Rozhen Monastery

This weekend, my new producer and I went out to visit some really cool places throughout Southwestern Bulgaria. It was a trip back in time to the 1700s when our first stop brought us to the Rozhen orthodox monastery in Blagoevgrad Province. This place was packed into the history books with the Spanish Inquisition.

The Rozhen monastery is the biggest in the Southwest of Bulgaria, and is known formally as the Monastery of the Nativity if the Mother of God. This orthodox encampment is one of the few in the region, and is well preserved. You can reach it by car, as my gracious hosts have offered to me, or by footpath from the town through the sand pyramids – a highly recommended jaunt that should only take an hour or so. This is the trail that the original monastics used, so it’s something of a pilgrimage that can be made in the same footsteps as used in the time of its inception.

Everything from the art on the walls to the listless grape vines splayed along the second story buttresses, drinking up the sun. From before even stepping foot into the grounds of the compound, the centuries-old, riveted, iron-plate door swallowed all sense of recency and equipped the eyes to take in something from long ago.


The paintings alone, finished in 1732 by local monks, are enough to lock you into a gaze of intentional curiosity. Like the paintings of the period, it’s not the masterful work that absorbs you. It’s the context of the themes themselves. They show depictions of the most important moments in the orthodoxy’s history. And they’re displayed right atop benches and walkways that people inconveniently rub away without any regard to preservation of the artwork. Perhaps this is more the fault of the keepers than the visitors for not protecting with more attention.

Nevertheless, it was a very cool experience to have been a part of. And what’s more, I was also given the rare privilege of shooting inside the monastery itself, with other opportunities to film around the grounds.

Here are a few of the images I took while I was there.


After walking the grounds, we also visited the grave of Yane Sandanski, the revolutionary after whom the neighboring town of Sandanski was named. Yane (or Jane) Ivanov Sandanski was an interesting chap. He is widely recognized as the revolutionary leader who lead an anti-Ottoman uprising and assisted in estoppel of the Turkish campaign of forced Islamic conversion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

His grave site lies behind this stoic edifice, and is certainly presaged by locals to be the tomb of a hero.

After leaving the Rozhen temple, I headed into Melnic, the least populated city in Bulgaria. More about that next time…

VII and Magnum are Teasing New Markets

In a push to get new work in a new market, photo agencies VII and Magnum have gone completely Euro! I am not sure what the push means for fashion (since A: I have no fashion sense whatsoever, and B: fashion has gone in so many directions, I say why not!?) or photography. But it does seem reminiscent of something that’s already happened.

Has it happened with iconic images from a photo agency’s archives? Probably not. Will anyone even notice? Well, unless the wearer happens to walk by someone who is REALLY into photographic artists, probably not.

In a week-long “flash sale” intended to raise cash for operations and test new ways of engaging with audiences, VII is offering signed 8×10″ prints for $100. Meanwhile, Magnum has announced a 67-hour flash sale of its own, offering signed 6×6″ prints for $100 starting on June 17. In addition, Magnum has struck a deal with Photo.Clothing to emblazon works by various Magnum photographers on t-shirts.

The ventures reflect a new reality for the venerable photo agencies, which have until now steered clear of mass consumer markets to protect their elite brands, and the high value of their members’ work. But their traditional markets and existing streams of revenue may no longer be enough, forcing them to test consumer markets.

“We had a pretty animated discussion about this at the [VII general meeting] in Paris, [and] some questioned whether their prints would lose value if they were to be involved,” says VII Photo member Ashley Gilbertson.

“Many of us don’t believe that we live in a world that demands we choose to be squarely in the museum / collector side or selling to the public at a far more affordable cost. We can do both, and have been diligent in this sale and will be in the future to protect the higher end print market with edition prints and such.”

For one week only, VII Photo is offering signed prints by six photographers for $100 each. The photographers participating in the sale are Gilbertson, Antonin Kratochvil, Gary Knight, Ed Kashi, Christopher Morris, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, and John Stanmeyer. The sale began May 30 and ends June 6.

Gilbertson says all proceeds from the sale will go to support the business operation of VII, which were recently “slimmed down to give us a chance to grow in different ways.”

