Friday, December 29, 2006

Geek Rules!!

One learns from adversity. Like Rocky Balboa says, No pain, No gain.

In the recent digital troubles that I have had, I managed to turn a PC computer into a print server. Previously, my D-Link router had a print server, but only two of the pcs could access it. The new netgear router I bought does not have a print server. But using one pc to be the print serve has allowed all the computers in the office to print through it, Macs and PCs. So I learnt something new. Amongst all this learning, I found that firewalls, although important for keeping your computers safe from outside intruders, are the number one cause of communications not working.

When buying my new modem router from South Asia Computing, the salesman told me that the modems and routers do not last long if switched on 24/7. I should switch them off when not in use. I have been changing my router and modem like once a year. Now it gets switched off when the office is not in use, maybe it will last me a couple of years.

I have a PC that was used by the office manager. It was a made to order box from Sim Lim. It has been unstable for years. I got the power supply and graphics card changed but the computer still mysteriously rebooted once in a while. So I got the office manager a Dell which works well as is not the office print server. But the old computer is not a complete waste. I installed it with an extra drive that has been suspect as well. I put in the newest version of itunes and made a copy of all my music from my mac. I now have a music server in my room in my parent's home. :)
I am typing this entry on this relatively unreliable machine while listening to world music. It does not hurt me if the computer dies in the middle of unessential work. But it has behaved quite well so far.

As a photographer I have a huge amount of digital data. I bought enclosures that house 4 drives and connect by firewire to workstations I have. To be safe, I keep 2 copies of each set of information. My poor assistants spent a lot of time copying files from the workstation to one drive and then the second. I just found out that the Macs have can do Raid 1. This is where two drives are made to have the same information automatically. If one drive dies, that drive is replaced and the information is once again copied to 2 drives. By using the built in Raid 1 of the Mac OS X, I have made the assistant's job easier, and my digital files safer. The cost of this, free. And soon, I will have one copy of the information that will be kept off site.

As cool as these firewire boxes are, I will be switching soon to these Network Attached storage boxes by Infrant, the ReadyNAS NV+. These boxes have hardware Raid 5 and by being networked attached are accessible by all the computers in the office network. With this pronouncement, I officially admit that I am a geek. Eek! Well, if you understand what I just wrote, you are a geek too!

Here is another a couple of freebies I find useful. I shoot tethered to a computer. It used to be a Sony Vaio and now I have a Mac book Pro. It is nice to have the captured files on the shoot computer copied to an attached USB drive. (Yes, I am giasu, but I rather think of it as being professional.) But managing the copying of files from the shoot computer to a folder is tedious. There are free, yes free programs, that can sync the contents of 2 folders. On the PC, the program is called sync toy, made by Microsoft no less. On the Mac, there is a program called Filesync that does it. Whenever there is a break in the shoot, we get the sync programs to makesure that new files are copied to the external drive.

Ok. Enough. Geek Rules!!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Digital Trauma

I am so glad for the lull in work. I was expecting a really laid back Christmas holiday season but it was not meant to be.

A couple of weeks back my O2 XDA died on me. It was just dead. Trying to keep in contact and organised, I decided to buy an O2 Atom exec. I wanted the built in wi-fi. Dang, the Atom Exec started working up, and had to be put into the service centre for 3 days. :( In the mean time I went and got a cheap Nokia without a camera. I had to get it anyway because I have reservists end of January and I need a phone without camera. But I had to sync all my information from my laptop to my Atom a couple of times this week. I also sent in my old PDA to find out what happened to it.

Then my DVD player has been acting up for several months now. I went and bought a lens cleaner and it did not help. I brought the DVD player down to the service centre and was told that it would cost $40 for any servicing done. I decided to go buy a new DVD player, a Philips one, for $89. The cost between servicing and new things does not make sense nowadays. The best part is that when I got back with the new DVD player, the tray would not open. I had to go back to the shop to get a one to one exchange. What a waste of time.

Then my network router and modem decided to die on me. This is happening about once a year. I decided to buy an all in one from Netgear. The Linksys and D-Link equipment that I have bought before was really not user friendly. I bought a ADSL modem, router and wireless set at Funan. The salesman told me that all the boxes are about the same and we should not have the boxes on 24/7, they overheat and get spoilt. :( Wow, the high standard of workmanship nowadays is astounding.

Anyway, I got the Netgear box back to the office and it took me a couple of hours to set it up. It could have been much faster if the ease set-up wizard had not kept detecting the wrong settings for the ADSL service. I kept ending up at a page to enter a fixed ip address. I rang up Singtel and the only help I got was that Singtel does not have fixe ip addresses. Ahhh... yeah... thank you very much. And once the easy setup wizard started going I kept getting back to it in spite of the many things I tried. But I finally found the button to let me configure the Router manually, it took me all of 5 minutes. The easy setup wizard took me an hour and a half and got me nowhere. And yes, the Netgear Service Centre number for Singapore simply does not work.

