rain

Spring street in rain
Spring street in rain

I lifted the venetian and saw the horses run on the 3rd corner across the street. The commentary from loud speakers and audience raised the volume as the race hit home. As the second race of the day was taking place, I drove my car out of the garage and head into the city. As I feared, the rain started to come down. I did the last minute check of the backup location for the portrait shoot in case of rain, confirmed it is good light and no other major events using the place. I waited while having a late lunch, but I get the message that things were pushing down the schedule a bit. That’s how my backup plan was just a plan that never got used, well, not on this client. I’m sure there will be another one for whom I’ll remember this location scouting.

By the time I got to the venue of today’s main shooting, the rain was becoming more consistent. I sat in the car, watching the rain. Trees and Gothic buidings and faded colours of them all worked for a bit of dreamy feeling. I was thinking of the idea of shooting under a large umbrella – with a flash built under it to bounce within the umbrella – just in case we still have time to make a portrait in the location as originally agreed, even if it is in the rain. My umbrella would be large enough for that. Got a few rubber bands, perhaps.

street parking on a rainy day
street parking on a rainy day

There is a tree just above my car that is parked on the side of street. From time to time, a few large drops of water fall from the branch somewhere, drumming across the windscreen and the roof. Watching the uneven scenary, I wonder this is how impressionists saw things. Or maybe they were under the influence of some substance. Warhol and Basquiat sure would have been under influence, constantly, or they would not make something so totally unusual. Maybe I should venture out more often on a rainy day. I’ll pass on the other sources of inspiration, though.

no pressure

I couldn’t say that I’ve mastered my own process of activating my creative channel when I need it. Say, I want to be able to produce a dozen good images, all based on inspiration. Can that be done? As a professional I would like to be able to say, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ But you hear of the most famous artists, writers, painters, singers, and photographers, talk of the time when something is just not there to be captured. Maybe I need to get back into doing yoga regularly. That would surely open my receptor more evenly.

Anyhow, whatever the case, and I’m not aware of anything in particular, I felt that my creative flow was a bit blocked. When this happens, you can do two things. And I believe these two things should be done in the order as below, not the other way around. First, struggle. Doesn’t matter if you see it or not, as in, whether your mind manages to visualise the image or not (without the visualisation, there could not be any decent photograph, ever), just pull up the camera and shoot whatever faint response you feel you are making to something. Shoot and look. Maybe something IS indeed there, and you can build on it. Maybe the vision starts to become a bit clear, like tuning the tv or radio, where the message starts to appear from the flow of static and gradually you get it clearly. Or maybe, try as you might, you may stay in that haze that never seem to clear. You just keep trying and trying, and you come just a step before saying, “Gee, I now realise I just don’t have it. This is not for me.” then, do the second thing – drop it. When you are going out of that front door, ignore the words repeated in your head “A photographer… always has a camera… just in case something interesting happens unexpectedly. Always has a camera… always…” and venture out without one, even though you feel defenceless, naked.

So that’s what I went through – the first and then the second. But when you let go, and that is why I think yoga is really effective, because it is all about learning to truly let go of it, suddenly it becomes easier. No expectation, no pressure, no blockage, and it just gets back to the square one.

hot summer evening in the city
hot summer evening in the city

It was a hot day, so I waited until the sun started to go down before heading into the city. There was supposed to be a screening of the Hijack2 film, according to the MGA and Berlin Dayz festival. I met again with a couple of people I previously met at MGA earlier in the week, and sure the film was on the big screen in Federation Square, but there was no audio.  It was not that difficult to follow the German side of the story thanks to the subtitles, but I had no idea what the Australian photographers’ works were about. Shame. I hope the organisers put the video online soon as there seem to be some very interesting stuff in there.

sending out the message
sending out the message

As I was passing by the Town Hall, I remember a brief post I saw on one of the SNS communities. I had seen a pair of black towers suddenly appearing opposite the Town Hall a few days ago, with small windows cut out on its transparent panel, but when I saw the post I realised what the black pillars were there for. But I was not planning on photographing this, so I had no tripod on me, no shutter release cable. In the old days of film, you are stuck with whatever ISO you were shooting with earlier in the day, and you just have to find a way to stabilise your camera long enough to capture the motionless objects somehow. I saw a guy to the side of me looking at the same front facade of the Town Hall. He’s well prepared – he’s got a high-visibility vest on, camera on tripod. At least I was wearing something bright, appropriate for shooting on the street after dark – I had a summer-weight cotton pants with cleric style shirt. But there was nothing I could do about the lack of tripod. I made a few shots with very high ISO (don’t we just love what you can do with digital cameras?), and then I down shifted to a very low ISO to look for quality. In the end I was shooting at ISO 200, closed down to about f6.7 or f8, and every time I squeesed my right hand, the shutter was open for a duration that felt like it would never end. There are a couple of techniques I learned long time ago for using surrounding objects in place for tripod. And I managed to make images. This one above, however, is one of those earlier high-ISO photos that just had the timing exactly as I wanted. Some parts may not be clear, etc. but who cares (and you say ‘who cares’ when you know how to let go, so it is a really good sign when a creative person says that!) – the main thing is I got the shot I wanted 🙂