The sale lasts only a week because the agency doesn’t have the staff resources to sustain it on an ongoing basis. “Additionally, I think it’s more interesting as something that pops up and then disappears – the prints are an open edition, but there is an inherent value in the photographs only being offered for a short window,” Gilbertson says.

The agency is planning to do two more sales, each featuring the work of different photographers, “to eventually include everyone at the agency,” Gilbertson adds.

Gilbertson says selling images directly to the public expands the audience for VII photographers’ work. “Why should our work live in major collections alone? It shouldn’t. These images have just as much power on the wall, or even on the ‘fridge, in the home of a citizen. Communication is our game, and this is the right move that supports that goal.”

For its part, Magnum has announced a special offer of signed 6×6″ prints of a selection of photos to be announced in the days prior to the start of the sale on June 17. The agency, which did not respond to PDN’s repeated requests via phone and email for an interview, says the 67-hour sale is intended to commemorate its 67th anniversary.

Magnum has also struck a deal with start-up company Photo.Clothing to provide images by several photographers for reproduction on t-shirts. The t-shirts offered for sale so far through Photo.Clothing’s Kickstarter page feature images by Martin Parr, Chris Steele-Perkins, Bruce Gilden, Richard Kalvar and David Alan Harvey, according to the UK-based magazine Creative Review.

So far, seven backers have contributed about $400 toward Photo.Clothing’s Kickstarter goal of $20,000. (Original Article).


Is Spain Changing their Famous Late Night Dinners?

Having always been fascinated with the late dinner schedule of the Spanish (and of course the afternoon siesta, to which I’ve grown happily addicted), I found this Times article very interesting.  reports from Madrid.

Manuel De Soto takes his customary after-lunch nap at home in Seville. For many Spaniards, long siestas mean workdays extend well into the night.Credit Laura León for 

MADRID — Dipping into a bucket filled with Mahou beers, Jorge Rodríguez and his friends hunkered down on a recent Wednesday night to watch soccer at Mesón Viña, a local bar. At a nearby table a couple were cuddling, oblivious to others, as a waitress brought out potato omelets and other dinner orders. Then the game began. At 10 p.m.

Which is not unusual. Even as people in some countries are preparing for bed, the Spanish evening is usually beginning at 10, with dinner often being served and prime-time television shows starting (and not ending until after 1 a.m.). Surveys show that nearly a quarter of Spain’s population is watching television between midnight and 1 a.m.

“It is the Spanish identity, to eat in another time, to sleep in another time,” said Mr. Rodríguez, 36, who had to get up the next morning for his bank job.

Spain still operates on its own clock and rhythms. But now that it is trying to recover from a devastating economic crisis — in the absence of easy solutions — a pro-efficiency movement contends that the country can become more productive, more in sync with the rest of Europe, if it adopts a more regular schedule.

Grocers in Seville eat lunch near their open store. A plan for a more regular timetable would cut siestas to an hour or less. Credit Laura León for The New York Times

Yet what might sound logical to many non-Spaniards would represent a fundamental change to Spanish life. For decades, many Spaniards have taken a long midday siesta break for lunch and a nap. Under a new schedule, that would be truncated to an hour or less. Television programs would be scheduled an hour earlier. And the elastic Spanish working day would be replaced by something closer to a 9-to-5 timetable.

Underpinning the proposed changes is a recommendation to change time itself by turning back the clocks an hour, which would move Spain out of the time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy. Instead, Spain would join its natural geographical slot with Portugal and Britain in Coordinated Universal Time, the modern successor to Greenwich Mean Time.

“We want to see a more efficient culture,” said Ignacio Buqueras, the most outspoken advocate of changing the Spanish schedule. “Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.”

For the moment, Spain’s government is treating the campaign seriously. In September, a parliamentary commission recommended that the government turn back the clocks an hour and introduce a regular eight-hour workday. As yet, the government has not taken any action.

