This is the story behind the set of images I shot at the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai that was posted on SaPP recently. I often see something when I’m out and about and think that I would like to spend more time there or take pictures of what I’ve seen. This was the case with the Friendship Bridge, an area I’d been to and that wasn’t far from where I was living at the time.
The next step is to think about the style of photography the situation lends itself to; street photography, landscape, a 52 Week Challenge Project, architecture etc. etc. This is the point at which lens selection becomes important alongside my ability to carry equipment which depends on the distance I have to travel and my mode of transport.
As this project was relatively close to my home, I was able to visit it by motorbike and I knew that the location would be ideal for people and street photography. I selected my 18-135mm STM lens as my current 70-300mm is broken and pretty unusable now. I had in mind to use this as a long distance capture lens to photograph scenes and people discretely. I also took my 50mm 1.8 lens. I actually found having to make a choice of lens before I got to this location made me work round or move to positions I might not have done if I had had the long zoom. I went to the bridge at the start of the day to get a feel for the layout of the area, what happens where and to experiment with various viewpoints.
My first shot is of the drinks and tea lady. With her hair covered and her apron she reminded me of the ladies that used to do the lunches at my school. She and I had been chatting in very broken Tinglish (a mix of Thai and English). She understood that I wanted to photograph daily life around the Friendship Bridge and was happy for me to capture her at work. I waited until she wasn’t looking directly at the camera and photographed her as she was engrossed in her work. I like this image as it shows the border area isn’t just about officials and people entering and leaving Thailand but about the people who support this daily migration and build their own livelihood around it. This image also shows the beauty of the 50mm 1.8 lens giving a real 35mm length of 80mm. I felt distant enough to balance her in the frame making her the centre of attention whilst maintaining detail.
The other things you will notice around the Friendship Bridge are the large numbers of Tuk Tuk drivers and their vehicles. There is a strict pecking order, not only in fares, but who parks where and in what order they are able to pick up passengers. I took several images of drivers pushing and pulling these cumbersome vehicles in a co-ordinated dance that maintains this unspoken hierarchy. Some drivers appeared to be outside of this system, waiting further away from the designated parking area and they attracted my attention. Although they had to wait longer for passengers and presumably had longer gaps between journeys, they looked relaxed and in no particular hurry. My next image captured a young driver, not yet part of the organised system with his headphones on waiting for a fare to come his way. I like that the image also shows the span of generations working the Tuk Tuks here and the different ways they relax. The young man plugged into his mobile phone, whilst the older man sits still on a stool smoking an unseen cigarette.
As the morning progressed, the area became busier as more people crossed the bridge and the food stalls that dot the area, the cafes and 7/11 in the small parade of shops came alive. Many of the stalls serve grilled chicken or hot dogs but my eye was drawn to one selling fresh cut fruit. There was lots of traffic passing this stall but I sat and watched this stall holder serve a few people until I found exactly the right angle and position to get this shot in. What made me photograph this young man was his height. As soon as I saw him I could see how he would give the image balance and draw the eye. Positioning him in the frame was tricky as you never know which direction people are going to move off into. Watching and reading body language helps a bit with predicting this and in this instance I felt I got it right.
Soon the first wave of border crossing buses had arrived and the next image of the two ladies carrying their bags together across the post just told me to shoot! This is so typical of the people around this area the women working together to get the items across to their destination. They conveyed to me an image of hard working women who have little choice but to carry their precious sack across the divide. What also struck me was their age. I didn’t see one young person carrying anything as heavy across. In fact they were more likely to be crossing with just mobile phones and day packs! I converted this image to sepia in PP in homage to their youth and their generation now.
This brings me to the last image from this shoot which I have called “Mum and Daughter”. I couldn’t help but want to capture the obvious excitement displayed by this child as she crosses into Thailand . Is this her first visit? Will it be a short visit or the start of a long adventure? The photo begs you to wonder at what lies ahead for this young child and share in her excitement. This scene reminded me that when I was 18 months old my mother took me across the border from one country to another. We travelled from Cyprus where I was born to England (my father was in the RAF at the time) and I’m sure people who saw me then would have seen a look of wonder and excitement in my face as I embarked on a new chapter in my life. Yet again, I aged the image to give it the feel of reflecting the past, in this case a link to my own history.