Thursday, November 30, 2006

A tenacious cold

I thought that the worst of my cold was over last week, but it has lingered on for a while now. My cough does not keep me awake the whole night but does wake me up once in a while. I hear a lot of people have got this bug. I am impatient to get back to health as there is always so much to be done. Unfortunately, I am struggling through the days. Not completely out of it, but not completely in the pink of health. It is true, health is such an important thing in our lives. What use is fame or fortune if one is not healthy enough to enjoy it?

I want to do portraits of a couple of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. I know that I cannot do it with this bug I have as they may get it. Life is hard with a cold that I know that I will recover from. Having cancer is so much more serious. I hope my friend and my friend's wife recover from their cancers. I guess that we all have to be grateful for the miracle of waking up each day. And we have to live each day respectful of the miracle of life.

I wonder why sometimes, there is so much hate, anger and negativity in this world. There are enough things that truly give us physical pain, why do we create more pain with our prejudices and internal anger?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Digital Future

It cannot be denied that the internet is changing our reality. It has a life of its own. For myself I do the following on the internet,

1. I have a website to promote my business
2. I have a couple of blogs for my writing and my latest photos
3. I share my photographs using Flickr
4. I listen to music and watch videos on You Tube
5. I have bought books and camera equipment over the internet
6. I have bought second hand goods off E-bay
7. I listen to Pandora, hoping to learn about new music
8. I use a Yahoo home page as a news aggregator
9. I read forums and surf other photographers web sites and blogs
10. I check up maps on the internet
11. And there are daily living faciliites that I access over the internet
12. It is so obvious that I almost forgot, I use email
13. I am on msn messenger

The internet is changing the way we read news, interact with people, get entertained, learn, work. And the old paradigms of power resting the hands of the few is changing. That is with the old television, radio, newspaper paradigm, what people read, saw and thought rested in the hands of a few editors and moghuls. Although with corporate power, much power still rests with the global corporattions, the informed netizen has a lot more personal choice. The consumer can decide whether or not to listen to the marketing spiel. Companies have to be more transparent as news travels almost instantaneously through the internet. The downside is that lies and scams travel just as fast.

The internet is here to stay, but the information out there is overwhelming. The netizen has to have a critical mind. New was of viewing media means the death of the older media, at least in the way it used to be. So new ways of viewing and charging has to evolve. The internet bubble burst, and there will be other scandals in the future. But there is digital gold to mined by those who can tame the new digital frontier.

Is it a matter of time before the internet becomes concious??

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Pond recommends ColorLab

I have been a customer of Fotohub for longer than my career as a professional photographer. And I have been loyal to them. Unfortunately, they stopped using the Fuji Frontier machines. And the Noritsu machines simply have too large a dot to give realistic skin textures. Evrything just looks plastic. So I am now using Color Lab and recommend that any of my clients wishing to print their photographs go to there too. The details for Color Lab are

Colour Lab Photo Finishing
Address : The Adelphi, 1 Coleman Street #01-11 Singapore 179803
Tel : +65 63382345
Mon - Fri 10am to 7.30pm, Sat 10am to 4.30pm

Castrated Reindeer

Oh for a decent camera phone. But the O2 phone sucks so I don't have pictures for this tale. But perhaps it is better for those of faint heart.

There is a Christmas display at Parkway Parade with Father Christmas and reindeer.
In terms of anatomical accuracy, the reindeer has an anus and testicles, but seems to be dickless. With such attention to anatomical detail, it is hard to believe that such an important part of a male reindeer can be ?forgotten? I can only assume that this is Dickless the Eunuch Reindeer.

What can a castrated reindeer in Singapore mean? All balls and no thrust? Oh pity such a sturdy specimen of male potential, nipped at the bud.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some Home Truths

The Pond has been back up for five months now. And I am glad to say that I have been able to keep the business going. I have taken Bridal work, shot portraits, an annual report, shot a building, shot family work, taught 3 classes at Objectifs. Nothing glamorous really, but the income has been paying the salaries and the bills. I am a dreamer dreaming of the big shoot or a big project. I dream of being a successful commercial photographer as well as an arts photographer. I demand a lot out of myself and my staff. But the key to my survivability is not a defining photographic identity, but a reputation for getting the job done. A minimum lower quality that I can deliver day in, day out, regardless of my personal emotional state. The work that I am doing right now is not going to win me any awards, but it keeps the office running. And that in itself, is a truth.

