Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Memories Of a Life lived

I went to watch Bella Figura by the Nederlands Dance Theatre at the Esplanade. The Nederlands Dance Theatre is always superb and this performance was no exception. But the sad truth is that sometimes one is over-exposed and things lack the edge of something experienced for the first time. Bella Figura by Jiri Kylian and Safe as Houses by Paul Lightfoor and Sol Leon were solid well-crafted dance pieces that left my slightly underwhelmed.

The last piece by Johan Inger, Walking Mad was the eye-opener. Until the performance, I had never heard of Inger before. In the program it said,

Swedish choreographer Johan Inger overwhelmed the press and public alike with Waling Mad. In this 'madcap comedy', he found the perfect balance between pure dance and theatrical effects. Nine dancers parade around a moveable wooden fence which is capable of expanding, collapsing and falling to the ground. In their often clumsy-seeming movements, Inger's trademark, they show a disarming spontaneity and vulnerability.

This was a surrealist piece of choreography. The costume was a bowler hat and coat reminescent of the paintings by Marguritte. The fence was really multi-purpose. The music was Ravel's Bolero and a piece by Arvo Part. Music I knew and loved. Dancers that I had admired ever since I first saw them, on a stage in Singapore. And yet so so fresh and new.

It is wonderful to see something rooted in some well loved idioms, mixed up again to a mind-dizzying experience.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Canon Prograph iPF5000

Canon Prograph iPF5000

Bugger. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I have so much testing of equipment to do that I do not have time to shoot!

And new equipment costs a shitload of money. Man I really have to get an equipment dealership.

But I guess that it is also good that another player is stepping up to bat in the Professional Printer department. It is going to shake things up.

I have no resources to look at this printer. I still have not mastered the Epson 4800. And there are so many burning questions about digital I have to answer.

This digital photography is an evil grind!!!

That storage issue

CD-Roms last two years

I have not really wanted to burn CD-ROMS basically because I am lazy. I want to back up to multiple copies of hard drives. That is, I have decided to back up my files onto 3 copies of hard drives. This article though gives me a little wish to start burning CDs. I have already had instances when some of my past work has been hard to read of CDs. I have to move that work to hard drives, the sooner the better.

I know that hard drives are mechanical and are prone to failure too. But with the amount of stuff I have as a professional photographer, I prefer to back up to drives instead of paying someone money to spend weeks feeding discs to a computer. With 3 copies and a regular hard drive checking schedule, I should be able to maintain my archive.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Photographic Exhibitions

I guess that there are so many things running around in this little brain of mind that even things like putting up another set of photographs up at Citylink can slip my mind. Well, if you have wandered past the 1st 25 images from my Rajasthan trip and liked them, the 2nd set of images are up there now. Thanks to the help of Wan Sheng, Paul Fong and my assistant Betty. Paul put a post of it on his blog. I guess that I was not pretty enough to warrant a frontal picture. Just kidding Paul, :). It is a nice photograph.

But you know what, Terence Tay aka MrSanguine, had an exhibition of fantastic images which he took in Calcutta of aid work up at Basheer's Gallery in Bras Basah Complex. I only caught it last weekend but I am afraid that it is over. But the images are still up on his blog here. I must say that I really enjoy Terence's portrait because of the dignity he gives his subjects. Sometimes it is all too easy to simply exploit the plight of the less fortunate people we meet.

The exhibition is part of the Month of Photography happening now. And there are more solo exhibitions of photographers working in Singapore at Basheer's including one by Joseph Nair of Arty Angst? An aimless blog. I know Joe because he has assisted Wesley and been in my studio before. I have seen his work and it has a raw charm. Definitely someone to look out for.

Joe is not only having a solo show, he is also part of the Shooting Home 2005 exhibition at Epsite. My assistant Betty, has her image fronting the show. Way to go Betty!

Oh, do I have to mention that Henri-Cartier Bresson has an exhibition of early works at The Arts House and Robert Doisneau has an exhibition at Alliance Francaise. You all knew that already didn't you?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Forward Moves

For Steffi, Pour Oliver by Elysa Wendi

For Steffi, Pour Oliver by Elysa Wendi

Never Land by Kuik Swee Boon

Never Land by Kuik Swee Boon

Standing in the middle of our see-saw by Aaron Khek

Standing in the middle of our see-saw by Aaron Khek

I accepted an assignment to shoot for the National Arts Council 2 days after I arrived back in Singapore even though I only officially start work in July. This was because the job was to shoot Forward Moves, a dance showcase of 4 local choreographers. And they are all people I know well. I do not shoot dance very often nowadays because of other job commitments, but it always feels good to be back shooting dance. The lighting and the exposure demands of digital photography made this shoot very difficult. But I always feel like a participant when I am shooting dance.

