It’s like spending the day with a good friend, one who just so happens to live in Chiang Mai. This friend also takes great photographs. In fact, he was named the TimeOut (UK) Travel Photographer of the Year in 1997. Plus, he loves riding his bicycle, leans toward the mindful Buddhist way, and has a wonderful sense of humour and a roving spirit.
A Day of Photography with Alan McArthur is a day for all lovers of photography, for all ages and cameras. But it’s not a tour—it’s a bridge to getting to know less while understanding more.
McArthur has been based in Chiang Mai for nearly 18 years, and is as young as that age at heart, something he credits the locals for (he can joke in five languages, Thai being his favourite). He was born in Scotland, but also grew up in Quebec and Cambridge. Since then, he has made homes in Sicily, Morocco, Cape Town, and Venice Beach—and in each of these places he has days of photography, too. Having survived an early adult battle with leukaemia, the affable photographer has devoted his days to spreading cheer and teaching others how to soak up every waking moment.
Believing his secret to capturing the human element lies in the time he devotes to his subjects, McArthur has ensured A Day of Photography is a community-minded project aimed at giving back. All the people he and his groups meet during the day—“the players in this theatre called the world,” he says—get copies of the portraits taken of them. This isn’t a safari, as photo tours often become, but rather a series of intimate street life portraits that help photographers of all levels understand their cameras better and, more importantly, discover what makes a great image. Add to that a little fine art, architecture, and some guerrilla photography, and you have the recipe for a great day out.
But the days are spent doing more than just improving how you capture life in the lens. The trips around town are done the eco-friendly way—by bicycle—and are filled with insights for the stomach and soul. McArthur takes guests and groups out to eat at local spots only. “If you’re vegetarian,” he declares, “even better, because Chiang Mai is the best place for northern Thai vegetarian food.”
Those who wish to experience this unique approach to exploring culture should contact McArthur (who prefers to be called Alan) directly via Facebook.com/ChiangMaiADayofPhotography or [email protected] He tweaks and tailors itineraries for every group or guest, and he even offers internships for those sticking around town a while.
Though not a school—“Chiang Mai is the school. Our workshops are out and about.”—A Day of Photography nevertheless offers invaluable lessons with a holistic point of view. McArthur bases programmes on several topics: street life portraiture, portraiture with flash, travel, fine art and still life, architecture, landscapes, photography for English language learners, and photography for kids.
Above all, A Day of Photography teaches the joys of interaction and self-discovery through photography. “Reality really is just a state of mind,” says McArthur, and that, unconditionally, more clearly than any other idiom, sets the tone for the perfect day in Chiang Mai.