I now have the internet and office network back up and working. My old D-link router used to have a print server. The new one from netgear does not. I wanted to buy an add on network print server, but was dissuaded by the salesman in Funan. He told me that in 90% of cases, there were issues and he does not want to be responsible if it did not work in my office. I understand where he is coming from. I have now got to find a way to share the printer in my office.

And with all this configuration and crazy stuff going on, the internet is hammered by the loss of undersea cables in Taiwan. I just cannot get the information I need. :(

Man, I need a holiday from my holiday.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Season's Greetings

xmas card 2006

This has been a challenging and rewarding year for me. So many things happening, some difficult, mostly good learning experiences.

My wish is that there will be less war and atrocities in the world. People will take positive action to save our world from global warming, super bugs and tyrants (incluing George Bush).

How is it in this world are so intelligent but so unwise? How is it that religions that should be promoting love, can cause so much hate? If there is one truth, why can't people agree on it instead of fighting one another? Why is the road to hell paved with good intentions?

I know very little and believe in even less. This much I know, I treat the people I meet with respect. I have to always act to keep my conscience clear. As much as my entire life is about photography, I will not abuse people or trust to get ahead. As mush as I use emotion to create my work, I will not suspend reason.

I know that I am fallible, but I am not a sinner. If I am going to hell, for what? For trying to treat the people around me well? For trying to love my fellow human beings? For wanting to be the best photographer I can be?

This season I celebrate life and humanity. I wish goodwill to everyone. Please don't pray for my soul, I will be fine. Hell is here on this earth, caused by our own ignorance, prejudice and our willingness to suspend reason.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Income Gap in Singapore

Monday December 18, 9:05 PM
Income gap tears at Singapore social fabric
By Geert De Clercq

SINGAPORE, Dec 18 (Reuters) - When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she'd give him a piece of her mind.

She called him "one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country" on her own blog and signed off with "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim -- an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's constituency -- told a Singapore newspaper that "her basic point is reasonable", the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

"Coming from an MP in the prime minister's constituency, these comments really were political dynamite," political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters.

"If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground," he added.

Singapore is Asia's second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

Singapore's Gini index -- which measures inequality of income distribution among households -- of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

"Yes, the gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages," National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.


Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidised and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

Last month, Singapore's first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

"We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers' Party, has called for a 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system'. I think that is an even dirtier five words," he said in a speech on Nov. 13.

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to "tilt the balance in favour of the lower-income groups".

While Lee's ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament -- where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats -- the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers' Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

"They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don't do anything about the income gap," Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more "workfare" schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers' pay.

On May 1 -- five days before the election -- the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.


Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger's comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that's out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about "elite envy", the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $$10,000 ($6,500) a month, while such families make up just 13 per cent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical website, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

"The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes," he said.

The Photographic Pecking Line - Where's my whip?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A good three Days of photography

I have been plodding along with my career in photography and trying to bring to life my own visions. Every shoot seems like a battle for me, trying to connect with an inner vision and bringing that vision to life. But for three days, with hard work and a good team behind me, my photography was fruitful. On a Sunday, my hard work with shooting the Singapore Dance Theatre paid off as Robert and Alexa came to my studio for a session of dance shots. Not everything worked but there were some great shots. I am looking forward to more dancers from Singapore Dance Theatre playing shapes with me.

TNH_061203_0580 bw copy.jpg

Then on Monday, I did a model test shoot for a Phantom model, Savannah. It was the first time I was using my new profoto portable lights. It was also my first time shooting a poolside Bikini shot. I had an idea of what I wanted but I have never done anything like this before. And once again some things worked and some things could have been done better. But the things that worked were wonderful.

TNH_061204_0825 copy

Then on the third day, Tuesday, my student Lisa Eagles, from my Portraits as Visual drama came to model for me for a figure session. I asked her to bring her children along and we got some nice figure work with her son and daughter. Then I changed the lighting and did some abstract poses and her body was simply amazing. She has a very angular body and she does yoga. I have seen a lot of figure photography before and I always have this feeling that what I have done has been done before. But some of Lisa's photos are truly different.

