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The Akha society in Northern Thailand is in rapid transition, despite the good work of NGOs such as the Akha Heritage Foundation and DAPA. As electricity comes to each village in turn, its inhabitants begin to realize the homogenized and idealized life portrayed on satellite television. The young often choose to leave the simple village life behind, in search of work and the other lures of city life. At the present time, women, particularly the old, still wear traditional headdresses, but men and children no longer dress as their elders did even a decade ago, instead choosing the same practical, non-descript t-shirts and pants found anywhere in the world. I sought to document the traditional customs of the Akha Hill Tribe people, an ethnic minority who are losing their cultural identity.

Thailand was photographed in 2004, as part of an ongoing multi-year project. In 1998, I documented ethnic minority groups in Tibet and Southern China, and in 2000, I traveled to Bolivia to photograph the Aymara. I believe that it is of significant importance to document the traditions of indigenous cultures that are rapidly fading throughout the world. As a documentary photographer, it is my goal to document such traditions before they disappear, and it is my hope that viewers may consider assisting in their preservation.

Part 1: China

Part 2: Bolivia

For information on obtaining prints from the Vanishing Heritage series, please contact John Kaplan at kaplan-at-writeme-dot-com.

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