After a couple of years in which I completely skip it, this year I decided to finally spend some time preparing a selection of some of the most important pieces of work I did during this 2017. Enjoy it!
A glimpse of China
My 2017 started in China (my first time there), precisely in Shanghai, in company of some really good friends.
Taoist Monks Find New Role as Environmentalists (MULTIMEDIA)
The trip was also the chance to collaborate with the online Chinese publication SixthTone where my friend Denise Hruby works as Head of features. Together we visited the birthplace of Taoism, deep in northwest China’s Shaanxi province, to report on how Taoist monks are quietly trying to become role models for green practices in China.
In February I also had the privilege to work inside the airports of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap shooting for Vinci – the society that manages the 3 Cambodian airports.
BACK TO CHINA
In March I had the chance to travel back to China – in Yunnan this time – to work on 3 different stories again for SixthTone together with Denise Hruby.
China’s Drug Addicts Call for Divine Intervention (MULTIMEDIA)
Drug use is increasing in China, especially on the southern border, where the vast majority of heroin, opium and meth are trafficked from Myanmar. The state’s compulsory rehab centers, however, are run like labor camps, and so addicts in southern Yunnan are now turning to voluntary, faith-based rehab centers.
We finally hiked through the mountains of a remote area of Yunnan for six hours to see how mining has impacted a tiny community.
Over the course of many interviews, they got a picture of how terrified the villagers are that their houses will one day collapse or be swallowed by a landslide – all because a mine has been digging for ever more coal in the mountain they live on.
In May I travelled to Ratanakiri province in the north Cambodia to document the country’s only all-female demining team together with my colleague and friend Erin Hale. These incredible women are working to remove some of the last remnants of the Vietnam war: millions of unexploded ordnances (UXO).
I then moved north entering Laos, where I spent 3 weeks working on different stories.
Phi Pob – Lao spirit exorcism
Together with Erin Hale we witnessed what can be described as a” group spirit exorcism” in the Four Thousand Islands on the banks of the Mekong. All of the participants – over 30 – are accused of hosting the phi pob – a spirit responsible for causing the death of livestock, children, and other rural calamities. They’ve all be exiled from across the country and sent to one part of the Four Thousand Islands to be exorcised. The entire process takes three years and a total of six ceremonies involving the help of local spirit mediums. This event has been going on since at least the 1930s.
After the work in the south of Laos I flew to Luang Prabang where I met my friend and colleague Claire Knox. Together we worked on different travel stories for several magazines and online publications.
Among them we collaborated with the new website for Anthony Bourdain’s Explore Parts Unknown producing two stories about the effects of American UXO (Unexploded Ordnances) on the local population.
While in Laos I also had the chance to photograph the Boun Bang Fai, or Rocket Festival. It’s a spectacular, wild and raucous three-day Buddhist celebration of music, dancing, fireworks and the competitive firing of elaborate, homemade rockets. Long tubes of bamboo and PVC piping are crammed with charcoal, bat excrement, sulfur and gunpowder before being loaded on to bamboo scaffolding where they are lit up and shoot into the sky. Typically held on the tail end of Laos’ arid, searingly hot dry season (May), the festival’s raison d’etre is to bring the rains so that farmers can begin their rice planting. The biggest is held in Muang Nan, about 70km southwest of Luang Prabang.
It’s drone time!
I started flying drones a little more than 2 years ago. I first owned a DJI Phantom 3 PRO and I’m now very delight with the Mavic Pro. In May I put together a reel with some of my favorite shots I made in Cambodia, China, Italy, California, The Philippines and Laos.
Zica in Dominican Republic
In June I flew to Santo Domingo to document the efforts of USAID and its local partners to eradicate the Zika virus and help the families who were victim of this terrible disease. Unfortunately the videos and pictures I shot are still not publicly available.
In July I was busy organizing my first multimedia exhibition called “Mekong – the giant in chains” at the MUSE (Museum of Science) in Trento (Italy). The exhibition included photos and videos shot by my buddy Nicolas Axelrod and myself together with maps, infographics and texts prepared by the team of the Water Grabbing project Emanuele Bompan, Marirosa Iannelli, Federica Frangipane and Riccardo Pravettoni.