A workday abbreviated by siestas is a Spanish cliché, yet it is not necessarily rooted in reality. Instead, many urban Spaniards complain of a never-ending workday that begins in the morning but is interrupted by a traditional late-morning break and then interrupted again by the midday lunch. If workers return to their desks at 4 p.m. (lunch starts at 2), many people say, they end up working well into the evening, especially if the boss takes a long break and then works late.

“These working hours are not good for families,” said Paula Del Pino, 37, a lawyer and the mother of two children, who said an 8-to-5 workday would ease the pressure. “Spanish society is still old-fashioned. The ones who rule are old-fashioned, and here, they like it like it is.”

The national schedule can be traced to World War II, when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco moved the clocks forward to align with Nazi Germany, as also happened in neighboring Portugal. After the defeat of Hitler, Portugal returned to Greenwich Mean Time, but Spain did not.

At the time, Spain was a largely agrarian nation, and many farmers set their schedules by the sun, not by clocks. Farmers ate lunch and dinner as before, even if the clocks declared it was an hour later. But as Spain industrialized and urbanized, the schedule gradually pushed the country away from the European norm.

“People got stuck in that time,” said Javier Díaz-Giménez, an economist. “Eventually, the clocks took over.”

In the early decades of his rule, Franco ordered radio stations to broadcast reports of news and propaganda twice a day to coincide with mealtimes at about 2:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Television arrived in the 1950s and followed the same mandate, with daily programming on the lone government channel ending at midnight with the national anthem and a portrait of Franco.

“Then everyone would go to bed and procreate,” said Ricardo Vaca, chief executive of Barlovento Communications, a media consultancy in Madrid.

By the 1990s, with Spain’s post-Franco transition to democracy underway, television also began evolving. Mr. Vaca said new private networks, eager for profits on popular shows, made programs longer and pushed prime time into the early morning hours. Now, he added, surveys show that 12 million people are still watching television at 1 a.m. in Spain.

Changing the prime-time schedule is one of the recommendations bundled together by Mr. Buqueras, president of the Association for the Rationalization of Spanish Working Hours. At his office in Madrid, Mr. Buqueras burst into a conference room and immediately checked his watch.

“Thank you for being on time!” he declared.

Mr. Buqueras argues that changing the Spanish schedule would be a boon to working mothers, allow families more free time together and help Spain’s economic recovery. “If Spain had a rational timetable, the country would be more productive,” he said.

Whether an earlier, more regimented schedule will translate into higher productivity is a matter of dispute. Mr. Buqueras’s group says Spanish workers are on the job longer than German workers but complete only 59 percent of their daily tasks. Measuring productivity is an imprecise science, and while many experts say Spanish productivity is too low, Spain actually outperforms many European countries in some calculations, according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency.

“These three-hour siestas don’t exist,” said Carlos Angulo Martín, who oversees social analysis at the National Statistics Institute in Madrid. Nor are habits uniform across the country, he said, noting that in the Catalonia region, mealtimes and work schedules are aligned more with those of other European countries.

María Ángeles Durán, a leading sociologist with the Spanish National Research Council, is skeptical that changing the time zone will reverse low productivity, which she attributes more to the structure of the service-oriented economy and a lag in technology. But she agreed that normalizing the work schedule would help women: She cited a survey she conducted of female lawmakers in Europe, who complained that men deliberately scheduled important meetings in the early evening when women were under pressure to return home.

“For men, this is perfect,” Ms. Durán said. “They arrive home and the children have already had their baths! Timetables can be used as a sort of weapon.”

At the Mesón Viña bar, Mr. Rodríguez and his friends contemplated the Spanish clock. One friend, Miguel Carbayo, 26, was appalled at the notion of a nap-free lunch. He had worked as an intern in the Netherlands, where his co-workers arrived at 8 and left at 5, with a half-hour to munch on a sandwich for lunch, a regimen he found shocking.

“Reduce lunchtime?” he said. “No, I’m completely against that. It is one thing to eat. It is another thing to nourish oneself. Our culture and customs are our way of living.”

But, he admitted, a shorter nap might be acceptable. “They say 20 minutes is enough to boost productivity,” he said.


The Khmer Kingdom is More than Just a Few Temples

Having been to Cambodia several times, and even returning there next month to complete filming on a couple of projects that I have planned, I have come across many folks involved in humanitarian projects there.

