• Farewell Taste Of The Road!

    After over 4 years, I have decided to move to a more modern, redesigned web platform. My new website www.jesserockwell.com has been designed from the ground up to exhibit my images first, and still allows visitors to follow my travels and photojournalism in the “journal” section.

    I hope to see you there, and I look forward to continuing to share my journeys with you! Just click the image below to visit the new site!

  • Larung Gar (Seda) Buddhist Institute

    I am currently writing a story about my travels to the breathtaking and remote Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, located in Gharze Prefecture, Sichuan, China. Starting tomorrow I will be trekking in the Manaslu region of Nepal , so it may be a while before the full story is finished. In the meantime, I wanted to share some images for my new readers. Please enjoy, and find more information in the recently published articles here and here

    For now, please enjoy the gallery

    AJR_5557 AJR_5586 AJR_5581 AJR_5986 AJR_5220 AJR_5077 AJR_4689 AJR_4814 AJR_5529 AJR_5989 AJR_4192 AJR_3975 AJR_4460-Edit


  • Koh Tarutao: The Prison Past Of A Present Paradise

    From the moment the boat arrives at the concrete dock of Koh Tarutao, it is apparent you have arrived somewhere altogether different from the average overcrowded Southeast Asian beach destination. It has all the trappings of a 5 star beach resort, minus one small detail: The Resort.
    The cliffsides surrounding the Ao Pante Malakka beach and watershed are heavy with an array of green foliage so bright and varied, it resembles a thick liquid pouring over the edges in suspended motion. The green and yellow clash with the dark grey blues of the volcanic limestone in a battle for your fleeting attention.

    Ao Pante Malakka

    Ao Pante Malakka

    Suddenly the branches begin to shake, at first softly, then in increasing violence as a troupe of Dusky Langur Monkeys emerge from the depths of the jungle.They quickly traverse the trees and soon are above you, timidly curious to your presence, their ringed eyes fixed on you briefly. It seems as if they have seen your kind before, although probably not enough times to let their guard down.


    A Dusky Langur Juvenile

    As quickly as they had emerged, they retreat into the darkness of the jungle brush. All this happens in the time it takes to disembark the boat. Once on land you find yourself in an open area studded with dozens of large Casurina trees, which are somewhat the tropical version of an evergreen. They coat the grounds of the government station and bungalows in a thin blanket of soft, brown needles. The station is large, covering well over a dozen acres, with multiple buildings that seem to have been erected in anticipation of receiving throngs of happy holidaymakers, but this is the hot season, It’s 105 degrees and there is no one around to greet you. As the boat leaves the dock, you become acutely aware that you will not be able to leave this island, even if you wanted to. But another glance at the white sand beach quickly relieves any apprehensions as you wheel your bag to the empty visitors center. A languid cat straddles the marble stairs, attempting to absorb any ambient coolness that may have remained from the night before.
    A man, withered from the heat, with island-worn clothes ambles in and slowly hands you a laminated sheet detailing the spartan accomodation options. There are basic bungalows on 2 beaches, Ao Pante Malakka, and Ao Molae a few kilometers down the road. Considering you traveled here to get away from it all you choose the further bungalows at Ao Molae. Neither have electricity after 10pm. The heat will be equally oppressive at either location.
    Stepping off the high back of the converted transport truck at Ao Molae, the beach is pristine, and the only souls around are a smiling employee of the National Park restaurant, and a few very hot, heavily panting dogs


    Ao Molae Eatery


    Ao Molae Bungalows

    A walk around the corner reveals the row of basic, but comfortable bungalows. All facing the immaculate white sand beach. This is what travelers search for. This is home for the next week. No televisions, no cell phone signal, no crowds.


    Ao Molae Beach

    The first morning comes slowly, as the heat became suffocating the night before. The creaking electric fan shut off around 10 pm, leaving you to toss every few minutes, trying to find a cool spot on the sheets. There were none. The beach outside the bungalow faces West, giving a few merciful hours before the sun rays come over the mountain directly behind it. Walking over to the restaurant, you anticipate a quick breakfast before setting out on a rickety bike for the real destination that brought you here. The ruins of Ao Talo Wow Prison.


