Fashion With Voice

About two weeks ago I was browsing around events in town trying to photograph something unfamiliar to me……..kind of giving myself a break after months of wondering through Vancouver’s Chinatown. Then I received the email about a political fashion show called SCRAP organized by Kalayaan Center, a non-profit organization with it’s purpose of serving the Filipino community here in Vancouver. So I placed a call for access……..and days later there I was.
To understand the motive behind the SCRAP fashion show there is some background needs to be learned. Every year there’s a significant amount of immigrants from the Philippines to Canada either through marriage catalogue, employment program or other means. With large portion of them women they are subject to abuse through workplace or in domestic settings. With this fashion show which using ordinary women with customs that has messages tailor to them the organizer hope bring the awareness to the public.
My original intent was using this event as a warm up for the bigger and purely commercial Vancouver Fashion Week which was happening last week but then, as happened so many times in the past, busy schedule with my day job just killed my personal plan. And there is also a lost of interest of photographing a commercial fashion show after done this one because of its uniqueness.
That being said, cat walk with tall blonde beautiful models on the stage for commercial and entertainment purposes was never really my thing I guess.

Political Event, Chinatown Style

Guests at Political lunch event at Chinese restaurant during the National Day of Republic of China(Taiwan) celebration.
Since May this year I was working on the personal project documenting Chinatown and one thing led to another I began to get in contact with some of the old , semi-political organizations that have long history with the community. Then about a week ago I was photographing the political event which marks the national day of Taiwan – or Republic of China, the island’s official name.
To understand why these people celebrating the holiday that is only marked in the calender in Taiwan there’s a bit history lesson to be learned………To put it simple, this so called National Day which is on Oct. 10th was celebrated in China before 1949 prior to the People’s Republic. Then The Chinese Nationalist lost the civil war and retreated to Taiwan so the National Day on Oct. 10th is only celebrated on the territory that Nationalist controls. However for the oversea Chinese organizations, specially the old ones that are locate in Chinatowns, are still supporting the Nationalist so naturally they’re celebrating ROC’s National day as well.
So what do I make of this? Well, I personally felt like I went into an living antique shop when I attending the event not only because of age group of the attendees but also the propaganda – may it be the slogan they shouted during the event or the text on the wall. All these remind me of my elementary school times in taiwan 20 years back.

The Travelling Eye

Four of my images from ‘Winter Tale, Korea’ series were selected for the group exhibition ‘The Travelling Eye’ at Exposure Gallery here in Vancouver. The openning is tonight(Oct. 17th) at 8pm. Come and see the show for which not only I but my colleague Geoff Wallang’s work was also been selected for this exhibition.

Nachtwey and Towell

The image on the left is photographed by James Nachtwey in Swaziland, part of a project he worked on in the past year on XDR-TB. The image on the right is by Larry Towell, my mentor during the Magnum Workshop Toronto and a well known Canadian photographer from Magnum.
James Nachtwey, a veteran war photographer received TED Prize of $100,000 USD which he utilize the fund for the project about XDR-TB, the mutated form of TB which is very resistant to drugs and is becoming a major health crisis on parts of the world. At the time of receiving the award he was telling the audience that was “working on a story the world need to know about” then he disappeared for the next 18 months. Then few days before October 3rd, which was the schedule date to break the story there’s a huge press release to remind us about the event. This prompt some heated debate on morality of Nachtwey’s strategy of bringing the attetion to the masses about the issue.
While the fuzz and focus was on Nachtwey’s story my attention was turned to my former colleague Jeff Ladd’s photography book review blog 5B4. He posted a review on my mentor Larry Towell’s latest book The World from My Front Porch, which he spent nearly 20 years photographing his own family. At the book launch which is during the workshop Larry gave his reason why he started pointing his camera to his own family and was plain simple – he was unemployed(think part of it was a joke). But instead of a global crisis which you need a megaphone to announce to the world it was just a small event with live performance by Larry himself(Yes, he sings and I even have his CD). The book by the way is very compelling and I could say this would be an ultimate family photo album. 
So whyt do I presenting a two very distinct work? well, honestly I was somewhat reserve about Nachtwey’s strategy of bringing the issue to the masses. True, this is a issue that needs a grave attention but by holding back the story till certain date like product launch makes photographer vulnerable to criticism and ultimately play down the real issue. 
And there’s also a shift of the kind of story that appeal to me….part of the reason why I brought Larry Towell’s work and drew the comparison.

Cyber Temptation

My wife Ju-Won surfing the internet at home.

