This is one of those marvels of travel in the third world. Fast, efficient and, potentially, hideously dangerous. No lawyer or insurance company in the West would allow a transport company to operate this way. Nor would they insure the three-wheeled swarm of Tuk-Tuks, South East Asia’s two-passenger, open-sided taxi cabs which weave and careen through the haphazard and constantly honking traffic of Bangkok’s preposterously congested avenues, wide and narrow. And the water those boys are swimming in, while their mothers bathe nearby, with half an eye on them (as mothers everywhere always do)? No one back home would put so much as a finger in it.
Katrin’s call startles me from my reverie. She’s already aboard as the boat shifts from reverse to throttling forward. I and a few other would-be passengers make the leap across the widening gap, landing firmly — miraculously, my mother would think — on deck.
In all that downriver activity, I’d never looked upriver, so I’d never seen the boy sitting on the old boat’s trim tabs, just a few meters from Tha Thien pier. He is the calm in this storm of activity all around him. I only have a moment as the Express Boat lunges forward, but as I bring the camera to my eye I see his expression. The barest glimpse. Perhaps there is another storm there, brewing inside?
I only have time to quickly frame the shot and click the shutter. Hoping the settings are right. Hoping that focus will hold, that the shutter stops the motion of this boat I’m standing on the edge of, with no railing to keep me aboard.
My one shot, and then we’re pulling away, so I watch the boy from the crowded deck of the Express Boat. Are those his friends swimming on the other side of the pier? Why is he there, all alone? Yes, I think, I have been there too. Yes, another storm, I think. And I hope I got the shot. I really hope I caught that little storm in the quiet frame with a storm raging all around it.
I wouldn’t know for months, not until I returned home and had the Fujichrome processed. A little soft, and needing multiple adjustment layers and masks in Photoshop to make the exposure work. But there it is, it seems to me, the storm inside the calm inside the storm.
Some photographs, they’re more for the photographer than for show. Some remind us of who we once were. Some, of who we are, a little, even still.
Tha Thien Pier
Chao Phraya River
Taken during travels, 1995