    Rock Karst at Talo Wow Harbor

    Koh Tarutao was once home to a number of prison complexes. Prisoners from the overcrowded penitentiaries in Bangkok were given the option to be shipped to Tarutao. In what seems to have been a serious case of “the grass is always greener”, thousands volunteered to be transferred to the remote island, in a bid to escape the terrible conditions in the mainland’s capital. The long journey from Bangkok would likely have been filled with thoughts of a relieving change of scenery, and likely increased opportunities for escape. The site of Ao Talo Wow Prison lies only about 15km from the mainland, over serenely calm waters. A seemingly surmountable obstacle to freedom in the eyes of those captive there. The prisoners would soon learn that the choice to be held on this island would bring a fate worse than any they could have conjured in Bangkok.


    A Fallen Mannequin Amongst the Ruins

    The daily routine in the prisons of Koh Tarutao consisted of bad food, forced labor, and the everpresent heat. The main staple of a Tarutao prisoner’s diet was badly milled and watery rice, which was not fit for sale on the mainland. This was supplemented by sweet potatoes and leftovers of fish which would be made into a thin curry. The memorable days brought bananas and sugar, but these were a rarity which were not often savored.  Malnutrition soon became a problem within the prison population, and scavenging and hunting, once punished, became an accepted means of survival. 


    A Flying Lemur

    From the late 1800’s through the 1930’s the quality of life in the prison steadily improved. Changes included the education of prisoners in skills such as construction, nursing, and handicrafts. Those lucky enough to receive menial duties may have even led a relatively easy, if uncomfortable existence. New structures were built to house and feed the prisoners, and a reliable supply chain of goods and materials was established. A co-operative was opened and sold food, tobacco, and even alcohol to those who could manage to afford them.


    Prison Housing


    Prison Housing Interior

     Despite the modest improvements, life in the jungle never reached a level of comfort that would meet any current UN regulation against cruel and unusual punishment. And the hazardous nature of the land they inhabited remained constant. Threats from sharks in the water repelled thoughts of escape, while more terrestrial dangers such as snakes, crocodiles, and mosquito borne illnesses meant constant vigilance was needed in order not to meet a gruesome fate.


    A Venomous Green Vine Snake

     As the 1940’s and the years of the Second World War arrived, the Thai government, having been invaded and forced to give passage to Japanese troops, began lacking in manpower and resources to maintain the supply chains to it’s outer reaches. Tarutao is about as far from Bangkok as you can get within Thailand’s borders, and being a prison it was a very low priority. In the years that followed as the Japanese marched to present day Malaysia and Burma, the residents of Koh Tarutao were forced to resort to extreme means to survive. Without reliable sources of food on the island, starvation began to set in, and the struggle forced the inmates and the guards to band together and plunder the passing merchant ships en route to and from Malaysia. The piracy afforded them the food and supplies needed to survive in the short term. Some guards reportedly became so effective as pirates they were able to settle on the mainland and make a handsome profit selling their plunder.The group dynamics caused by this shift in authority must have been a social psychologists dream study, but little remains in the way of reliable accounts of the time.


    A Massive Jungle Tree

     From 1941 to 1945 casualties from starvation and illness began to mount. Malaria, once a treatable affliction with basic medical supplies, became a death sentence, It is estimated that over 80% of the up to 3,000 inmates succumbed to the disease. The extremely limited medical facilities could not begin to cope with the overwhelming demands of the ill.


    The Small Prison Hospital


    One Of Two Treatrment Rooms

    Any semblance of order and structure began to collapse, and those who did survive were faced with a bleak and likely hopeless reality. Salvation came for a few. By 1948 the prison was officially closed. Any surviving prisoners were evacuated to other prisons such as the one located on another present day paradise: Koh Tao. The war came to an end, along with the Japanese occupation. A prisoner was still a prisoner, a guard still a guard, and the heat remained everpresent.