OF course, every country has its needy. But Cambodia seems to draw a specific type of personage to its besieged territory. And so, after I read this recent article at the Huff Post Travel blog, I had to share it. It captures the essence that’s only found by people who return to the country and spend more than just a passing week checking out temples and getting high in Phnom Penh. Alexandra Chalat has this to say:


Every year, millions of tourists visit Cambodia (in 2013 it reached over 3m). They sink up the warm sun on the Sihanoukville beaches, they experience the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor Wat, and then they move on to Vietnam, Thailand, Bali, continuing their back-packing gap years or honeymoon excursions.

I just returned from a different type of trip to Cambodia, working with a programme that uses football to educate and raise awareness across the rural provinces about the danger of landmines.

Recognising the power that sport has to engage, inspire, and empower young people, Spirit of Soccer has been running in Cambodia for nearly eight years, its trained coaches traveling from school to school in the most mine-ridden parts of the country, teaching kids first how to have fun with the soccer ball, and then providing them with key lessons around mine awareness and avoidance. Active in Bosnia, Iraq, Jordan, as well as Cambodia and Laos, Spirit of Soccer has succeeded in educating more than 250,000 young people about the dangers of landmines and remnants of war.

It’s estimated that there are still 4 to 6 million landmines and ERWs (explosive remnants of war) scattered across the northern belt of Cambodia. A country whose rural regions rely on farming rice for survival, small communities stand amongst clusters of yet to be unearthed, making it impossible to work the land without risk of coming across an unexploded weapon placed there decades ago.

I travelled with Spirit of Soccer’s founder, Scott Lee, and his five talented coaches to Poipet, located on the Thai-Cambodian border. As we rumbled up the narrow road, flying past huts squatting on stilts above stagnant swamps, and old ladies selling rice stuffed into roasted bamboo straws, he tells me that this region sits in the middle of the ‘T5 mine belt’, where an estimated 4 million mines were laid. There’s a high casualty rate even today in the area, but the numbers have been coming down slowly over the years.

The school we visited has been identified by the CMAA (Cambodian Mine Action Authority) as one in a high-risk zone for mines. Each month, Spirit of Soccer staff work with the Authority to identify these places and which schools to visit. They change constantly due to monsoon flooding picking up old mines and sweeping them to new zones, posing new threats. It’s a constant game of chase, with young lives on the line.

As we pulled up to the school, the sound of kids screeching with laughter reached us about the exact same time a red sign printed with the sinister white skull symbol and a headline ‘Danger!! Landmines!!’ came into view, reminding us how close these kids are to a field yet to be cleared. Without the red sign, it looks like an ordinary, innocent stretch of land, waiting to be farmed.

That day, Spirit of Soccer’s incredible coaches provided nearly 120 kids with FIFA-approved skills and drills. The youngsters – donned in Man United and Arsenal jerseys, their feet bare – have been looking forward to this day for weeks. Boys and girls play together, cheering for each other when they score a goal. By the end of the hour long training session, the entire group are in full admiration of the coaches, all of whom are Cambodian, most of who come from similar backgrounds as these kids.


Under the shade of a giant-leafed tree, the students gathered, sweating from running and kicking, eyes shining bright with expectation of what’s next. One of the woman coaches then led an energetic learning session, likening lessons about landmine awareness to those of football drills. Teamwork, trust, communication. Most of these young people have come across a landmine, or worse, know someone who has been injured or died as a result of tampering. Having gotten them into a place of trust and respect from the football training, the coach us properly getting through to these kids with her lessons. They stand or sit, arms around each other, excitedly raising their hands to say the right answer. The hope is that these young kids will tell their parents what they’ve learned, their siblings who aren’t at school, their aunties and uncles who are working the field. The hope is that Spirit of Soccer is, slowly but surely, helping decrease the amount of deaths as a result of a tragic history that has long since scarred this beautiful country.

