New Blog Direction

Recently I was talking with a good friend about my last blog entry and their comments made me think, really think, about my blog. Not so much about that particular post but about the overall direction and feel.

That conversation nudged some ideas that had been bubbling away in the back of my head for some time. Thankfully, more like kicked them in the butt than nudged!

As with most creative processes, inspiration comes from unanticipated places. A welcome and delicious dose of fresh perspective.

For the last few years my blog has mostly been about people, or rather the images I have crafted about people. The posts usually have a short intro about the theme and then some images with quotes that I have found inspiring or relevant to that theme or a particular image. I have not really shared any of my commercial work that does not directly relate to people. And certainly not really shared any of myself in the journey of creating my art.

As I look back, most of the posts have been… not interactive. That is, I have not talked about what thought process I explored in crafting a particular image. Sort of a static display of images with no dialogue about them.

One of the greatest joys I get around my photographic art is the reactions and “ah ha!” moments they evoke in others. That spark of seeing a photography student, other artists, and people in general ‘get it’ as they start to see their art or path in a new way. When they start to push their boundaries in new ways, that is truly magical to me.

So I decided to change the feel of my blog somewhat. To take it in a slightly different direction and share more of what and why a particular image is and how they came to be.

And this brings me to the fundamental core process I live by in my work… the language of photography.

As more and more people have greater access to cameras, smart phones, DSLRCs, MILCs, and even disposable film cameras, as well as the flood of ways they can share the images, I find that less and less thought is put into the crafting or consuming of images. The sole focus seems to be on constantly putting images out there and on the likes, loves, etc they receive.

An endless flood of images with all the impact and longevity of a wave on a beach. One right after another, the vast majority not memorable or even interesting. The sole focus is on riding that wave for the few seconds it is viable and then as quickly as possible, rushing onto the next one.

To take this analogy to an extreme, photography has become like a crowded beach. Tons of people all vying for a tiny bit of sand to stake out for their blankets as they try and find some slice of a wave they can ride for few seconds before someone else gets it. The sheer quantities literally pollute the beauty and serenity of the place and transform it into… “
click here to Like”.

So what does all this have to do with the language of photography?

Every impactive, transformative, memorable image I have ever seen has one thing in common. The amount of thought put into creating it.

Ok I grant that there are the rare impactive images that are truly accidental but those are very few and far between.

We, as a species, think in words and the quality of our thought is directly linked to the quality of our language, the extent of our vocabulary and our choice of words. The words we choose are fundamentally reflected in our actions.

Most people with a camera ‘shoot’ photos. They ‘capture’ the moment, ‘take’ a ‘snap shot’, and ‘nail it’. ‘Getting the picture’ is at the core to the ‘run-n-gun’ mentality of most.

To my way of thinking this language reflects an aggressive, detached, adversarial, isolated, and hostile relationship between the ‘subject’ and the ‘shooter’.

This predominate vocabulary of photography, used by the vast, vast majority of people with cameras is all about speed, aggression, and detached impartiality. Even the word ‘selfie’ is all about vanity and isolation. A greedy selfish one way rush to the like and share buttons.

This language in no way is conducive to slow, considered, exploration and relationship. There is not the tiniest hint of vulnerability or generosity in any of the photography words most commonly used by the hordes of twitchy fingered camera clutching “photographers” of today.

In my work I have always believed in the language of crafting images, telling stories, not in taking or shooting them.

That the crafting of images is a collaboration between the participants on both sides of the lens is essential to me.

For me it’s all about giving as much energy as getting. I firmly believe that the art of seeing and thinking about the story I want to share is more essential than any bit of equipment.

As I learn and grow as a photographer I am incessantly studying other photographers and creators in other art forms. The one constant I see is that all the artists that inspire me the most are the ones who contemplate, observe, learn from, give off themselves, are generous to, are willing to be open and vulnerable, have deep affection for and respect of the story they are working with.

My goal is to build a visual relationship with the story, not shoot it. I want to explore and learn from that visual story, not capture it.

So starting with this post I am going to show from time to time a few of my images I have crafted and share some of my thought process in creating them.

These images are definitely not world changing, nor are they meant to be. They are about the joy, the challenge, and the satisfaction in finding the beauty and the story that is all around, if you slow down and give (not take!) the time to see it. These images are about the discovery process and the story they tell.

As I hope to have this blog be a dialogue pease do comment, tell me if you agree or disagree, and tell me what your creative processes are.

This image is part of a spread I did of a restaurant for a crazy talented restauranteur in Myanmar a couple of years ago. He is a scary talented guy who is way ahead of the curve here.

The challenge of this location was that the place had terrible light as it was in the middle of some mall-ish like space. Nothing but parking lot exteriors, reflections and all glass exterior walls. So virtually every angle was hindered by the outside of the space.

I had to really spend some time in the space to mentally get out of the outside and into the vibe of the inside place.

Though the space was really challenging the design team had put a ton of work into the feel and it took me some time to get to know that feel well enough to be able to tell the story.