The complimentary truth is that I am in photography because I love it. And it is easy to loose the soul of image making, when all you do everyday is practical photography. And inspiration does not well up everyday. So each day, I take time to look at other photographers and visual artists work. And I shoot for myself as much as I shoot to earn money. And whether or not I am completely inspired, I keep trying things. Some projects are still born and end up sitting on my proverbial shelf. Some projects start small and take on a life of their own. There is seldom any point of time that I have any clarity in the direction of my personal work, but I just continue to shoot. Trusting that the direction comes from going forwards.

I shoot for only three reasons,
1. Because I love the subject and want to shoot it
2. I can learn something from doing the shoot
3. I am being paid for my professional services

These are the main reasons I shoot. Yes, I do shoot for altruistic purposes like charity, but I do my best to have fun under such circumstances. A win-win situation. But I will not do a shoot if I think that the results do not reach my minimum standards. I will have to be paid an extraordinary amount of money to shoot something which I believe to be substandard.

Basically, to engage in an activity, it has to have a positive direction and hopefully outcome.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Song of India

I am recovering but the cough from an itchy chest forces me awake at hourly intervals. I sit up and look at photographs in a state of stupor.

Here is Song of India by Miki Alcalde.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence - Ryuichi Sakamoto

The Spastic Children's Society is using this piece of music for an advertisement on cerebral palsy. The music brought back a lot of memories for me. And then I found this live performance on youtube.

I wonder how many people remember the film, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto? And if people remember the vocal verison, Forbidden Colors, sung by David Sylvian. I don't know why it was not David Bowie?

All I can say is this is one of the most haunting pieces of music I have ever heard. And it brings back lots of memories for me. Ironic that an advertisment on Cerebral Palsy does this for me.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Long Week

This has been one of the toughest weeks of my life. A couple of weeks ago, I had a stomach bug. That got better and then I caught a chest cold that became apparent to me last Friday. This week I was teaching an intensive course on lighting and decided to lay low over the weekend. I more or less stayed home over last weekend, coughing a bit in the early morning. It was a cold and physically did not feel too bad. But one weekend was not good enough to finish it. Monday was prep day for the course, called Portraits as Visual Drama. The course lasted for 4 days, from Tuesday to today Friday. The first two days were lectures and practical sessions in my studio. The third day was a practical session at MOX. And we had a day of photoshop today. I hardly got any sleep at night this week. Everytime I had slept for a couple of hours, a deep chested cough would wake me up. And even with the able assist of 3 assistants to do the heavy lifting on course, having to give 3 hour lectures with a lungs that felt like they had been sandpapered was tough. There were points today when all I could manage was a squeak.

I wonder if I should have cancelled or postponed the course on Monday. But nine students had signed up, MOX was booked, and Cathay was loaning us equipment for the course. I did not think that not carrying on the course was an option.

Although I have taught basic studio photography before, this was my first intensive. I was pretty pleased with the way the first three days went. On the first day I taught the class basic studio lighting. On the second day I introduced them to advanced techniques like portable lighting, using nets and flags and using an LCD projector to create textures. I even rented a smoke machine and a mirror ball to increase their fun. Then we went to MOX for them to try out lighting in an actual environment. I think it was a real challenge for the students, but in a good way. The students did appreciate the assistants knowledge and help. Thanks, Betty, Anvin and Mark. You three rocked.

I had prepared notes for the photoshop day and knew what I wanted to teach. But there were so many technical hiccups and flaws in my teaching methodology. The first thing was that I asked my students to shoot in RAW. And the Adobe Camera Raw could not open some of the newer raw files. Then the colour of the projectors was not good enough for me to illustrate certain things, like how to reduce the redness in skin. And I tried to introduce my students to the newest digital workflow, including working in Prophoto RGB. I know that in America, the pro photographers are being converted to this workspace, but it may have been overkill for this course.