what does a girl want, really
what does a girl want, really

I have been working on the project that deals with subjects in reflection, so looking into the shop window is like my nature now. I just look at the shop window here, a sign there, a car’s dark-coloured and polished body there, keeping my inspiration sensor open to see if anything clicks. But, after dark, there is little reflection as the world ‘behind’ the glass is much brighter. No longer is there another world reflected ‘beyond it’, there is just a world behind it. I noticed a few shop windows for some reasons. I did not spend too much time analyzing what it was that I was feeling. Instantly a few keywords and taglines ran through my head as I saw the image happen in front of me. What do you see in this?

never sleep
never sleep

This is not NY and this is not Tokyo, but walking down the street on a very warm night, it felt like there is so much energy still actively producing more heat in the city. It just doesn’t want to rest.

customer service
customer service

Earlier in the evening my friend and I were sitting in a very popular pizza restaurant, where I was particularly impressed by their friendly and professional service. I worked in many customer-facing jobs from retail to hotel to conventions, and I know a good service when I see one. And for the first time in a long time, I saw a good service in Melbourne. Maybe that is why I responded to this image a few hours later.

presence (playing with Photoshop)
presence (playing with Photoshop)

I did not worry too much about the image. I did not even wait patiently until the girl was in the right place. She was there for a long time and I made a several more shots, but I chose this frame and made something of a classical treatment. In a way, thought, this is what I saw – everything else lost its colour and everyone was turning their head to see the Italian car. The treatment of removing colour like this is a little extreme, I must admit, and to be very frank, I do not like this sort of job, but I do not mind playing with a tool like this, just confirming how to get there, and what I get when I got there.

sequencing
sequencing

So that was pretty much my day. Earlier I had picked up the print from lab and I started playing with these over-sized playing cards. The idea is to do the sequencing, in order to filter out the images that work best as a series, and identify the direction of their treatment before final print, as well as any gap that may have,  meaning more shooting is needed. As much as I’d like to proceed by setting the condition that there would be no more shooting and I am to make the series with the existing images, if something is missing, there is no denying. Yet, considering how early I made a progress in that project, I’d like to think that I’d made a chain of images that work well together. Let’s see what happens…

(Note) It was brought to my attention that there was an issue with displaying some of the images in my last blog post. Now I know what the issue was and I hope this will not happen again. In the mean time, if you see an error such as some images are not visible, please do email me or mention that in the comment for each blog post. It is quite likely you are not the only one wondering what’s going on. Also, I’d love to hear your comments. I know some of my friends are reading this (as you tell me so) but never told me about it. Please know that nothing encourages blog writer more than the readers’ participation. Please click the comment link on the top and start typing now.

sequencing

her
her

I was watching a documentary on a famous documentary photographer James Nachtwey. While I am amazed once again how he connects with the people in hardship and let them slip him inside. He is literally up right in front of their nose when he shoots  on his traditional documentary photographer’s wide angle lens, but the most shocking part in watching how he works is that, although the video does not show the whole thing, he obviously goes through a process of talking to people, meeting people, or, as he describes, sometimes without words, let them accept him, allowing him to photograph because they know he is there for them. Such an art of connection is relevant to any form of photographing people, and I must say I do use a lot when I’m traveling. I don’t want to go on asking everyone for a permission before photographing, but I don’t want to be rude either. So the art is finding that connection, show that I respect them, and make them see that I am seeing something beautiful in them. A bit like convincing a girl to go out for a dinner with you, though I find that one much harder!

Anyhow, ‘sequencing’ appeared in this documentary. My project on the ‘reflection’ series is coming towards the stage where I need to wrap it up. I’m currently getting my test images printed, and next comes the filtering and ordering, or ‘sequencing’. Nachtwey was holding a stack of 4″x6″ prints and putting them on the steel panel with magnet, putting them in order and seeing which ones fit together nicely. I couldn’t say that I am particularly good at this. But with documentary based photography, to which street photography belong, there is not forward planning as to what images you will end up with. So as much as you try to make the strongest images that communicate the theme of your project, they are individual images and not intentionally made so that it would sit nicely within a set.