Last week I had a chance listened to a radio documentary downloaded from BBC about computer addiction issues in South Korea. This is something not only limited to the South Korea but other Asian countries as well. However, in a country which a good on-line gamer can become a celebrity and been sponsored by conglomerate firms with TV channels dedicate to on-line gaming competition it is hard for outsiders not to scrutinize the phenomenon with microscope.
There is a lot to explain why Koreans are so craze over the on-line gaming, which ranging from stress relief to high cost of console gaming to even self confidence issues. But what really concerns me is the fact that in a country which people are eager to show off their strength and shook off their turbulent past are often become more vulnerable to the kind of marketing that is associate with national pride but not necessarily good for the people. 
Take on-line gaming for an example. Gaming along with push for more use of computer products was originally promoted by the government in South Korea started in the 1990s when the country became the major peripheral exporter. It’s intention is to transform the country into a high tech nation which everything is digitized. Now the very same agency which did the promotion are now setting up treatment centers for people who suffer from cyber addiction.
This should send a warning signals to everyone – The use of commercialism to promote national pride is an effective tool but can become very destructive when things gone wrong – Cyber craze in South Korea offers a good example.

Same Youth, World Apart

Few days ago a friend of mine Lucas Mulder wrote a piece about poverty in Guatemala on his blog 100CM [METRE] and his personal encounter with teens trying to make ends meet so that he and his family can survive the other day. All the startling reminder of dire need to eliminate poverty.
Interestingly, On the other end of the world I’ve been working on this day job of photographing the would be high school grads. A pretty high tempo job which you have deal with kids who grew up in the environment that was very well protected……..The ideal environment for raising kids I suppose but it does has draw backs. Kids who grew up here are demanding, they think they deserve everything and most of all they often have no regard to others…….and these characteristics became more apparent when they are in front of the camera.
So for the last couple days while I was dealing with these kids, I often thought about that kid Lucas encountered in Guatemala……what would he thinks if he sees what I see? 

A little circle of friends…….

At My old colleage friend’s apartment in Surrey, BC. The one on the background is my wife Christine.
Takako, My old College friend and Christine moved to Vancouver within two years after I settled here. Though the motive to be here are a bit different. Christine moved here because….well….I’m here. But Takako settled here mainly because she wasn’t able to secure a permanent residence in the U.S. after spending about 10 years working and studying, and Canadian citizenship became a next best option for her.
Regardless of the intention for resettlement one thing they share about their experiences in Vancouver is that they can’t wait to get out of this place. This is something I’m hearing more and more from people of around my age both immigrants and natives alike. The grim fact is that Vancouver is becoming one of the most expensive city to live in North America but at the same time salaries for average people living Vancouver has not risen in the past seven years other than few sectors. This caused a great stress for young people who want to start a life here and many of them end up leaving the place for good. Oh, and the rainy weather seems to make a already stressful life even grimmer……like salt on the injury.
So with Takako’s case she was lucky enough to find a somewhat decent job recently after worked in a Japanese owned firm with shitty pay. But as for me and my wife we decide to leave this place as early as next year. The reason? This place is simply not a place for photography.

O Canada x 14……..

For people who work in the the grad photo sector June is usually a very busy time since pretty much every school on the face of the planet are holding ceremonies for youngsters who are ready to move on to the next stage of their lives. And since I happened to work at one of the grad studio as the day job I was part of this June madness as well……
From the beginning of June I was pretty much on location or out of town mostly photographing ceremonies, with bulk of them university grads. Strangely enough I always end up in Victoria, BC shooting the ceremonies there. Of course it was not a bad place to be and since the city has one of oldest Chinatown in Canada this means I can use my spare times working on my personal project, which is about Chinatown around the world. But then after spent almost two weeks of the entire month in Victoria and sit through the same ceremonies eight times…..it started to get repetitive……
But on the brighter side after having listen through national anthem of Canada for about 14 times I think I don’t have worry about failing the citizenship exam on that part……

Migration

For years I was using a bad French phrase as my domain address because I thought it was different(was studying French at the time, which I failed miserably). But then I moved to Canada and had a chance to travel to Europe this domain printed on my business card started to taken toll on me slowly as I encounter more and more French. I did thought about having a domain name change few month after I register the site but because the process was quite complicated so I decide to put on hold….without even realizing that I end up having this monster which was even more difficult to rebuild.
Anyway, Starting from today I will be slowly but painfully migrating contents from the current site to the new one. The web address for the new site will be http://www.benhuangphotos.com. Hopefully the new site will be up and running in the complete form by the end of this week. In the meantime when you visit this site in the near future you will also be redirected automatically to that of new one.