Monday, December 29, 2008

The Pond web site updated for 2009

I have update The Pond web site. It's focus is now on my personal work. Take a look at let me know what you think. I have decided to use flash for the galleries. There seems to be some issues displaying things at times. Any feedback on problems would be great.

Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Santa Claus hit by UFO



A Christmas Laugh. I still find it funny that the red suit is a Coca-cola creation and everyone things it is soooooo Santa.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A long time away, a short time to a change in my life

I apologise for the long time away from posting. Life just got in the way. I had reservists for two and a half weeks. It was a tough time for me this year and at the end I caught this tenacious flu which has got me coughing for the last three weeks. And after army, I taught an intensive four day workshop called Portraits as Visual Drama. Here is a picture of me, my students and assistants at Night and Day where we spent a day doing location shoots.



I did not shoot much. But the equipment for the course was on loan from Cathay and they had a medium format leaf system there too. I took a picture of one of the models, Shu An, and worked on it on post. And I gave a demonstration with a dance Zhi Hao. So I guess this is visual drama a la Heng!




Life never happens as you expect it. I have been struggling to find work in the last two years and it was one of the factors that caused me to change my photographic direction next year. And in this period, when things should be winding down, I am up to my receding hairline in work! It is like a spiteful ex parading herself in front of me, but once I have made a decision to move, move I will. I may return, but the journey will not stop because of some work now. In the upcoming financial recession, I doubt that I will have so much work.

I am not sure for now how much I will post. I have fought a good fight for close to a decade now. Even though I am happy with the photographic journey, the running of the business in Singapore has drained me. I just want to get a couple of months sleep and do some blading at east coast. But I will be back to share my new journey once my body and soul have been recharged.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Camera Obscura and the Canon G10







I just got my hands on a Canon G10 yesterday. I took it to the Camera Obscura concert tonight and lots of people took photographs. So I decided to try out the G10. I shot these photos using the G10 @ iso 400 in raw. I processed the fles in DPP, (photoshop is not able to process the G10 raw files yet.) The 100% crops shot that the images are not as good as DSLR, but for a compact, it rocks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The thing about life, Death



As I write this, and as you read it, we are on a one-way journey between birth and death. When we are young, we have plenty of energy, but not enough knowledge or influence to do very much with it. When we are close to the end of our lives, we may not have the energy or will to do much more than enjoy the winter of our lives, if we are lucky to be healthy then.

At this juncture of my life, I having been pursuing photography seriously for over a decade. I can take photographs and run a photography business. But I am also aware that my energy levels are ebbing, and although I do not have any major illnesses, there are parts of my body that are deteriorating. And so I am aware of my mortality. I have not been convinced of any religious description of the after life. What I think is the most important is the here and now, the time that is left on this earth.

I am lucky that I have no regrets for the life that I have lived so far. It has been a full one. And because it has been a full one, I want to continue to learn more about life, to find ways to interact with other people. Taking photographs for people and artists, I have had some wonderful experiences. And yet, I think there is much more of life to explore. And as much as I love photography and photographs of beauty, photography is not life. I still love the idea that 'Life is a journey, not a destination.' I am not a 'dance' or 'portrait' photographer. I am a human being.

I have had concerned friends telling me that I can do this or that to make my photography business better. But the thing is, I am not interested in a better business, I am interested in a better life. And there are photographers who also are pointing out ways to use more interesting photographic techniques. But I feel that I have pursued technique for long enough now. Now I need to say something, or do something more with my photography.

In 2009, in the new year, I start a new journey. A more personal pursuit, a more relevant understanding of the pain, beauty, hope and despair of living. And before I die, I want to say that I have truly lived.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alisa Resnik



I met Alisa Resnik in Tuscany this year. It amazes me that she has been shooting for less than a year. And yet there is so much maturity in her work.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Portfolio review in the Singapore International Photography Festival

The inaugural Singapore International Photography Festival is on. It is a huge photography festival with lots of engaging photography on display. Most of the work falls into the category of art and/or conceptual photography. I think the scale and the type of work on display really challenges the relatively 'commercial' photography favoured in Singapore.

