Photography Trip Inspires Two Miami Friends To Give Back: "We Witnessed History"

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Traveling to exotic lands has always grasped the imaginations of those with an adventurous spirit. Looking to break from the routine of their daily grind in South Florida, friends and photographers Jacob Bacallao and Nicolas Stipcianos decided to cast their luck into the wind and travel to Southeast Asia this past spring, seeking to create new, artistic work that would be different from their jobs in advertising and professional photography, respectively.

The two friends found themselves wondering to how they'd be able to maximize the opportunity afforded by the trip and what level of quality work they'd be able to produce. As is becoming more and more common these days, they bolstered their budget by starting a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise some cash for logistical purposes (translators, emergency transportation, and acts of God, essentially) that they had not factored in.

What ended up happening was as eye-opening a spiritual cleanse as one could hope for and in an act of artistic contrition, they embarked on their trip with a different purpose in mind.

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The trip, as it originally stood, was paid for and ready to go. The Kickstarter was almost an afterthought and as such, it became a gateway for individual soul searching.

"I went to school for photography and have never abandoned it but it was the idea of a collaborative project with my friend Nicolas, who's been working as a professional photographer for years now, that sparked this adventure," Bacallao said. "What we set out to do was to create some badass work; what we did, was stumble upon the idea that, rather than just be photographers stealing the beauty from places and selling images, we wanted to do our part and give back." And that's what they did.

Joy - The joy pours out unfiltered / Happiness is a caliber of wealth only the poor know how to truly indulge in / Let the beauty of life soak into your soul. -- Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Joy - The joy pours out unfiltered / Happiness is a caliber of wealth only the poor know how to truly indulge in / Let the beauty of life soak into your soul. -- Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

"We ended up donating the Kickstarter money to a school in northern Thailand where the Hill tribes live, to support a dog I wanted to adopt in Indonesia, and to an elephant rescue in Thailand," Bacallao said. "We also donated our time while we were there teaching English to young monks in Cambodia and Thailand."

As chance would have it, while working on photographs of kickboxers training in Bangkok, the friends found themselves in the midst of the military coup d'état that deposed the Thai caretaker government and imposed the National Council for Peace and Order junta.

"We witnessed history as we stood face to face with protestors and soldiers as the coup happened; some of our images were used [by media sources] as this took place. What we experienced there made us feel lucky to have made friends and always felt welcomed no matter where we were along the journey; whether it was in the shadows of Cambodia's killing fields or a Thai jungle market," Bacallao said.

Experiencing the beauty, mysticism and political unrest of Southeast Asia made an indelible impression on the friends, who have now committed themselves to returning and creating awareness of the problems and struggles of the people they befriended along the way.

The travels also cemented an altruistic lesson into their modus operandi.

"We've decided to do this again, always giving back to the places we visit to photograph," Bacallao said.

Art is a universal medium but so is a human gesture. It is good to see a gestalt symbiosis of forms emanate from our community as an ambassador to the world. Now if only others would follow the example.

The friends have organized an exhibit of their most impactful work during their trip at Trendy Studio in Wynwood titled "Re Imagined - Journey to Southeast Asia." The photographs exhibited will incorporate text that fully captures their frame of mind and spirit at the time the image was taken.

"Re Imagined - Journey to Southeast Asia" at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 2, at Trendy Studio, 196 NW 24th Street, Miami. Call 305-438-4244 or visit trendystudio.net.

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