Thursday, 30 December 2010
We would like to thank all our participants and friends for your support in 2010, and we hope to be able bring more coaching sessions to you, making the process of learning photography fun.
Tomorrow sparks a new dawn of the next decade. For explorenation in 2011, Andy and I are planning a new series of workshops, with Cuba and Rome for the first half of the year.
Just quickly posting this photograph taken at dawn in Pushkar, at the camel festival, during our recent workshop to Rajasthan. I particularly like the mood and the setting of this image and its depiction. These are camel breeders come together once a year to these barren hills outside Pushkar, about 150 kms north of Jaipur, bringing with them over 30,000 animals, camels and horses too, to trade. Pushkar opened my eyes in many ways, to new experiences only gained through the act of travel and being there. No matter how many guide books I read about the festival, it does not really do it justice. I'm sure for those that came along, it was the same for you, a truly extraordinary experience.
Happy New Year!
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Apologies for not having posted for a long while. Since my last post, we have traveled to Rajasthan and back. The group o f participants had a real blast in India, bu there were some rough edges too. India surprises the traveller. Explorenation is planning new and exciting destinations for 2011. Please visit www.explorenation.net for the latest. Cuba is scheduled for June, and there will be a weekend in Rome also.
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
The Istanbul trip was a high, for everyone that came along. Istanbul Edge, the book I had put together with the best selection of photographs from all our participants is a treat, and I must say will be hard to surpass! And we made great friends too.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Having come back from our Istanbul photo workshop for a week now, I am able to contemplate how it all went, and how all 9 of our participants had a wonderful time, photographing in new surroundings. Being in an exotic and photogenic city like Istanbul had been a great catalyst for creativity. The challenge however is to continue photographing creatively at home, in more familiar circumstances. It is often said that one does not need to travel for miles across continents to get good photographs, and yes, there is some truth in that. However, as travel broadens the mind, it also broadens the visual vocabulary within our minds, helped by recognising new and unfamiliar situations, colours, people, architecture and scale.
In 'scale' I mean an imaginary comfort zone of the ability to handle the camera proficiently by the photographer and the subject. ie. how comfortable one is to photographing in public. As a visitor to a foreign city, photographing as a tourist get can you quite far, in terms of approach. A smile, a gentle nod of the head can open doors to wonderful street portraits. The ability to recognise interesting compositions in new cities perhaps comes from typical guide books and postcards. We instinctively see 'postcard' images first because we are familiar with it. Unfortunately, that isn't how it is in our home cities, I usually find. We are often afraid or timid to even hold our spanking new DSLRs out in the open in public let alone find interesting subjects to photograph, for fear of robbery, theft or God forbid, accidentally dropping it!
If one masters the operational aspects of the camera, then the picture taking part becomes easier. Less fiddling, and more shooting.
It usually takes some time, for me, to get into the 'zone'. During our trip, it took me at least 24 hours before I began to see pictures. And another 36 hours to decide on the theme of my 'mini-assignment'.
My eureka moment only came when I was walking back to our hotel alone from the waterfront at 11:30pm on the third evening, shooting the sodium lit streets and monuments with a compact, set to black and white and a high ISO. The streets which were teeming with tourists and locals, traffic and noise, only hours before had turned silent and eerily still. The Hippodrome I was walking on alone, now known as the Sultanahmet Meydani was contructed by Emperor Septimus Severus in AD 203 when the city was called Byzantium. Built as a horse and chariot track for sport and leisure, it was estimated to hold 10,000 spectators along its U-shaped configuration. Now, a soft orange glow lights up the park and garden which stands adjacent to the Blue Mosque, it feels totally surreal to me.
We always set a mini-assignment on our workshops. It helps to focus the mind through a concerted effort on the part of the photographer, to enable creative thinking, story telling and fine editing. All the participants' assignment slideshows can be seen here. I think they all did particularly well, including the few who have literally picked up a digital camera just months ago.