I took the opportunity to get my portfolio reviewed by curators and gallery owners from all over the world. And I think it has confirmed what I feel about my work right now. I presented two portfolios. One of my dance photographs and the other of my Tuscan portraits.

I think that the general consensus is that I can take a photograph. My work, even my Tuscan portraits are too commercial. There is not enough of my personality in my work. I also explained my idea of stopping my corporate photography at the end of the year and focusing on finding a more personal subject and most of the reviewers thought that it was a good idea. One thing though, a couple of the reviewers found nothing wrong with the 'beauty' of my dance photographs. They told me not to abandon beauty simply because other people do not like it.

I think that it is clear for me that my way forward is to leave the past behind, at least for now. I need to rediscover myself and my rationale for making images. And with the world economy in recession for the forseeable future, I know that putting my time and effort into personal development will bring me much more than trying to develop business.

Once again, I find myself at the beginning of a large and uncertain adventure. And like all big adventures, the risk are great and so are the rewards. But as I think that life is a journey, not a destination, simply taking the journey is reward in itself.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dance Stages - An exhibition of Dance photographs







I never expected that I would be having three exhibitions this year. Actually three solo exhibitions in Singapore this year and images in two American exhibitions. But there is an exhibition of photographs from dance performances that I have shot. It is called Dance Stages and it will be at

DATE 9 Oct - 19 Oct 08
VENUE MRT link from Esplanade to Cityhall

There is no official opening, but if you are in the area, please drop by and check it out. There are 83 images. I seem to be doing relatively big exhibitions recently. Most of the work is what I get paid to shoot by various arts organisations and is not commonly seen.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

James Nachtwey on XDR-TB



I think this couple of decades of unbridled greed has caused us to forget more and more about the people who are not so privileged. I look up to James Nachtwey for continuing to bring important stories to light. Watch the video, sign the petition at XDRTB.org.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Douglas Rushkoff » Financial Melt Up

Douglas Rushkoff » Financial Melt Up

I never understood how people made money from money. I like this article by Douglas Rushkoff that explains how this huge financial bubble has come about. And it is a way for making the rich richer by foisting debt onto the poor. And to me this is reflected in the way businesses are run as well. In our parents generation, they made decent money if they were a professional. But nowadays, the wages of people like doctors, lawyers and engineers are not that good. It is the owners of hospitals, law firms and industries that make money. Basically, people are not just trying to make a decent margin from their work anymore, they are trying to wring whatever assets they have dry. And what this does is it makes a handful of people rich while the rest of normal people are slogging to pay of debt which they cannot actually pay off.

I think it is time to scale down. Focus on local economy and one another. I hope that all those people who are losing their jobs in those large financial institutions find a way to run smaller businesses that give a good service to their community, instead of going back to jobs that will help the stupendously rich richer. And it will be more environmentally friendly.

But I guess that I am an idealist. It is in our human nature to have greed and to be in a state of denial over things that are wrong. And this nature will continue to cause chaos in our lives.

A fork in the road, the path ahead

Since my year in London Contemporary Dance School, I have been trying to live my life to the full. And photography has been my area of interest even though dance has been my first love. Since accidentally becoming a photographer in 1999, I have been pursuing the craft of photography. I have spent many hours shooting, experimenting and learning about photography in the studio and with lights. I was very inspired by the work of Paul Elledge when I saw his slide show at The Santa Fe workshops. I have since then taken his workshop in Tuscany and interned for him for 3 months in Chicago.

Up until last year, my photographic practise has been driven by my dance photographs. Images in which I try to capture the essence and beauty of dancers and their physique. To that end, I have experimented with lighting, materials and long exposures. And to do such work, I needed a team of people to support me. And to pay for that team of people, I set The Pond up as a corporate portrait studio. In the current Singaporean situation, having a team of people means my overheads are high, and there is not that much work at the level I want to work at. At least in corporate portraiture. There is more money in commercial photography, but I have no interest in that at all. So I have just managed to balance my photographic business with my dance photographs. And if I promote myself and chase work, I am able to keep The Pond afloat. The thing is, running the business takes a lot of time and my personal work has stagnated after the Dance Me Through The Dark project.