It is strange. I am so comfortable shooting dance and weddings, but I am determined to shoot portraits. There are inherent limitations to my own vision that I want so badly to overcome. I am always climbing one hill or another. I guess its my nature.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

To return to Actual Day Photography

Lomo Cross Processed

I am surprised that even though I have removed my actual day photographs from my web site, I still regularly get enquiries for actual day photography. I wonder how new brides get hold of the idea that I shoot actual wedding days. I guess that I do get brides who have seen work of couples that I have already shoot.

Why did I leave behind actual day photography? I guess that I felt beholden to clients that hired me to shoot my style of black and white candid photography. Actual day weddings in Singapore do not veer very far from a certain formula. Shooting actual day weddings became humdrum. And I did not feel that I was in the position to push the envelope because of the clients expectations.

And even at the rates that I was charging, what I can earn is a pittance in comparison to what I could earn in commercial photography. You have to be a specialist to shoot in a wedding. You are a hunter, constantly looking for a moment. In cramped flats, with horrendous backlighting and badly lit altars, the actual day photographer has to produce a touch of magic. It is not an easy task. For this unforgiving job, I can command about S$2,500 for a 12 hour day of specialist work. On the other hand I can earn $1000 an hour shooting in an air-conditioned office, adding lighting if I need to and directing my subjects as I need. And I don't have to do any postproduction, I simply do basic processing of my images and burn them onto a CD for my commercial client.

Lomo Cross Processed

I was having coffee with Eadwine today, discussing what would make me come out of retirement to shoot an actual day wedding. Well here it is,

1. I am given full artistic control and can shoot whatever I want in whatever format I choose. I will not shoot table or group shoots unless I agree to before hand. But if it is the usual table shots, no way.

2. My fees for a 10 hour day would be S$15,000. Each extra hour will be charged at S$1000. If the usual table shots and group shots are needed, an extra photographer will be included at $1,000 for the day. If they need a photographer that can capture moments, I would charge an extra $2,000 for someone like Eadwine to shoot as well.

Holga Double exposure

What is the logic behind this package? The logic is that I no longer wish to just document a wedding day. I want to create art. I want to be able to be uninhibited by the cost of the materials I choose to use. I could shoot anything from a phone camera to large format. I can use a lomo and do cross processing, or use a camera which I will be specially converting to shoot infrared photography. I will create a final product which is crafted from actual materials used in the wedding or special art papers. I do not want to be bound by the job of documenting the wedding, but be free to interpret the wedding.

I don't know if anyone is willing to hire me under such terms. But the truth is that I did not become a photographer simply to earn a living. I love photography and want to be the best image-maker that I can be. If the market that I am in does not give me the artistic challenges I seek, then I have to move on. $15K would be cheap for an actual day wedding shoot the way I envision it now. I want to be part of the process from trying out the wedding gown, to helping light the wedding altar and wedding hall to creating a unique interpretation of the wedding.

The bottom line is the freedom for me to create something special.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Speaking Geek or Lost in Transition

I have not abandoned the blog or fallen off the edge of the earth. I am trying to get The Pond up to speed and it ain't pretty. I was offered and interesting prestigious project which I decided to turn down because the problems in my office are driving me to distraction.

And the main issues that I face are computers. I have come to the conclusion that the present day photographer has to be a geek. I kid you not. Just like computers, handphones and even televisions, technology is constantly changing. And honestly, the cost of being a professional photographer is expensive. The equipment has to be ALL replaced in about 3 year cycles, both hardware and software. So what looked like mountains of film that was taken by the traditional film photographers, start to look cost effective when you start considering the cost of equipment and storage costs.

So one has to be a geek. One has to find ways of beating the system. I regularly read DPreview, Rob Galbraith and The Luminous Landscape. I trawl technology web sites and have searches on E-bay. Damn it, if technology is going to dig holes in my pockets, I am going to use technology to make those holes smaller. Going from web site to web site can be a drag. Although you cannot totally trawling some web sites, all the major news web sites, including The Pond :), have RSS feeds. Do yourself a favour, get a RSS aggregator. I use My Yahoo. I have the headlines from DPreview, Rob Galbraith and Luminous Landscape all in one place. I only visit the sites when there are new articles which interests me.

When I was in Chicago, I really liked the fact that all of Paul's music was stored on hard drives and played using itunes. Paul had a mac mini dedicated to playing music through his system. I decided to buy an Apple airport extreme. This little beauty allows me to stream music from itunes on any computer in the office, mac or pc! So I now have a computer in my office with most of my music on it streaming to my hifi system. Sweet. But the computer is in my office and I could be downstairs in the studio shooting or up in my room. What would be nice is a remote control program like timbuktu to control the music server computer. Timbuktu costs S$1,000 for a 10 user license. Luckily I talked to my friend Eadwine about this. He told me about VNC (Virtual Network Computing). This little gem allows me to do remote computing on my network for... FREE! At first I thought that it was only for PCs, but I found that there were MAC versions too. Sweet. Oh yes, I love the fact that itunes is FREE! too!