TNH_061205_1300 bw sq copy

I am so happy when I am creating interesting images. At this point time I feel that I have become competent as a photographer. I am still following in the footsteps of giants. But I am happy that my work is beginning to have the look and feel of the photographers that inspire me. I hope that in my constant practise, I will finally do some work that is original and unique.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Total Photographer - Putting it all together

TNH_061203_0674 bw sq copy.jpg

Some well meaning people have told me that I should get a proper job and do photography in the spare time. I am told that I should be 'practical' and think of my future. And even those who do not oppose my career in photography, would question what type of photography I do. I should not do all that worthless art photography but do something like shoot portraits for school children as it will make money. I think that if I wanted to be practical and have a relatively safe way of making a decent income, I would have stuck to engineering.

I am in photography because I like to take dramatic, artistic portraits. I did not pursue photography to shoot events or even weddings for that matter. In my pursuit of my own version of portrait photography, I have learnt skills that enable me to earn a living from shooting commercial portraits. And yes, I shoot wedding work to pay the bills. It is not a bad way of earning a living. But for a couple of years, wedding photography took over my life and made me unhappy. Not because the work was bad, I was fortunate to have nice clients, but I simply was unable to create the work I want to create. I worked like a dog and had no energy to do personal work. It felt like a part of me had died.

However, I have a fair amount of photographic equipment and 3 staff in my office. None of this is free. I have to pay salaries and pay for my equipment. To pursue my passion, I have to fund the studio. The margins in weddings is too low. I have proven that I could make a viable business in the wedding field, but it was a grind. I am now moving to commercial work which is more exacting but the returns are higher. In this way I hope to earn enough for the studio outgoings but leave me with time to do my personal work. In my heart of hearts, I hope that I will be able to spend half my time earning a living and the other half shooting portraits. The ultimate dream would be to shoot my quirky portraits and nudes and get people to pay me for it. But in conservative Singapore, somehow I don't think that will happen.

But the commercial work is coming to the studio and my head is above water, barely. But I am happy, because I think that I am beginning to shoot at the level I have always aspired to.

What I am trying to say in all this is that as a photographer/image maker, we have to find a way to create the environment that allows us to pursue our visions. There is no set method, and no success without a struggle. And the truth is that we will all struggle regardless of the career we choose, I think that I am fortunate enough to be able to struggle in a career that I am passionate about. And it is a balancing act between finding work that will finance the pursuit of vision and passion. If you have read my previous articles on The Total Photographer and realised the huge task of being a good photographer, then the reality is being in a position to practise is also part of the larger task of working and living.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Demise of the Professional Photojournalist

Here is an article that explains why it will get harder and harder for photojournalist to earn a living. Actually, the digital revolution and the Internet is making life difficult for many different people from musicians to writers and even lawyers. The world is changing fast, and we have to find a way to adapt to it. But if everyone is doing everything and anything for free, then the world is going to grind to a halt. As much as I feel that the line between professional and citizen photography is blurring, I think that the long term model is not sustainable unless the images are paid for. If the huge media companies refuse to pay anything for the images they get and use, eventually, all they will have is free photographs, which will not be very goo.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The worth of it

Photography is such an apparently worthless act that many photographers have issues of their own worth. I know, I have been there too. Here is one anguished soul, Joseph, wondering about the selfishness of photography, in his blog entry, 'fessing up.

And the editor of Lenswork, Brooks Jensen, thinks that his art photography is such a niche interest that he would not even consider given his work to his relatives! And there is much truth in his words.
As I continue making my personal images, I realise that fewer and fewer people will appreciate it. But what will I be giving my photography up for, a position in Hewlett-Packard? A volunteer for world peace?

I know that there is a group of photographers, the photojournalists, that want to change the world. Here is a website for the photographic humanists. But I am not altruistic, I am not even deep. I just like making pretty images.

Who are the icons of our time, film stars? Musicians? Miss Universe? What is their worth? Duh....

So should we be doctors? Lawyers? Engineers? Should we all wear loin clothes and be vegetarian? Should the whole world be populated by Saints?

Photography is something I am compelled to do by an inner need. I don't even begin to comprehend the impulse that starts my photography. I mean, what compels someone to climb Everest or paint a picture? All I know is that I am following a call, and I have no way to judge the worth of this pursuit.

What I do know is that world peace begins at home. My worth as a person is not tied up in the photography. It is tied up with how I treat the people I meet and work with. Do I give a fair deal to my clients and do I nurture the people whom I work with?

My father, wise man that he is, has always asked me, ' Have you robbed anybody?, Have your raped anybody?, Have you Killed anybody? If the answer is no, then you are doing OK.' Life is not that simple, but the crux is there. And I don't think it is just photographers that miss the point. It seems so important to people to be successful and be rich, but what harm do we do others to reach success? The point is NOT what we do, but how we do it. We need to live our lives with love and respect. The photography, taxi-driving, banking, is just an opportunity for us to live a life.