And then I had my epiphany in Tuscany last year, in a workshop lead by Anders Peterson. His form of photography is called personal research and to him, living his life and engaging with different communities of people was his priority. Photography became secondary, a part of the process and not the end goal. In that week, I had three extraordinary encounters with people I photographed. They shared things with me that makes the photography unimportant. The photography was simply the icing on the cake of living life. And it was there and then I realised that the next frontier of my photography was no longer technical or craft, it was to engage in living more. On another level, my studio has become superfluous.

So I have an idea of what I need to do with my life and all I need is a camera. All the lighting equipment is not necessary. But the studio has been my baby for eight years, it is difficult just to abandon it. So I tried to make the business work better, and to get my assistants to be associate photographers so that more work came into the studio and free up more days of the week for me to pursue my personal work. And then I came back from Tuscany this year, and with the avalanche of work and things to do, I realised that as long as I ran The Pond, it would consume all my time. So I came to the fork in the road, do I run a business or do I pursue a new frontier in my photography?

I have decided to keep exploring. I am sad to say that I will be letting my staff go at the end of the year and become a freelance photographer. Although the photographic team that I put together does not make the best business sense in Singapore, photographically, the work has been good. With the 'team', I have managed to get work into the Photo District News annual and the Communication Arts annual. The 'team' enabled me to work on an international level. Thank you Abby, Shin and Anvin. And Darren the intern as well. I may have had better profits with fewer staff, but I doubt that I could have had the same quality of work.

And so in the new year, a new path awaits me. I will not be able to handle higher end work, but I will still do studio portraits and simple outdoor shoots. I will also teach but I may not be able to continue teaching studio lighting without my assistants. But for the main part, I will be pursuing my personal work. I have already made some plans but I won't say anything until I have actually done some work.

I must say that the death of Paul Newman reminds me of my mortality and how precious time is. And the present financial crisis indicates to me that unfettered capitalism is not the only path and is not necessarily good for the world. I don't want to bend over back to be a service to the corporate business machinery. I don't need to make loads of money and so I rather work for arts groups, charities and individuals. It is more important now for me to be part of the community that I live in, than to be a rat in the rat race.

The path ahead is to live more, live better.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Does ideology trump facts? Studies say it often does

Does ideology trump facts? Studies say it often does

This is an interesting article that makes depressing reading for me. This shows that people do not study facts well and make decisions based on those facts. I always thought that a way to get the world into a better shape is to give a liberal education and get people to evaluate facts for themselves. I guess that this does not apply.

Some guy sneaking a preview of Photoshop CS4

Thursday, September 25, 2008

blogSAFOTO » Blog Archive » • Instituto Cultural De Mexico

blogSAFOTO » Blog Archive » • Instituto Cultural De Mexico

It seems so distant and far away. I guess it is! But it is nice to know that I have a few photographs in Fotosemtiembre USA. Thanks to the curator Michael Mehl for giving me this opportunity. I wish I had the time to go visit this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A quote from Kuldelka

I attempt to find an approach that suits the essence of each project. I do not like to repeat myself. Repetition is not interesting after you take an idea as far as you can, and get what you want to get. Otherwise repetition leads to getting stuck in your habits, which soon becomes rules. You get locked up in the rules and you cannot get out. So what can you do? One way is to destroy them.

Joseph Kuldelka in an Aperture interview

At this point in time, Kuldelka's words resonate with me. Next year, my photographic journey starts anew.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is the rich-hued Kodachrome era fading to black? - Yahoo! News

Is the rich-hued Kodachrome era fading to black? - Yahoo! News

Recently, in the photographic industry, lots of things are being laid to rest. Times change. I guess we have to be humble, because we will go too some day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Waves



Trying to capture what cannot be stopped. Gentle, unrelenting.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When right is wrong

One of my course mates on the Antonin Kratochvil course, Herman, asked me why he could not get a good histogram when he had a Kratochvil style dramatic image. And the truth is a good histogram is for a typical, general image. An image shot in sunlight with a good range of brightness values. Take this example of a holiday photograph of a man in Marrakesh.



