visited Thailand in December, 2004. I brought a field camera,
and my husband and I packed a stack of books.
I found it very difficult to make photographs in an unfamiliar
culture. I felt self-conscious about making ethnographic images.
At the same time, while I was physically immersed in a foreign
place, I was mentally entangled in the European and American landscapes
described in our bedside library. While battling the heat and
mosquitoes and eating coconut curries, I read Didion and Proust.
We had packed more books than clothing. “Catching up on
reading” became a way to relocate. We were in Thailand to
visit my husband’s sister and her family. Her home was at
the guesthouse she ran in Southern Thailand, a beachside “paradise”
for those inclined towards that sort of beachside thing.
The books we’d chosen to bring to Thailand were histories,
memoirs, and stories of dysfunctional families. Some of the titles
– “We Took to the Woods,” “Where I Was
From,” “In Search of Lost Time,” “Hell,”
“The War Zone” – seemed both nostalgic and foreboding.
I found the titles disturbing and ominous.
I began photographing the books in and around the guesthouse shortly
before Christmas. In some ways, I felt closer to the text than
I did to my physical surroundings. For the most part, the books
are not arranged for the camera. They are photographed on tables,
chairs, beds, and shelves.
After the tsunami struck land, the gloomy titles became more descriptive
of our visit and I became slightly superstitious about the project.
I continued taking pictures in Bangkok, where we holed up in an
American hotel, eating Asian pears, watching the news, wandering
the streets, and reading about Europe.