Anyway, it was an action packed course and I really put my students through a grinder. But they seem to have liked it. There were some amazing shots from my studio that I had never done. Cool. And at MOX, we had some actors and actresses from Fly entertainment to model for the students. And I also got a couple of dancers from The Arts Fission Company. I think the students really loved the dancers Scarlet and Bobby. I think I probably have a few converts to the art of shooting dancers. :)

I also taught them my ideas on the methods of translating a vision into an image. I know that things like this are taught in art school, but photographers rarely talk about it. Photographers seem to be either tech geeks or inspired artists. But I truly believe that having an idea of the elements of translating an idea into an image, will speed up the process.

So the entire course was done and people had a good time in general. I just feel like my lungs were put through the meat grinder a couple of times... But the next time I conduct this course, I hope that I will be well, and I will be more organised in lecturing Photoshop!!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Intern

This was a test video montage that I did using my client's, Charlene and Voon Jiet, bridal images. It was based On The Mood for Love and so I choose the title track from the show for the music.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Shooting amidst everyday life

I have always enjoyed the Lenswork podcasts by Brooks Jensen, editor of Lenswork. I guess its novel. But I want to share this particular podcast, an interview with Chris Anderson, who shot clouds in his spare time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ken Miller on Intelligent Design

This is a two hour video which I sat through. It was very engaging. There is a movement by Christian Fundamentalist who are trying to get creationism, also known as Intelligent Design, to be taught in schools. Ken Miller, a Roman Catholic scientist, is strongly against this. Science has to be based on observable fact and is continuously fine-tuned by new discoveries. The people promoting Intelligent design would stop the scientific questioning and ask people to believe in the supernatural.

Miscellaneous Inspiration

The Internet is a wonderful resource. And having a group of photographic friend's who keep recommending sites is kinda of nice.

Anyway, from Eadwine, I learnt of this really nice commercial photographer, Michael Muller.

And from John Teoh, I was recommend a Magnum photographer, Constantine Manos, poetic take on American Color. Being a commercial photographer, it is not often nowadays that a street photographer catches my eye. However, Manos work has a sense of mystery and tension that is beguiling.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Total Photographer - Mastering your tools

Camera manufacturers would like people to believe that modern cameras are intelligent enough to automate everything for the image maker. This has lead to the illusion that it is the camera that takes the image. So much so that there are people who think that a pro camera is all that is necessary for making engaging images. And I think in terms of taking snapshots, this may be true. In many common everyday situations, a digital camera set onto automatic mode actually produces a decent image. And this has had a direct impact on working photographers. Nowadays, things like covering a small event, or documenting a house for sale can be done by a non-professional. However, I would argue that besides making money, there is no real value in pursuing such work that is mainly documentary in nature. Weddings are events, and given the potential to interpret this event, photographers with vision continue to get work and be paid a premium for their vision.

Anyway, all the great photographers, whether they use a Leica all their lives or use a multitude of equipment, know their tools intimately. And the irony is that the digital revolution has actually made it more important for the working photographer to understand their equipment and editing software. There is a good and bad side to this. The good side is that the photographer has gained much more control over how their images will look. The down side is that they will have to work harder to produce their images.

The digital age has changed the carrier medium for the image, that is from a piece of film to mathematical numbers in some form of electronic memory. But the knowledge a photographer needs to know about aperture size, shutter speed, ISO values, depth of field, the effect of different lenses remain the same. The first step in creative control of an image maker is in understanding the trade-offs between the basic camera settings that are common to both film and digital cameras. For example, I like soft images because in portraits it is usually more flattering to my subjects. I tend to shoot at wider apertures of f2.8 or f4. And when I shoot in low light, I prefer to use high ISOs with more image noise than using flash with a lower ISO. These things are the same for me in both film and digital.

But in the past, once the image is captured onto film, a lab processes the image for me. For my black and white images, I had a professional black and white printer make my prints. I do know that there are professional photographers who make their own prints, but I think that by and large it is for their own personal work. Photographers in general use professional labs with whom they have a close working relationship with.

In Singapore, the amount of creative interpretation I had over my colour film is the choice of colour film. And Singaporean labs, that used minilab printers, the operators tended to produce a unified look to the output prints, regardless of the film. One thing I liked about Chicago is that the lab tried to tailor the output print to the taste of the photographer, including burning and dodging. I had more say over the output of my black and white images, but the overall look was still very much in the hands of my printer.

