JOHN CHAO: BEYOND THE QUEST Leica LA Exhibit 5/4-6/5 2023

In 2021 I published “50-Year Vision Quest.” It was my first book, and it chronicled my photography journey. It was to be the end, a retrospect — the finish line of my lifelong quest with the camera.

In September of 2021, during my 50-year high school reunion, I met (for the first time) a secret crush I held for 53 years. After spending three days together, we decided to get married. Suddenly she catalyzed me to continue my love for photography. As a result, these pictures, taken in 2022, our honeymoon year, are on display in my first public exhibition.

Whether decisive or unplanned, these photographs are not the outcome of a single capture. They are composites, a collection of moments, an expanse of time merged into one. 

It is a different form of photographic time-lapse —a refined process that stemmed from my exploratory work in the ’80s—where multiple pictures, taken and printed, are merged and displayed as a single but layered photograph. I called them — topography.    Enjoy

John Chao
Mosier, Oregon, April 29, 202

All Limited Edition Prints are available through Leica Gallery: Paris Chong (424) 777-0341


Masai Mara, Kenya — May 27, 2022
Guide: Michael Busienei
Leica M11 w/75mm Noctilux-M f/1.25

Framed 94″x 46″


A Maasai Warrior levitates to the rhythm of their chant. When asked to jump, they replied that they couldn’t unless they sang. True to their tradition, the Maasai people are one of a few semi-nomadic cultures that survived the influence of the outside world. 

Wearing their red “Kanga” and always holding a spear or a staff, the higher the warrior jumps, the better the chances of attracting a wife or two. In the Maasai culture, a warrior is considered lazy for having just one.



Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile 
September 25, 2022 
Leica M11 w/APO-SUMMICRON-M 90mm f/2 

Framed 72″x 48″


“A Vere Moai,” known as the Traveling (or Wandering) Moai, stands iconically at the entrance to Ahu Tongariki. The “Traveler “earned its name when it was shipped to Japan in the early ’80s for an exhibition after the Japanese government collaborated to reconstruct the Ahu Tongariki site. Scholars also used the Vere Moai to demonstrate a theory that the Rapa Nui people transported the Moais by rocking them from side to side, thereby walking to their locations.

It is difficult to digest any theory that humans are the creators of these massive objects. The notion that seafaring Polynesians inhabited the island while living in grass huts and, within 500 years, created and moved this Moai, which is 1/10 the size of the largest one found on the island, is a non sequitur.

Main Wall

Rano Raraku, Easter Island, Chile
September 25
, 2022
Leica SL2 w/90-280 f2.8-4 APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 

Archival Framed 84″x 48″


Easter Island, the most remote island in the world, has a mysterious history hidden in plain sight. Questions surrounding the date of human settlement abound — most prominently, the origins of the Moai (large stone carvings of human figures). It is estimated 900 Moai are on the island, many at the extinct volcano named Rano Raraku.

The scale of the unfinished Moai is the answer hiding in plain sight. They challenge the notion that Polynesian settlers with no recorded capacity, reason nor motivation to make such gigantic carvings. Instead, like millions of us, I believe they were drawn to the island by the presence of these mystifying Moai that were abandoned by ancient artisans.

Kirindy Village, Madagascar — December 13, 2022
Guide: Rado Rakotondramanana
Leica M11 w/50 mm f/2 F APO-SUMMICRON

Archival Framed 84″x48″


A pastoral scene near the village of Kirindy in western Madagascar obscures the crisis facing the world’s 4th largest island. At the root of climate change, the slash-and-burn deforestation, compounded by desperate agricultural practices, human activity has brought severe consequences to Madagascar.

The villagers plow their newly claimed land at the base of a Baobab tree. These maternal trees, known as “Mother of The Forest,” stand as majestic survivors of their once-thriving forest.

Morondava, Madagascar — December 12, 2022
Guide: Rado Rakotondramanana
Leica SL2 w/90-280mm f2.8-4 APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 

Framed 94″x 48″ 


A call for paid help went out to surrounding villagers for work at a nearby field. The early morning start allowed a midday reprieve to members of the Sakalava community heading home on L’ Allee des Baobabs near Morondava, Madagascar.

In the 105˚ heat, the last remaining shade of the Baobab trees can be a welcoming sight. Known to the Malagasies as Renala, “Mother of the Forest,” deforestation has spared these giants due to their removal challenge. Today, they are treasured icons — a global tourist attraction on an island facing a severe ecological crisis.


Serengeti, Tanzania — May 31, 2022
Guide: Felix Parmwat
Leica SL2 w/90-280 f2.8-4 APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 

Framed 70″x 48″


In northern Tanzania, the lioness shelters her cubs against the rain squall racing across the plains. With a lion population exceeding 3,000 in the Serengeti National Park, they are the top beneficiary of a food chain that thrives in this vast savanna. Their only threat is human encroachment into their natural habitat.

Back Wall

Seronera, Tanzania — May 31, 2022
Guide: Felix Parmwat
Leica SL2 w/90-280 f2.8-4 APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 

Framed 94″x 48″  


A vast herd of elephants near Seronera, Tanzania, was spotted in between late afternoon storms. At a distance, the 200-plus gathering became unusually agitated — several trumpeting sirens ran out, and the elephants, in mass, turned and rumbled towards the horizon. Soon a stampede of screaming elephants raced across the plains whose congress would not be seen again.

The Maasai guide marveled at the aberration of such an abundant and cautious congregation. Perhaps it was because they were found at the end of a double rainbow.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
May 29, 2022 — Guide: MJ
Leica SL2 w/90-280 f2.8-4 APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 

Framed 70″x 48″ 



Frolicking zebras run and roll in the dust near the water’s edge within the Ngorongoro Crater. A dazzle of zebras chilling nearby tolerates the spunky bathers.

Within the caldera of an extinct volcano created 2.5 million years ago, this isolated setting is often referred to as the new “Garden of Eden.” The rim looming in the background provides a variety of ecosystems well-suited for wildlife and fauna. Contrasting to the migratory highway of the Serengeti Plain, right next door — zebras in the crater have found a year-round booking.

Serengeti, Tanzania — June 4, 2022
Guide: Felix Parmwat
Leica M11 w/75mm Noctilux-M f/1.25

Framed 90″x 48″  $38,880

Near our tented camp, a surprise encounter with the King of the Serengeti. While credited as the top predator, the male lion is rather indifferent to the hunt. His nomadic energy centers more on mating, expanding his pride, and territorial protection. Much of the hunting is relegated to the lioness as the male conserves his energy for procreation and survival. It is said only 10% of male lions reach old age.

In the headlight of the Land Rover, the Lion King paused so that the camera could be activated and held a momentary pose, for my slow hand-held shutter.

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