Monday, 4 October 2010
The Young Turks, aka "Edgies" outside the steps leading to the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul. Thank you all for joining Andy and I in Istanbul. We had a fantastic time there sharing an enjoying your company and the raki too. I probably won't eat a kebab for a long while, and the fish at KIYI is most memorable.
Friday, 1 October 2010
I met Salim, a local Turk, fishing off the Galata bridge this morning at 6:30 AM. He is fishing off the bridge along with several other seemingly 'regulars'. The fish, little sprats, they catch is sweet to the taste he told me. From our brief 10 minute conversation, in broken English, hand-gestures and lots of head nodding, I gathered he used to be in the Turkish navy, in the 50's, and had been to Singapore and Beijing during his service.
This was our early morning shoot on Day 2. The group got up at 5:30 AM and left our hotel to photograph dawn breaking from the bridge. It was magical. Photographers often speak of the Golden Hour, which is 1 hour after sunrise and before sunset. The light seemed to change upon every minute we were on the bridge, looking out towards the Bosphorus.
A giant cruise ship, the Queen Victoria had docked across the Beyoglu side Istanbul, and the local ferry boats were spewing out morning commuters from the port every few minutes, disappearing into the narrow streets and alleys, like ants searching for their food. A lone fisherman stood precariously on a heaving floating jetty, bobbing up and down in the huge waves that often crashed along the embankment caused by the ferry boats.
Back on the bridge, we encountered friendly and obliging locals, who allowed us to photograph them. We sampled tea and pastry from the passing vendors that ply its length.
Last night, the review of the group's first day of selected photographs were projected onto a white bed sheet taped up onto Andy's hotel room wall. The word of the weekend is definitely 'edgy' to describe non-cliche, 'experimental' or even accidental images that a few of us had taken. We looked through many tilted horizons, unintentional blurs and raw urban photographs and a few of us discovered that interesting photography doesn't have to be perfectly executed and sharp images all the time.
Thursday, 30 September 2010
Revealing the interiors of the the magnificent Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Basilica is a real challenge, but our participants sailed through their tasks today with flying colours.
We set mini tasks ahead, the first was setting manual exposure controls with an external light meter and judging exposure values and combination manually instead of relying on the built-in meters in our cameras.
The Blue Mosque was already teaming with visitors from all over the world and by 10am the queue of tourists groups circled the huge courtyard as we photographed the amazing minarets and arches within it. The mosque was built on the commission of Sultan Ahmet I in early 1600's and remains one of the most famous in the world, with the interior dome and walls completely tiled with the signature Iznik floral tiles.
It is often said that the reward at the end will test your patience. How true is this. Photographing in crowded places where everyone is aiming their cameras at similar targets only result in repetitive imagery. The challenge is to find that sweet spot where hand, eye and heart unite in an instant to make that special photograph. Try and try, often the moment is elusive. Surprises also come in small and large doses. After spending and hour inside the Blue Mosque and another good hour at the Hagia Sophia, a few of us developed 'shutter fatique', and could shoot no more, including myself.
The results of the group after Day 1 shooting astounded Andy and I. Our Young Turks have surpassed even themselves. And you know who you all are.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
The group has finally assembled at the Garden House hotel in Sultanahmet, despite a few of us having literally to traverse across the world from Asia to be here, and some traveled through Europe by bus and plane for 12 hours due to the Belgian air strike yesterday.
Most fittingly, East meeting West in this magnificent city. The Sultanahmet area is the old part of the City where narrow cobbled streets crisscross in a tightly packed half a square mile, just south of the Blue Mosque and the Haghia Sophia. We are literally a couple of hundred meters from the Hippodrome, the oldest part of Istanbul, built in 230AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Septimus, and made famous by Charlton Heston in the flick Ben Hur racing horse drawn chariots.
The hotel has a shady dining courtyard, and we had our intros over drinks coupled with a make-shift slide show projected onto the off white plastered perimeter wall, to the amusement of the local staff.
