Monday, August 20, 2012

Mae Khue Cockfighting

Blood, feathers and cash...

Cockfighting in rural Thailand.

Over the past few weeks, I've spent a little time documenting this form of gambling as it was quite accessible by motorbike from Chiang Mai. I first visited the venue with photographers Fabian Weiss and Anna Spelman on Aug. 5. Then, on Aug. 13, I returned with photographer Spike Johnson to try and narrow the focus of the images a bit as well as capture more audio.

The format is very similar to that of traditional boxing-- trainers handle and care for their fighters with fervor and during the bouts betters scream out in both joy and anguish. In between rounds, the trainers work quickly to sew up the chickens while feeding them various synthetic steroids and energy boosters.  Fights do not go to the death, but rather, until one chicken either loses interest or becomes too weak to go on.

Below is an ambient audio mix I put together from the cockfighting venue. Turn up the volume...

Hundreds of spectators gather at a cockfighting venue near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Betters scream out as a fight takes a dramatic turn.

Two chickens stare each other down during a fight.

Spectators count their cash during a fight in the main ring. Though very rare, bets in the main ring can run as high as 1 million Baht (~$31,700).

A spectator lights a cigarette during an intermission.

A man makes a bet in the small ring during a bout.
Trainers stitch and sew the wounds in their chicken in between rounds of a fight in the main ring.

Using a common technique, a trainer sews the bleeding eyelid of his chicken before taking it back to fight again in the main ring.

A cock waits in a cage outside of the venue.

A trainer waits to weigh-in before a fight.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Single: Muang On Cave

Yesterday, after my original plan fell through (more on this project in coming weeks), I was left with two options:

1. Turn around and make the 45 minute drive back to Chiang Mai where I would almost positively end up sitting in a cafe staring at the wall while spending money on caffeinated drinks, or...

2. Continue driving until I found something else to do.

Being that it was early afternoon, it seemed criminal to go with anything but "#2". So, with that settled, I set off and started cruising. Another 45 minutes later, I saw a sign for an "art cafe" on the side of the road. It was a simple sign, but it succeeded in feeding my "I'm-from-Seattle-so-I'm-supposed-to-like-the-word-art" ego. Needless to say, I pulled over. The place was called La Bhu Salah, and was run by a  kind Thai man who authors a variety of traditional cookbooks. After a tour of his property, he pointed me down the road to the Muang On Cave as I'd asked him if there were any good hikes nearby.

Another sign that read "CAVES----->" clued me in to the turnoff.

A short stair climb leads to the entrance for the cave where utter silence awaits-- refreshing after months staying in cities. 

I was getting ready to leave when I saw what would have been a nice image if only there were people to occupy the lower portion of the picture. A few minutes later, a young Thai couple climbed down into the cave and walked right up to the mat I was situated near. We exchanged quick bows before they removed their shoes to pay respects to the reclining Buddha and I snapped off a few frames in the process. 

A young Thai couple pay their respects to a reclining Buddha figure in the Muang On Cave near Chiang Mai, Thailand on Aug. 11, 2012.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Come Back Big

Foundry Photojournalism week 2012 may be in the books, but Foundry Photojournalism recovery week 2012 is in full swing-- errr, full walk. A slow walk that is...

Case in point being that my schedule has been wide open yet I've still needed six days before finally feeling up to the task of creating a fresh blog post with new work.

During the (crazy) week, I worked alongside five fellow students in Danish photojournalist Henrik Kastenskov's multimedia class. My subject was a local Muay Thai fighter Mana "Big" Inkham, who, seven months earlier, was the victim of a hit and run accident while stopped at a light on his motorbike with his girlfriend. He suffered a severe concussion, spent a week in the hospital and has since continued to train and fight despite a stern disapproval from his doctor.

As someone who used to spend most of his time in pursuit of athletics, I could immediately relate to Big's lifestyle. He wakes up early, trains for a few hours in the morning and then sleeps and relaxes during the daytime before continuing with his training into the evening. And while I never faced anything close to the magnitude of setback that Big is dealing with now, the feeling of dedicating 95% of your time to a sport, only to have it chew you up and spit you out with nothing more to show than a few bruises is something quite familiar. I think all endurance athletes know this feeling all too well...

I followed Big as he prepared for a fight in the neighboring Lamphun Province-- about a three and a half hour drive from Chiang Mai. After the fight, I spent a few days putting together a multimedia piece that tells Big's story. I have since decided to re-edit the piece so instead of posting it, I will share some still photos from the project. When I have finalized the multimedia piece, I will post it here.

Until then, here are ten photographs from my time spent with Big.

Big trains at the Lanna Muay Thai Gym in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Big shares the back of his trainer's truck with two dogs who live at the Lanna Muay Thai center.

After a hard early morning run, Big cools down before heading back to Chiang Mai.

A set of keys sit on the edge of a boxing ring at Lanna Muay Thai training center. 
Big has a laugh before heading to his fight in the Lamphun Province of Northern Thailand on July 30, 2012.

A crowd of a few hundred waits eagerly for Big's fight to begin in Li, Thailand on July 30, 2012.

Lanna Muay Thai founder Andy Thompson participates with Big in pre-fight traditions.

Big's trainer holds his head and offers encouragement between the second and third rounds of his fight.

After losing by way of judge's decision, Big holds his aching head and tries to sleep.

Big rides in his trainer's truck on July 30, 2012.