In October I helped my friend Marta Kasztelan with her personal project in Tokyo, I shot another multimedia project for USAID in Georgia and then I travelled to Uttarakhand – north east of India – where I spent 10 days trekking and shooting a feature for Travel & Leisure Asia. During the trip we documented the efforts of Village Ways, an organization that works directly with locals to conduct village-to-village walking holidays in the Kumaon region. The pictures will be published in the February’s issue together with an article wrote by my friend Rachna Sachasinh (thanks again for bringing me with you on this adventure).
Back to Cambodia
After India, I travelled back to Cambodia where I’ve been spending the last days of the year and started shooting a super interesting new project that will be published in 2018.
Below a selection of my favorite shots from the last couple of months.
The Hei Neak Ta – or procession of the spirits – marks the end of the celebrations of the New Year for the Chinese community of Phnom Penh.
For the occasion, thousands of people flock into the streets and participate in a colourful and extravagant procession in which possessed spirit mediums are paraded among the crowd and bless local shops and houses.
For more information, my friend and colleague Dene Chen, wrote an article regarding this unusual ceremony in the Cambodia Daily.
I decided to use this blog post to share with you some of my favourite – and most of them unpublished – pictures and pieces of work I produced this year.
Cambodia, a look at change
The year started tragically, with the Cambodian government’s crack down on garment factory workers protesting for a better wage. On Friday 3 January military police fired at the protesters on Veng Sreng Street, in the south of Phnom Penh, killing at least 5 people and injuring more than 20.
In March, together with Ruom journalist Marta Kasztelan, I started an investigation on the LGBT community in Cambodia, with a special attention to transgenders. We’re still working on the project and we hope to be able to publish some of the material in the first months of 2015. Those below are some of the protagonists of our story.
Also with Marta, I started a project about Nigerian football players in the Cambodian league.
At the end of April I flew to Jakarta and started to work on our fourth Ruom collective project together with Nicolas Axelrod and Micheal Malay.
Dreaming Singapore’ investigates the movement of migrants from Indonesia to Singapore, one of the busiest migratory pathways in Southeast Asia.
It follows three different women at various stages of their journey: from training centres in Indonesia, to daily life in Singapore, and finally the return home.
This multimedia project is enriched with in-depth interviews, video reportage, and photographs taken over a five month period. It weaves the experience of migrant workers with the people they meet during their journeys: social workers, employers, recruiting agencies, and government officials.
In June I was able to spend one month in Iran. There I met extraordinary people and I visited some incredible places, a really memorable experience.
During the trip I documented the growing consumerism culture in the country and the photo essay I produced has been published on Al Jazeera, Mashable and recently on CNN Photos.
Those are a very small selection of some of the travel pictures I took during my stay.
In September I spent a couple of weeks in the north of Vietnam, visiting one of the most remote and mountainous region of the country: Ha Giang.
I didn’t have the opportunity to publish this pictures (I’ll do it in the next weeks), yet, so here’s a brief preview.
I then flew to Kathmandu for a week assignment for USAID (I hope to publish some of the material I produced soon).
In my brief stay to Nepal I wasn’t able to visit much, but I was really amazed by the few things I saw.
2013 has been certainly been an interesting and busy year for me.
I started an amazing adventure called RUOM Collective together with my friend Nicolas Axelrod, my pictures were published in some of the most influential newspapers and magazines (The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Financial Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, etc) and I was able to create several interesting photo projects.
I started the year with a project called Blood Sugar – our collective inaugural project – which is an in-depth piece on the boom of the sugar industry in Cambodia, and the effects this rapid development is having on small-scale farmers and rural communities. We spent several months in 2013 travelling to different areas of Cambodia, investigating and interacting with agro-industry leaders, the affected villagers, and the organizations that are trying to help them
I then visited Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), where I was lucky enough to witness one of the most important Hindu festival in Malaysia, the Thaipusam, in which more than 1.6 million Tamils gathered in the Batu Caves on the outskirts of city to pay homage to Lord Muruga.
Back again to Cambodia, I covered the funerals of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who passed away in October 2012. Following tradition and with respect for an auspicious funeral date the cremation ceremony began on the 1 February 2013. An elaborate procession attended by officials, that displayed various aspects of Khmer culture travelled the streets of the capital. People from all over the city came to watch the procession that took the late King Father from the Royal Palace to the Veal Meru Crematorium site. The actual cremation started three days later and was attended by local and international dignitaries. Nearly one year later a 1.2 million dollars bronze statue is inaugurated in honour of what many saw as the last true Cambodian King.