Monday, 27 September 2010
Voigtlander Nokton Classic SC 35mm F1.4
I recently purchased a used fine sample from eBay for the M8 and had a street shoot walkabout in the narrow streets of Granada and Malaga in Andalucia. This diminutive lens impressed me with the colour rendition and compact size, the smooth focussing and also the precise aperture clickstops. Its a highly usable lens for street photography.
The moggie picture was taken wide open at F1.4 focussed on it's eyes. Click on the image to enlarge it.
The above bus stop picture was taken in Malaga at noon, at F3.4. The lens is crisp and contrasty, although my sample was a SC, single-coated version.
The view of the Alhambra Palace in Granada was shot through a finely restored Moorish double arch window showing a flat field with virtually no distortion. The plasterwork and windows aren't entirely level as this is a medieval construction, restored over centuries.
Although not intended as a full review of this compact lens, I can totally recommend it as an all round standard lens for the M's.
Monday, 13 September 2010
In 2 weeks time, I will be in spending 5 days in the great city of Istanbul, Turkey along with Andy Craggs and our workshop participants.
I visited Istanbul in 1998, on a 10 day tour which took me to the shores of Gallipoli, where many casualties were taken during WW1 when the British and French army joined by their Australian and Kiwi counterparts fought the Ottoman Turks which failed. This Campaign was made into a movie of the same name and launched the career of a very young fresh actor called Mel Gibson.
I also visited Izmir further south, Ephesus, and Pamukkale, with the amazing white terraces of calcium carbonate cliffs.
I am really looking forward to seeing and photographing Istanbul again, with a fresh eye on things. The city is the literally split up between Europe and Asia, and sits on the tip of the European continent. The busy Bosphorus river is the lifeline of Istanbul as it brought in trade by sea from places as far as China and India during the Ottoman years and also beyond that, when it was the centre of Christianity founded under Emperor Constantine. Not surprising since it was also known as The Second Rome.
Monday, 16 August 2010
I have been meaning to write this topic for a long time now, and finally, I am able to put my thoughts together. This past year, I have been traveling to and from the UK to Malaysia and Singapore, working on photography related projects, namely, the KL Photoawards, in its second year, and Silent Wall, a book project, documenting the Pudu Jail mural.
From this perspective, I have given much thought to how one can make photography work for you, or rather, how to stay relevant to one's own photography. I keep a watch on my friends' Facebook wall updates regularly and notice a pattern of postings that has become slightly predictable. Camera ownership has become saturated amongst social media users, taking the form of cameraphones to high-end Digital SLRs, and sites like flickr and Facebook have become a virtual instant gallery, showcasing one's latest photographic endeavour, seeking feedback, commentary and 'Likes' within minutes of one's postings. The instant sharing capability of photography today with the advent of broadband and mobile technology has, in my opinion dulled the very nature of picture-taking to the detriment of personal expression through fine editing skills. We tend nowadays to post even the mundane, lacklustre, unoriginal compositions and banal contents to provoke response. (Guilty as charged!)
Amidst these plethora of images, I see much repetition, and although they say that 'imitation is the best form of flattery', it does not lend to one's own creativity. People keep telling me "I have nothing to photograph", "There isn't anything worth photographing", "I need to travel to new locations to photograph", " I'm too busy working everyday" can be so easily answered with "What do you want from photography?"
Many newcomers to photography often develop a passion after having thumbed through some exotic travel magazine spread, noticed some great witty advertisement campaign, have seen some peer's successful career in shooting weddings and simply want to jump in, or are simply tech-based, i.e. they have a passion for photographic equipment rather than photography. All are legit forms of entry but none I know entered photography to change the world.
Yes, you read correctly. Change the world. I qualify that by adding, 'change the world through the better understanding of the human condition'. Social photography, is the genre where it all started in the first place. As the camera was invented, photography replaced paintings of the upper classes, and brought a new media to the masses, enabling self-portraits, images of families and workers, to be recorded with much ease and lesser expense. Thus, to cut a long story short, social documentation became documentary photography, with added text, became editorial, news gathering, and only most recently, artistic and fine art photography became prevalent.
