hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Saturday, March 28, 2009

mila | adventures . cagayan de oro

this post is waaaaaay overdue as are a couple-three i still have my sleeve.  some stories just come more easily than others...

cagayan de oro is found in the southern part of the philippines close to mindanao.  you guys may remember this region from a previous post about davao.  they are actually fairly close to each other.  we really should have just hoofed it by bus and connected the dots but i think i was getting lazy.  anyway, the goal in CDO was to experience white water rafting.  apparently the best time of year to do this was september or october since the rainy season brings the "better" rapids.  honestly, i was being brave enough as it was to step into this outdoor adventure.  there's no need to prove that i'm missing the tomb raider gene.  

we had four days in CDO and the rafting thing would barely take up a whole day so we were on a hunt for something to do.  i think the tourism department needs to invest a little more in this area.  i'm sure there was more to see but we were somewhat short of options based on a tourism flyer we picked up.  there was an eco-tourism park that was seriously out of the way and not worth the taxi fare.  there were 2 museums listed on the flyer and both were inside of private colleges that needed begging to get into but were closed anyway and then the rest were out of town destinations apart from the adventure park.  but we needed to kill some time so we rented a car and drove to nearby camiguin.  it was a good little road trip and quite uneventful.  turns out camiguin was an island born of a volcanic eruption.  one eruption actually sank a church and a cemetery.  we took a small boat to the marker built over the church.  under the water you could make out the sunken tombstones.  had we waited a few months we could have opted to snorkel in the area and check them out.

the adventure park is a nifty little place that offers zip lining, rappelling and caving.  unfortunately the steps to return from the cave was in repair so rappelling down to the caves was out and so was caving.  i was looking forward to repeating the sagada experience.... well at least until i saw the tree we would have had to rappel.  it was ridiculously tall!  by then i was thanking god that the steps were in a state of repair.  again, not keen on proving i'm a chicken when it comes to these outdoorsy stuff but willing to push the envelope.  oh and push i did!  

there were 3 or 4 long hanging bridges to get to the start of the zip line.  they were so high off the ground it's caused a warp in my memory about how many of them i had to cross.  be still my nerves!  i "let" petra take the first ride as i stood at base camp watching .. err .. photographing the moment.  the bridge did NOT look stable at all.  we had to get cabled in for god's sake.  after she was done it was my turn.  curtis was walking behind me and like a naughty school boy, did his best to cause a commotion which of course made the bridge move too unneccesarily.  as if i wasn't nervous enough.  the whole time i kept mumbling to myself.  i still can't believe i went through with it.  that was just the walking part!!!  

strapped in, leaning back, hanging on to a rope, legs in the air, screaming bloody hell as i whipped past trees, leaves and a few spider webs.  14 seconds of adrenaline.  i wanted to do it all again!  we hadn't even gotten to the rafting stuff yet and i was already hooked to adventure stuff!  what a turn around.

the next day we got suited up, jumped on a yellow raft.  just me, curtis, petra and 2 guides.  we battled our way down a river sometimes leisurely and sometimes with power booyas.  it was the perfect day to do it.  the sun was out and we had 5 hours of arm exercise and balance testing.  occasionally we would jump off the raft, shoes, helmet and everything to cool off in the crystal river.  all in all, we had a great time.

and the bonus feature....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

michelle | adventures . cambodian war

it may be that peace has finally arrived in cambodia but to me there was a tangible undercurrent of anger in the city.  maybe i'm just over sensitive, maybe i read one too many books on the war experience of it's people but there were times when i felt i had to tread carefully.  

these people had survived the harrowing days of genocide.  while i was in the US complaining about traffic and enjoying popcorn at the movies they were at war.  we've all heard of war veterans who never recovered from the horrors of their experience; changed men and women whose families hardly recognize them.  imagine an entire society sharing these stories.  i can't even begin to contemplate the long term effects.  for some of these people the war only ended 10 years ago!  all the movies i've watched, the documentaries i've seen and the books i've read wouldn't be enough to tell of the hell they've been through.  yet, here they are, in a seemingly peaceful country.  the weapons now sit in a grove of mangoes rusting under the sun.  

until 10 years ago mines were being planted next to those mango trees, the fruit would lure people to them.  it has been said that there were at least 2 mines to every person planted throughout cambodia.  that's double the population (in the millions)!  here we are years later and still people are dying everyday as mines are accidentally discovered.  to till the soil is to risk your life in some areas.  the weapons that were used in their war are remnants of old wars, WW I, WW II and the korean war.  their accuracy and radius of destruction is astounding!  it gives me the shivers to think of how good we've gotten at killing people.  it will give me nightmares to think of how much better we've probably gotten with time and the advancement of technology.  visions of the middle east start crossing my mind.