This is the histogram for the above portrait. It shows a 'good' histogram. One that shows a right exposure and a nice range of brightness values. And this image is pleasant.

Now in this portrait of Masimo, another student at TPW, I have a relatively nice histogram at capture as well. And the image is in colour.


The colour portrait of Masimo is ok but I want a dramatic image! I turn the image into black and white and darken everything considerably.


And now look at the histogram of the black and white image, it does not have a 'right' histogram. In fact the histogram is heavy in the dark areas, but the image provides the mood that I want.

So right is not right. For the drama that I envision, the histogram is 'wrong'. I remember last year in Andreas Bitesnich's class, he said that the histograms for his images were wrong, but if the image looks great, he does not care.

However, I would not recommend shooting a dramatic vision in camera. There will be very little detail and a lot of noise in the shadow area. I would recommend shooting an image to get a decent histogram and then create the look in raw processing. If you want to know why I recommend getting the 'right' exposure at capture, refer to this article on the luminous landscape web site.

While on the topic of when 'right' is wrong, should an image be sharp? In this series of captures for a portrait, in the first two images I have an eye that is sharp and of a tattoo that is sharp. But in the end it is the blurred image at the bottom that is my favorite. It gives me a dreamy quality that conveys my emotions much better than the sharp images.





So in my mind, what is 'right' for general images, can be wrong for evocative images, images that go beyond the literal representation of what we see.

I have been meaning to blog about this since Herman asked me the question in Italy, but I have been so swamped since I returned to Singapore, that this has been my first chance.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Web








I have not been doing any personal dance photography of late. Just bogged down with work and other projects. But a dancer is leaving Singapore and so we had a session.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Travel Photography Workshops by Felix Hug




I'd like to put up a plug for my friend Felix Hug, an award winning photographer who is teaching courses in travel photography. He really has a wonderful eye. You can also see more about him at http://www.eyesonasia.net/

Friday, August 22, 2008

National Geographic Editor on the power of Photography

Dance Me Through The Dark - The Book is finally out






It has been a long wait since February when the Dance Me Through The Dark Book was supposed to be launched. Unfortunately, the print quality was not up to scratch. Since I had to reprint the book, I decided to redesign the book as well and incorporate images from the actual exhibition. I think that it has been worth the wait and the print this time round is much better. I apologise for the long wait. For those who ordered the book during the exhibition, my office manager will be contacting you soon!

The book is still retailing at Singapore $100.

I will be putting up the book for sale on the Dance Me Through The Dark web site soon. But I have been swamped with work. But right now, the book is available at Books Actually, 2902 Gallery, Objectifs and Singapore Dance Theatre. As other shops start to sell the book, I will list them out.

If you want to purchase the book directly, you can email enquiry[at]thepond.com.sg.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Japanese Film Festival 2008 | 22 - 31 August | Gallery Theatre National Museum of Singapore


Japanese Film Festival 2008 | 22 - 31 August | Gallery Theatre National Museum of Singapore

Just a plug for the Japanese film festival. My attention was brought to this festival because there is also a film, Sakuran, directed by Japanese photographer, Mika Ninagawa.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Lumix Festival for young photojournalism

view lectures

Here is a link to some lectures by photojournalists including Steve McCurry and Antonin Kratochvil.

I love how more and more interesting educational material is appearing on the internet. We just have to find it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ed Kashi: Curse of the Black Gold - The Digital Journalist

Ed Kashi: Curse of the Black Gold - The Digital Journalist

There still is a need for the concerned journalist. And there are more niche platforms for human interest story. But Ed Kashi, in his video interview, expresses concern that media is more fragmented. People who are interested in a story will find the story, but there is no common place for ideas to become concensus. I guess that role was played by the mainstream newspapers and current affair magazines. But as viewers of information, we can choose to only pick up what entertains us. I feel a need to just put Ed Kashi's work on oil in the Niger Delta on my blog. And I hope that readers of my blog will take time to see the human cost of our consumer lifestyle. Somehow, I don't know how, we need to make it known to large companies, that such human suffering for the consumerist lifestyle, is just not on.