    A Solitary Confinement Cell. AKA The Oven

     As you return to the somehow more comfortable bed of your bungalow after a long day of biking the steep roads of Koh Tarutao, the reality of what happened here 70 years ago remains forefront in your thoughts. The heat won’t be the only thing keeping you awake tonight.



  • Koh Tarutao National Marine Park, Thailand. 4k Timelapse and Aerial Photography

    For the past ten days I have been exhaustively photographing the stunning locations within Koh Tarutao National Marine Park. The park encompasses a large archipelago in the Andaman Sea, located at the extreme southwest tip of Thailand, on the border of Malaysia. The islands within the park are virtually undeveloped, with very little infrastructure aside from a few government run bungalows, and rudimentary roads on the largest island, Koh Tarutao, from which the park takes its name. 

    At the southwest end of the park, just outside it’s border, lies the island of Koh Lipe, which is more developed than the park islands. Lipe boasts dozens of small hotels and bungalows, and remains a small secret for intrepid travelers, however this may not be true for much longer, as word is getting out about the quaint atmosphere and perfectly clear turquoise waters.

    In this video I did my best to show the beauty of the islands and give a glimpse of what is becoming so rare today: ta truly beautiful destination, largely unspoiled by modern development.

  • Nepal Earthquake Relief 2016



    Nepal is a place very close to my soul. I spent my youth there, and returned to live at the age of 16, during which time I truly learned how much it means to me. For many years my family has supported and become very close with a group of kids (now successful adults) from the area of Nubri, which was terribly affected by the Earthquake of 2015. I have made it my goal to raise funds, and contribute my own to buy clothing, tools, and household goods to transport to the remote area. In June 2016 I will be trekking to the area with a large number of porters to transport goods to the villages in and around the Gorkha district.

    The Gorkha District encompasses many small villages and settlements, and is one of the poorest and most remote in the whole Kingdom. This area has received little support and attention from the Nepali government, whose corruption has become evident and infuriating since the tragedy. This is why I feel the need to do anything I can to be of support to the people who have been so kind to my family and I, and who, without effort show how happiness is essential to the wellbeing of humanity.

    I have started a GOFUNDME donation drive to help in raising funds to purchase and transport goods to the area. Please share to your facebook or social media sites, and donate if you have the means. Thank you very much.

  • A photo I’ve waited years to capture…

    Wish Granted

    Wish Granted


  • Shrinking The Milky Way – A Multimedia Art Installation Project

    If this is your first time on this site, Welcome! 

    I wanted to share an art project that has taken over much of my free time during the last 3 months. If you have a look around this site, you will notice a lot of milky way and deep space photography (Here are some examples). It’s my hobby and passion, and something I have been slowly learning for the past 7 years or so. 

    I recently found a high quality photographic printing service (shout out to www.perfectposters.com) and was able to order my largest print yet of this image.

    This is a scaled down file. The original is 200 megapixels

    This is a scaled down file. The original is 200 megapixels

    I took this photo in the mountains above Santa Barbara, California during the new moon (the best time for night sky photography). The Milky Way arches from the city to the back of the mountains, with a stream of fog cascading over the saddle of the ridge. The image is actually a mosaic of 24 photos, stitched at the edges in order to capture the widest swathe of sky possible. Since the image is such a large resolution, I was able to print it very large. I ordered it at 72 x 30 inches, 6 foot by 2 and a half. Initially, I simply wanted a large print to decorate my place, but once it arrived I was suddenly struck by inspiration and began formulating a plan. I would later find that this plan was going to be extremely painstaking, and take many more hours than I imagined.

    The print

    The print

    I had a vision to pierce tiny holes through the thick matte paper, and backlight it using LED lights which I use in my lightpainting photography (which you can see here). I wanted to create an indoor representation of the night sky that so few of us get to see anymore due to light pollution in populated areas. Bear in mind that there are probably at least ten thousand stars in this photo, and on the printed matte paper, the number was completely overwhelming. I began to experiment with the best way to pierce the paper, while trying not to damage it.

