portrait photos by ben
way back in the fall of 2009 i took a teaching job in kuwait. at that point i was newly graduated from COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY and armed with an education masters degree and a few recommendations from BROOKLYN TECH. unfortunately there was a hiring freeze due to the recession which meant finding work was next to impossible. so i looked abroad and ended up teaching at my former high school.
i lasted all but three months. it was my worst job to date. but i will save that story for another time. two months into my stay the emir at the time decided with virtually no notice that the whole country was getting an extended weekend off, so i found myself with something like a 6 day window to do something. i ended up quickly getting tickets to JORDAN.
my neighbor and fellow teaching peer came with me which was a good thing, as he was wayyyyy into JESUS. normally that would be a disaster, but given all the old testament stuff that happened in JORDAN regarding MOSES, KING HEROD, SALOME, JOHN THE BAPTIST, etc. it was nice to have someone versed on the subject. lord knows i wasnt since i never paid attention in catholic school.
video by nacrowe
when we got there we ended up taking an illegal taxi around the country, which in retrospect was beyond stupid. but it worked. going to the DEAD SEA, PETRA and AQABA, we went through numerous military checkpoints and told the officers that the driver was our cousin. i still do not know how i wasn't arrested.
im glad i took the trip because years later i went to ISRAEL and basically saw the other major biblical sights on the other side of the DEAD SEA. my interest as an english teacher at the time was just to experience the history of it all. experiencing the narrative by visiting places like MACHAERUS (historical site of the beheading of JOHN THE BAPTIST and SALOME's dance of the seven veils ) and MOUNT NEBO (where MOSES completed his prophecy of seeing ISRAEL and then dying on the spot). whether or not i believe any of it (i don't) is beside the point. irregardless of the religious significance, i was always attentive and interested on a narrative level. trips like these i regularly used as fodder for my classroom when applicable.
BEDOUIN photo by nacrowe
my favorite memory of this trip was when we randomly met up with two married couples (one AMERICAN, the other CANADIAN) from our school in PETRA and followed them to AQABA in the south by ISRAEL, EGYPT and SAUDI ARABIA. i still have a scar on my hand from bumping into fire coral while snorkeling down there. on the way back to AMMAN (the capitol) the AMERICAN husband was speeding and making everyone carsick, namely the CANADIAN wife. at one point he didn't see a speed bump and everyone in the back of the van shot up in the air. unfortunately for her, the CANADIAN wife hit her head. at that point the CANADIAN couple were politely asking the AMERICAN husband driving to stop so she could vomit. he wouldn't listen and kept speeding because, well, i still have no idea. it was all ego basically.
PETRA photos by nacrowe
after watching the CANADIAN couple futilely ask repeatedly i yelled out "HEY FUCKO, PULL OVER!" which he did immediately. the CANADIANS were impressed. after she threw up outside and came back on board i tried to explain to them that AMERICANS are not much for subtlety, we are a boorish people that need to be hit over the head with the obvious.
when i quit my job a month later this couple gave me a CANADIAN flag to put on my backpack in transit so that people wouldnt think i was AMERICAN in the airports. easily one of the nicest compliments i've ever been given overseas.
photos by nacrowe
i'm not gonna lie, SOUTH KOREA is a strange place.
and that is from the perspective of someone who practically seeks out unfamiliar cultures and actively attempts to understand them on their terms. for most visiting westerners, especially americans, it is easy to get caught up in the neon lights and dizzying hustle and bustle of SEOUL and its labyrinth of cavernous subways and seemingly infinite shopping destinations. the place basically has no central district with multiple competing neighborhoods basically competing for influence. at the time i was living in JAPAN outside YOKOHAMA and for me SEOUL seemed to me a more bloated version of TOKYO for reasons already described.
but what got me about this country wasn't its massive cities but the insular nature of its people. living in JAPAN i often felt quite isolated, which to me was funny because at that point i had lived for years in politically and economically depressed countries like ALBANIA and VENEZUELA that were a step removed from mainstream "world culture." yet i never felt alone there. i always felt welcome and not a curiosity. JAPAN was very much a situation where you never felt welcome. people were impeccably polite but it was a politeness that acted as a barrier. its hard to verbalize what i mean. there was a definite insularity and rigidity of thought, a lack of curiosity. i found JAPAN jarring but SOUTH KOREA was another level indeed.
i worked at an international school in JAPAN and there were several CANADIAN counterparts of mine that had JAPANESE spouses. i learned that in SOUTH KOREA dating was carried out with the forethought and determined specificity of two merging corporations as families would want to the income and occupation of not just you, but up to three generations before you. the two participants were just an afterthought in this intense negotiation that had as much to do with standing and honor as it did about commitment and love.
and i get why. the JAPANESE were absolutely brutal to the KOREANS during their occupation and post-KOREAN WAR this country had to basically pull itself up by its bootstraps and make something from basically nothing. literally nothing. most of their ancestral architecture was defiled and destroyed by the JAPANESE. most or all you see today of past royal palaces are works-in-progress recreations. its funny now because SOUTH KOREA has basically followed JAPAN into consumer electronics and beaten them at their own game. revenge indeed.
but much like JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA has a problem with teen suicide and depressions. families have few children and put a lot of resources into their education, putting excessive pressure on them to succeed and procure employment that pays off this investment. what results is that you have a country that sees value only in your ability to produce. i have teacher friends out there that i stayed with and it felt claustrophobic being around that educational culture. all students played violin or cello or piano not out of interest but out of needing something to fill out your college application out with. everything seemed backwards like the kids were supposed to fit into a pre-conceived mold. it was conformity of the most intense variety. even pop culture (K-POP specifically) was about meeting a predetermined standard of demeanor, purity and naïveté.
i found the place claustrophobic and is one of the few countries i've visited that i don't have any real urge to revisit. people there are treated as a commodity by their families and it makes perfect sense to me why so me seek a way out, suicide itself being a normative means of maintaining family honor in a warped moral landscape.
and i haven't even gotten to talking about NORTH KOREA yet. stay tuned.
photo by karl burhop
ok i admit that its more than a little strange to write a profile on yourself. but here i go.
as creative director of DEER GOD i basically have a hand in everything we do that is non-audio. that basically boils down controlling/editing all things visual and written. of course we work as a team and frequently collaborate and take cues from one another, but i more or less take these efforts and produce the final product.
out of the whole team i am probably the last to the party in that i was not involved with audio or video production until a few years ago when i returned from overseas. for the better part of the last decade i was involved with education having taught secondary english abroad at international schools in MYANMAR, JAPAN, VENEZUELA as well as a stint as a peace corps volunteer in ALBANIA. my start as an educator was in NYC where i got my masters at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY and had brief stints teaching at both BROOKLYN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL (student teacher) and STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL (long-term substitute). my bad timing entering the field in the wake of the great recession meant that no new positions were available as older teachers delayed retirement and an effective freeze was put on new hires. thus i had an IVY LEAGUE degree and recommendations from two of the top public high schools in the nation, but no prospects.
so i went and taught overseas.
due to my parents work i spent time overseas growing up in NIGERIA (middle school) and KUWAIT (junior year of high school) and attended high school in both MASSACHUSETTS (NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON) and CALIFORNIA (ROCKLIN HIGH SCHOOL). oh yeah, and i was born in SPAIN.
my passion as long as i can remember photography as i would take photos of my travels (somehere around 60+ countries). i think my passion for other cultures and worldviews informed my (brief) teaching career and most definitely is a part of what i bring to my current visual work here at DEER GOD. if interested, check out my photos above.
the rest are linked HERE.