Friday, June 27, 2008

Wade Davis: Cultures at the far edge of the world

A wonderful talk on distant cultures and a plea to keep them alive. Recommended by my friend Marilyn.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The now, the why, the process

I have succeeded, I have failed. I am vindicated, I am lost. In the satisfaction of international recognition and business stability, I also see the limitations of what has been done up till now. But let me be specific, I am happy that things have turned out well for The Pond and the career. The journey so far has been a bitch at times but it has all been necessary, necessary for me to grow as a photographer, necessary to give me the confidence to continue pursuing my own inner calling.

With regards to my business of corporate portraiture in Singapore, it is viable, but just so. I shoot for PR companies, families, individuals and arts groups. But even with the profile The Pond has achieved, I only move towards being able to cover the day to day running of the company, and even pay myself a salary. But I would have to at least double my income to start recouping the cost of investment in this studio. It would be great, if it even took twenty years to recoup. But to be honest, the costs of new cameras, computers and software to maintain the studio nowadays, is expensive. And the ridiculous situation is that people are paying less and less for photography. So, running a financially successful studio is not easy. In my mind, I have to grow The Pond into stable of photographers, so that the usage of resources maximised, or let it all go and become an arts based photographer and have very simple support. In my present state, I am running nowhere quickly. It is better than my days as a wedding photographer, where I worked seven days a week to keep the company going, now I have reclaimed my weekends.

So I revisit the question of why I am a photographer? One thing is for sure, it was not to run a business and make money. I have been working on how to take photographs for eight years now. The whole process from taking the image to the print and presentation. And now I am satisfied that I can take a picture, but so what? Do I want to just be a cog in the capitalist consumer machine? The machine that is poisoning the whole world and leading us deeper and deeper into crisis? Am I saying enough with portraits of affluent people who can afford to pay me? Does my work serve a greater purpose? And should I care about a greater purspose? Does it satisfy my inner needs? And just what are my inner needs?

I don't have the answers, I may never find them. But living is a process. Living is more important than taking photographs. In the greater scheme of things, making images is a non-essential activity compared to farming and health. Heck, it does not even do very well against supporting services like accounting and law. But I think that some images go beyond being entertainment, beyond the visual candy bait to make people into a consumer lemmings. (Just look at how our consumerism is literally driving out planet over a cliff into collective suicide.) Some images, confront the viewer, with the reality of various crisis in the world, with the reality of being human, with the reality of seeing beyond our own limited existence. And to create images that are more than 'pretty' or well-crafted, I have to go through a process of education, self-awareness and self-questioning. What is important to me, in the grater scheme of things? How do I use photography to convey the complexity of life? How am I going to get people to notice, to think deeper than the chic, pseudo-culture offered by advertising? Is there a way to subvert the power of advertising for more social conscious imagery? The best example for me has been the Benetton ads. It truly is good advertising for Benetton, and also socially relevant.

So I know that being able to take a photograph and make a business survive is only a Pyrrhic victory. What is the use of this success if in the long run I do not actually make money? Or even if I do make money, has little relevance to the larger community. I want to make a difference. Returning our sick earth to health needs all our attentions. I do not want to be an ostrich with my head stuck in the sand of opaque consumer media. Life is not just entertainment. If we are not willing to sacrifice to make things right, what makes us think that someone else will? It is time to do something more. I'm not going to be a war photographer, that is beyond me. But there is a lot of things that I feel can be done where I live. And yes, even in the Singaporean utopia, there are things to heal.

Click here to disappear: thoughts on images and democracy | openDemocracy

Click here to disappear: thoughts on images and democracy | openDemocracy

I read this article in Aperture and then found it on the net. It is a fine piece of critical thinking, something that is missing from our image consumption as well as our image creation. We have let go depth for an overwhelming mass of superficial images.

