About getting started, reseraching and getting lost

Going out on Wednesday was very funny and educating. The first club – Destiny, very much reminded me of my local hometown disco on a Saturday night, quite bare, smelly, improvised and alive, the next one Space 34 was more established and could have been in London. I arranged with the managers to come again on Saturday night to photograph.
On Thursday morning I edited my photos and met Francoise Pommaret at 11:30 in the art café. She was really helpful, gave me a list of people to contact. She also thinks that the youth issue is the most burning topic shortly followed by one concerning rubbish.
Most people here are not yet aware that this new waste is not biodegradable and just throw everything to the floor. That is quite an issue especially in the countryside.
The main changes in the last 30years according to her are communication, health and education and in all of these sectors there have been major improvements.

In the afternoon I went up to the youth center for my presentation. I met Ugen Gonpel Chef Training Coordinator for the Election Commission Bhutan. I wanted to meet someone from The ECB but couldn’t because they only receive government guests. I asked him a lot of questions and will give him a call later to find out if there is a chance to photograph rural democratic education in action.
Then we started and I stood in front of about 40 young people –year 10 –12 dropouts and students from the It course. They did not look like drop outs as we know them at all, 18-25 very shy and very giggly.
After my talk a young trainee came and showed them the election instrument they are going to use, explained democracy, voting and elections to them, at the end they had to form 4 parties and vote for one, all in all very good and very hands on.

I asked Peimma Kalden the new manager of the youth centre to help me find a family with teenagers to photograph in Thimphu.
But the whole day I felt very weak and not well. I took some medicaments and hoped it would become better but it did not, so I scraped my plans for the evening and only went to visit the Helvetas office, where I met Nado Dukpa, who informed me on some of the projects Helvetas are organising and supporting in Bhutan, Two of which are vocational schools for young rural farmers in Shemgang which I will try and visit when I am there.

In the last couple of days walking around Thimphu I have seen many Indian laborers working very hard and living in very shabby quarters. To most of the people I spoke to about the youth employments problem, they said that part of the problem is that young Bhutanese don't want to do manual labor anymore - they dislike to get their hand dirty.
I think one of the conflicts is between these two lives. The Indian laborers are seasonal workers and `I need to find out about their status and rights.
But to show this problem I will try to photograph their lives too as well as the Bhutanese youth hanging out in clubs and in youth centers. You can see young Indian chaps carrying heavy load while Bhutanese play volleyball next to it. This of course is not wrong but I think it shows visually well what I have heard and seen happening here.

So what do you think about this idea?

Arriving in Bhutan

I am in Bhutan,juhuiiiiii! actually since Monday 27th of August. The new foreigner in town and I get stared at - wow. I will quite enjoy anonymity of London once I am back. Before arriving I had a stop in Calcutta - what a city or metropolis better - and what a climate - I love it - humid and hot. I stepped out of the plane and it slapped me like a heavy wet warm towel at 6 am in the morning.
My hotel was funny and beautiful - you have to pay everyone for everything. I just remembered when the guide waited around for a bit longer then necessary whilst saying good buy - hahahaha
Within 10 min walking in the streets I had a self-proclaimed guide – very gentle and nice. Anyway I wanted to move on and he stuck to me like glue – but eventually he got the hint. Another five minutes passed and I had another guide but he had more umpf. Since I obviously had to have someone with me I though I might as well make use of it and asked him to show me the old market - a maze of little streets. Ojjjj Paige this is a market we should photograph - it was breathtakingly beautiful, mysterious and decaying. Old English glory used over and over again decaying in heat and humidity - amazing.
All in all I have absolutely fallen for Calcutta - I had a very funny evening with two other guys that lived near the hotel, just strolling through the back streets.

Next day I had an early start at 4:45 in the morning having heard the crows the whole night. My guide came to pick me up and drove me to the airport. Calcutta was awakening, everywhere I saw people on the street sleeping or standing sleepy in the road looking out into nothing - some brushed their teeth, some washed or drank tee sitting closely to their friends, some smoked brown sugar (o-tone my guide - cheap heroine I believe). As I passed I was overwhelmed with a feeling of life – everything happens unfiltered in front of me right here on these streets – every day whether I am there or not. What a place to be.

Getting on the plane involved the usual confusing waiting system at the desk, where every body get served at the same time and nobody gets anywhere for a long time. It is definitively a question of language – if I would understand what they were saying it would be much easier. So again I swore to myself to learn Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Dzongkha and all other possible language jajajajajaj as if..

A quite typical scenario at the x-ray followed. I asked if it would be possible to check through my films manually – he said ok and we spent 15min looking through all the films – then I had to be checked by the policewomen separately and meanwhile he let the films through x-ray. I was furious not only because it didn’t go my way but also because he breached our deal. I made that clear and as a reaction all my baggage was checked very meticulously. Knowing how Indian border police can make you stay and miss your plane I switched very quickly to very polite.

