MFA Portfolio: Photography

This page has been uploaded for the review of candidacy per the relationship between the subject and photographer.  Other forms of media have been collected and included in the application.  However, this portion of the portfolio deals with only the photographic platform.  All told, the media in use for the application include photography, printed or electronic books, films and multimedia already covered within the application process.

The theme of each image centers around a different essence of communication — through a medium that either implies its own juxtaposition, or showcases a very human element to a universal item within it.

A brief description of the piece and the relationship it represents between the photographer and the work is included below each item:


In the fall of 2010, I visited the largest religious monument in the world.  The various Temples of Angkor and the surrounding area around Siem Reap were abuzz with tourists and locals alike.  This particular photograph capitalizes on the irony surrounding the idea that those capturing the early morning sunrise behind Angkor Wat are, themselves, captured and therein they form the true nature behind each of the photos that they take.


In the Ifugao region of the Philippines, the meaning of the many tattoos that line the woman’s forearm (and indeed which are located all over her body) might well go unnoticed to the average traveler.  It’s a dying breed that still has remnants of the old and outlawed tradition of headhunting — with each victory inked in a different assemblage of markings.  The half-hour that it took for me to coax the woman into showing me her tattoos revealed much about the stigma that is attached to these old-world activities.  And, though marginalized and seen as archaic, the past that follows this woman (and that may well die with her) is a sort of forced extermination of history in this area.  The embarrassment that she felt even in covering up her face is exactly the reflex of what stigma builds from, but also upon.  And of course, the fading of her tattoos generically symbolizes the phasing out of even their meaning.


Using a process called High Dynamic Range photography, this image was layered from a series of five separate images taken at different exposures.  The camera was kept still by way of a tripod.  And at the time it was taken, this image was processed at the very height of the technological advancement of photography.  Yet from the misty mountain tops to the millennia-old tiered rice fields overlooking the tiny village below, the content within this shot depicts a world long since forgotten by the generation who created that technology.  It therefore begs the question, “Does this new wave of technology (and the new lifestyle it provides) help to preserve the old ways of the world, or does it simply act as a catalyst for preserving what’s left?”


This giant bronze statue in Korea is clearly one created for portraying the essence of tranquility, peace and meditation. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that a violent battle is being waged (and lost) to the very elements in which its intricate details were forged.  On a grander scale, one might imagine that the symbolism between the eventual passing of the ideology that would painstakingly construct such a monument is also fighting the very same battle with time.

Cambodia SkullsBW_resize

The skulls collected at the bottom of the Killing Cave outside of Battambang, Cambodia, sit in remembrance of those who plummeted to their deaths within it at the hands of the Khmer revolutionaries in the 1980s.   In the west, we think of skulls as a symbol of destruction and carnage.  And in a sense, that was the mode that brought an end to these peasant people.  But they mean something much different to their living descendants who come here to be with the cherished last remains of their dead.  And when we realize that children — the youngest of the descendants who came here to pay their respects — were given the honor of collecting the bones of their beloved ancestors, the symbol takes on new meaning.

No matter where they find themselves, Chinese people are said to be the most fervently opposed to integrating and embracing the culture in which they settle.  Each year, there are numerous exoduses from China.  In some cases, the Red government even pays its citizens to relocate — especially to areas seen to be in need of “China-fication.”  Holding fast to their own language, diet, customs and beliefs, these emigrants largely offer only their Chinese heritage back to their new communities.  At first glance, it seems apparent that this tea and glassware shop is just another store in the Beijing suburbs.  Otherwise, one might never know that this photo was taken in a small Muslim fishing village in Southwestern Thailand,


‘Know what you sell,’ a neighboring merchant might say about this stoic pair who seem to have a knack for finding like-featured offerings at a Sunday Market in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.  The relationship between seller and merchandise is never more evident than in places where the decorum resembles the culture.  IKEA might sell these brass visages as cheeky doorbells or novelty entryway accessories.  But here, they carry prestige and presence.  They may even have been lifted from a house that begged that challenge from its marauders.


In a capital city like Manilla, where little is done about a growing homeless problem, even less is done about those who belittle and accost them.  This homeless woman sits defenseless as local men throw glass bottles and plastic cups at her.  But these men might not realize that they, too, could be out in the street the very next week.  Much of the homelessness in the Philippines is actually initiated by natural disasters that either drive people from smaller towns into the cities, or even in the cities where emergencies like block fires and flooding are nearly impossible for the local government to prevent or budget for, in a city that remains gridlocked nearly 18 hours of each day.


In Hong Kong, where architectural pride is about as palpable to the designers’ personality as the money behind these megaliths is for their investors, it might be hard not to notice that each edifice has it’s own feel.  Experiencing the life that pulses through this city is a lot like that in New York or Los Angeles — but with a twist.  Commerce is King in this economic hub straddling the line between the west and the east.  And reflecting from within each of its billion-dollar buildings is an even more expensive lesson: Could it get too big to fail?  This image captures the facade (literal) of one building with the facade (metaphorical) of another, in keeping with the ever-present goal of our internal, insatiable desire to endlessly consume.


In a market in Vietnam, the subject of a photo engages the artist as an image is made.  Immediately afterward, monetary compensation is expected for this interaction.  Though it doesn’t matter that, in another time, these two characters might otherwise be a part of the same community or share similar interests, neither engages in any activity that resembles personal contact or meaningful interchange.  It is understood that the subject agrees, in this case rather disapprovingly, that the money she will receive from every tourist is understandably equal to the image that each of them bring away.  And it represents the correct exchange no matter how abruptly it came into being.


As with the tiered rice fields from the Philippines (shown above), this image was captured in HDR.  Beyond adjustments for correcting the balance of light, no other alterations were made after the layering took place.  Yet, because of the nature of the almost mystical contrasting and ghosting that comes into play with this new form of photography, this image not only captures the idea of some iconic painting of an Asian temple gate, but also the same dreamy feel of the memory that it keeps in the mind.  It’s only when the viewer looks close, as one is also forced to do in the setting where temple gates are built, that the true details of the scene make sense to the eye.  And it’s therefore no coincidence that the “unedited” nature of the image is as surprising to the eye as it is to the memory it brings with it.


Remarkably, this student-monk did not pose for, or even acknowledge this shot being taken.  The unique brand of juxtaposition in this frame is captured by a young man engaging in a quite typical activity of a rural Laotian community.  And in doing so, he is an active participant in synthesizing the newness of youth with the apparent timelessness of an as-yet impenetrable cultural norm for this part of the world.  And as if trained by the statue’s sculptor, the boy unknowingly poises himself in exactly the same manner and exemplifies nearly genetically twinned facial traits as the centuries-old Buddha effigy.  He might just as well have been the statue’s inspiration.

Uros12_resizeLiving their lives by the reeds, these two Incan descendants chew on the very fibers that sustain them in the highest of the world’s navigable lakes: Lake Titicaca.  The totora reed was to the inquisition-era Peruvians, what the Costa Meza was to the post-colonial Native Americans.  It saved them by offering them a creative hiding place to wait out the swathes of invading foreigners.  Life thereafter for these people was defined by these aquatic plants.  Tied together and used as floating islands, huts, fishing twine, fabric — even fish storage pools — these digestible plants are quite literally a life-saver.


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