This is one of the most interesting stories I followed this year. The training of Cambodia’s first batch of salvage divers who will start to recover the thousands of tons of unexploded artillery shells and bullets that lie at the bottom of the country’s lakes and rivers.
Finally, great news for all human rights defenders in Cambodia. Cambodian activist and independent radio station owner, Mam Sonando, was released from jail after his 20-year sentence was suspended by the Phnom Penh court yesterday (he spent a total of eight months in preventive custody).
In April German magazine Nido (Stern Group), commissioned a reportage about the increasing (and alarming) number of tourists visiting orphanages in Cambodia.
Since the days of the genocidal Khmer Rouge Regime and the following civil war, which ended in the early 90′s, the number of orphans steadily decrease. The number of orphanages, however, kept increasing, and the majority of children living in orphanages – more than 70 percent – has at least one remaining parent.
Due to the generosity of tourists who want to help the still impoverished nation and the most vulnerable Cambodians, orphanages have become a lucrative, multimillion-dollar business model, and tourists are tricked into believing that they are helping real orphans.
In April I also received my first two assignments (plus a third one covering a breaking news) for The New York Times and I couldn’t believe when I saw one of my pictures on the frontpage of The International Herald Tribune, a dream come true!
Inside the 969 Movement
For our second collaborative work for Ruom, Inside the 969 Movement we flew to Myanmar to work on an in-depth piece on the inner workings and consequences of the growing Buddhist-lead anti-Muslim movement.
After the experience in Myanmar, I came back to Cambodia, just in time to cover the campaign for the national elections with the return of the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy.
Don Sahong fishermen
After almost two months following the elections and the first wave of protests in response to allegd voting irregularities and fraud, I travelled to south of Laos to document the life of the fishermen whose livelihood is threatened by the construction of the Don Sahong Dam. Environmentalists say that this new dam will put at risk the ecological integrity of the Lower Mekong as a whole. In particular, it will have a severe impact on the endangered giant catfish, other fish species — some of them unique to the Mekong — and the Irrwaddy dolphin, which has found a natural habitat just two kilometers from the dam and is already critically endangered.
My reportage, together with the amazing work of Thai photographer Piyavit Thongsa-Ard, could be the last documenting the way of life of these people.
Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy started a planned three-day protest with a march through the streets of Phnom Penh together with thousands of supporters to contest the election results.
Unfortunately, an altercation between angry commuters trying to get home past road blocks degenerated in to chaos, protestors threw projectiles at riot police who responded with tear gas and live rounds. One protestor was shot dead, and people were injured, the fighting lasted well into the night, with the last reported outbreak around 1.30 am.
Thousands of Cambodians descended on the small village of Vihear Suor (Kandal Province) on October 4 to cheer on the annual water buffalo race that marks the end of the 15-day festival for the dead (Pchum Ben), the most important Cambodian religious event.
The race, that has very ancient roots, is organised for the entertainment of the spirits who have come to Earth during the Pchum Ben and is also be followed by wrestling and khmer boxe matches.
On Sunday, 3 November 2013, I followed a very interesting story together with fellow Ruom writer and photographer Luc Forsyth, as a group of over 40 Buddhist monks walked more than 25km through the jungle to the remote village of Pra Lay, Cambodia, to raise awareness of the environmental destruction occurring across their country. Situated in the Areng Valley in the Cardamom mountains, the village of Pra Lay is one of 8 villages, collectively home to roughly 1500 inhabitants, which will be flooded by a dam proposed by the Chinese development company China Guodian.
Political environment in Cambodia has changed after July’s elections and the country is experimenting a new wave (and more powerful) rejection against the ruling party. Is the case of the workers from SL factory, which makes clothing for Gap, H&M and other international brands, who have been protesting for months for better working conditions and pay.
UNDP’s Millennium Development Goals
At the end of October together with Nicolas, we received an assignment from UNDP Cambodia to illustrate the status of the (MDG) – Millennium Development Goals – in the country. It was a very long and interesting project that kept us busy for almost one month and that allowed us to visit some of the most interesting areas of the country.