Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Past and Present colliding

(listening to Glen Gould playing Bach's Goldberg variations)

I am on sabbatical now. A place where I am taking stock of the past and preparing myself for the future.

Some of you may have read the article, journey of an accidental photographer on the last version of my web site and realized that I kind of stumbled into photography via the arts. Just what made me start taking photographs? It was my first trip to India that got me started as an amateur photographer, taking holiday snaps. My interest deepened with the candids that I took at my sister's wedding, enabling me to capture the moments of humor and human interaction. I kind of stumbled along for almost 10 years with holiday snaps and friend's weddings till I started working at The Esplanade. I started taking pictures of my first love, which was dance! I had to but a fast f1.4 lens but that was when I became aware of the art of photography. I left The Esplanade to find that there were people,mainly in the performing arts, who actually thought that my photographic skills were worth money! So started my career as a photographer.

I joined photography on the eve of the digital revolution. With the best intentions, I bought a Hasselblad 503 medium format camera, because that is what professional photographers used. I think such a camera in the previous generation would have lasted 2 decades. However, soon after the Hassie, I reluctantly moved to digital, buying the disastrous Kodak Pro 14N. I sold it a year and a half later and switched from Nikon to Canon. I bought the Canon 1d MK II which I just sold at the end of last year to buy the Canon 5D.

There is no debate on which camera of format is the best for me. I still have 35mm film cameras, my Hassie system and a Sinar 4x5 camera in addition to the 5D. I have also not discarded my x-pan, Lomo LCA or Holga. It all really depends on what I want to shoot and why. As versatile as digital technology is nowadays, film cameras still have an emotive impact that can theoretically be recreated in digital, but is actually harder to achieve than people would admit.

Still, for commercial assignments there is no debate that digital delivers high quality that is easy to use. So a lot of my preparation for my next phase is to ensure that I will be able to perform in the digital age. The challenges I foresee for my commercial work is

1. Managing color. This used to be a choice of film and lab in the film age. Now it falls to the photographer deciding what color space to use, how his equipment reproduces color and how the equipment is calibrated. The most used color space for professional photographers is Adobe RGB. Still I just came across a book completely dedicated to Photoshop LAB color and how manipulations in LAB can produce much better results in some classes of images. And I have not even properly explored the complexities of Adobe RGB...

2. Physical archiving of images. The cheapest solution for younger photographers is to archive work to at least 2 sets of DVDs. Truth to tell, there still is no guarantee to the longevity of DVDs. Personally, I am going to archive to 2 sets of hard drives. I have tried retrieving work before and It is just madness.

3. Cataloging the work. I suspect that many photographers have been like me, archiving the work and perhaps writing down the name of the jobs and DVD number onto an excel spreadsheet or Word table. I will not be surprised to be generating 1 tetrabyte of files a year from now on. Just try keeping track of that in a table and a stack of DVDs. You may just as well throw you old files away. I am going to burn a whole in my pocket and time to bring all my work into a cataloged, graded and keyword applied database. My choice is Iview Media Pro. To initiate me into this world, I have bought The DAM book by Peter Krogh. I am also going to get all my negatives and slides scanned so that I can catalog them properly. I hear that collective groan of photographers going 'Who's got the time and the money?'. Yeah, its a tough pill to swallow, but like your vitamins, its good for you. You can avoid it but you will be a sick photographer for the rest of your life if you don't set the ground work right.

4. The struggle for creative vision and integrity. That is an ongoing one. I think that the one point that photographers in the digital age should take note of is not where digital fails, but where it exels. To me trying to make digital do film is possible but brings less benefits than seeing what digital is good at and pushing it to the limit.

As a photographer who wants to create final product art, I will need to:

1. Learn how to be a digital printer

2. Learn how to maximize the scanner to get the best out of images shot on film

3. Explore new ways to getting my work seen and sold, especially on the internet.

I am glad that I had my break. There is a long road ahead of me, full of challenges. I am a lazy person at heart and would rather things just fell into my lap. :) But I have always risen to the challenges and I will continue to get myself out of bed and find that path to my dreams and visions. And the goals are just reasons to take the journey. It is on the journey I make friends and discover real joy. Once again, I am leaving a safe port, one of a career in wedding photography, and striking out into the unknown of commercial portraiture. This is not a road to financial riches, but it is a road that is good for my soul.


kiampa said...

you know i was really glad when reading this piece to hear about some of the struggles you face with digital processing, archiving and printing. because your work is already of such a high standard but you still want to keeping moving forward, and that's always inspiring.

i'm considering switching over to digital at the end of this year and i'm quite excited by all the new stuff i'm going to have to learn, and i get a sense from what you said that other than the basics, there really isn't a linear learning path to take when doing digital, just better and not-so-good choices. but we can talk about this more in-depth and other stuff in london...

Heng said...

Hi Geoff,

I used to think that university would be the end of my learning life and I would instantly become a useful part of society. I was resentful when I realised that the road to learning does not end. Now I realise that constant learning is the key to constant growth. And in spite of my inherent lethargy, I push the envelope hoping to break new ground. It is in those moments we defy entropy, that we feel the most truly alive. The painful ache in our muscles or brains after the struggle are confirmations of being alive.