As I continue along my photographic path, I reconsider the worth of what I take and what it means. I also consider how images are consumed. And is it possible to regain the discerning eye of the masses. Maybe that discerning eye was never there and as a race we tend to move towards an instant gratification, insulating from the effort of meaningful discourse, the responsibility of having a social conscience.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One Republic - Stop and Stare

Stop and stare
I think I'm moving but I go nowhere
Yeah I know that everyone gets scared
But I've become what I can't be, oh
Stop and stare
You start to wonder why you're here not there
And you'd give anything to get what's fair
But fair ain't what you really need
Oh, you don't need

Monday, June 16, 2008

Portraits by Sanders McNew

One of the sites that I visit is the Art Nudes blog. There are so many nudes web sites that it all seems so been there done that before. However, I really liked these two recent entries.

Portraits by Sanders McNew
McNew's portraits are very simple. And it is in that simplicity that the images become immediate and intimate. | fine art nude photographer
This is the other extreme. The photos treat the models like objects, but the posing is very inventive.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Le Petit Portrait - While I am away

I'm going off for more workshops in July. While I am away, Shin is going to do a petit Le Petit Portrait. Just for a couple of weeks. As you may know, she leaves for Chicago in September. For those of you who have admired her work, this is probably the best time to get your portraits done by her, unless you are willing to fly out to Chicago in the future.

The following terms conditions apply:

1) This promotion entitles every individual to a SINGLE 1-hour indoor portrait session from 14-25 July 2008.
2) The Client will receive 10 images of their choice, of which, 1 image will be chosen for minor digital re-touching and an 8" x 12" print.
3) Photo-shoot bookings should be done at least a week in advance, scheduled between 10am to 6pm on weekdays only.
4) The Client will receive digital files of images for personal use only and shall not sell or authorize any reproduction other than for personal usage. Terms and charges for commercial usage shall be negotiated separately with The Pond.
5) The Photographer shall own the copyright of all images created and shall have the right to make reproductions. The Photographer shall only make reproductions for his portfolio, samples, self-promotions, entry in photographic contests or art exhibitions, editorial use or for display within or on the outside of the Photographer’s studio. If the Photographer desires to make other uses, the Photographer shall not do so without first obtaining the written permission of the Client.
6) Confirmation of booking is based on a signed quotation raised by The Pond and payment is to be made upon completion of the photographic service.
7) No voucher may be combined with this promotion.
8) The Pond reserves the right to modify any terms and conditions without any prior notification to the user.

You can make enquiries at

The Arts Fest and Existentialism

The arts festival is on in Singapore and the last couple of shows have been really thought provoking for me. On Thursday I watched a dance piece called No Direction, by a Japanese company called Nibroll. The show was comprised by vignettes of absurd situations, with people desperately alone but trying to interact and do things together. It seemed like people bumped into one another and somethings aligned physically, but were somehow unable to truly find a direction together. The show was quite humorous, but illustrated the deficiency of human interactions.

Tonight I watched 'Drift', a play directed by Dramabox artistic director, Kok Heng Luen. And this play was about people from two cities, Shanghai and Singapore, and how their lives intertwined over four generations. It was a wonderful piece of theatre, based more on process and the emotional experience. There was a narrative, but it seemed to be more a skeleton to hang the emotional experience, than a narrative that drove the play. In the play there were lovers who were separated due to ideals, mothers and their children, husbands and their mistresses. And a very enigmatic figure, actress Pat Toh, who just stood on top of a dais above the stage for the entire play, emotionless, perhaps like the blindfolded statue of justice holding a set of scales in one hand. This play was more melodramatic than No Direction, but it spoke of people's desires, dreams, fears, promises and fates.

Both performances caused me to reflect on the imperfection of understanding and communication. People are not really evil, in general, but our desires and the logic following our desires may cause us to hurt other people. And it also blinds us to the hurt we visit onto other people. This problematic life seems almost futile. But in my mind, I resolved that regardless of the imperfections, it is better to aspire to live well, to be true to myself and yet respect other people. One cannot stop living life because there may be pitfalls. And one cannot learn about life without making a few mistakes. And one cannot learn from life's lessons unless one is truthful and willing to learn, and to change. I must and do hope for progress.

