Keeping Mayan Culture Alive

I’m currently down in Tulum on the Yucatan peninsula and I just finished a shoot for Sandos Caracol, one of a family of environmentally conscious eco-resorts in the Riviera Maya. They’ve invested great attention and resources into preserving authentic Mayan culture and developed presentations and performances around this exquisite group of people and their history. As the important date of 12/21/12 approaches, they are preparing for a multi-day event culminating in a huge celebration, and I’m down here photographing the performers to promote this occasion. What a great experience working with such dedicated professionals to preserve a culture often forgotten in the everyday noise of the modern world.

Seeking Salvation

Leonard Knight is the creator of Salvation Mountain, an art installation covering a hill north of Calipatria, California, near Slab City and just several miles from the Salton Sea. It is made from adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of paint. He’s been living in the desert there and working on his monument for nearly 27 years, but late last year Knight was placed in a long-term care facility for dementia. Concern has been raised for the future of this amazing piece of art without his constant attention and maintenance. If you haven’t visited this incredible place, now is the time before it’s the end of an era.

Most Beautiful Hike In America

Well, that label is always up for debate. But my recent experience in American Basin between Silverton and Lake City, Colorado was definitely a stunning backdrop for an afternoon hike. Crossing Cinnamon Pass at over 12,000 feet, you drop down into a gorgeous valley that is as rugged and varied as the Rockies themselves. Filled with aspens, evergreens, beaver ponds, and the occasional hungry black bear, hiking American Basin is an experience that I will remember for years to come.

Faces of the World

Some of the amazing people I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph from all corners of the globe.

The Largest Sharks in the World

I have now checked a major item off of my bucket list! Recently I was asked to photograph whale sharks off the coast of the Yucatan with National Geographic Executive V.P., Melina Bellows. What an incredible experience this was! Whale sharks migrate from South America all the way up the coast line, past Central America, to the Yucatan where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico and the cold ocean currents intersect with warmer waters. After traveling for two hours at full throttle out into the open ocean, we met up with our spotter boat who had located a school of over 100 of these magnificent creatures over a stretch of about one mile of deep blue sea. With reports of them growing up to 75 feet long, they are gigantic animals to witness! And seeing them glide beneath the boat with their head on one side and their tail still on the other side gives you a tangible sense of scale… the largest shark in the world. It goes against everything in our DNA to jump into the water when you see shark fins piercing it’s surface, but they are as gentle as they are huge. Being in the presence of these massive giants was one experience I will never forget.

From a different era

I had the unique pleasure of photographing two WWII-era airplanes the other day while in flight over Spicewood, TX, a 1943 Stearman biplane and a 1946 Ercoupe. It was a beautiful day for flying but what I didn’t realize was that in order to get good shots of the Stearman from the Ercoupe, I would have to hang out of the open cockpit while Glenn Chiappe, the capable pilot, performed “interesting” maneuvers to get the plane into position. Had I not been focused on the task at hand, I think I might have lost my lunch! The Stearman is a classic “Red Baron” style biplane made of fabric and wood and is a vintage masterpiece. The Ercoupe is quite different. It’s all sleek chrome and sexy metal rivets, almost like a classic roadster that just breathes “style”. Both were incredible to fly in. What an amazing day!

Melissa at sunset

My good friend Melissa and I went to Discovery Park in Seattle the other day to play around with a few sunset shots. While it was hard for both of us to keep from joking and laughing, I think we came up with a few shots that show what a true beauty she is.

The many faces of Cadlao Island

One of my favorite spots on Earth to photograph is situated off the coast of a remote island in the Philippines. As viewed from Palawan Island, the mysterious Cadlao Island rises up over 2000 feet from the South China Sea and looms in the distance presenting as many faces throughout the day as there are moments to capture it. I photographed one of those moments just as sunset was nearing and won the Islands Magazine Photo Competition with the image. It’s ever changing nature provides endless photographic opportunities and a sense of mystery when you gaze out upon this tropical Eden.