In the end I ended up using quite a bit of studio lighting kit to basically make the light work for the location.

This is only one of a series of images from that day but one I feel expresses the story in a very condensed and eloquent way.

I crafted this portrait for an article in a regional business zine focusing on "The Next Generation of Leaders" in emerging markets.

I initially chose to craft this image of Phoo Phoo because she was the project manager on a large construction site and was known for being very hard working, very smart, and by all accounts a great manager.

After talking with her for a while I came to know about her duality. On the one hand she was an engineer but she was also a passionate painter. Her love of painting traditional Myanmar parasols seemed so at odds with her civil engineering career.

As we spoke that duality totally came to light in her face. One side shows the artistic smiling joy of vivid colours and patterns and the other side shows the seriousness and the structural attention to a massive project.

I felt that by showing her as she was, sweat streaked, messy hair, and in work clothes brought all the elements of her complex persona into one image.

This image was crafted with mostly daylight, I only used one strobe to put a bit of a splash on the dark wall behind her.

I crafted this image a while ago after several months of seeing these fabulous colours and composition but every time I came by there was always something in the way or the weather was not cooperating.

This building in a neighborhood in Yangon was a local medical clinic and during most hours there were lines of people waiting be seen. Another one of the challenges was that the road in front of it would always flood so much so that It was quite difficult to deal with tripods and kit and not get soaked by the wakes of the cars as they motored past.

So I kept visiting this place, mostly very early in the mornings until one day everything came together and I was able to craft this image. I just love the story the colours, textures, and lines tell.

This image is from a project I worked on several years ago for an INGO. I spent many months living and working with some Buddhist monasteries that take in unwanted, orphaned children in Myanmar.

This little girl's story was hart breaking (as were most there) but what captivated my attention was the look she had when she was in the classroom. Her whole being seemingly transformed from one of pain and sorrow into one of hope and dreams.

It was difficult to find her in that zone and not spoil it by having the camera come into play but one day she was so engrossed by the teacher that I was able to craft this image.

I remember spending several hours quietly sitting on the floor nearby her seat slowly trying to find a way to tell this story.

This image was part of a studio project I worked on for a international restaurant chain.

The graphic team needed a strong design element that would ultimately be part of a marketing campaign.

I was inspired to craft this image one day after watching the staff at one of the restaurants set up the tables for the day.

The stark simplicity, commonality, simple beauty, and elegance of the chopsticks just seemed to cry out for this kind of treatment.

The younger sister of a friend of mine, Li Li Tun, had a way looking at everything she saw with a combination of wrapped intensity and quizzical skepticism that made me want to find a way to tell that story.

In this image I tried to share how her whole being was focused on the thing the had her attention and at the same time she was mentally questioning it all.

I crafted this image for an international Motorcycle company.

The goal was to find a way to localize the brand into Myanmar in such a way that would articulate the local culture and environment, without trivializing it, and show the intensity and passion of the product.

A massively difficult series of images to craft as it was meltingly hot, dusty in the extreme and, owing to logistical and legal challenges had to be done in the middle of the day. Think worst light possible for and image like this. All very technical challenges that had to be solved in order to tell the story.

This image is the result of the crazy hard work of my team, an amazing driver, the whole production team, and awesome equipment.

I crafted this image while working on a CSR project for hospital chain in Myanmar.

This image was not part of that event but as I wandered around this retirement home for seniors who don't have any place or family to take care of them I came upon this tiny little old lady.

As we talked I learned she had been a middle school teacher for over 40 years, had no surviving family, and spoke 5 languages.

Her charm and dignity were almost tangible and massively impactive. As I got up to leave she asked me if I would please photograph her.

In a dorm style room that she shares with 11 other ladies, Daw Thida Aung proudly sits with possession she has in this world.

The process of product photography is a very Zen head space for me.

Crafting images that show the character and features of the product and try to put it into some sort of context is both very rewarding and challenging. Doing so with generosity and some sort of an artistic statement is where it can be so deeply gratifying.

This image is one of a series of images I crafted for an international company that used to create Teak wood furniture and Rattan accessories.

A few years ago I was asked to create some "high art" more abstract product images for an international construction equipment company.

Another very Zen exercise for me, I had to find ways to play with light, adhere to some fairly strict design guidelines, and tell a story.

This was a very rewarding project because I had to reach on so many levels.

Sometimes and image just begs to be crafted.

Not because there is any massive message but just because the combination of the elements add up to an image that is more than the sum of its individual components.

As part of a long term project I am working on, this was just such an image for me.

And this last image I crafted was just a moment during a portrait session when Kaye Mon let down her defenses and was able to just be.

A magical moment of honesty and delight that inspires me again and again every time it happens.

So what are your thoughts about this new way for me to share some of my work. Please feel free to let me know and please keep on creating.

Thank you,

Julian Ray


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If you like what you see. Don’t like what you see. Want to offer a critique. Have a story or an image (or more) on the same subject that you would like to share, please do. I would enjoy hearing form you.


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