Lone Buffalo at the Vientianale Film Festival

Finally! Here is the video and some photos of the Lone Buffalo students at the 2015 Vientianale Film Festival, where they presented their Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) awareness film Haam Jap! (Don’t Touch!) to a standing room only theater!

If you can’t see the video above, click here.

Only two of the students had ever been to the Capitol, so it was quite the experience for them. It was quite a trip—nine hours on a bumpy, serpentine road. There was extensive car sickness, even with a dosing of motion sickness medication before we left Phonsavan…

Photo Lone Buffalo Vientianale

The Students (and Philip, Second From Right) Presenting Their Film


Photo Lone Buffalo Vientianale

Posing In Front Of The Vientianale Sponsor Board. That’s Paula, Another Teacher, To The Right


Photo Lone Buffalo Vientianale

The Vientianale Program


But even with all the excitement of the festival, I think the following photograph captures my favorite experience of the entire trip. Philip (one of the teachers at Lone Buffalo, my translator during the film classes, and one of my all-time favorite people in Laos) was sitting next to Kou Kham, who is all of twelve years old (and one of the actors in the film). Kou Kham had a rough time of the trip, and after a long bout of car sickness, pretty much just passed out. Of course, you end up bouncing all over, which just adds to your intestinal misery.

Philip laid him down and hung onto him so he could get some rest. Right as this happened, that orange-red Lao sun broke through the clouds and lit up the inside of the bus. The light was gone a few seconds later.

These are the kind of people I meet in Laos; These people are the reason why I keep coming back.

Photo Lone Buffalo Vientianale

Being Carsick Does That To You!


Posted in Humanitarian Photography, Travel, Videos Tagged , , |

JWPA On National Public Radio Website!

I woke up the other morning to find an email from a good friend of mine, Nathaniel. He sent me a nice little surprise: an article on America’s National Public Radio (NPR) about the man, Manophet, that was the impetus for the creation of the school in Laos, The Lone Buffalo Foundation, where I volunteer.

See the article The Lone Buffalo Cleared Unexploded Bombs And Boosted Needy Kids here.

The sad thing is in the main photo of Manophet: he’s climbing out of a bomb crater—and I knew exactly where he was. I had visited the same area last year for the Plain of Jars Project. It is an area called Ban Kai (ban=village).

I shot two short videos there, Visiting The Plain Of Scars Part #1 & #2:



While I was looking at the photo of Manophet, the first verse of Tom Waits’ song Hell Broke Luce popped into my head:

I had a good home but I left
I had a good home but I left, right, left
That big fucking bomb made me deaf, deaf
A Humvee mechanic put his Kevlar on wrong
I guarantee you’ll meet up with a suicide bomb
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce

Hell, indeed.

Posted in Jon Witsell Photographic Arts, Travel, Videos Tagged , |

Hmong Grandmother

I’ve always felt comfortable—if not occasionally a bit of a spectacle—in remote villages in Laos. When a Hmong-American English teacher asked me if I would like to visit her grandmother in her village about 15 kilometers outside of Phonsavan, I jumped at the chance.

Photo Hmong Grandmother #1

And you are?

She was wonderful. Not only did she warm up to me quickly, she wasn’t shy about the camera in the least. I asked her granddaughter twice to make sure she didn’t mind, and it rapidly became apparent that she was at ease with the large (I’m a little over 6′ and about 205 pounds; I estimated her to be about 4′ 9″ and maybe 75 pounds dripping wet.), strange man sitting quite close to her and pointing a very large camera at her. My friend thought that I might have been the first caucasian person to have ever visited her village…

Photo Hmong Grandmother #4

Comfortable with me…

Nobody knows for sure, but she is most likely in her early- to mid-eighties. She had a wonderful vibrancy about her—curious and laughing away at her granddaughters’ chatter. When I showed her one of the photos I had taken of her, she said with mild disdain You should photograph younger people.

Photo Hmong Grandmother #2

Laughing at her granddaughters’ chatter.

There was a cooking fire in the house that had turned to embers and tiny bits of ashes were blowing around in the hot afternoon air. We wandered off for a bit to visit the other relatives’ houses and when we returned she was asleep and snoring softly. I didn’t want to wake her, but she had instructed her other grandchildren to wake her up when we returned.

Photo Hmong Grandmother #3

Thinking about the past, thinking about the future.

As we left I said to her the only sentence in Hmong that I know: Shii gii doua (roughly: See you later). I think she found that very amusing—a falang that speaks Hmong! She gave me a huge smile and wished me good health as we left.

Hmong Grandmother.

Posted in Black and White Photography, Portraiture, Travel Tagged , |

Don’t Touch

I’m working on a new project with the kids at the Lone Buffalo Foundation in Phonsavan, Laos. I’ll have an announcement coming soon… the title? It’s in the poster below…

Photo of don't touch!

Don’t touch!

Posted in Humanitarian Photography, New Project Tagged , |

No Words, #23

Photo No Words #23


No Words.

Posted in Color Photography, No Words Tagged , |