I saw a very good example today. I drove across town to Monash Gallery of Art where  they are exhibiting some of the images from a Germany-Australia collaboration photography project called ‘Hijacked 2’ and this evening German Anne Lass and Australian Bronek Kozka, who both contribute their images to the project, talked about their images. It was one of those opportunities where I got to hear the thinking process of other image creators and it was enjoyable to see how different those two photographers were. Walking around the room and looking at a few dozen prints on display, I couldn’t help feeling it lacked the integrity. It looked more like a collection of stuff forced into one place but not talking to each other. Then, after all that great talk and questions and answers, I got to see the book that collected all the images from the project, in the sequence they are originally intended. It was actually a very strong series of images by very different photographers. But you could tell the art of sequencing involved by the hands of curator or project director. It was just amazing. I did see some of the images in it, as those were on the wall in front of me. But they just didn’t have half the strength of the images that were in small book but presented in the correct context.

So, that is my task. When my 4″x6″ prints come up on Friday, I’ll be up against the table scratching my head over what is the best way to present them. And inevitably, it would lead to some colour adjustment, etc. which then will be printed again, and possibly final re-print. Mounted, boxed and they will be done.  I don’t yet have a wall covered with the steel panel and magnet. But I’m actually quite tempted by the idea of it… Not sure whether my landlord would be as excited to have an easy-care photo display wall across my living room, though.

Enough talking. Time for some of my street images from this week. I’m getting pretty sick of looking at the reflections all the time (like I was tired of looking up at the sky between buildings in city 6 months ago for the project at the time), so I’m getting back into a bit more ‘straight’ street shooting as well.

last stop
last stop
lights in the dark laneway
lights in the dark laneway
blur in slowness
blur in slowness

Japan Culture Festival – only 10 days away now!

Japan Culture Festival

As I have previously announced, there will be a great event on experiencing Japanese traditional and modern culture. Japan Culture Festival is hosted by ‘Japaneasy’, a Japanese language school in Melbourne and is held on Sunday the 7th of November at Collingwood Town Hall.

According to the update the organiser sent out to the workshop volunteers, there will be quite a few interesting demonstration of Japanese art and culture, some common like tea making and origami, others a bit rare… you come and see!

To make the best of your day, come early just before 11am. On-stage performances start at 11 and each one will be played out only once, I think. During the lunch hour, there will be Japanese food available from the stands, so grab some snack and sit at the seats upstairs, or check out some of the workshop tables. In the afternoon there will be more live performances. Music, dances, fashion, some modern and contemporary, some traditional. I’m already excited.

The parking can be a little tricky, so it is best if you got there by public transport. The Town Hall is just a few steps from Collingwood station.

More information is available on Japaneasy’s site, so be sure to check it out. If you have a kimono that you bought in Japan or was given to you by a friend, put that on to get a free admission, or bring it down and learn from a ‘kitsuke’ (kimono dressing) teacher how to put that on in the future.

I will be walking around the venue photographing as the official photographer for the event, so feel free to stop me for a photo with new friends you made on the day! The photos from the event will be made available via online album on a later day (I will tell you about it on this blog, too!).

busy at one month out

Things have been rather hectic on my end, but hay fever aside, I am still alive and kicking! There have been a few enquiries for my service and responding to them took a little bit more of my time than I thought it would. As you can probably guess from what I say on blog, I am a detail kind of guy and once I start putting a document together, I tend to try to explain as much detail as possible in the most readable manner. While there are things that need to be mentioned to avoid surprises later, it is an opportunity to explain what I recommend and why. Each and every customer has her/his wishes and desires. I would really like to respond to each unique need, so I can satisfy each customer as they deserve. So what i am hoping to do is offering a framework which helps them work out what it is that they want, and give them an idea of how it works out in terms of pricing. I have not so far had a chance to put together the website but we are coming to the stage where it is reasonable to be out there. As for some of you with whom I have already worked with (i.e. I have photographed you), I would really appreciate your kind contribution to testimonials. I would like people to know how it feels to work with me, and I would like to offer exactly that, if not more, to everyone.

