TSUNAMI READING LIST
I visited Thailand in December, 2004. I brought a field camera, and my traveling companion 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 I battled the heat and mosquitoes and ate 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 companion’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, which we were not.
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.