NGV 150th


Last week marked the 150th anniversary for National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Happy birthday NGV! Here are a few shots I made during its pARTy weekend. Continue reading NGV 150th


Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land

I read about this exhibition on the paper last Saturday. Ricky Maynard is an indiginous Australian photographer, who made a series of documentary photographs on the reality of Aboriginal community in Tasmania, as well as real history of those people in an attempt to correct the distorted perception and incorrect history created by the European settlers. If you are not familiar with the history of the indiginous people in Australia, let’s just say that when Europeans arrived here, they considered the aboriginal people as an inferior, dying race. They were not treated as euqual humans, their cultures destroyed, killed, removed from their land… you do your homework, there are plenty of resources on this on the internet. Curator Keith Munro and Maynard presented the current exhibition of Maynard’s works at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne today. In the general 1.5-hour presentation they explained the context in which those images were made, how Maynard worked on these projects and what his ideas behind them have been.

It did not hit me till today that there is a very clear distinction between journalistic photography and documentary photography. Maynard, whose profile include studying at the International Centre of Photography as a part of his degree in Documentary Photography, is very clear about what his role is and what his images are supposed to be. He avoides sensational images, which are typical of journalism, but focuses on creating straight images that are references of, or the narratives for, the real events that were not recorded, distorted, lied about, and people outside as well as inside of the indigenous community today do not know the truth of. As a result of this approach, his images are calm, almost having a sense of normality to them, but reading the accompanying text explanation, each is filled with the memory of anger and sadness of the people that he himself is a part of. Anyone interested in documentary photography that is not journalism photography should definitely look at his works and hear him talk about his approach.

Maynard also explains his workflow in terms of how his idea of relationship between the photographer and the subject ought to be. He is against the historical relationship where the photographer is the taker and the subject is the victim, or at least photographer having the superiority and more control over the process of image making. He wants to turn that into an even relationship, where an image is created as a result of agreement and cooperation between the photographer and his ‘participants’. He would spend weeks in a community to build a relationship and proper understanding of their lives. He does not photograph through the eyes of an outsider; he believes that the documentary can be created only through the eyes of an insider. He also discusses his photographic project with the people he wants to photograph, showing the examples of works, so that they are aware of what he is looking for. Eventually his subjects would take their initiative to actively participate, when he photograph.

It was only a brief moment but hearing him talk about his work as photographer and his passion for it, I get the impression that he is a kind person but has a very strong sense of integrity, professionalism and a sense of responsibility. He is aware of the role he is playing which would affect the course of history. He is, just like many other documentary photographers say, a story-teller, and his job is to give the voice to those people, not speaking his ideas about them. He wants to maintain the authenticity and meaning of the content and context he deals with.

I think it is a time consuming process. It is not a sensational, instantaneous effect. The images are record of events, stories, and emotions. But they are quiet records, and it is up to the people who view them to then be encouraged to talk about the issue and make the changes.

Ricky Maynard: Portrait of a Distant Land

Exhibition held till 14 August 2011 (free admission)

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
University of Melbourne
See the website for more details.
Related links:

Ricky Maynard’s profile (National Gallery of Australia website)

Article on this exhition at ArtsHub website

About to rain

stormy sunset - 23 May 2011

I hope you all enjoyed the absolutely beautiful weather on the weekend. I’m glad I captured the beauty of autumn on Saturday (in previous post), because today, on Monday, it’s back to this. It looks like it will be another cooler and partly wet week with minimum just below 10 and top of only about 15 every day this week.

Keep warm everyone. Perhaps it is a good time to stay at home and have some portraits taken with your loved ones. Book me in for the photoshoot now! πŸ™‚

Autumn in Melbourne gardens

I have been watching the trees lining the street outside of my window for the past few days, with their colour of leaves turn from green to yellow, and start to fall on the ground. I decided that it has to be today, that I put an end to being lazy and walk in the park to capture my favourite season of the year.

I lived in Perth in Western Australia for a couple of years. I remember missing this explode of colours. Perth was like summer and hot, and winter and wet, and back to summer again. I travelled from Perth a long way by going up to Broome, Darwin, Ululu and down to Adelaide to find the amazingly beautiful town with its colourful autumn leaves along the river and in the university. It was breath-taking. But we humans do, get used to things we live in…

Parking the car in the gardens just near NGV as usual, I was happy that I decided to skip the regular Saturday grocery shopping and came for a walk! Let me share with you…

autumn in Melbourne Continue reading Autumn in Melbourne gardens

Just the way you are

That was one of my favourites in the college years. I used to hum along to it as Billy Joel sang his romantic message to his (former) wife through my walkman’s headphones. Maybe I love the words so much, but I cannot explain any other way to describe my philosophy towards photograhing people. I just love you just the way you are, and that is what my photography captures.

This post is lots of words, but if you don’t mind it, please read on:

Mixi is a popular Japanese social network site. On the main page after log in, for the past few weeks I always see the same ad on the right hand side. It is an ad of the lip sticks called ‘Rouge Automatique’, with a slider on the side that reminds me of those ’80s big music stereo component and their equaliser sliders. Anyhow, I have problem with this photo, the one that is on my face as I log on every day.

