was 19 at the time, unemployed and living with his parents. He said his parents didn’t mind when he got his impressive tattoos at 15 years of age.
Schoolgirls Waiting For the Bus
Nubra Valley, Ladakh, India 2000
Seeing scenes like these schoolgirls sitting on rocks in this moonscape made me feel like I had come to another planet. Ladakh is otherworldly and it’s definitely the one of last frontiers.
Near Sapa, Vietnam 2001
These Hmong schoolchildren stand outside their classroom in one of the valleys in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. Vietnam is home to 54 ethnic groups, of which the Kinh (Viet) account for the majority. Still most of these distinct hill tribe groups have remained relatively untouched by Vietnamese and Western influences.
Monks and Prayer Wheels
Paro, Bhutan 2001
At the impressive Paro dzong (monastery), I was watching some young novice monks chanting and memorizing the Buddhist scriptures; but when they saw my unusual panorama camera they stopped. This caused a group of Austrian tourists to come over to enquire about the German-made camera as well. After everyone dispersed, I asked some monks, who were still intrigued, to pose for me in front of the prayer wheels. Luckily, they readily consented to do so.
Rangoon, Burma 2002
I was walking near the Strand Hotel in Rangoon and passed three, pretty young women – one selling watermelon, another betel nut, and the third, vegetables. They all had various yellow thanakha bark designs on their faces. (Thanakha paste or powder is used as a cosmetic, a sunscreen, a perfume and a conditioner.) When I returned and asked them to pose – they complied with the confidence and poise of fashion models.
These photos were taken with medium-format cameras — a square-format Bronica and a panoramic Noblex with a fixed-focus, rotating lens. This text was taken from the Introduction to Liza’s book Bangkok and Beyond: Portraits and Panoramas published in 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand. (ISBN: 974-91129-5-4) If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this 64-page photo book please contact me here. Cost is $20.00 plus postage. Some of these photos including some Buddha images were exhibited at Darshan Gallery, Ottawa on July 8 to 24 2005.