Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The Queen's Speech 2007

Here in the UK, it has been a long tradition on Christmas Day for gathered families when they have finished tucking in to the turkey to watch the recorded annual Christmas Day speech given by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on TV. It is sort of a ritual for the nation at 3pm sharp. This year, marks the 50th anniversary of this event since the very first television broadcast in 1957, incidentally, coinciding with Malaysia's 50th Independence celebration from British rule.

This year also marks the Palace's coming to grasp with internet technology to issue a simultaneous release of the recorded speech on YouTube.com, which, for those not in the UK, will be able to watch via the world wide web. Kudos to the Palace!

Watch on YouTube : The Queen's Christmas Speech

Don't worry, its only about 7 minutes long.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas

(Click image to enlarge)

I was out walking with the GRD2 the other day in Hyde Park and came across the Winter Wonderland fair that is taking place there. There were so many people with their families and friends. There was an Ice Tent, a Christmas market (selling reindeer hide, sweeties, German sausages, candles, dolls etc), outdoor ice rink, Haunted House ride, carousel and a big ferris wheel, Santa's Grotto, a Pimms Igloo (with free Pimms!), a bungy-dome and more..!

I couldn't find a suitable scene to point my camera at, however. It was visual noise for me at that moment.

I continued walking past the fair and noticed in the hedge along the pathway, there were some small white flowers that were blooming in the shrubbery despite being winter, and they were magnificent. The scene caught my eye immediately and I made a photograph of it. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

GRD 2 : I can see clearly now

I received the GV2 external viewfinder yesterday in the post. I had expected it to turn up much later due to the shortage of accessories from Ricoh UK, however I got an email confirmation from the online retailer a couple of days ago, and things were looking up. So I was delighted when the postman delivered a small padded envelope to my door. Initial impressions are positive, the construction is metal, and similar to the GRD2 body material. It is small and is very compact, and shows a brightline frame corresponding to 28mm field of view (in 35mm jargon). There are 4 small markings within the 28mm brightline indicating a square 1:1 section to aid composition at that setting.

The great thing about the GV2 (unlike the GV1) is that the pop-up flash is still usable, with the flick of a switch on the left side.

Because of my shortsightedness, I prefer to use the external finder to compose my shots, traditionally, so that my eye does not need to change focus off the main scene to the LCD and back again, causing strain and missed opportunities. In addition, I can turn off the LCD display entirely, thus extending battery life.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

GRD 2 : Testing, testing...

18 December 2007

Fairground attraction

I was out walking after a lunch meeting in the West End and came across this colourful carousel in Leicester Square. There is always a funfair in the square in December. It was very cold and so only a couple of horses were filled. I love to photograph fairgrounds, there are so many angles to look at and the hand painted rides are great. I decided to set the GRD2 on 1:1 view and too this shot above. Please click on the image to enlarge.I actually like the square format very much, reminding me of an old Rollei TLR I have on my shelf gathering dust. Some compositions feel 'at home' with this format and I will experiment more.

16 December 2007

(Click on each picture for a larger version)

A dry but very cold (3C) weekend brought me out to the streets of Central London to try out the capabilities of the Ricoh GRD 2, and also it was an excuse to do some Christmas browsing at the stores. I like the gifts they sell at Muji, especially the toys, they are simple and mainly made of wood, which beats the electronic offerings of so many other stores nowadays.

I am quite familiar with the 28mm experience especially in street shots and internal spaces. Focusing is adequate in good light, but I found it to be slightly slow in dark surroundings and outdoors in the night. I had the Focus Assist Light function turned off as I often found this feature to be more annoying than helpful.

Also walked past the Godiva chocolate shop window and had to photograph this enticing display..mmm those that know me know that I love chocolate!

The GRD 2 has a very close focus Macro mode, about 2 cm from the lens. Having downloaded the files on onto my iMac, I noticed that the colour accuracy was very good, much better than the Canon digicams I am used to. Perhaps I use the colourspace setting of Adobe RGB, which is native on my Photoshop application. Adobe RGB space has a wider colour gamut than sRGB space which the majority of digicams use. The other discovery is that the Auto White Balance is again more accurate that Canon digicams in daylight and tungsten environments.

For these outdoor photographs (above and below, and new banner) I was shooting handheld with -1.0EV at 200ISO on Aperture Priority at f3.5. This gave me speeds around 1/15s to 1/25s which I thought was sufficiently fast for steady shots. The above image was taken at Covent Garden Market. The Christmas decorations inside the market is like an ice palace with cool blue lights and icicle chandeliers hanging off the ceiling.