With global warming, food shortage and an out of control price of oil, times do look bleak. But if we used less fuel, ate less meat, and did not consume so much, a lot of death and suffering can be alleviated. But it is inconvenient for us who have grown accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle. It is hard to make the connection, but our excess is paid for by the suffering and death of other people. We all have this wonderful ability to live in denial, ignore the reality. And even now, the reality is not just in some poor third world countries front lawn, the bad weather and expense of basics is on our front door, and yet we deny it. I guess that if we do live like an ostrich, our heads stuck in the sand, we do deserve our untimely demise. But still, I must and do hope for progress.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Sydney nude art inquiry dropped

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Sydney nude art inquiry dropped

My friend Sven introduced me to Bill Henson. And I like his work a lot. But there is such a fine line between art and abuse. Such questions were also raised about the work of Jock Sturgess. What is the intent of the work and it is abusing the trust of the subjects, i.e. children. I do know that the artist starving a dog to death is something that I would not condone. But the photography of children nude? Well, any nude is controversial, even of adults. We all have to figure these things out for ourselves.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wedding web sites updated

Ron from Eye-deas is in the process of updating his web site. And Wan Sheng from Feldberyl has updated his web site!

What can I say? These guys are great wedding photographers. It is so nice to see the great images Ron and Wan Sheng are producing. Along with Kuang and Eadwine, these are the guys I recommend to the wedding enquiries that I still get once in a while.

I guess some people will ask me if I miss wedding photography? The honest answer is no. It is a stage I went through but it does not challenge me now. At least not in the form that it is practised in Singapore.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Leibovitz, Nachtwey and more

This has been a good and busy year for me. But in my spare time, I have been trying to educate myself. In fact it feels like I put the cart before the horse. I learned the practice of photography before learning the history and theory. I am not sure how useful art critique theory is to me, but listening to great photographers talk about their process and thoughts, is very interesting and insightful to me.

I have heard some not so nice things about Annie Leibovitz, with regards to her work and personality. But she has taken some of the most iconic images of our collective memory. I missed the screening of her documentary at the Singapore Film Festival, but managed to get a copy of the DVD off Ebay.

American Masters . Annie Leibovitz | PBS

What is striking for me is that Leibovitz has an early history of image making. Her parents were constantly taking photographs of the family and making videos. She started working for the Rolling Stones magazine when it first started and they kind of grew up together. Leibovitz's style then was more photo journalistic. And then her work became much more stylised with Vanity Fair and Vogue. And then she met Susan Sontag and became lovers. And she was urged by Sontag to add depth to her work. I think it is interesting that Leibovitz is able to conceptualize and orchestrate iconic magazine covers, but the work that she highlights in her latest collection, A Photographer's Life, a large portion of it is personal, of her family and Susan Sontag. There are also iconic portraits and images, but loads of real personal stuff. And I think this is what makes her a great photographer. The ability to be a superb craftswoman, and the concurrent ability to be human. I love this concurrence in Avedon, Penn, Watson and Elledge.

Another documentary I watched was War Photographer. I don't know why everyone says that James Nachtwey is boring. I know he speaks deliberately, but I think his intensity is compelling. I admire his courage and determination to bring to light all the atrocities from around this world. Above all, I admire his humanity, his desire to bring to the consciousness of people caught up in the Capitalist consumer society, the suffering of others. I personally could never do the type of war photographer work. But I am shamed by the superficiality of my own work. I want to work on projects that has more social consciousness. Pretty is not good enough.

I find it hard to reconcile the various parts of my photography. I shoot corporate portraits to pay the bills. I love beauty and make images that are basically eye candy. And I want to make images that speak about the human existence. I am not smart enough to reconcile these needs. I will try and do them all.

I am also reading Dialogue with Photography - Interviews By Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper. So much insight by so many great photographers. The photographers interviewed do tend to be contemporaries or are influenced by Alfred Stieglitz. This idea of equivalence keeps cropping up. I have never heard of it before. But here is an interesting introduction. Stieglitz actually had a series called Equivalent.

And I just bought Edward Weston's nudes. A beautiful book. But what struck me is that such a giant in photography was actually poor most of his life. Apparently, Ansel Adams was not rich either. Once again I have to remind myself that photographic excellence does not equal financial wealth. My own personal strongest work, has little or no financial value. At least not now.

I feel that there is so much to learn and absorb. There is so little time. It is so easy to take a picture nowadays. Our cameras are so powerful. But it is so hard to make a worthy image.