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about my photography

My mum gave me a Polaroid Super Swinger instant black-and-white camera and a paper stapler on my ninth birthday… the stapler (and the staple in my finger) were quickly taken from me, but I got to keep the camera, and with it, the means to stop time in my own world by simply pushing a button. 

As a 23-year-old I flew to India in 1986, with a 1972 Nikon F2 and a few rolls of infrared black-and-white film, just to see. I chose infrared black-and-white film in an attempt to portray an Asia of old. Infrared film is sensitive not only to visible light, but also to light from the infrared spectrum (that’s invisible to the naked eye), which accounts for its dreamlike look when printed… a look that could nowadays be mistaken for after-effects created by computer software or apps. Yet photographers have been experimenting in this unseen dimension for over a hundred years — the first infrared photos were published in the Photographic Journal of the Royal Photographic Society in 1910.

After seeing the photographs from my first trip to India I continued on to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, in search of more sacred places once considered at the ends of the Earth. The fusion of infrared film and ethereal sites became my way of portraying Eastern mysticism in a tangible form.

 

After a few years of travelling to and fro from England I realised I needed to be based permanently in Asia, as the effects of mass tourism were becoming more and more apparent and ancient sites were rapidly being renovated and modernised. I wanted to record the aura of an old world.

  

My first photo assignment in Asia was up a forty-foot pole in a crow’s nest overlooking the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, taking photos of the 1996 Royal Barge Procession for the Tourist Authority of Thailand.

 

In 1997, ZOOM international fine art photography magazine featured my Asian infrared photos.

The same year I began working for John Everingham’s Art Asia company, being sent up to the Greater Golden Triangle regions of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China to photograph the daily lives and ceremonies of the local hill tribes for a book series ‘Vanishing Cultures’. It was during this project that I met Jerry Hopkins (the author of the Hmong book in this series) and we travelled together on rattly old Chinese sleeper buses in search of Flower Hmong tribes. Jerry wrote the New York Times best seller 'No One Here Gets Out Alive' (the biography of Jim Morrison) among many other books. Twenty-one years of friendship and interesting times unfolded. 

In 2001, I self-published my book Red eye. It's a watershed of photos and self-depreciating travel stories that by chance came into the hands of Bill Bensley of the unbelievably amazing Bensley, who then displayed my Angkor portfolio in the interiors of the Hotel de la Paix (now the Park Hyatt) in Siem Reap.

Thirteen years of the most creative photography assignments I could ever imagine then followed from Bill.

In 2007, I was a contributing photographer to the book Thailand: Nine Days in the Kingdom, in honour of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Fifty-five photographers, included James Nachtwey, Eric Valli, Steve McCurry, Michael Freeman and Greg Gorman were sent out in all directions around Thailand. I was sent to the ancient cities of Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet and the hill tribe region north of Chiang Rai.

My own book Angkor: Into The Hidden Realm was also published in 2007. HRH Princess Norodom Rattana-Devi of Cambodia kindly wrote a foreword. Eight people came to the book launch at the Foreign Correspondence' Club in Phnom Penh (I knew six of them:-). King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia then chose four of my Angkor photos as state gifts for his visit to the Czech Republic.

 

In 1999, I made a short two-minute black-and-white film on an Arriflex 35mm movie camera up in the hill tribes of NW Vietnam with end-roll film stock donated from advertising mates in Singapore. Then every now and again (between 1999 and 2010) I filmed and edited short films for Discovery Channel (Asia), and History Channel (Asia). These regional stories included filming back up in the hill tribes and a Sumo school in Japan. In the early days we had the luxury of shooting movie film with a 16mm French Éclair and a wind-up 16mm Bollex. I also had the pleasure of filming Keith Floyd in Singapore during one of his visits.

In 2013, I was commissioned by Doytibet Duchanee to photograph the Baan Dam Museum in Chiang Rai, North Thailand. Created and built by his father (internationally renown Thai artist Thawan Duchanee) this project was a perfect match for infrared black-and-white film...

Then back to the hill tribes around Sapa in 2016, to photograph a fusion of hill tribe and French haute couture  fashion... in COLOUR!!!

Whenever I could I photographed old European-styled architecture in Asia. Beginning in Thailand, I took photos of 'Old Siam', then went on to photograph old French architecture in Vietnam and Cambodia.

I’ve had the pleasure of exhibiting twice at Wave Gallery in Brescia, Italy, (sponsored by ZOOM magazine) and other memorable exhibitions before and after.

From 2012 — 2017, I taught photography (part-time) as a 'visiting professor' at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Apart from being really enjoyable, this gave me a work permit every year — so I could stay in Thailand without having to do endless visa runs!

 

Since 2017, I've been shooting with digital cameras as my last remaining stock of infrared film I'm keeping for personal projects with my trusty 1972  Nikon F2, though if an alluring assignment came up, I reckon my arm could be twisted:-)

I’m back in the UK now, based in a small village in North Devon a couple of miles away from a stunning coastline. I'm confronting a mountain of disorganised negatives and editing years of scribbled notes and Word documents about photography and times travelling, which are going into a fully updated Red eye book. More about that as it unfolds...

Please don't hesitate to contact me at martin@martinreeves.com should you like to chat about anything.

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