(Click on the each picture to see a larger version)
The photo above show Thomas Schütte's sculpture on the Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square and the Nordic spruce tree which is a gift from the Mayor of Oslo to the British every year for the last 61 years since 1947. It is over 20 metres tall. The gift of the tree by the Norwegians is in gratitude to the British support of Norway during WW2. Carolers sing under the tree every evening in December up to Christmas and it becomes a focal point for tourists during this time of the year. It was very cold this evening, inspite of this, a crowd of over 100 people turned up to greet and sing along with the assembled carolers. Shooting in RAW allows me to adjust the exposure and detail of the image and I applaud Ricoh for opting for the DNG standard of RAW files. This is a universal standard and can be opened in Photoshop without going through proprietory software.

...more later.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Photography by GR. It's GRrrreeat!

I have never really been bowed over by new equipment but from time to time, there appears a bright spark of a camera that catches my eye (and pocket!) This is the recently released Ricoh GR Digital II. From 1999 to 2004 prior to the conversion over to digital, I had been extensively using the original GR1 35mm film camera. The GR1 was a truly pocketable fixed lens 28mm 'point n shoot' consisting a metal alloy body only 25mm thick. The outstanding feature of the GR1 was the superb flat field 28mm f2.8 GR lens which has legendary edge to edge sharpness and Leica-like clarity. In 2006, Ricoh released a digital version of similar built, named the GR Digital with a similar 28mm f2.4. However, because the RAW shot to shot shooting capability was about 13 seconds, it wasn't a viable option to use it to its full potential for the type of photography I was used to.

(I popped by the V&A today and photographed Chihuly's huge glass chandelier in the foyer with the Ricoh, showing excellent detail and low noise.)

The GR Digital II however improves on this performance by cutting this shot to shot interval in RAW mode to about 3 seconds, and the camera has an internal buffer to write the files whilst allowing me to release the shutter immediately after the first shot. The High ISO files are quite film-like also, with noise appearing like film grain and is therefore ideal for high contrast black and white images. With 10MP resolution and a smallish 1/1.8'' sensor, this is an ideal street-shooter's stealth camera, with good depth-of-field. It even has a snap-focus setting to approximately 2.5m preset which improves the shooting lag. This gives me a usable professional digital camera that has the potential quality of RAW adjustments and enlargements should I choose to print large.

Another useful setting is its ability to shoot 3:2 format which is the same as 35mm film format. I cannot get used to the 4:3 format on all digicams yet and I seldom if at all crop my images, tending to frame my images critically as I compose.

I would thoroughly recommend keen enthusiasts among you to consider this camera if you are in the market for a decent digicam. Leave the zooms behind and consider using your feet to compose. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Forgotten Sufferers

I happen to visit Elizabeth Wong's blog recently and read her posting Dec 8 & 9 : Valley of Hope regarding an event this weekend to raise awareness of the Sungei Buloh Leprosy Settlement in Selangor and I quote :

Title: “I Love Valley of Hope” Carnival

Date: 8 - 9 December 2007 (Saturday & Sunday)

Title: “I Love Valley of Hope” Carnival

Venue: Dewan Orang Ramai, Sg. Buloh Leprosy Settlement

Initiated by: Sungai Buloh Settlement Council Organiser : Save Valley of Hope Solidarity Group

Co-organiser: KLSCAH Youth Section, SUARAM, Lost Generation Space Supportive Media: Photo Creator Magazine, Ai FM

VISION: To preserve Sg Buloh Leprosy Settlement as a heritage for mankind


1. Firmly acknowledge the immortality right of living of the lepers patients in Sg Buloh Leprosy Settlement.

2. Introduce the Valley of Hope, educate and create awareness among the public regarding the importance of preserving heritage.

3. Assemble the support and strength of all groups, in corroboration of saving and preserving the Sg Buloh Leprosy Settlement as National Heritage.

Day 1 : 8 Dec 07 (Saturday)

*10am-6pm Photo, Leprosy Settlement History and Flora Exhibition

*9am -12pm Drawing Competition

*1pm -2pm Opening Ceremony

*10am -1pm Movies/Documentaries Sharing

* 2pm-5pm Forum: The Value of Preserving Heritage (Mandarin)

2 days 1 night “I Love Valley of Hope” Youth Camp

Day 2 : 9 Dec 07 (Sunday)

8am-12pm Family Day & Exposure Trip

10am-3pm Photo, Leprosy Settlement History and Flora Exhibition

10am-12pm Movies/Documentaries Sharing

12pm-3pm Cultural Stage Performances

This reminded me of a series of black and white photographs I took entitled Forgotten Sufferers when I visited the centre back in 1999 which formed the topic of submission for the W E Smith Grant for documentary photography, which unfortunately wasn't chosen. However, this series of photographs sparked my enthusiasm and venture into documentary and street photography which led me to publish my first book, Outside Looking In : Kuala Lumpur in 2000.

