Marc Schlossman is an expert photographer who travelled with Golden Lands author Vikram Lall to capture views of Myanmar (particularly Bagan) as well as many of the other stupa, monastery, and temple photos for the other SE Asian countries in the book.
Here we interview Marc about his work on this Architecture of Buddhism series so far:
1. Which countries did you cover for the Golden Lands photography?
Had you already travelled in these countries?
Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. I had never been to the first two; I had traveled in Thailand a few times but never to Sukhothai or the other temples outside Bangkok.
2. Have you previously or subsequently done photography projects similar to this, focusing on SE Asian historical sites?
I was commissioned to shoot in Singapore and Malaysia for the book Paradise Found: Journeys Through Noble Gardens of Asia, [ISBN 9789833214037] published by Cross Time Matrix in Kuala Lumpur in 2008. It’s a showcase of public gardens in the region and the shooting involved the same skills I needed to shoot the three chapters in Golden Lands.
3. Before you set out, did you anticipate some of the challenges involved from the locations and topics, and in the event what were some of the main difficulties to overcome?
In hindsight would you approach any aspect of the project differently?
Research is so important on assignments such as Golden Lands. Knowing as much as we could before arrival saved a lot of time and allowed us to start shooting immediately, as opposed to spending time scouting locations. For these temples it is important to know where the sun is relative to certain features, how the stone will be illuminated, and we planned our shooting around accordingly.
Logistics are crucial: we did not have unlimited days to shoot so we dreaded any travel delays or journeys that were longer than planned. There is never enough time! All we could do was schedule as many days as possible.
4. You travelled together with Golden Lands author Vikram Lall.
Did working closely together change the way you looked at the Buddhist stupas, monasteries and temples?
The other way, did Vikram find the photography assisted with the technical or interpretative work?
We began working together right away in Myanmar. He knew that the photos would be a valuable resource for his work later in the project and I felt very fortunate to have a guide to show me what only a dedicated expert can know.
Vikram’s knowledge of history and temple architecture definitely made me a better photographer during this work and enhanced my appreciation of these great architectural achievements.
5. What aspects of the photography were important to emphasise the architectural theme of the book?
Did you take “people” photos as well while on the tour?
People in the image definitely provides scale and context. It’s interesting to see how these spaces and structures are used today. Vikram needed many detail shots and through him I was able to concentrate on unique features that we needed in the book.
I am always as interested in the people as much as anything else when I travel so I did make lots of portraits and reportage images even though I knew very few would be in the book!
6. Do you feel there is a difficulty around conservation of these ancient sites, and which countries seem to be doing a better or worse job with handling tourism?
The temples in Luang Prabang in Laos are beautifully kept and the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Myanmarese take immense pride in Bagan, of course. But stone is stone and it erodes — heavy tourist traffic can only be a bad thing, particularly for older temples, and these sites are very popular.
7. Out of the historical architectural sites you photographed, which were your favourites?
Where would you like to return and take more pictures?
I would like to spend a lot more time in Myanmar. Bagan is amazing and there are thousands of temples to explore. All of Luang Prabang in Laos is incredible. Sukhothai in Thailand surprised me — I spent most of three days there and I was never bored.
About Marc Schlossman
An American based in London, Marc is a highly experienced photographer and photojournalist. Marc has travelled widely including Africa and Southeast Asia: he has worked for newspapers and magazines including The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph, The San Francisco Examiner, The Washington Post, and Harper’s and Queen. Recent work includes corporate communications photography as well as cultural and architectural projects.