we went to visit a war museum and the man conducting the tour belongs here. just like the rest of cambodia, he is a product of the war.  he carried these weapons, he survived his share of blasts.  he has shrapnel still buried under his skin.  despite suffering the seizures of tetanus, losing limbs and 60 percent of his vision this man walks with confidence and ease.  he tells us of his experiences of war in calm even tones.  i am mute with amazement.  pol pot and the khmer rouge , their mission was the stuff of nightmares.  i shake my head at the attrocities and hold back tears.  it's like hitler in asia.  millions of people died and the survivors all have stories of suffering to tell.  

i am left with these thoughts and so much more to ponder:

  • how do they do it?  how do the go on with life after the loss, after the suffering?  
  • what is the effect on the children born after the war?  are the parents that survived the war more protective?  or are they more demanding because of what they went through?
  • the children that lived through the war that are now in their teens, are they resentful of the people that didn't go through the hardship?  is there a sense of entitlement?  are they angry?  are they subservient?  are they greedy of their "new" freedom?  are they fearful? 
these questions come to me as i consider what i would be feeling had i been in their place.  again, i shake my head as i understand that deep down, my few moments of pondering could not come close to the lifetime of pain this country holds within itself.


handicapped survivors and children on the streets were selling books to support their families.  the books were various publications about the war in cambodia.  one book in particular really stays with me - First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

mila | project . bridging the gap

sweaty, grimy, sunburned and exhausted ... today was a long day.  today we had the photobooth project in the slums of manila.   i cannot say that everything went as planned.  i can in fact say that it didn't;  i didn't get the shots i envisioned and things didn't work out as originally discussed.  as a project manager i know from experience that "things going perfectly and without a hitch" is a myth.  i CAN, however, say that we had a great day!  from behind the view finder of my trusty camera, today looked like a success.  everyone was smiling!  everyone was having fun!

i have so many people to thank for the success of today.  i am surrounded by a supportive, patient and generous group of friends.  kat valdez ordered up a bus to transport everyone and sunny played bus mother.  nixie was the food coordinator.  nikka was the games organizer and group cheerleader.  candy was our stylist.  sisters anne and marie along with their volunteers were our foundation and strength.  it is amazing what a team of people can accomplish.  this was a little nudge of an idea born just a few weeks ago and carried through.  we still have the second half of the plan to hatch (we're planning an exhibit of photos in november) but even if we fall apart now, there was so much joy spread today that i can sleep in peace tonight.

a sneak peek of more to come.

Friday, March 20, 2009

mila | adventure . angkor wat

what was it????  was i tired from all the traveling?  was it the oppressive heat? did we get up too early?  i'm really not sure.  all i know is, despite the inspiring beauty of the temples at angkor wat i just wasn't in the mood to take pictures that day.  it was enough for me to walk the halls of those ancient temples catching the occassional breeze as it blew through the columned windows, listening to our knowledgeable guide.  there was so much history in the corridors of that stoned monument.  even the condensed version would have taken 3 days to tell.   ah but i'm compelled.  i have to take a few photos.  it would be remiss of me not to.

there were so many temples to see, each one a legacy to some king.  each one with its own story.  angkor wat by itself was HUGE!  the artwork was intricate, detailed and almost perfect.  it took less than 40 years to get what they had done and they weren't finished.  everything was done by hand.  the stones laid in perfect symmetry.  the lines between them were nearly invisible.  it was seamless.  no amount of words could accurately describe the place.  my lame pictures can't even touch the surreal 3D effect that the stone masters of long ago were able to achieve.  it's like i walked onto an HDR canvas.  i've seen photographs of this place and they didn't prepare me for the vastness and the beauty.  artistic depictions of the temples and the stone faces litter the streets of cambodia.  i've seen posters that capture the serenity of the temples in the early light and the quiet of sundown.  i've seen haunting variations printed on silver gel paper.  so many artists trying to voice their experience through art in all the various mediums and still... the reality remains elusive.  you just have to go there and experience it for yourself.

the sunrise stalkers convene...
and finally... it arrives ...
this made me sad.  treasure hunters and theives have ransacked the temples throughout history.  taking what they can sell.  the buddhas have their heads cut off because that is the most valuable part of the statue.  these heads are found in the black markets around the world.  

the next set of photos is at Ta Prohm also fondly known as the "tomb raider temple".  so much of these temples are destroyed.  in some cases it's nature taking its course and in some cases it is a product of war and the ugliness of genocide.  a government trying to wipe out a culture.