Arriving in Paro, I got a visa for 2 weeks only, so I will have to apply for a new one at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which of course involves more payment.

I met Namgyal and he told me that the road from Paro to Thimphu, where we were heading is under construction and therefore only open from 7-8 12 –1 and from 5 onwards so we had to wait till 12:30 to drive to Thimphu. He took me to Drukyel Dzong at the end of the road towards northwest. This is one of the oldest Dzongs (fortresses) and sits at a very strategically point.
Built in 1647 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetans in 1644. It means fortress of the victorious Drukpas. A three days walk further into the valley will bring you to the base camp of Mount Jomolhari 7,314 meters and marking the frontier to Tibet.
Unfortunately the Drukyel Dzong burned down in 1951 but even the ruins are very impressive. It was amazing to get out of the car not only because the road was only one lane for both ways and full of bumps – the first thing that overwhelmed me was the smell. I realized that this was one of the smells I missed – Artemisia is the plant that produces it – it was a hot day so there was a undercurrent of pine – it was so fresh. We walked up the hill and I felt the height. I can explain how Bhutan looks to Swiss people - it looks a bit like Switzerland 200 years ago but with many payer flags. Their houses look a bit like chalets but very colorful ones with red chilies on the roofs, and dragons, snow lions, gods eating snakes and big penises painted on the outside wall.
One of their best-loved Saint - called the divine mad man allegedly scared many demons and evil spirits away with his private parts and therefore one believes that it still has the same effect. The landscape is very lush right now because of the monsoon. There are a lot of pine trees and paddy fields.
We arrived in Thimphu at 3pm I could hardly keep my eyes open - actually I couldn't anymore.

Later I walked around and found a youth centre - met a young Bhutanese guy a volunteer and I was asked by the manager of the centre to talk about Swiss democracy on Saturday as part of a workshop they were organizing and as exchange I can take some photos. I met the same guy - Tashi and his friend Dorji by accident on Tuesday while they were on their way to a festival in a village called Hongtsho, up the hill towards Punakha Of course I went along. What a chance to photograph local people celebrating a religious festival in honor of a local male deity called Yartshap ! This festival happens once a year It was absolutely amazing - I felt so lucky and so very happy to be there.
The crowd at the festival were in a very celebratory mood, they had a little fair – about 6 stalls, one sold food and drink, one offered dart play, one sold a lot of plastic toys making noise for the kids and at 4 of them one could bet money. That was obviously very popular. They were drinking and chewing doma – a mix of leaves and betel nut. It makes the whole mouth red and looks a bit like old vampire movie special effects. It also smells quite strongly – but it is very popular. There are always two clowns, jaspers that lighten the whole ritual up. Their masks were amazing, looked very old and worn. Once one came very close to me and I could see that he had some comics stickers on his forehead. First I though oh what a pity, but then I thought that the difference between living and dead culture also lies in the preservation of it – we would never stick a silly comic figure sticker on the forehead of an old mask but then we don’t use them anymore in this way.
Then there are the religious dancers representing the twelve zodiac signs coming out of the little monastery one after the other.
Then Girls bring some offerings and Gonp and Gommo, which are protective deities of Bhutan come out. All of these deities will now disappear slowly one after the other and then the Yartshap will be brought out and placed on the altar. Now people will offer money to the deity for prosperity, happy cattle….
It was amazing in every way.

But otherwise I am slowly getting in touch with all the people I arranged to meet before hand - it all goes quite well. I have to have a permit for everything - road, monasteries, and hydroelectricity power station.... They are keeping a very close eye on my movements and because the government did not invite me but a private person, I have very little weight. But it does not matter too much for this story.

I am planning to leave thimphu at the weekend and drive to Chukka and Thala, and then move on to Wangdi, stay there for a while, move on to Bumthang and stay there for 2 weeks and then go to Shemgang at the end to visit Dorjee and old friend of mine.
Right now I am in the process of finding a driver/translator and a guide to come along... But it proves to be a bit tricky. The main season has just started and all the guides are booked.

I think the main story will be on the young people here. Wednesday I have found out about a youth program, a youth club with focus on art - I had a very long and interesting conversation with the organizer and I will take pictures of the workshops on Saturday. There is a rehabilitation centre for the youngsters and very new a detention centre for young offenders - both of which I want to get access to - I can only imagine how difficult this is going to be.
But tonight I will explore Thimphu's night life - and photograph it hopefully.
And happy me they have got the equivalent of the Haygate here too - council housing Bhutanese style - it looks very different from Elephant and caste that much I have already spotted.

Read on further on my world press blog ..