While the website is on the drawing board, a couple of projects I’ve been working on are coming to their final stage. It is time to optimise every image towards the target printing environment. Each paper, printer and print size requires the source digital image to be modified accordingly. If the target paper or printer in use is new to me, the test print is required, so that the final print can be adjusted to look exactly as intended. It takes time and require resources, but I believe that extra effort is the difference that viewers appreciate many years later when they come across the photograph. Sending a photograph to a quick print kiosk in the shopping centre is easy and quick. But easy job can only produce easy job quality. Given all the effort made in producing the beautiful images to start with, I would like to follow up with the workflow that ensures that quality at every step of the way. The projects will be finalised in the next fortnight and my prints will be mounted properly on beautiful white window mount board. I am excited to hear how people respond to the final product.

While I’m busy working with printing process, I am also scheduled to be photographing a few events in the next fortnight. I have been going through those jobs in my head and constructing images. It is fun because I would not really know it until the moment I finished shooting. It is not like I’m a producer who conducts every movement of a play on stage; I set a general direction to things as necessary, but I allow for the real life event to take its course, and wait for something exciting to happen before my eyes, for me to capture, frozen on a printed photograph for ever. Before the end of November, when I set off photographing on my travels, I would like to photograph a few more friendly dinner gathering, birthday, casual wedding or event. So if you have anything planned and are interested in having photographs of your natural expressions, please contact me as soon as you can.

Japan – here I come! (and more…)

Japan

The period between the end of the year and the new year is definitely one of the most culturally rich time of the year in Japanese calendar. I remember reading long ago, ‘you see people’s true nature and how they really live in a cold country, if you visited them at the coldest part of the year.’ I love the burning red forests in autumn, around the month of my own birth. I miss the traditional festivals and its takoyaki stand, goldfish-catchers, dances, mikoshi and fireworks in summer. But that uneasy feeling of everyone in town rushing towards wrapping up another year, and the solemn expression on their faces as they welcome the new year, that is something else.

This year I will be in Osaka from early December. For the first time in years I get to join the table on my baby brother’s birthday dinner. I am also photographing some natural-emotion portrait while I’m there. If you, living in Japan, have come across my blog and interested in natural portraits the way I make them, please let me know. Maybe we can arrange a time while I’m there.

Alternatively, if you like me to photograph any particular theme, I would be happy to take on an assignment. I am in a unique position in that I totally understand how locals think and do things, but I live far away from it that I can maintain outsider’s point of view to things. I am still fascinated by the vending machine with tv screen in it playing the coffee drink commercial non-stop! I can take hundreds of photos of those, if that’s what you like me to do 🙂

Also… our friends in Seoul – for the first time in my life, I am planning on visiting your beautiful big city. I have always wanted to. And this time, I’m visiting in the middle of your freezing winter. I have my sub-zero jacket, but I could use some decent winter shoes and warm up from inside with a nice steamboat of kimchi, spam and instant noodle! Your city is good 20 degree colder than Osaka in winter. That is not funny! I haven’t decided the exact dates for my Korea trip, and I have little idea of what I should not miss in my first trip there. So if you have suggestions, please do send them my way. And of course, I should be able to make time for a shoot or two… and my dear friend Loomi has a photo studio with the Korean traditional dress available for rental. Well, it’s all set – all we need is for you to book me in!

If you have any info on events, art/photography exhibitions, orchestra concert (especially if you have a spare ticket for me), etc. please do let me know as I wouldn’t want to miss them 🙂

East Asia – it would be really nice to see you again. And you, my friend, I’m looking forward to seeing you, too!

Luminous Cities

NGV is hosting another interesting looking free exhibition of historical photographs. This time it is collected from NGV’s collection of photographic printed works with themes around city. It is looking pretty interesting, seeing some of the clips they sent out in their email and on their event page.

(image borrowed from NGV newsletter)
(image borrowed from NGV website)
(image borrowed from NGV website)

If you are a NGV member, or if you have a friend who is a member (hint hint!), there is a member-exclusive (can accompany guest) preview on the day before the official opening. I’ve visited other exhibitions on such occasion, and I tell you, it is the best. It is so quiet, and you get to stare at each work for as long as you want until you are satisfied, without anyone pushing past you. Generally at those free exhibitions only people who are really interested in the works are around, but still it is so much better on the member-only day.

The exhibition will be running until next year, but make your way there when you have a chance. I’m sure you’ll want to go back for more, just to take in your favourite piece again and again…

Luminous Cities

NGV International (St Kilda Road), 3rd level Photography room

Member Preview
2-5pm, Thursday 21 October 2010

Exhibition from 22 October 2010 to 13 March 2011

Free admission