I photographed the living conditions, the activities and the inmates there during my visit and gotten to know a few of them. It brought me closer to understanding the condition of leprosy and the stigma it still has on sufferers although they are completely cured but disfigured. I learnt that the government funds the operation of the settlement, although the living conditions are pretty dire and basic, the inmates are self-sufficient due to generous donations from the public and social organisations.

Many inmates also grow fruit, vegetables and plant seedlings to supply the local garden centres, earning a small amount of income. Visitors are few save for relations and family members although this particular settlement is a Christian one, there are regular visiting clergy. There is a Muslim settlement adjacent I understand.

The settlement is quite large and set in a clearing which is green and lush with spectacular views of the surrounding hills. It has a local coffee shop where inmates hang out and a small sundry store also. A few inmates get around the area by motorbike or bicycles as they suffer from mobility problems although most suffer from facial and hand disfigurement.

I wish the settlement well and hope the event this weekend will raise the profile and awareness and preservation of this historical settlement and enable more public visits.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Columbia Road Market

Yesterday, despite on the mend from a cold, I ventured out in the frosty air to Columbia Road street market in the East End of London, near Brick Lane to be precise. Columbia Road is an open air street market selling all manners of flowers, shrubs and trees, (yes, trees, young trees to be precise and of course, Christmas trees).

Its famous for its low costs compared to the supermarkets and gardens centres and there's always a bargain to be had, especially nearing packing up time in the mid afternoon. The stall holders shout out their best prices on the top of their voices in competition with their neighbours, and the cacophony of sounds add to the charm of the market.

Around the market there are wonderful gift shops and stalls selling art, decorative accessories, kitchen stuff, cools stuff and food.

Cupcakes.. they are everywhere I read..

There are pubs and buskers and full of tourists with cameras. Its a bustling area not unlike Portobello Road, but more East End, and definitely worth a visit.

This is a shop selling fresh olives and olive oil with free tasting too! I tried some Colchester oysters round the corner from here. They were fresh and tasty but a bit small. At £1.50 a pop, it was reasonable I thought.

The market is only open on weekend mornings and run till around 3pm, nevertheless it does attract the crowds to this little section of East London. Brick Lane is also a short walk away and that is another enclave of trend (and Indian food) to be reported on another weekend.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Autumnal hues

The northern hemisphere is experiencing autumn (or fall) and London is no exception. The British climate is a maritime one and therefore isn't as harsh in winter as in the US, occasionally the continental anticyclone systems do drift far enough eastwards and we get Siberia-like winter.

London in the autumn is my favorite season, due to the wonderful colours of the trees, the crisp chilly air and clear blue skies, like in the photo above. However, the drawback is that the sun sets early, about 4:30pm and darkness falls by 5pm. Photographically speaking, the bright sunshine and low sun makes for long drawn shadows (when the sun is out, that is!) which makes nice abstract images if one cares to look around. I intend to grab some Christmas shoppers and street scenes in this light soon. There is a seasonal ice rink installed by the Science Museum grounds in South Kensington with pretty Christmas lights illuminating skaters, which I might go take a peek one day!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

In solidarity with the Yellow March today

Saturday 10th November is the day when thousands of ordinary citizens of Malaysia are gathering for a peaceful march in Kuala Lumpur to present a petition to the King to establish free, clean and fair elections. Somehow, I figure the event will be thwarted by the police and FRU men, on the basis that the march is illegal as no permit had been given. The organisers, BERSIH thinks otherwise and have organised watchers throughout the march. I shall be there in spirit.

Let's hope the yellow march won't turn into a sea of red, and a successful outcome for all concerned citizens.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Hello from Penang..!

Managed to grab a couple of days in Penang after the book launch and press interviews in KL last week. It was a pleasant change to congested KL, although Penang is not exactly car-free either.

Did you know we have our own Malaysian Baywatch tower in Batu Ferringi! Complete with polo-shirt donned lifeguards with binoculars, but no Hasselhof or Pam Anderson lookalikes sadly.