Another shoot with Lynsey Dyer

I recently did another shoot with my good friend and pro athlete, Lynsey Dyer. She is sponsored by Eddie Bauer First Ascent and travels the globe skiing some of the world’s most challenging terrain while being filmed for the big screen. With her busy schedule (last year she won Powder Magazine’s female skier of the year), she somehow still finds time to found organizations like SheJumps with her partner in crime, Vanessa Pierce. The mission of the non-profit is to increase the participation of women in outdoor activities through mentoring and coaching from professional and recreational female outdoor athletes. The organization supports women and girls in outdoor sports at all levels (from beginners to experts), and inspires them to jump in and reach their goals. Keep up the great work, Lynsey.

Sri Lanka by iPhone

I’m finally catching up on some of my posting… Earlier this year I was in Southeast Asia and had the occasion to travel through Sri Lanka. It’s a tiny but beautiful country situated at the very southern tip of India. Even though a narrow strip of Indian Ocean separates the two nations, it feels worlds apart from it’s neighbor. Boasting lush jungles, incredible beaches, rich culture and history, large populations of wild animals (including elephants and leopards), and a unique and tasty cuisine, this is one of my new favorite destinations. Determined to spend as much time exploring and discovering as I could, I often left my big DSLRs in the camera case and snapped photos for a “visual diary” with my iPhone 4 and an app called Hipstamatic. Be sure to check out more photographs from Sri Lanka (shot on the big DSLRs) on coming soon.

National Geographic shoot in Mexico

Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to be asked to shoot a story for National Geographic Traveler magazine in the beautiful Caribbean town of Tulum, Mexico. I was paired with the talented writer, Melina Bellows, for a feature on the Mayan tradition of bee keeping and how locals are trying to revive ancient cultural practices. The honey from the Melipona bee is quite different from it’s American and African counterparts, with the taste having more of a tangy citrus zing. It’s also quite rare as compared to other honey as the Melipona bee is endangered, only builds hives inside the trunks of trees, only pollinates one or two types of flowers, and is “stingless”. I learned very quickly while photographing this story, covered in these little guys, that even though they don’t sting, they do bite! We were able to visit several Mayan villages with an ambassador and translator from the Secretary of Agriculture (the Mayan language is quite different from Spanish) and experience first hand how honey has been a trade commodity in this region for hundreds of years all the way to the present. In fact, the Mayans considered bees to be the “messenger of the gods” and included them in many of their hieroglyphs. With the surge in eco-tourism and sustainable living in many parts of the world, the Mayan art of bee keeping and the Melipona bee itself is making a come back, which brings awareness and a whole new market to tourists. Tulum itself is a nature’s paradise sprinkled with yoga studios, artisans’ shops, organic bistros, and sun worshippers, not to mention some of the most historically significant and intact Mayan archaeological sites yet discovered. To read more about the Melipona bee, Mayan culture, and the beautiful Caribbean region known as the Riviera Maya, pick up the January issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Location, location, location…

Sometimes you can spend hours, even days searching for just the right location for a photograph. Sometimes you even need to hire a location scout. And then sometimes it all falls into place by a stroke of luck. In this case, an old abandoned Toyota Land Cruiser on the side of a steep road winding through the jungle.

Villa Siam on Ko Phangan

I recently photographed the spectacular Villa Siam situated in the jungle high above Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi beach on the island of Ko Phangan. It belongs to a wonderful Australian couple, David and Rosemary, who’ve managed to make paradise even better with this modern dwelling washed in all white in contrast to the deep blue of the South China Sea. Set in an overgrown jungle with natural foliage so large it feels prehistoric, this home truly is a gem.

Thai Food Heaven

Once again at Rasananda and the food is amazing as usual. The pumpkin curry is rich and sweet with just the right amount of bold spice and flavor. These dishes are prepared by world-class chefs who seem to be able to add a special flourish even to simple fare like fish and chips. It was truly a pleasure working with these folks and I wish them well on the path ahead.