...somebody once said a picture is worth a thousand words so, you'll be glad to hear, this is a short message from me about some powerful pictures.
It is a truth that no amount of my feeble prose can let you imagine a happy baby elephant at play or show a good mahout/ele relationship in the way that one of Carol's photographs from the Elephant Photographer project can.
Conversely, nothing I type can let you feel how much work a logging elephant gets through in a day, especially if not part of a controlled, checked & balanced logging system where elephants may be considered assets or how elephants and mahouts get along on the streets. I also can't expect each of you to spend time & energy to see these things for yourselves so when a photographer comes along that has taken it upon himself to document just this I, out of sheer laziness & pathetic vocabulary perhaps, love to find ways to help.
One such photographer is Brent Lewin who will be displaying two collections of his work, one of street elephants in Bangkok and the other of logging elephants in Burma, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand from the 3rd of September to the 14th of October.
On the 3rd of September at about 7pm there will be an opening reception, unfortunately Brent won't be there so it will be left to me to explain the effect the photos have on me - luckily the photos will also be there so I can try to keep under a thousand words.
Elephants In Between
Since 2007 I have been documenting the plight of the Asian elephant in Thailand. Once a symbol of honour, dignity and the engine of rural development, many of these once proud creatures have been left on the fringes of Thailand’s modern economy and have come to represent the failures and inequity of the country’s economic development.
My work in this area is mainly informed by the experience of the Gouey mahouts of Isaan who proudly hold the title of being the first to capture wild elephants in the region. The plight of the Thai elephants and their caregivers is a narrative that is played out in different forms in many developing countries across the world. It is the story of a struggle to preserve traditional cultural identities in a rapidly changing economic landscape.
In addition to Thailand, where elephants have largely outlived their traditional functions, I have also recently begun exploring the plight of elephants in neighbouring Lao PDR and Myanmar where they are still being used in the logging industry. In these relatively forested countries, domesticated elephants are being employed to their own demise through habitat loss resulting from uncontrolled logging. If Thailand’s trajectory is any indication of where its neighbours are headed, these elephants and mahouts may soon face the uncertain future of their counterparts in Thailand today.
Brent Lewin (b. 1979, Canada) is a self-taught photographer currently residing in Toronto and Bangkok and a contributing photographer with OnAsia and Redux Pictures. His work has largely focused on the plight of the Asian elephant and their caregivers in Thailand. Brent's work has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, New York Times, Discovery Channel Magazine and Newsweek. His work with elephants has been awarded by Pictures of the Year International, Prix de la Photographie Paris (Px3), the International Photography Awards, American Photo and the FCCT Photojournalism Annual. He was also selected by Photo District News as one of the PDN 30 photographers in 2010. Brent is currently involved as associate producer and videographer on a feature length documentary, Elephants Never Forget, produced by CanazWest Pictures in coproduction with the National Film Board of Canada starting later this fall, which explores the plight of the Asian elephant and the modern human-elephant relationship in Thailand and China.