Curse of the Black Gold from Digital Journalist on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stewing in my head


Marco

It is hard to organise my thoughts and what I learned from my last trip. I know the trip refreshed me. I know that I grow more confident in my visual language. But did the earth move for me? In spite of going through the toughest workshop in my life with d'Agata, I think not. But I do think that some things are becoming clearer in my mind, but not in a coherent manner. So here is a stew of ideas, in no particular order.

D'Agata pushed very hard the idea that engaging images need a certain tension in the images, maybe conflict, maybe pain. The process of photography becomes a means of dealing with inner conflict. But it is not necessarily reality. The wonderful thing is that fantasy and reality can mix to create images. I appreciate strong images, images demanding an emotional response from the viewer from the rawness of it. But I also believe in beautiful images, those of Arno Minkkinen or Jock Sturges. I appreciate very much that d'Agata pushed me very hard to create compelling images, but I am not sure that I could continue to keep the wounds of my soul open for artistic exploration. It is a double-edged sword, which can bring understanding or despair. But I understand, that it is important to continue exploring and engaging myself in the process of image making.

On a side note, there was a class led by Bob Sacha about creating multimedia. One of the projects was an interview with Arno Minkkinen. In this interview, he says that his mother was very beautiful and he has always felt rejected by her because he was not beautiful. But Minkkinen has created such wonderous self-portraits, which I think are beautiful. So there is more than one way to deal with inner pain and conflict, to embrace the conflict, or to sublimate it.

My second instructor was the war photographer, Antonin Kratochvil. His father was tortured by the Czech authorities and he had to escape to the west with his family. He has seen many wars and atrocities. And his images are very strong, and challenging as well. But he does not feel that strong images come only from conflict. And he is still hopeful of humanity. I think that revelation was worth the fee of the course, and it had nothing to do with photography, but it had everything to do with life. I think Antonin did not teach as much as inspire. He was very jovial and joked a lot. But like Antoine, he was interested in seeing how far the students could strip away the layers hiding the inner truth.

I know that there are photographers like Andreas Bitesnich who shoot nudes because of the beauty of the human body. But to photographers like d'Agata and Kratochvil, the naked body is a way to get closer the truth and vulnerability of the human condition.

One comment that Kratochvil made, I like a lot. He explained to the class that he is a black and white photographer. And to him black and white is not reality. This struck me like a ton of bricks. For me, for a long time, I thought that shooting in black and white created an air of documentary truth. And I think that black and white enables the viewer to see more clearly the truth of the human condition, but it is an act of abstraction. And it struck me that last year, when I took Anders Peterson's course, he purposefully kept his camera simple, and his shooting technique simple. But he burned and dodged his images heavily. He added a lot of vignetting and darkened the lips of people he shot. This is not reality! But this is 'real' because the image lays the soul of the subject bare, but it is not what we see in front of us, in real life. I think that it reinforces for me the idea that all photographs are abstractions, even documentary photography. What is an image anyway, but dots? The truth for me is the interaction between the image and the viewer. The photographer is always a creator, even in the simplest ways of choosing a film or a lens. But the image a photographer creates, needs to be informed by some reality or fantasy, that is strong enough to convey a human truth.

I emailed one of my classmates from Anders Peterson's class about my experiences this year. And he commented that Antoine d'Agata and Anders Peterson are special people, with special lives. And he just admits that his life is more mundane. But he hopes that he can still have the same approach in his photography. I think this applies very well to me too. My life is not extraordinary in the greater scheme of things. But it is important to live my simple life well, and always push the photographic craft.

I am gaining confidence in my own photography. But perhaps the real journey begins here. This is where I find something meaningful to do with what I have or not.