To understand the importance of Spirit of Soccer’s work, and the massive risk that plagues the rural communities of the Cambodian countryside, one has to understand its complex history. After thousands of landmines were dropped on the country during the Vietnam War, the Cambodian-Thai border continued to be used as a fighting ground, until the nation was swallowed in 1974 by the Khmer Rouge, led by dictator Pol Pot. Through an enforcement of social engineering (the elimination of everyone who hinted at having the slightest bit of wealth or education), millions were tortured and massacred, with citizens forced to attempt an insular agriconomy, resulting in widespread famine and disease. Although the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979, the Party continued to wage war from border provinces, triggering a further surge of landmines being dropped. In the area where the school we visited for instance, the millions of mines were laid by slave workers for the Khmer Rouge.

About 20 minutes down the road from the school is an open-aired shack. It’s basically a roof on stilts – no walls – under which five aging men sit, their skin leathery from the sun, their eyes tired from a lifetime of hardship. They are all missing legs. One has a prosthetic, smudged with grime, the metal bent from overuse, the skin on his thigh where the contraption attaches is blistered and infected. These men are all victims of landmines. Three of the four men have over six children each. The government provides little support, and even if they could get a subsidiary, they live deep, deep in the rural jungle, the closest town about a 45 minute drive.


As I spoke with these men, I began to understand why this country has been referred to as the Heart of Darkness – so much pain, so many deep-seeded issues. And yet, there is a form of love, a tinge of forgiveness that sits within these people. Victims of the Khmer Rouge live next door to the soldiers that caused the strife. People who have lost loved ones to ERWs continue to work with the government to get their land swept and cleared so they can once again farm safely, and coaches who lived through the darkest of times find hope in the young kids they teach.

In the eight years since Spirit of Soccer first set up the Cambodia programme, the amount of casualties to landmines has decreased a whopping 75.3%. The majority of accidents happen in rice paddys and crop fields. There are still hundreds of thousands of acres to clear. But there is a sense of hope, a sense of healing. You’ve just got to explore beyond the beaches, beyond the temples, to feel it.

Images by Cyle O’Donnell and found in the “Cambodia” gallery at the right of the page.


The 18 Worst Things about Hawaii

I normally don’t like the active GIFs that are plastered all over social media. But from this Huff Post Travel blog, I just couldn’t help sharing. They’re just too damned applicable to the content from the article.


Yeah, yeah, it’s paradise — we know. People are happier, healthier and less stressed in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few annoyances, gripes and inconveniences behind all those rainbows and sunsets.

Cry us a river with the below 18 worst things about Hawaii:

1. The traffic is soul-crushing
Honolulu ranks number two nationwide for cities with the worst traffic, and when you consider the streets crumbling with potholes and seemingly endless freeway closures, you’ll wonder why the heck it isn’t number one. It is second only to Los Angeles, with the average Honolulu resident sitting in jams for 58 hours annually.

2. Radio station monotony 
With all that time in the car, you’d think the radio stations would be up to the task. Sadly, in addition to being a few months behind the mainland in terms of new music, you’re likely to hear the same 5-10 songs on every local radio station. (You better really love Lorde or reggae music.)

3. You’re not allowed to complain … about anything
Try venting to someone trapped in the polar vortex and you won’t be met with much empathy — no matter how legitimate your gripes.

4. You have to be swimsuit ready all.year.round
No bulky sweaters or long pants to cover up holiday weight gain — if you live in Hawaii, you have to be hairless, toned, and ready for beachwear at a moment’s notice. Here’s what we think about that…

5. It’s a revolving door
There is a lot of turnover in Hawaii; people move here for an adventure and then go back to “reality.” While this means you are always meeting new people, it also means that friends are constantly leaving. Be prepared for going away parties to be a social staple.

6. The cost of living is ridiculous
Almost all of Hawaii’s food is imported from the mainland, making your grocery bill a shocking expenditure. A pack of hamburger buns goes for $5.59, almost $3 more than it costs at a similar market in Washington, D.C., and Hawaii consumers pay nearly double the national average for a gallon of milk.

7. Shark attacks become a real and everyday fear
It’s not just fantasy anymore. You will meet people who have come across sharks, you will swim at beaches where there have been known shark sightings, and while the odds are still very, very low, you’ll never shake that eerie feeling that a shark isjust about to attack you.

