Centuries old hilltribe lifestyle about to change

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A way of life; recorded through photographs.  This has been Kees Sprenger’s primary activity since 2002 and he shared it with the members and guests of the Pattaya City Expats Club on Sunday, July 17 at Amari’s Tavern by the Sea Restaurant.  At the Club’s previous meeting on February 27, Kees and his lovely wife Dorothy Culloty spoke about their years trekking up into Northern Laos; Dorothy documenting recipes of authentic Northern Lao Cuisine for her cookbook and Kees photographing the food as well as the people and countryside.

Kees said he began his career as a photographer at the age of 17.  He also worked for 13 years as a photographer for a museum in New Zealand, later going on to other things, but for the past 7 years he has returned to photography. His project has been to photograph the lifestyles of the indigenous people of Northern Laos; primarily in the province of Luang Namtha.  Keith described his first visit to the area which lasted about 6 weeks. Whereas Luang Namtha used to be in a remote and almost inaccessible area, it is now undergoing change.

Pattaya City Expats Club guest speaker was Kees Sprengers, of Holland and New Zealand, who shared with us his project of documenting rural Laos photographically, before ‘civilization’ arrives, in the form of a motorway from China to Thailand and Singapore.Pattaya City Expats Club guest speaker was Kees Sprengers, of Holland and New Zealand, who shared with us his project of documenting rural Laos photographically, before ‘civilization’ arrives, in the form of a motorway from China to Thailand and Singapore.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic has been building a major road that will cross Laos from the border with Thailand to the border with China.  Also, in recent years the government has been promoting ecotourism in the area. Kees said he realized that the lifestyle of the hill tribes that has been the same for centuries will change.  As a result, he decided to undertake his project to record their lifestyle before it is changed significantly.

Kees explained how he went about the project, visiting a village, gaining the trust of the headman and others, learning about their lives as he documented much of it through his photographs.

He said that he took photos of many people who had never seen a picture of themselves before.  He pointed out that he took many pictures of individuals, with their permission of course, and of family groups. His success in doing this has been his approach – smiling, initially taking pictures of animals and showing it to the children which led to their wanting their photos taken and this further led to taking pictures of the adults.

Kees showed us many photographs, such as this one, in which a group of Hmong girls are playing ‘Pov Pob’. The ball game is played around the time of Hmong New Year. On the other side there will be a group of young men. It is basically a courting game. Around Hmong New year there is traditionally not much work (after the harvest, before the next planting season), and young people have time to celebrate and also look around for a partner. This game allows interaction between boys and girls in an informal way in public.Kees showed us many photographs, such as this one, in which a group of Hmong girls are playing ‘Pov Pob’. The ball game is played around the time of Hmong New Year. On the other side there will be a group of young men. It is basically a courting game. Around Hmong New year there is traditionally not much work (after the harvest, before the next planting season), and young people have time to celebrate and also look around for a partner. This game allows interaction between boys and girls in an informal way in public.

After returning to his home here in Thailand, he used software to identify and catalog his digital photos. He also made prints which he either took back to give to the people he photographed or arranged for the photos to be delivered.  As a result, he is now welcomed every time he returns to a village he has visited before.

Board member and former chairman Richard Smith advises members of activities during the week, including the wine dinner at the Amari, and a warning about traffic for the Pattaya Marathon.Board member and former chairman Richard Smith advises members of activities during the week, including the wine dinner at the Amari, and a warning about traffic for the Pattaya Marathon.

As the project continued, Kees said just photographing the people in the villages was getting stale, but then he had the opportunity to photograph some religious and other ceremonies such as weddings. This opened up a whole new area for his project.

He also found that there were many Non-Governmental Organizations operating in the area on various development projects. He got to know some of the people working with these organizations and was invited to go along with them to visit other villages and areas where they were doing their work. In return, he assisted them by providing photos for their use in publicizing their activities.

During his presentation Kees showed many of the photographs he has taken over the years, thus introducing the members and guests to the way of life of these many different hill tribes. Although there are similarities, there are also cultural differences between the groups.

Kees concluded his presentation by explaining his reason for using digital cameras and their advantages over film. He also listed several things one should keep in mind in using a digital camera and some tips if they should have the opportunity to take on a similar project.

Kees’ photographs and more information about his project can be viewed at the following websites:

http://www.pbase.com/kees5/root&page=2

http://kees.zenfolio.com/

http://www.thingsasian .com/stories-photos/21500

His digital camera tips are available in the General Interest section of the Club’s website: www.pattayacityexpatsclub.com.

After Kees answered several questions, Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg updated everyone on upcoming events and called on Judith Edmonds to conduct the ever informative and sometimes humorous Open Forum, where questioned are asked and answered, movies and restaurants are recommended and sometime a joke or two are told.