    I later found a pushpin used for corkboard was the best and easiest way to create the holes

    I later found a pushpin used for corkboard was the best and easiest way to create the holes

    So began the process that I came to find both meditative and loathsome. I really didn’t come to realize how long this would take until the end of the first 3 hour session of hole-poking. In three hours I had gotten perhaps 1/10th of the sky pierced through. I began to seriously consider if this was going to be a worthwhile undertaking. I didn’t want a huge print with some holes in the corner, so I trudged on with the hole poking.

    Another part of the plan required the building of a large, hollow-backed lightbox frame, in which the LED lights would be placed to illuminate the print. Luckily my housemate is a skilled carpenter, and I got him to begrudgingly agree to build this complicated and completely custom piece. I paid him for his time of course!

    The first piece of the frame, drying after being painted

    The first piece of the frame, drying after being painted

    I was very grateful that my housemate agreed to do this, as I would have sawed off a limb, or at least several digits trying to make something like this. So as the design of the frame came together, I continued poking holes in the paper, either listening to audiobooks, or watching movies to lessen the monotony. Slowly I was able to see what the final product would look like. I fired up the lights and placed them behind the print.


    It was better than I had hoped!

    It really was looking like stars in the sky! This got me very motivated, and I began to pick up the pace while I was house-sitting for a family member, and I had a larger space to work. Many nights of sore handed repetition later, and the holes had all been poked. The process took roughly 26 hours, and I was so relieved that it was finally over. I also noticed a very interesting and unintended side effect of the lighting I had chosen. Due to the layout of LED lights, in which there are one red, one blue, and one green diode, certain colored diodes would be isolated through the tiny holes, making the stars shimmer different colors as you moved your point of vision across the print. I believe this is what is referred to as a “Happy Accident”

    You can see this cool phenomena in the video below

    Now that the print had been punctured by a plethora of pinpricks, it was time to figure out how the frame would actually work. I had no plans to go off of, only a skilled carpenter to aid in the construction. In order to create the most light, I wanted to have a reflective backing inside the lightbox frame. I also purchased two pieces of plexiglass, cut to size. The print would be suspended on the top of the lightbox frame between the two pieces of plexiglass.

    The frame, print, and LED light strips with color changing remote control.

    The frame, print, and LED light strips with color changing remote control.

    The last detail was how to mount the LED strip to give the best effect, and highlight the Milky Way. This was done by a process of trial, error, and hot glue.

    Oh, did I mention they change colors and have a remote control?

    Oh, did I mention they change colors and have a remote control?

    The end was in sight, and the results were starting to look very promising. We needed to make a top-frame to hold down the plexiglass to the lightbox frame. Once this was done, the piece which now weighed 40 or 50 pounds was ready to hang! We made sure to screw into the studs in the wall, as this thing needed some serious support in order to not succumb to the pesky rules of gravity.


    Finally Complete!

    To give some perspective, that is a 29 inch widescreen monitor on the desk. The picture is a bit distorted due to the extreme wide angle lens used to take the shot. The lighting can be changed to virtually any color of the spectrum from the comfort of my bed, and dimmed or brightened. I am very happy with how this came out, and may do more in the future, especially if I find that people are interested! If not, I have a very unique piece of artwork that will be a centerpiece in my home(s) for years to come!

    Thanks for reading, and leave a comment if you enjoyed this! 




  • Day And Night On The American Riviera

    6 months of photography condensed into 4 minutes. This timelapse compilation comprises over 5000 still images. After posting this I have received offers to create opening trailers for 2 iInternnational Film Festivals. Looks like the hard work and dedication is finally paying off!

  • Dedicated Photography Facebook Page

    I have decided to stop clogging my personal facebook with tons of my photographty endeavours and have opened a page solely dedicated to my photography. I am doing a lot of work in timelapse and hyperlapse lately so come over and have a look!



  • Nocturnal Rainbow – A Milky Way Panorama

    This image took a lot of work. over 30 photos stitched into a mosaic, it features the Milky Way arching over the Santa Barbara mountainside. I have a 30″x72″ print of this image, which I am currently working on to become a multimedia installation piece. Progress is slow, but I will update with an overview of the project when it is complete. For now, enjoy the view.

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