Rouge Automatique εΊƒε‘Š
Mixi γ«γ„γ€γ‚‚θ‘¨η€Ίγ•γ‚Œγ‚‹εΊƒε‘Š

The first word that comes to my mind is ‘ooh, what a fake!’. Sure, MAYBE, she actually looks like this. Maybe she actually has those deep true-blue eyes. If that is the case, I’d say, that is a fake-looking face. In any case, it is quite obvious that this ad was not made for Japan market. You don’t find women with skin tones like her. And you don’t find women with such striking pinkish rouge on, unless you go back to the ’80s when she had a big stereo system in their living room, complete with 10-point sound equaliser sliders. When I saw this oddly placed unfashionable ad, it reminded me of a video I’d seen many times before. It was rather sensational and it was well received in creative world, so you might know this.

I believe it received a number of creative awards. It was not shown in the places I’d lived in, or when I was regularly watching TV any way, and I saw it for the first time in some meeting in an ad agency when I was working there in Singapore. It has a strong brand message, the kind that appeals to the user’s loyalty. But when I see this ad on Mixi, what I remember is the end product of the process, the manufactured face.

It was probably 4-5 years ago, when many of the photos used in printed advertisement were fake. With multiple lighting to create a sense of the place, rather than shooting in a real environment, the image was ‘improved’ heavily on Photoshop, removing irregularity from the skin, hair and shape of the body. It has become more of an issue since they have negative impact on the teenagers with their perception of an ideal adult woman. We adults know that there is no way such a human being could exist or considered ideal, but kids don’t know that yet and they are bombarded with such manufactured extreme images through media.

If you look at ads of automobiles on magazines these days, most, if not all, are manufactured images of cars driving smoothly in an impossible situation. They are products of 3D imaging and the amazing technology in texture graphics. They are there to impress potential shoppers with positive feelings, so that they actually go to the point of sale.

In fashion, perhaps as a rebound from the extreme length it’s once gone to manufacture perfect images, or as a simple change in trends, many images are made in a natural, simple manner. Even in the top fashion magazines, many photos are made with a simple single-lighting set up, and the photos are often used in print with very little modification.

I personally enjoy shooting in a documentary style, so I normally do not modify my images much. One exception would be one time when I was working on a mother-and-child series. The mother came in and said she hasn’t got a make-up on but she wouldn’t worry too much about it. I prefer to keep that mood going on, so we got right into it. Of course I took care in choosing the lighting, but there was a moment where the emotion was visible and I could see the connection between her and her baby. The lighting was not ideal but to me the main thing is capturing the real feeling rather than takng ‘pretty’ pictures. So we pressed on, and it turned out to be a beautiful image. The lighting, however, emphasised the skin texture a bit and made her look more aged than she was. After all, she, just like many women out there, would put a make up on before being out in public, and a photograph, by nature, is something that should be displayed in public, among their other family photos. So I put the image in Photoshop, and assumed the role of the make-up artist. I lightened the wrinkles ever so slightly, and also powdered the spots around her nose. It is just so light and natural, rather than manufacturing something artificial. It looked like she had her make-up on, and others may not notice it from the natural image. I delivered the print in 6″x9″ which is not a small print, and I’m sure she would have noticed the make up that somebody else put on her face, but there was no mention of it. It was me who encouraged to proceed with the shoot right there and then, and it was my job to ensure she doesn’t look older in the frozen memory called photograph.

Any photographer with proper image editing skills can do that much. Controlling the tonal contrast in parts of an image to draw viewers into it more strongly is something photographers are used to doing. But fundamentally, it is about what and how I, the photographer, capture. What I really care about is the integrity in the reality, the real feeling, the real memory at the real place in the history of people I photograph. That is why I normally go to the customer’s house or some place that is familiar to them, dressed up like they normally would, and use the lighting of the location as much as possible, to make photographs that look just like how everyone in the family would remember how they are in that place and the point in time. I photogrpah just a day in life of a family, birthday party, gathering of relatives and friends, to weddings, as well as other, more corporate or creative photographs. If you like to have photographs of your history, your family and friends, just the way you are, please speak to me. I’ll work according to your schedule and location as much as possible.

mother's embrace

Daisy make-up class

Buddha’s Day

Buddha's Day 2011

It’s been pretty cold in Melbourne. A little too early to go into winter, I wish it had stayed in a cool ‘autumn’ for a few more weeks. Saturday started off just like any other day of the week with dark cloud, quiet rain blanketing over the city. I had this event marked on the calendar but half gave up on it seeing how wet it is out there. By the time I finish my rourtine saturday grocery shopping at Victoria Market, it had stopped raining and it was beginning to look like it was going to be sunny for a while. So I parked the car in the gardens, had a cup of coffee at NGV and walked to Fed Square to check out what’s going on. Check out Buddha’s Day, on till tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. Continue reading Buddha’s Day


graffiti artist

Earlier in the same afternoon on Saturday, I came across that laneway opposite David Jones where the City of Melbourne allocated space for graffiti artists. I photographed the graffiti artists at work there before (see this Flickr set). I had about 10 minutes to kill there, so started photographing the aspects that inspire.

graffiti artist

graffiti artist

graffiti artist

graffiti artist

graffiti artist

graffiti artist

I love photographing artists at work. I’m hoping that I get to do a lot of it in the next project…