Programme in Thailand: Lensational Rising

By Patricia Lois Nuss

You know when you have arrived at the site of Daughters Rising because as you come around the village bend near their entrance on Doi Inthanon, the elephants will greet you first. Well, not so much greet you as ignore you as they pleasantly eat. I was on my way to hold a photography workshop for Lensational.

Pictured (from farthest to closest to camera lens): May, Lek, Koi, Nukul.

This was a bit surprising to me the first time I drove up there. I knew that Alexa Pham, Co-founder of Daughters Rising and Founder of The Chai Lai Orchid, rented elephants from a local camp to promote a more ethical and humane treatment of elephants in the world of Thai tourism; I just didn’t expect to be welcomed by a herd of elephants at the gate.

May and Lek.

After you have passed the majority of the elephants, you need to cross what appears to be a perilous (but actually soundly built) bridge across the river. This proved to be an interesting endeavor considering my slight aversion to heights, and the load of photography and teaching equipment I was carrying, but, as always, I managed. Once you have survived the bridge, you arrive at a beautiful eco-lodge, The Chai Lai Orchid, which is the sister project of Daughters Rising.

“Alexa started the resort as a means to house and train local minority girls at risk of human trafficking. What began as a brainstorming exercise for Burmese refugees to imagine their dream jobs, turned into an eco-lodge with hospitality training.”

(read more about The Chai Lai Orchid on its website)

The women at Daughters Rising are brave and intelligent souls who were very curious and excited to receive their cameras. I had been speaking with Alexa for at least a month about Lensational, and she had been relaying the information to the women. They welcomed me, and immediately asked if they could keep the cameras forever.

Many of the women at Daughters Rising are stateless Burmese, meaning they don’t have an official identity or citizenship within Thailand. This is a primary focus issue of the Daughters Rising program.

“Due to their statelessness, children are denied entrance into classrooms, and are unable to receive a K-12 formal education. […] Young stateless girls are aggressively targeted by traffickers to be exploited. Each year, over 200,000 women and children are trafficked in East Asia, a third of the global trade. The Thai government estimates that between 20,000 and 30,000 children younger than 18 are in the commercial sex industry in Thailand alone.” (from The Thailand Project)

While programs that provide rescue initiatives and recuperation are important in the global mission to end sex trafficking, Daughters Rising takes the unique approach of prevention through providing education, shelter, vocational training and anti-trafficking initiatives. The more I learned about Daughters Rising, the more I knew it would be the right program for collaboration with Lensational.

The group discussing and reflecting on photography.

Lensational fits perfectly into Daughters Rising’s agenda ranging from English lessons to medical workshops. We discussed how creative outlets such as photography can provide emotional therapy, yet another vocational option, and the opportunity to tell one’s unique story through images — and therefore the opportunity to create change in the world that feels so large.

We began the first workshop with uninfluenced analysis to answer the questions: “Why do we take photographs?” and “What makes a successful photograph?” I did this by providing some prints of my own photographic work and some photography books which focused on the work of Southeast Asian photographers (thanks to Alizz Vichou and the Chiang Mai House of Photography).

We talked about the basics of color and composition, and we analyzed how the identity of a subject could either be included or denied to the viewer, depending on your goals of an image. What you decide to incorporate or leave out of an image greatly influences the story you tell.

Noon looking at the photograph by Alizz Vichou.

Two women, Zong and Noon, separately and unbeknownst, chose the same photograph by Alizz Vichou as a favorite. Both women said the image felt like something they have seen in their lives before. The image is taken from inside of a room, looking out through a fogged, rainy window towards a dark city skyline set against just a sliver of white horizon, which is then disrupted by the impending dark clouds at the top of the frame.

We discussed how the layers of texture and subject create a multi-faceted interest in the image, which leaves the viewer’s eye wanting more. Then we discussed the emotions and metaphorical qualities the image exudes. How does this image feel? Both took some time to look at it, and responded: “Not happy, a little bit sad.”

Following the image analysis, I introduced them to some basics about color and composition using my laptop to present the lecture. I made sure to include plenty of intriguing imagery and references to Thailand wherever I could.

Then, we distributed the cameras, went over some basic camera control (we will address settings at length during the second workshop), and then the women set off to take their own images. We made this part of the workshop exciting by taking turns as models and encouraging our photographers to try as many angles as possible. We sought out leading lines and framing devices, and practiced observing light and shadow to create a variety of results. And of course, we just couldn’t deny ourselves the opportunities we found to photograph the babies, pups, and elephants, which were available all around us.

The women set off to take their own pictures.

Finally, we returned to my laptop and uploaded our images for a session of reflection. This was one of my favorite parts of the day. Everyone had the chance to show and look at their images on a large and illuminated screen, and the women supported each other by discussing the successes they were each able to achieve on their first photo adventure.

Discussing the results of the workshop.

All photos by Patricia Lois Nuss.

Additional reading:

Frozen in Time, Stuck in Place. Inside the Controversial World of the Long Neck Kayan

Human trafficking: situation in Thailand

Lensational Ambassador Patricia Lois Nuss is a practicing artist and educator specializing in photography. She received her MFA in Emerging Media and her BFA in Photography, both from the University of Central Florida. She has taught for the last four year as an adjunct professor for the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies based in Daytona Beach, FL and she is currently a Guest Lecturer within the Faculty of Fine Arts Photography Program of Chiang Mai University in Thailand. Her artwork has been exhibited nationally within both conferences and exhibitions of the Society for Photographic Education, and her work has been featured within the Select International Art Fair of Art Basel Miami, the Corcoran College of Art and Design, PhotoNOLA, Maryland Institute College of Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, and Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, among others. Visit her website at www.PatriciaLoisNuss.com.

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