Impressive isn't it! Why they name it Baywatch I really don't know, Ferringi Beach is not a bay as far as I know. I delivered some books to Teresa at Edelweiss Cafe in Lebuh Armenian, in Georgetown for her to distribute to several friends and tasted her top hats (below) which was a pleasant change from KL mamak stall food which I was eating the whole of last week! Do pay her a visit, for her German bratwurst and Swiss cheese fondue dishes!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

MALAYSIANS : Official Launch and Exhibition

Dear friends, the official launch of MALAYSIANS took place on Tuesday 23rd October at The Bijan Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, officiated by Her Royal Highness Raja Puan Besar of Perak, Tuanku Zara Salim. Despite the forecast of rain, it stayed dry and we had a successful event.

A 5-piece gamelan orchestra played soothing sounds in the background, whilst guests browsed and chatted amongst themselves.

Rachel, the subject of our 'cover' was hounded by the press photographers too, posing with the mock-cover of the book which was unveiled from a 'ketupat' casing by Tuanku Zara earlier.

All in all, we had about 100 guests including the media crew. Thanks to Selena of The Bijan for presenting the venue so well and producing a superb canapes menu. The honey calamansi juice was a treat!

I would sincerely like to thank all our guests, family and friends who came along to lend their support, and hope that you will enjoy the book as much as we have in producing it.

We have set up a small exhibition of photographs from the book, at the the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from 24th to 28th (Sunday) October on Level 3, and Haliza and I will be present to meet visitors and sign books also. Margy my wife is helping out in manning the stand, bless her. Hope to see you there!

Friday, 19 October 2007

The long wait is over!

I am happy to announce that MALAYSIANS is finally bound and printed and will be available at MPH stores, Borders and Kinokuniya from early next week. Overseas orders can be placed directly from the this link priced at RM149 or equivalent, plus postage and packing.There will be an official book launch event on the 23rd October plus an exhibition of selected portraits at KL Convention Centre from 24th - 28th October from 11 - 4 pm daily.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Japan in Widescreen Pt.4

Goodbye Tokyo, Hello Kitty!
I am posting this in Narita Airport, at the free Yahoo Cafe. I have no photos to post as I am using the cafe's terminals (Window's based). No coffee served but only PC stations overlooking the control tower of the airport. I got here in good time from Shibuya by the Airport Limousine coach service, which took slightly over an hour. Pickup was handled efficiently at the Cerulean Tower Hotel at 0810 am and arrived at the airport a little past 1000.
Yesterday, I visited the Tokyo Museum of Photography at Ebisu Gardens, a bit disappointed with the displays, but I managed to chat to a couple of Sisters of Mercy nuns promoting books and items from Mother Theresa's charity cause at the center. I then ventured on to Ginza and will post some pictures later.
On the way back on the subway, I heard some English words muttered in a Singaporean accent from a woman chatting next to me and asked if she was Singaporean, so I guessed right. (Hi Danielle and Shinji!) If you are a non-native speaker here in Japan, English words are unfiltered from your consciousness, and goes straight into your head. My ears are thus 'tuned in' to the English frequency all the time. My head was spinning a bit before, having spent a good hour in the loud-blaring, audio visual assault-filled BIC Camera store in Ginza. 7 floors of the latest high-tech plasma TVs, cameras, video and everything electric you can think of. Computers, PDAs, phones you name it its here or not invented yet. Oops, got to go, my gate beckons....

Monday, 15 October 2007

Japan in Widescreen Pt.3

Today, I decided to venture out further than my area of Shibuya. Although Shibuya has everything to offer a visitor, departmental stores, food, shopping, sights, and people, 2 stops away on the JR rail network took me north to Shinjuku, one of the most vibrant spots in Tokyo day or night. Lost In Translation, the movie was filmed primarily in both these areas.

I passed by Hachiko Square again, so I took a snap (for you Luz) of the Akita.

The ride to Shinjuku costs 150 yen (about £0.70) and takes a few minutes. It is purportedly the world's busiest railway station, combining 4 separate stations serving several main lines in, out and around Tokyo, plus the Narita Airport express train. Above the main station are shopping malls, foodcourts and offices. Its a monster to most of us but the Japanese thrive on railway stations, everything centres around stations, they rely on this (very) efficient and relatively cheap form of transportation to get to work.

For you Hello Kitty fans out there, here's a photo of a Hello Kitty stall in the station, selling Hello Kitty cakes and merchandise!

