MOST OF MY WORK occurred before the digital age of photography.  In the ’70s, photographers classified themselves as amateurs or professionals. The joke was the number of pictures a photographer can get on a roll of 35mm film. The amateur would boast of getting 37 out of a 36 exposure, in contrast — the professional felt lucky to get



Today, everyone is a photographer! The digital world has liberated the gods of serendipity! Images, once restricted by the number of frames on a roll of film, are a dime-a-dozen in the ever-growing megabyte to gigabyte to terabyte storage capacity. Photography chronicles every second of our world today. This intense coverage is a collective consciousness that, I hate to say it, overshadows any single vision with unblinking proficiency and faceless anonymity. 

The good, the bad and the ugly in this collective visual awakening are massive. The global landscape has changed forever with this universal language. Not a single location in the world is spared of a “selfie-maker,” and it makes me wonder what it means to be a photographer when the whole-world is photographing.

I think Andy Warhol got it wrong about the fifteen minutes of fame. For a photographer in today’s word, the fleeting mantle of glory is measured in nano-seconds.

What’s notable, however, is the number of young people embracing photography as their universal form for self-expression. They are tech-savvy; they use it to validate themselves with followers, virtual audiences and fans. After all these years, I realized theirs is not a creative quest but an expression of-the-moment— it’s the illumination of the moment. Powerful as it is, I’m glad I lived in an era that took me years to understand this. 

So with DECADES, I will rediscover the aspiring moments of my 50-year vision quest. I will share them as  blog pages to an excavation of a visual archeology site.

VARANASI SELFIES: I avoided India for 50-years, and when I got there, I fell in love. It was here that I realized that technology has made my pictures obsolete. It was too easy; it was no longer a challenge. This abundance bugged me, and I concluded it was time to make a change. This visual quest, after all, is a vision quest for New Works



The ’70s started my visual odyssey…

John Chao Photography

Everything was fresh, new, exciting, the bliss of innocence, filled with wide-eyed awe. Encounters, whether temporal or spiritual, were transformational. Photography was a dance with light, full of mystical possibilities. Forms converge out of chaos, frozen by the snap of the camera’s eye, a moment in time full of unbridled expectations.

Art Dealer and Collector, Harry Lunn, toying at the International Center of Photography awards banquet in 1981. Considered as the founding father of the fine-art photography market, he championed photography as Art until his death in 1998. 

'80s a decade of defiance...

Photography grew wings but also empowered my sense of independence. The creativity of the infinite began by being present, in-the-moment. The ’80s launched a new path, away from the established formulas of achievement, apart from the entrapment of professional success. 


Two days out from St. John’s, Newfoundland American team rider David Weiss, skips across the Atlantic headed toward Falmouth England. This TAWR (Trans-Atlantic Windsurf Race) in the summer of 1999 was one of two ocean-crossing events organized by the lifestyle magazine I launched in 1993.

'90s a decade of risk

A LEAP, from the cliffs between Torbole and Riva on the northern shores of Lake Garda, Italy. This region of Italy is one of my favorites in the world. The wind breathed with mystical qualities. Exhales to the Padam Plains in the morning and inhales in the afternoon as the surrounding Alps heats up.

The ’90s was a decade that demanded faith, reliance on vision to survive. It was a daily ritual of jumping before knowing where to land. There were challenges of seemingly insurmountable difficulties, yet breathtaking solutions. It was an era of sink-or-swim, the most prolific decade of them all. It was miraculous, memorable, and empowering.

Exit polls came as we flew towards Boston. It was the morning of November 4th, 2003. For what seemed to be an eternity, it was just John Kerry and me in the forward cabin. Kerry ended a call with Bill Clinton, and it sounded like he was taking advice. “Why the hell is he talking to Clinton? They have no interest in having the White House tied up for possibly eight years!” I thought, When we got closer to Boston, more exit-polls came with a lead widening. We sat, immersed in silence, there was nothing to say in the awkward anticipation.

Heat is on for the '00s !

The 2000s was a decade of transformation, the dawning of Aquarius. High-Frequency alchemy, as when water turns to steam. An awakening to force a change. Ambition evaporates into (I hope) mindfulness. The willingness to embrace the unknown becomes the fruit of life.

As the sun sets on the rim of Crater Lake, Oregon, this 2018 moment marks the beginning of a new chapter after 50-years of my vision quest. Angling for serendipitous pictures no longer interested me. Witnessing a rare moment and capturing it with a high megapixel camera is the future.


A CATHARSIS CHINESE SMILE under the shadow of Potala Palace greeted me when  I trekked into Tibet in late 2018. I wanted to understand the dynamics of the Chinese occupation. When the truth comes without words, the affirmation is intoxicating.

'2010s was a decade of Gratitude.

Looking back, it was beyond expectations. It was living in the moment instead of capturing the moment. It’s the flow, a divine dance — simply, it’s finding gratitude.  

1970’s DECADE

DECADE OF ADVENTURE: Fresh and exciting, a decade of innocent encounters, whether temporal or spiritual, all powerful awakenings. A dance of light, faith, and form, converging in time, out of chaos into moments of delight and awe.

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1980’s DECADE

INDULGING DEFIANCE: Photography gave me wings but also a sense of boundless creativity. This was a decade of independence, anti-establishment. It was a decade that avoided entrapment, both stylistic and accomplishment,. an era of exploration and renaissance.

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1990’s DECADE

SINK OR SWIM: The ’90s were filled with risk and perils. A decade of demanding faith and vision. Jumping before knowing where to land. A decade filled with challenges, difficulties and yet breathtaking miracles.

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2000’s DECADE

HEAT’S ON: A decade of transformation. The dawning of the age of Aquarius. Water turning to steam. Fruition from the quest was liberating. It was a decade that exchanged ambition for the magic of the unknown.

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2010’s DECADES

GRATITUDE: A decade beyond expectation. I learned to live in the moment instead of capturing the moment. . . simply, being present to welcome the moment.

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don't kiss goodbye