"The festivals in Thailand are a great escape from the hardships of reality and they're a little more interesting than the Santa Claus parades back in Edmonton," says Steve Sandford with a touch of sarcasm directed at his native Canada.

For the past two years, he has chosen to call South- East Asia home. Sandford gave up on the daily grind of newspaper work in Edmonton, sold his house, and re- located to the region, entering the topsy turvy world of freelance photojournalism.

While he's remains proud of his prairie roots in Medicine Hat, Alberta, he hasn't looked back since. "I came over here for a change of pace, and hopefully, to take a few pictures that might make a difference in the world," Sandford says.  

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So far, his camera has captured Suharto's downfall, the sex trade in Cambodia, and the plight of street kids in Thailand and the Karen refugees in Burma for publications like Time, Asiaweek, and the South China Morning Post.

But his work is not all doom and gloom; he has also composed colorful portraits of the unique and spectacular events celebrated across the region such as the Phuket Vegetarian and Phi ta Kon (ghost) festivals. His recent solo exhibition, "The Eastern Edge," reveals a South-East Asia that is as kaleidoscopic as it is sometimes volatile.  

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The exhibition was a display at The Space, a new gallery in Bangkok showcasing local and international artists, which the owner sees as a refuge for artists.  Sandford donated part of the exhibition's proceeds to the Agape AIDS Baby Home in Chiang Mai and the Mercy Center in Bangkok, an inner-city refuge for street children.

"When I did the Agape story, it was tough on my emotions," he says. "I have a daughter, Rhandi,  in Canada and the time that I spent at the orphanage drained me. I'm happy the story ran in Canada and Australia and increased awareness of the difficulty and hardships that these children face."  (Thomas Brecelic; The Space Gallery)

Q & A with Steve

ImageWhy did u get into the biz?

I worked in the oil patch for years. One day as I was covered head to toe in grease, I decided to go back to school and be a writer. While there, I realized that pics are sometimes stronger then words. You can hear about an incident but without the pics, sometimes it don't hit home. I would probably have a lot of writers disagree with me though.

Influences?

Life magazine has always been an inspiration; National Geographic, too. It would be great to get a gig with them: A dream to be able to have the time and expenses to get immersed in the job.

Why base in BKK?

Good access to most parts of South-East Asia. Bangkok is an interesting town: it never sleeps. It's unsanitized but interesting.  

Which photographer do u admire & why?

James Natchway is great shooter. I met him in Jakarta. Very focused. It seemed like he was always in the right position at the right time.

Best shot u took?

Probably one of my favorites would be the moments after Suharto resigned in May 1998. The emotion a few students showed following the announcement was very emotional for me. I had only spent about 4 months there but the feeling of victory was felt.

Best shot someone else took?

The shot of the Vietnamese girl, Pham Thi Kim Phuc, who was burnt by napalm sticks out. It was taken by Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut for the Associated Press.

When will u know if you've "made it" as a photo-journalist?

Some of the work I have done with the Karen National Liberation Army has received international attention. I guess making people aware of a problem as a result of work that I have published would be my biggest goal.

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Scarist event you've covered?

The May 13 riots in Jakarta. Running through the streets with hoards of rioters being chased by the police was very surreal. I was swearing and cussing at the rioters and they just laughed. A real adrenalin rush.

Funniest?

Four days before the Jakarta riots, I was covering the riots in Sumatra. I was riding around with an Indonesian taxi driver and I told him it was my birthday. The old guy grinned and put a techno rock tape into his cassette deck. Things got rocking. Wacky stuff.

What do u hate about the job?

Probably chasing down the invoices from unprofessional editors after they have been hounding you for the pictures and you deliver them on time. It really pisses me off sometimes but don't get me started on that.

How do u hope to be remembered?

Making a positive difference for some people from the awareness that I have created and recorded.

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Website: http://www.asiareports.net

 

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