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Issue No. 18 - Humanity

Jamie Spates: Faces of Southeast Asia

Lijiang, China, fall 2006

Lijiang was a great respite from the teeming Chinese cities, although it was quickly becoming a booming domestic destination for young professionals who would waste no time filling the streets with drunken cheer and loud techno. I was always loyal to the same guesthouse, where this young woman worked.  It was a long-standing rule that I would try to get a photo of her smiling, and she would do her best to make this impossible. This shot was the closest I ever got.

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(left image) Tachilek, Myanmar, summer 2006

It was my first summer running photography programs throughout Southeast Asia. On this specific day, we had taken our group up to Mae Sai, on the Thailand/Myanmar border and crossed into the local market on the Myanmar side. The market was filled with a truly spectacular range of wares, from stun guns to bear paws. This particular woman ended up having a small collection of hand-made slingshots and change purses, of which I happily purchased the former.

(right image) Shaxi, China, winter 2007

The Shaxi valley is undoubtedly one of the most peaceful places I have ever traveled to in China, and the pace of life mostly trickles by. In a country that seems to race towards developing every square inch, places such as this were always greatly welcome. Afternoon walks through the villages were always met with extremely genuine interest and intentions, and this fine gentleman was no exception.

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(left image) Northwestern Vietnam on a sunny day can provide some of the most lovely trekking opportunities in the country, and it was always a delight to turn the corner of a trail and descend into a small village filled with a collection of happy smiling faces of all ages. This little girl was taking a break from hiking between two villages with her infant brother when we passed through.

(right image) One of the true pleasures of my travels was the local Hmong friends that I made during my visits to Northwestern Vietnam. They always seemed to be exceptionally vibrant and high-spirited, which was somewhat astounding to me in light of the challenges they faced as a mostly isolated minority in a developing nation. This young woman was one of the smiling faces that I always looked forward to seeing upon my visits.

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I had been working in Dali on and off for two years, and it remained one of my favorite places to relax in China. On many afternoons I enjoyed walking the streets of the Old City, and after a while developed a delightful repertoire with many of the street vendors. This particular woman was one of my favorites, and we would often enjoy taking the time to barter over her various woven wares, laughing at my bad Chinese and ruthless negotiating tactics.

 

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During another extended stay in Lijiang, I had the pleasure of enjoying one of the winter festivals, to which everyone brings all family members dressed appropriately in their best attire. It was a wonderful combination of vibrant Naxi colors, more conservative traditional dress, and startlingly bold and sometimes utterly confusing modern Chinese fashion choices. This little girl was doing her best to bring as much joy as she could muster to the celebration.

Jamie Spates has worked for 10 years in the student and adult travel industry, of which a large majority has been spent in Southeast Asia. Having had the privilege to design and run travel programs throughout the world has provided endless opportunities to continually develop his lifelong passion for photography and storytelling.

His current website  is appropriately labeled as a sounding board, mainly due to the fact that it is an ever-changing collection of current projects that are prey to the whims of opinion, albeit his or someone else's.

Matthew Brandt "Excavations" at Yossi Milo Gallery

Leigh Ledare at Mitchell - Innes & Nash