My love for the 'act' of photography, that is, the ability to operate the camera to record my surroundings and the people I react with began when I first saw amazing portraits of mercury poisoning sufferers in Minamata by W Eugene Smith in the late 70s.
The above image moved me to no end, and so I thought, I'd too, want to change the world. Having noble intentions is one thing, but having the ability to execute it is another. However, there's always a starting point, and this would, for most people, be their nearest and dearest. I regret I had not sufficiently photographed my own parents, uncles, aunts and cousins whilst I had the chance. I truly regret this. Not just mere casual holiday snaps in Port Dickson or Chinese New Year family portraits, but thought out and planned portraits. It always seemed that the camera is a tool for taking pictures of the 'outside', but never the 'inside'. Family pictures are sacrosanct.
I'd truly recommend any newcomer to set yourself a project to photograph your family members or close friends, just so that you would get into a zone that you are familiar with already without making things more complex than it should be. Once you begin to look at formal portraiture of family from a deeper, aesthetic angle, then the process would become easier venturing further afield.
However, being relevant doesn't mean not experimenting with or sharing new ideas with your fellow practitioners, but understanding one's limitation, knowledge and skills. Aspiration in photography is the linchpin to greater things, whilst execution is the only way to success. For without execution, all great aspirations will not see the light of day.
I find that in photography there's no shortcut. Some might well disagree with this, but I'm being general here. Photography, as in any artform, is an acquired skill, not only in the technical ability to operate equipment, and even guess the correct exposure without a lightmeter! Like the painter and his strokes, it is a learned process. One can only photograph what one knows and recognises. Kind of like the theory of solipsism. The greater one's visual vocabulary, the better one can photographically compose. After all, it is one's mind that 'sees' the image, but the finger operates the shutter release. The camera never takes the picture.
Formulate, not Emulate
Set your sights a little ahead of you. But always move the ahead by the same amount. That way you will make little 'progressive' steps, but progress it will, rather than setting an impossibly difficult goal that you neither have the time or motivation to achieve. I see many photographers strive to be included only within certain 'delineations' of practice, be it salon, weddings, or travel, or whatever genre they appear to be interested in. Why limit one's creativity at an early stage? A fluid but systematic understanding of the photographic processes within all fields of practice is just as important in determining one's stand in using the camera as an image capture tool. I was once told that "A good photographer can and must photograph everything". This saying still hold true. Having a personal style and visual signature however, is the key, like in art. We instantly recognise a Matisse, a Rothko or a Warhol.
Cameras today have simply become too cumbersome, and a burden to most photographers, who seem to liken them as boxes of (clever) tricks rather than picture taking machines. The 'pixel-peepers' who clearly have never printed large format have become the guru's of digital photography amongst their peers through endless on-screen comparisons. They see the pixel but miss the picture.
Saturday, 31 July 2010
"My first camera was a Minolta SR-T101. It came with a 55mm lens, which has a narrower depth of focus and angle of view than the 35mm lenses that many of the other students at the San Francisco Art Institute were using. I couldn't afford a new lens, so I worked with this lens for about a year. It was a good learning experience. You can be sloppy with a wide-angle lens. The 55mm made me very aware of what I was putting in the frame. It was good discipline in learning how to see and compose. The 55mm had very little distortion. If I wanted a close-up picture I stepped up to the subject and if I wanted a wider shot I stepped back. After that first year, when I decided that I was serious about photography, I reluctantly sold the Minolta and got a Nikon F with a 35mm lens. The other students at the school were using a variety of cameras, but the most common were Nikons and Leicas."
Annie Leibovitz At Work, Random House 2008
I have often tried to recall what my first camera was. I think it was a Kodak Instamatic which took 126 cartridge films, and rotating flashcubes. I often looked at the ads in the magazines during the mid 70s in awe, at the latest Nikon Fs, and the magnificent Olympus OM1 cameras and could not understand how SLRs worked. I had no concept of the internal prisms that bend light, and the interchangeable lenses, the multi-patterned metering systems, depth of field previews etc. It was all technically impossible as far as I was concerned. I was happy with my little Instamatic.