Today, shooting on digital, I have much more control over how my images look, even the proofs. I can vary the saturation and contrast of a digital image and even burn and dodge colour images to my heart's content. And cleaning up skin blemishes on portraits is much simpler than it ever was. I think that on this score, digital photography has advanced the ability of the photographer as an image maker. However, it means that most working photographers will have to spend much more time on their own images than they used to. They also have a larger technical learning curve as they need to understand how an image sensor works, how to convert a raw file to a working file and how to edit the file and produce a file for printing or delivery. To be fair, film photographers needed to know how their film worked, and how it is processed and the best way of making prints. The thing is that the chemical process for film was basically the same for decades and the difference between one set of chemicals and the next did not vary all that much. But digital file processing and editing keeps changing almost daily. What we learn today becomes obsolete the next day. And even if you are happy with your version of camera and software, you are forced to change because your client or your printer has to follow the constant upgrades that the digital world is going through.

I have said it before and I will say it again. The professional photographer today has to be part computer geek. I believe that there will be digital photo labs that will be willing to process raw files and do edits for working photographers. But I think that it is the photographers who embrace the whole process of digital image making that will be at the forefront. It is for this reason that I have decided to hire a digital assistant in my studio. Someone who is able to do basic file processing and editing to my specifications. But I do intend to take digital image making to another level.

I believe that even if you are an enthusiast of speciality cameras like the Holga, you will most probably scan the negatives and make digital prints of the images. So knowledge of Photoshop will become a basic skill of the working photographer.

I see digital photography doing two things. For the consumers, it makes it easier and easier to take a decent, sharp and well exposed image. For the creative, it is a brave new world, with a steep learning curve. It is a mistake for working photographers to believe that digital cameras are one for one replacements for analog cameras. It would be like saying the computer is a one for one replacement of the typewriter. The creative potential of the digital revolution is astounding, but only if the photographer works his way out of the old analog paradigm.

And have I talked too much about the technical challenges of the creative photographer in the digital age? I don't think so. Following from the preceding entries on The Total Photographer, an image maker needs to have a vision, must know how to conceptualise the image to fit the vision, and have a mastery over the equipment to make the vision a reality. It gets to be a bit of a jaded cliche, but vision without skill is stillborn. Skill without vision is souless. The total photographer has to have both.

Ceasefire Campaign

Dear friends,

I just took an action on the internet calling for a stop to the war in Iraq, and I thought you might be interested…

From the Ceasefire Campaign:

Dear friends,

This week the American people voted overwhelmingly to reject President Bush’s war in Iraq, and yesterday the key architect of the war, US military chief Donald Rumsfeld, announced his resignation. The winds of political change are sweeping the US, and the US-led Coalition in Iraq may -- finally -- be realising that they cannot win the war, and that they lack the legitimacy to bring stability and peace to the country without more help from the international community.

With a newly elected US Congress and a President who is finally in a listening mood, we now have a unique opportunity for a global public outcry to change the course of this disastrous war. It’s the perfect time to act.

To seize this opportunity, we want to place ads in US and UK papers with a new global petition calling upon the Coalition to accept a larger role for the international community and a phased withdrawal of all its troops from Iraq. We’ll publish the number of signatures we get in the ads, so we need AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE to sign the petition in the next 48 hours. Please tell all your friends and family, and sign below:

This is our chance to make sure the pressure of global public opinion is being felt by Coalition governments as they rethink their war in Iraq, pressing them to accept a larger role for the international community and to withdraw their troops.

We know why it’s so important to act. A shocking study released by Johns Hopkins University last month suggested that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in Iraq -- more than anyone thought -- and experts warn that the civil war is about to pass a point of no return. October was the worst month yet for civilian casualties, with death squads moving house to house. The killing could place Iraq alongside Darfur as one of the greatest human catastrophes of our new century.

We must not let that happen. And if we each act quickly this week, we can each play a role in stopping it.

We can reach our goal for this campaign by spreading the word. Please forward this email to as many of your friends and family as you can, and act now to add your voice to this urgent call for action:

This may be our best chance for peace yet. Let’s take it.