Because the next task's project is part of a collective and the blog itself will be archived - I had to start a new blogs. This is its url http://itrdu1.arts.ac.uk/wordpress/cleisinger1/.
See you there. Thanks

The Original - Food stall outside the Elephant an Castle Shopping Centre, London, May 2007© Claudia Leisinger 2007


When I see a tower block I always wonder who knows whom and how? Maybe the person living behind the third window on the second floor knows the inhabitants of the seventh window on the first floor really well – both have dogs or kids the same age, but they don’t get along with 2nd window 5th floor because of the noise his car makes in the morning …
In short I would like to draw a map of relationships between the residents of one of these tower blocks.
Plans and thoughts:_-I intend to photograph early mornings and in the evenings/night, leaving or returning times, that is when we are emotionally most involved with our families and homes._-Ideally I meet a family that agrees to participate. I would photograph them within their environment, get to know them, their friends within the estate and go from there.
Pieces of the story:_-Photographing the lives of the inhabitants of a flat, the time they share, like meals, after school time, going to bed, getting up…_-I want to position my camera on time-lapse setting on their TV and record their evening without being present. Recording the time they spend in their flats separated by a wall but within the same building._-Documenting the relationships between the inhabitants while they meet in the stairway, local shop, on site café, at home, in meetings…
Format:_-35mm and 2 photos 5-4 large format of the estate at daytime and night time.

Starting off

It was a strange thing, coming up with ideas to document a community that lives relatively close but I don't actually know anything about, nor, at first glance, can really relate to. I have never lived in a house with more than 3 stories / 5 neighbours but I have lived for a long time in a house that was considered uninhabitable for Swiss people, too old, no heating except for a wood-fired stove, no warm water and a medieval sanitation system. It was a big house, rumoured to have been a monastery in the past, with a garden, two attics and three cellars plus a huge barn, a stable and a pen all occupied by the relevant animals. It was a great place to grow up. After 15 years this house was knocked down for commercial reasons, to make place for an ordinary three-family-terrace house. Not many people really understood why we were sad since the new houses were so much more convenient.
When I think about this house, I see the wooden ceiling of my bedroom and the shapes the branch marks made, the view from the roof, the smell of fire in the morning. For my first project idea for the Elephant I drew from that memory and so I essentially want to photograph what the inhabitants of the Haygate Estate will miss once it is gone.
I will be looking for people who have grown up in the estate or lived there for a long time. I will capture their memories on medium format, when, where and how they want to remember them. In addition I want to record their voices.

Gilles Peress

Copyright Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos
IRAN. Teheran. 1979. Amusement park

This is one of the pictures I have looked at while researching for my essay on the New Photojournalism of the 1980's and I just like it so much - so I will post it here.
It is a photo from Gilles Peress's book: Telex Iran

Elephant and Castle

New term - new brief. We shall study the Elephant and Castle community, which is in the middle of a regeneration program drawn up by Southwark council. For those who don’t know this area or haven’t actually had a chance to look beyond the roundabouts because they are so confusing, there are a number of very large council housing tower blocks (amongst other places), which are going to be knocked down and hence allow for a reshaping of this area. Plans can be viewed on http://www.elephantandcastle.org.uk/.
Not knowing much about this locale nor the community, a group of us LCC students set out to discover it on Friday 20th of April - last week. The Haygate Estate, one of the longest in Europe, looks very vast and anonymous from the outside. I wonder how it looks within these flats and am quite excited about this project and the prospect to get to know some of the people living in this community.

Bandit's Roost by Jacob Riis, 1888, from How the Other Half Lives.

by Jacob Riis
This image is Bandit's Roost at 59½ Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

Amazing, isn't it?


I had to take out some time to write the essay - finally done, I wanted to update my blog but I couldn't log in anymore, must have pushed the password out of my brain filling up with so many words.
Thanks to luiz - thank you - I am back in my blog. juhui

Bilingsgate Market, porters having a smoke outside, through the windows

Billingsgate Market, Sunrise

What a lucky day

Where shall I start? This Monday I decided to rearrange my plans to make them suit reality. The project I had planed for these 4 weeks just didn't really seem to get off the ground. It is not so much an access problem as the bureaucracy that threatened to suffocate my enthusiasm and because time is running out too, I decided to let it rest and concentrate on my Grave Digger project - and the essay of course.

So today I went back to my Grave Diggers in Brenchly Gardens to arrange interviews. When I got there they were just heading out to a funeral. It was the funeral of Michael Ayotunde Dosunmu, the 15-year old boy who was shot in Peckham in February.I lingered around, asked for permission to photograph and was lucky. After having spent the last week on the phone talking my mouth fuzzy - a simple nod of permission was all it took - that was great.

Wish you all the best