I walked and walked and walked all over Shinjuku today, visiting Isetan and the Takeshimaya stores and I gathered the Japanese love designer goods. Its really quite astounding to see so many well dressed locals. The only other city I can compare to Tokyo where the locals really dress well is Paris. I feel that the French and the Japanese are really quite simple, in their love for food, fashion and style.

I am slowly getting the hang of using the train now in my second day. Figuring out the route still takes a bit of time as there are so many stations and lines. A lot of people fall asleep on the subway, perhaps its the long hours they put in or they live a long distance away.

I am so glad that my hotel has free broadband connection so that I can update this blog daily. I hope to visit some museums tomorrow as most are closed today, a Monday.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Japan in Widescreen Pt.2


I left Sagamihara this morning headed for Tokyo, with my assigned interpreter Ken Nakanishi, who was very kind to be my 'guide' for the day, which, being Sunday means no work for him. Kenji Mukasa from the City Hall surprised us by seeing us off at the Hashimoto Station in Sagamihara. It was a bit of a moment then, as we had been communicating early on back in June with his first email, but as he spoke no English, it was Ken who was responding for Kenji in his emails to me. Strange situation, but then came good, and now I am departing Sagamihara, not having really had the opportunity to speak directly with him. I feel really grateful to him.

The train ride to Tokyo Shibuya Station where I will be staying took around 50 minutes only, and this is not the Shinkansen, or bullet train. Its a normal commuter fare. Shibuya, however is another world. The station is a huge complex combining the subway, rail,a bus station and shopping and retail all in one. Its high-tech and crawling with trendy Tokyo-ites.

Its also on the doorstep to Shinjuku, one stop away, which, apparently is has the world's largest railway station, department stores like Takeshimaya, Isetan and Tokyu Hands.

Shibuya, however, has Hachiko Square, a little memorial to Hachiko, a dog whose endearing story goes like this. This faithful Akita dog waited everyday for his master's return from work for 7 years at the same spot after his master had died.

Shibuya also has the famous street junction crossroad where hundreds of people gather on 4 sides of the intersection and cross at the same time. You have probably seen this in travel documentaries, ads and movies like Fast and Furious. Its a real sight. We went up to the Starbucks on one side of the intersection and watch from a cool first floor vantage point, whilst sipping green tea frappucino. Yes, green tea.

Friday, 12 October 2007


The weathergirl on NHK television says its fine for the weekend, so its fine. The temperature is still pleasant, around 22 - 24C during the day, and 18C at night. At least there is no rain forecast. Yesterday, Otsuka took me to the venue of the exhibition, and there was a team of personnel there setting up, measuring and banging nails into the panels. The gallery is quite large and they have sectioned off about 25 m for 20 of my framed pictures. They are also showing Hiroshi Watanabe's brilliant collection of portraits from an Ecuadorian mental hospital titled 'I See Angels Everyday'. Hiroshi lives in LA, and is the Grand Prize Winner.

This photo below shows Mitsuhiro Otsuka (L) (who represents the Civic Engagement Promotion Dept) who collected me from the airport and Kenji Mukasa from the Cultural and International Relations Division, who contacted me orginally.

I am to give a short 1 minute speech at the reception and award ceremony tomorrow when the City Mayor, Toshio Kayama will be present. Yikes! I'm not one for speeches, preferring pictures instead of words, but I think I'll get by. At least I am promised an interpreter. More later....

Japan in Widescreen Pt.1

This is my first ever trip to Japan and although I wanted to blog about reason I am here, I cannot leave out the senses and taste in particular, when I am surrounded by new experiences, sights, sounds and smells. One thing's for sure, the Japanese are extremely polite and helpful. Now, there's something we Malaysians can learn from, especially in departmental stores. Do you know they have recycling bins in shopping centres, and airports, and the Japanese love vending machines, and the streets are spotlessly clean. I also love it when chauffeurs and taxis drives wear white gloves, its so formal and...nice. Now, why can't KL taxis drivers...no, stop it..that would be a sight for sore eyes..

Its also a very contrasting country, like this photograph :

and this, I grabbed this (below) near the Hashimoto Railway Station in Sagamihara City, so practical to ferry school kids around in converted shopping trolleys. Now, why can't London schools...no, nevermind.

Now, I really like Japanese food. I am spoilt for choice here. Every corner, there's a sushi bar, or noodle house, and its actually quite cheap, compared to the UK. £2:00 to £5:00 buys you a bento box lunch or tempura set. Even 7 Eleven's sell bento sets and sushi, so one won't go hungry here.