With hope,

Ricken, Ben, Rachel, Paul, Tom, Amparo and the Ceasefire Campaign team

Be Still My Heart Lyrics - Silje Nergaard

My heart is not lonely or broken
It's not of ice or of gold
Nor has my heart ever spoken
To me when a love has grown cold
I felt not the faintest flatter
When you brushed my cheek as you passed
Nor will I willingly clutter
My life with these thing that don't last

Be still my heart
My heart be still
Be still my heart
My heart be still

If our eyes should meet then so be it
No need to trouble the heart
That is hidden where no one can free it
Only to tear it apart

Be still my heart (my heart be still)
My heart be still
Be still my heart
My heart be still

Beware, beware
(be still my heart)
to care, to care
(be still my heart)
beware, beware
(be still my heart )
to care, to care
(my heart be still)
beware, beware
(be still my heart)
My heart

oooh aaaa
Be still my heart
My heart be still
Be still my heart (my heart)
My heart be still
Be still my heart
My heart be still

My heart
Be still


My heart
Be still

Friday, November 10, 2006

Response to Diary of a Wedding Photographer

Eadwine from Plushphotography has put down his short history of a Wedding photographer. Well I think that he is vision and I hope that he succeeds both as a photographer and as a businessman.

I met a young wedding photographer recently who asked me if there is a market for Black and White photography. I was a bit taken aback because I do not like the idea of following the market. I told him to find his own vision and create a market for it. When I started taking black and white wedding photographs I did not do it because there was a market for it. I did it because I thought that Black and white images helped me capture the personal interactions at a wedding. I created my own market because clients saw my personal investment in the photography. Now I see Eadwine, Ron and Wan Sheng shooting digitally, sometimes converting their images into black and white, sometimes making de-sautrated images or even keeping the colour and doing something else. They are finding their own visions and I applaud them. They are individuals who are committed to making the best images they can. And for that reason, they can and should command a higher fee. They are not mere technicians, they are professional image makers. Their clients are paying for their talent as well as their photographic skill.

And this is my journey too, to keep pushing the boundaries of my image making. I was once told to learn all the different lighting tecniques so that I would be able to recreate lighting from any International advertisement. I went totally against that idea. I have kept myself interested in visual ideas and been inspired to shoot different things. Nowadays my lighting armoury is sizeable. But this knowledge did not develop in limbo, out of the need to know all lighting styles. It came from visual ideas that demanded that I learn how to light them. I guess that I probably have a smaller lighting armoury than some commercial photographers, but I have a clear idea of how my lighting techniques work and where I can use them.

In short, it is the art that dictates the technique, and not the technique that dicttates the art.

I am glad that there are younger photographers who are committed to their visions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Inside Singapore Dance Theatre

I found my love of dance at the age of twenty when I went to London to study engineering. At the age of thirty I spent a year at London Contemporary Dance School dreaming of being a full-time dancer. But I knew that it was too late for me.

From this love of dance I started taking photographs of dancers. And it was my photographs of dancers that started my career in photography. Although I have taken publicity and archival photographs for Singapore Dance Theatre, I have never had the opportunity to shoot the company in rehearsal. Dance is the most unforgiving performing art. The dancers
train daily, not only going through physically gruelling regimes, but also digging inside to find the soul of their art.

My photographs, stripped of the magic and glamour of the staged performance, hopefully conveys the spirit of the professional dancer. Dancers who daily choose to challenge time and gravity to create beauty with their own bodies.

The exhibition of Inside Singapore Dance Theatre will be on at Citylink Mall from 10 November to the end of December.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Flying Spaghetti Monster

This is an interesting response to the Kansas School Boards decision to allow the theory of intelligent design to be taught along with evolution. This is an alternative theory of creation by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The TragicTruth-Of-Me

Victoria Sims or The TragicTruth-Of-Me is a wonderful image maker by any accounts. What is amazing is that she is nineteen years old and shoots with a canon 350D. I think that she is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

No more Blood

I was surprised by the response to the first 2 installments of Blood of a Thousand. I thought of continuing the series but raising the bar to something more serious. But to take Blood of a Thousand to the next level, would mean a heavy investment literally. The props and staging would be much more complicated and costly. As I was putting together my portfolio, I realised that Blood of a Thousand would not figure in it. I have decided to stop the series because I cannot afford to spend heavy money on a series that will not result in portfolio shots or an exhibition. I mean honestly, I am not a shock horror kind of guy. Nudes and textures, that is much more me. So I know where my personal work is going next. Sorry to dissapoint, but there are a lot of frighteningly good jap movie makers doing choko bloodo. :)