8. You can’t escape people
Never want to see an ex again? Hoping to avoid a colleague or frenemy? Good luck. You both live on a small island in the middle of nowhere.

9. One word: Vog
Allergy season is all year round and unpredictable. And instead of pollen causing your itchy eyes, it’s vog: the volcanic smog that wafts over from the Big Island.

10. Sun guilt
This might sound made up, but it’s a real thing in Hawaii. Some days, you just want to stay on the couch all day and binge on Netflix. Hawaii’s sun and active lifestyle, however, will make you feel guilty for being lazy — which, as we all know, almost defies the restorative power of lazy days.

11. You’ll never see a big concert again
Hawaii’s a bit out of the way, which means no big time musicians ever perform here. On the rare chance that they do, like local boy Bruno Mars is doing in April,good luck getting tickets.

12. If you’re not an avid surfer, yogi or other outdoor enthusiast, you will, at one point or another, feel like a second class citizen
Remember how the cool kids made you feel in high school? Surfers and yogis can do that with a single shaka or namaste.

13. Say hasta la vista to quality Mexican food
If you love fish and Asian cuisine, you’re golden. If you have a hankering for spicy guac and flavorful burritos, good luck — Hawaii is notorious for bad Mexican food. 

14. You’ll work as a tour guide all the time — but you’ll never get paid
Sure, the first few guests are fun, but when you’re playing tour guide for the tenth time in two months, you’ll consider moving into a studio with no couch just to avoid hosting visitors.

15. It’s quite possible you’ll live on a road that none of your friends on the mainland can pronounce
Ki’i’oni’oni Loop, anyone? Ma’ipalaoa Road? Ki’ona’ole Road?

16. You’ll develop an apathy towards current events
When you’re 2,400 miles from the next closest landmass and you’re spending most of your free time outdoors, you’ll find that keeping up with the news is exceedingly difficult.

17. You’ll never get dressed up again
Kiss your high heels, your boots, your blazers and ties goodbye. No one in Hawaii dresses up — ever. Slippers (aka, flip-flops) are work appropriate in most offices and anyone wearing a full blown suit looks alarmingly out of place. While this is pretty awesome most of the time, you may find yourself craving a little glamour every now and again, if for no other reason than to break up the shorts and tank-top monotony.

18. Island fever
It’s real, people. You will, at one point or another, really miss things like road trips, weekend getaways that aren’t to another island, and unpredictable weather. And, if you don’t get them, you might start to feel a bit stir crazy…

How annoying are these GIFs? Please tell me all about it in the comments! haha
Have an idea for why or why not to visit Hawaii? Discuss below.

10 Most Common Safety Violations in Asia

Frequently I observe construction all throughout different countries in Asia. And having been an environmental scientist and HAZWOPER safety educator in Alaska, I can’t help but notice all of the activities that would just never fly in the states.

On nearly an everyday basis, I notice cable workers climbing shotty, bamboo ladders without a helmet, safety belt or even shoes. Yes, I have literally witnessed shoeless construction workers. And in developing nations where insurance is all but obsolete, I often wonder why more people don’t take initiative and protect themselves by wearing more than just the bare minimum for working in these dangerous places.

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So, in honor of that very idea, I have compiled the list below of all the U.S. safety standards which Thai construction workers would be in immediate violation of at almost every job site I’ve ever encountered.

1. Workboots with covered steel-toes.
2. Eye safety for dust and falling objects.
3. Keep cables from running across the floor.
4. Use only safety regulated standing and climbing devices (stools, ladders, etc.).
5. Appropriate work gloves to prevent injury to the hands.
6. Ensure that all drilling and metalworking equipment is stowed in a case or work belt and never on the floor where it can be a hazard for tripping and injury.
7. Ensure that working area is cordoned off with safety tape, cones and other visible foot traffic detours.
8. Ensure that work area is kept clean of debris.
9. Put refuse and debris into a container to remove clutter and tripping hazards.
10. Never lean construction items against an abutment where they might fall on bystanders.

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