What is my topic?
For the past seven years, I’ve been documenting the last communist holdouts around the world. Surprisingly, communism is not dead. Several communist governments have endured and evolved in unexpected ways. Even today, the ideology lies at the heart of several contemporary conflicts and human rights abuses. Such is the case in Laos, which never fully recovered from the war in neighboring Vietnam.
I first traveled to Laos in 2007, and though my visit was brief, it was extremely intense and troubling. I photographed CIA-trained ethnic Hmong guerrillas who have been living in hiding since 1975, when the United States pulled out. They live in the jungle, constantly in fear of attacks by the Laotian army.
Although the story had an impact in the media – with three photos printed on the front page of
The New York Times – I was not able to stay in Laos long enough to put the situation in broader context.
Behind the rare headlines, what is really happening in Laos? How has communism survived against the tides of history? In addition to the tragic story of the Hmong opposition, how have the scars of war shaped the current situation?
With your participation, I’ll return to document contemporary Laos, the final step in my series on 21st century communism. Together, here is what we can create:
1) An in-depth photo essay from Laos
The finished essay will be submitted to traditional outlets for publication. It will also be distributed in innovative ways to maximize impact and scope. Read below.
2) A mini-edition book that will be sent to prime backers, human rights groups, NGOs, and influential policy makers.
The mini-book will showcase the Laos photo essay with depth and permanence. For every 10 mini-books ordered by backers, I will send one free copy to an influential policy-maker or organization connected to Laos.
3) A multimedia feature in VII The Magazine
I will reach out to the wider public with a multimedia feature in partnership with
VII The Magazine , which syndicates photo features to PBS.org, Lens Culture and other sites.
4) A new form of behind-the-scenes collaboration
Backers will be able to help select which photos make the final edit. They will also be able to vote on the list of organizations and policy-makers to be sent mini-books.
How will funds be used?
Funds contributed to this project will go toward reporting and publishing costs. These include airfare, local transport, food, lodging, translation, visa fees, printing and shipping costs. The VII Photo Agency will cover multimedia production costs.
Since 2004, my series on global communism has entailed 25 separate trips. Seven were financed upfront by the following publications: TIME, The New York Times, Newsweek, VSD, Le Figaro Magazine, La Vie and the International Herald Tribune. Two trips were paid for with a $20,000 grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. The rest were paid for out of my own pocket.
I passionately believe in the importance of this work. I’m even willing to pay my own way back to Laos alone if needed. But with your help, we can ensure this underreported story will be told and distributed in a powerful way. I urge you to get involved and add your support.