My next camera was a Yashica MG1 which was a might good camera! It was a manual focus rangefinder, with metal construction and an electronic leaf shutter. I really loved the way it operated, and was a 'serious' after the plasticky Kodak. I realised that making good clear photographs involved more than just pressing the shutter. You had to focus and set the exposure at the same time. No more Cloudy of Sunny settings. Things were getting technical, like F-stops, with unimaginable numbers, F1.8, 5.6, 11, 16 etc...It made no sense at all, but it felt good. Distance marking on the lens barrel was easy to decipher, but F-Stops?!
Several years later, my father passed me a vintage 1960s Zeiss Ikonta, which had a folding bellows lens and a knurled knob for advancing 120 film. It was a beaut. Everything about it harks back to a time of elegance in design, form and function. Precision built.
It was useless. I could not make a decent photograph with it. In fact, I don't think I ever attempted. The viewfinder had fungus haze. The shutter was inaccurate. I still have it, the Ikonta. It sits longingly on a shelf as a showpiece of what it was once, a picture making machine. The shutter has now frozen due to years of inactivity. The knurled knob is stiff for lack of lubrication, and the rangefinder mechanism is all but jammed.
As far I I'm concerned, these were REAL cameras. The photographer had to work at camera handling, setting exposure and focus in the fly. None of those plastic electronic black boxes manufacturers churned out one a month under a different guise in the mid 80-to 90s. We are so spoilt today. Auto focus, auto exposure, face detection, smile detection, even pet detection!
Friday, 25 June 2010
All these are water under the bridge, so to speak. Just last weekend in June, the Pudu Jail wall on the Jalan Pudu flank was demolished to make way for a road bypass and the rest of the prison is scheduled for demolition soon, to be replaced by another anonymous retail complex. You may wish to follow our readers photos and videos of the demolition here. I foresaw all these some two years ago when the papers reported the redevelopment of the site, and began The Silent Wall book project, documenting the external wall mural piece by piece, with the help of photography enthusiasts Roziah, Joanna, Li-Ling and Jerrica. The book will be published, in one form or another, following the working copy which is also available for sale at Blurb.com, but we are tying up the loose ends and researching into a few more items.
I have also started tweeting, and signing myself up (!) to the 365Project which I'm attempting to document 1 year with photographs on a daily basis. Please do visit and pass your comments.
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
I have not been photographing much over the past month, but intend to this week. Also, am caught up in training to get fit(!) as we will be climbing Mount Kinabalu next month.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
The British weather has been struggling to 'change modes'...Winter into Spring, after all, we are now in March. Officially, Spring begins on the March vernal equinox which falls on the 20th. In Scotland, some parts are still covered in a layer of snow. Down in the South East, the days have been bright but chilly, with day temperatures hovering around 4 - 8C.
I took my nephews to Richmond Park last weekend to cycle. It was a brilliant sunny day but the wind was blowing easterly, hence bitterly cold. There were so many people in the park, running, walking, cycling and just deer gawking. Yes, this is a Royal Park, and was once the hunting ground of the Monarchs. The deer here are protected today, and can be quite fierce, but by and large they leave us humans alone.
I was walking in amongst the trees and photographing the deadwood that so often abounds at this time of year, when the grass is still brown and dried, and the ground is sodden from the recent rain and snow. I love dead wood and trees. I love the texture of wood grain in the low slanting light especially in black and white.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
I set everyone a mini-task, working on Themes as I always do. 'Iconic London' was the theme, and the camera its author. The participants could interpret this as they liked, within the given time frame, location and route. It was certainly a learning experience for a couple of people as they had just bought their cameras, or handle a digital SLR for the first time. Nevertheless, the scene before us offered great opportunities with experimentation, with different focal lengths, shutter speeds and apertures, creating new vistas and effects. As we were in the Westminster area, architecturally grand buildings, fountains, the Thames, and tourists and street performers gave us all the visual fodder for our cameras.
