The Urak Lawoi Stories #1

March 24, 2019
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I always peak into Urak Lawoi’s homes when we shoot the documentary.
You can’t really see much inside their homes, but a few old pale family photographs hanging on the walls and minimal material possessions scattered around.
Never paid much attention to it, until a friend of mine said that it might be a good idea if those people could have their own photographs, and this time some nice ones. That’s how ‘Urak Lawoi Portraits’ project was born, and the mission is to provide a beautiful photo to as many of them as possible.

A Love Tattoo

portrait, urak lawoi, photography

This is a portrait of the Urak Lawoi called Nem. He used to be a fisherman before his health deteriorated. While I was editing his photograph, I noticed something. There is a poorly done fading tattoo under his neck that I didn’t see before. It says, “I Love You.” Interestingly, he doesn’t speak English at all, and he was shy when I was taking this photograph.
The moment he looked at the camera was very brief but just enough to take the shot and one second after this, his head went down smiling, all shy again.
When printed photos came in, I found him making nipa palm leaves rolling paper. When I handed him the photo, I could read the confusion on his face, but as soon as he saw himself in the picture, it turned into a big smile. Need I mention, just a moment after, he was timid again.

A portrait that never happened

urak lawoi, people, photography

A few weeks ago I was walking through the Urak Lawoi village when I noticed two old men sitting on the porch in front of a house. Beautiful golden light was bouncing off their skin, and scattered sunrays were dancing in the background. I approached them and asked in my basic Thai if I could photograph them. One of them was sitting there with his back bent as if all the years were pressing down on him. He looked at me with his tired gaze and said “No”. So I walked away.

Some days ago I noticed people setting up a big tent in the village. I walked over there to see what was going on.
Luckily for me, I saw some people there whose printed photographs I had in my backpack.
I asked what had happened and they said that an old man had died. It was that very old man who said “No” when I wanted to take a picture of him.
The years took their final push and pressed him all the way down.
They asked if I had any photographs of him. Unfortunately, I did not.

They invited me to their home, and my first thought was to look for some photographs on the walls, but unfortunately, there weren’t any. Only a family mourning quietly. Under the blanket was a portrait that never happened.

In Urak Lawoi culture when someone dies, people gather to listen to music, drink, and dance. Although it sounds interesting, this all happens in front of the house where family mourns for the deceased.

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