Friday, October 12, 2012

Travelers tales

Safaribob posing with dancers from the Royal Cambodian Dance troupe who just completed a performed in his honour. From the LIFE archive.

Choosing the right travel partner can have a major impact on one’s ‘holiday snaps’. The godfather of candid and street-photography style, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a hunter before he took up photography. His ‘decisive moments’ were not captured purely through being in the right place at the right time. His skill was to see the potential in a subject and then like a hunter laying in wait, strike when all the elements were lined up to ensure success. That instant in time when the shop keeper in a crowded local wet market looks up from arranging their produce and into your lens often makes all the difference. It may only take a minute or so to capture that instant, but your travel companions can quickly tire of constantly having to wait whilst you work your scene, looking for the right composition and all the elements to fall into place for that memorable shot. Insisting that you rise before dawn to get to a location when the light is ‘right’ or before all the other tourists arrive is often another source of tension. Many of us don’t have the luxury of choosing who will accompany us on holidays and do the best they can, but finding those kindred spirits can really make a difference. I’m fortunate in being surrounded by an assortment of eccentrics, degenerates, drunks and perverts who share my interests and tolerate my sometimes, odd proclivities.
An old French Indochina period postcard found in Phnom Penh. Text in French reads "157. Baphoun - Angkor. Monsieur Safaribob examine l'anus d'un animal mythique Khmère."
Safaribob and Black Thai concubine prepare to enter General Vo Nguyen Giap's Dien Bien Phu command post bunker to discuss war reparations.
I first met the infamous Safaribob during his stint as ‘special administrator’ at the Perth Centre for Photography. He had been forced to return to Perth for medical treatment, an unexpected consequence of his ‘field-work’ whilst working on a policy document on the role of Cambodian Karaoke Bars as a tool for bridging cultural divides
Another rediscovered photo from the LIFE archive!
'Safaribob's talents go well beyond international diplomacy and bridging cultural divides. A keen conservationist who prefers a hands on approach, here he can be seen subduing Thaksin, his pet crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) which he found in the restroom during a function held in his honour at the famed Nana Plaza gentleman's club, Casanova. "It was one of the many surprises I encountered that night" he said. "But as always, I rose to the occasion and it's only right that I do my bit to look after these creatures, otherwise one day I'll have nothing to shoot"
Safaribob launching a safe sex campaign on behalf of the Saigon Board of Health and Sexually Transmittable Diseases. An expert in the language and practice of intimacy, Safaribob is also aware of the risks and believes in doing his part for the community. From the LIFE archive.
It was a fortuitous encounter, as Australia’s roving ‘Cultural Ambassador’ Safaribob is a legend within the diplomatic and anthropological community in South East Asia. Legend has it that there isn’t an opium den, gin-shack or house of ill repute east of the Irrawaddy river that has not had some contact with Safaribob. “His arrival would be greeted with some alarm” Said, fellow SEA expert, legendary cameraman, Neil Davis just prior to his untimely death in 1992. “DFAT would inevitably raise their travel warnings and one could feel the change on the streets soon after his arrival. He had an uncanny ability to arrive and then within days anti westerner sentiment reaches a climax, resulting in protests and brutal crackdowns by the security forces… I wouldn’t say trouble follows him but he does have a nose for it”.
SafariBob, Australian Cultural Ambassador to Indochina, explaining some of the finer details of General Văn Tiến Dũng's 324th Division advance through the streets of Saigon on the morning of April 30th, 1975. From the LIFE archive.
Rare portrait of Safaribob in the library of his summer residence. From the LIFE archive
Safaribob just smiles when I mention this. “When you tap into a community in search of its roots” he says, patting his latest personal assistant, miss Mai Sin on her backside as she prepares a pipe, “these things are bound to happen every once in a while”. He’s a man that should know having lived and worked in the region for several decades. Stories of drunken nights in dimly lit Vientiane ‘artisan clubs’ whilst accompanied by Henry Kissinger and General Vo Nguyen Giap are still recounted at consular cocktail parties. Indeed, having the ‘right’ kind of person as expert guide and travel companion does make all the difference.