See the result from the group here, I think you'll be impressed.
Friday, 5 February 2010
Last weekend, I was on a road trip to Northern France, in the Region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Only a short 1 hour drive from the Calais tunnel to our destination, a small bed and breakfast in an even smaller hamlet called Heuchin. The period house now run by a British couple Richard and Vanessa deserves special mention.
The Maison de Plumes (House of Feathers) is a charming stand alone bungalow which has 4 distinctly themed rooms based around the 'plumes', and as you can guess, is wildly decorated with extraordinary detail for a b&b. 5-Stars I would say. The courteous hosts also serve up a 5 course 'gourmand' cuisine which is superb.
The snow was still on the ground as we drove towards the coastal resort of Le Touquet. Passing fields and fields of open snow-covered farmland in this stark countryside, I saw hundreds of windfarms generating renewable electricity. This region is known for its strong Westerly winds coming off the English Channel, and how I marvel at the French for utilising this form of clean energy harness. It was a majestic sight to see these giant windmills spinning in the distant horizon, and as you approach right beneath them, the sheer size and scale of each structure simply amazes.
Le Touquet is a quaint little Victorian resort with its magnificent shady tree-lined Boulevards and large mansions, befitting something from a 1960's Californian suburb. On the coastal edge, the town is lined with charming period buildings, mock Tudor-esque designs, steeples, mini-castles, palaces, and Hansel-n-Gretel cottages. All very strange, and a bit Disneyland. We stayed at the Novotel Spa hotel which is right on the water's edge, amidst the sand dunes and wind swept grasses. Basically a 80's prefab concrete box structure, it is nonetheless comfortable, equipped with a sea-water indoor spa pool with panoramic views of the sea.
This is low season for Le Touquet, and its easy to see why. The sea is at its roughest when the wind is blowing, and the high winds blow fine sand all over you, and surely, cannot be good for cars left out for long in the open. It is also freezing cold and wet. About 80% of the accommodation in town is closed or unoccupied. It would be very different here in the summer months. The stretch of open beach in front of the town plays host to windsailing competitions.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
comes to London...
Date: 6th February 2010
Time: 2pm - 6pm
Venue: Amnesty International UK [map]
The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard London, EC2A 3EA
Come spend a Saturday afternoon watching independently made documentaries that will provoke the mind, pique the curiosity and inspire! (Malaysia Boleh!)
Films that will be featured include 'Kayuh' about the 100+ ordinary citizens who cycled the length of Peninsular Malaysia to raise awareness about the plight of the marginalized in Malaysia, 'No Silver Lining' which showcases a 'political wrestling match' in the state of Perak, while another features the revisitation of two singer-songwriters of the 1985 massacre in Memali, Kedah.
After the 'political tsunami' of the 2008 general elections - this latest offering of award winning films from the Freedom Film Fest examine the question of 'Real Change?' -- and will provide those interested in keeping up to date with recent events and developments in Malaysia a chance to find out more through the lens of these Malaysian film makers.
Join us in discussions after each set of films and enjoy the opportunity to connect with others who hope for a better Malaysia. Bring friends and family, all are welcome!
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
Digital Editing Workshop : 9 & 10 January 2010
Photos from the Weekend
We started the weekend workshop photographing Portobello Road market on a freezing cold and snowy Saturday morning, but the session soon warmed up with crunchy croissants and hot black coffee back at ‘class’. By the next day, participants were churning out super A3 prints that were jaw-droppingly gorgeous and highly artistic !
Lightroom is a powerful and intuitive app that is simplistic to use, apart from ‘cataloging’ utility, which got a few confused as to where the original files were kept. I think Mac users outnumbered PCs but Andy’s latest Sony Vaio won the ‘coolest’ gadget prize. Running LR on a 10″ screen is brave. Thanks again to those that had to catch trains and planes, hope you all got home safely in the icy conditions. Well done.http://explorenation.net/2009/12/17/digital-editing-workshop/