I am pretty pissed off with Microsoft, cornering the office suite market and then selling bloat ware for an arm and a leg. All I do in my office is basic word processing. I have no need for 99% of the functionality of Word or excel. And the bloody software gets upgraded regularly. Read S$1000 for EACH copy of office I install which has to be upgraded at least once in 3 years. I can skip a version but after 2 versions operating system specific features makes the programs buggy. I switched over to Openoffice. It is a FREE office suite with wordprocessor, spreadsheet, database and presentation software. It has been ported to different platforms including Windows and Mac. And one great feature is that it converts documents to PDFs without needing another costly program like Adobe Acrobat.

There is only one little hiccup with Openoffice. It does not have the equivalent of Outlook, the program that I need for personal information management. I am very happy to use Outlook Express for e-mail, but I need to run an office. What I have now is a couple of versions of Outlook on different computers which I synchronize using Yahoo calendar. And I also use Outlook to synchronize with my O2 PDA phone. Damn, am I going to spend thousands of dollars just for a calendar application??? No I am not. I am shifting over to Time and Chaos It is not free, but at US$45 a copy, I can live with that. What is more, they have a server that has a US$99 subscription so that I can sync all copies of Time and Chaos that I have as well as internet access all over the world. Bye-Bye Microsoft money pit.

Since I have decided to go with Time and Chaos, I have dropped the idea of using online services for project management. However, two free services really caught my eye. They are,
Iteamwork - An online Project management service
Google Spreadsheets - A beta program but an internet spreadsheet that can accept excel and CSV file.

Microsoft is offering an Internet version of Office. It is in Beta at the moment but will probably cost money once the beta is over. My advice is to just give Microsoft the Bird.

Enough Geek... For now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tools of the Digital Warrior

In this digital age, there are a lot of nifty tools and services that you can use. Here are a few things that I found useful while staying for 3 months in Chicago.

Of course there is Blogger on which this blog is written. I am considering the paid blog service typepad because I can index my entries there. But it costs money so I am thinking about it.

When I was in Chicago, I was unable to use the Singnet smtp server and could not send email out from Outlook. I was not interested in using the web based email for 3 months and used smtp.com. This allowed me to send emails from Outlook.

I used MSN Messenger quite a bit to talk to friends all over the world.

For International time and local weather news, I used Yahoo widgets.

I was able to sample a lot of new music with Yahoo Music Videos.

When there was music I really loved, I went to singnet soundbuzz to purchase it. Unfortunately, the selection on singnet soundbuzz is limited.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Back in Singapore

I reached back to Singapore yesterday at 5pm. I am in a jetlagged zombie state, tired but unable to sleep.

With all that I have learnt in the last few months, my mind is reeling. I am overwhelmed with lighting, lenses, cameras, studio management, the road forward. I am not even sure how much I have left in me of myself.

If you ask me how I feel to be back home, I am in a mix of emotions. Happy to be home, wondering what the future will bring. I am much more knowledgeable but not necessarily more knowing.

In truth, I am starting on a clean slate. Although I am still shooting bridal portraits, there is a whole new career in front of me in commercial work. And as much as I have the same office, I will have to overhaul the entire office. As much as I have a vision for the road ahead, I cannot envision the destination.

All I can do is do what I can. And it is ironic that as much as I want to make a living in commercial photography, I need to connect more with myself and find my own motivation to shoot. The truth is all my heroes in photography are successful commercial photographers with distinctive voices, Paul Elledge, Albert Watson, Paolo Roversi, Richard Avedon...

The truth is to make images in spite of commercial pressures and lack of inspiration. The truth is the image. The truth is that the image takes you. All you can do is prepare yourself for it.

I tell this to so many people and I should listen to myself. The best thing for a photographer is to live life well. Here is to living well back here, at home, in Singapore.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Always coming home

My last night in London, a day before I return from a three and a half month trip. Singapore is my home, but this flat in London was where I was reborn. London is where I learnt to be independent, where I broke away from my social programming of being an engineer and spent a year in dance school. This flat was my sanctuary. It also provided me shelter on my way to Chicago and on my way home.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

London Portraits

My brother Leng, in his Earl's Court apartment.

Richard Catherwood. Big issue seller and a searcher of the meaning of life. We always have a good conversation about life when we meet. I always wonder if I will see him again each time I return to London.

Waitress from Hokkaido. Funny, I did not ask her name though.