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

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]

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


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.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Garage - Part 2 of 3

The interesting thing about this project is that it was all shot on the Canon powershot G9 except for one image on a Nikon 700. I shot in raw and converted to black and white. I begin to realise that there is a lot I can do with this camera!

The Garage

The last workshop which I attended was lead by Antonin Kratochvil. He has taken many memorable images in many conflict areas. His photography is truly engaging. I was warned by people who have taken his course before that he is quite relax on his courses and he does not teach so much. And I suppose this was true. He was very jovial and spent a lot of time saying 'Yeah baby.' and 'I am watching you.' But I think listening him talk about the images he made was worth the price of the workshop. And to me the most important thing was the hope he still has. His father was tortured and he had to sneak out with his family from Czechoslovakia. And then he has gone to many war zones all over the world, and also shot stories of people with aids. And yet after all this, he says that he still has hope in humanity. I think it is good that someone can take such powerful and distressing images and still remain hopeful.

Well, one of the main ideas that Antonin had is to peel away the layers of a person by spending time with him or her. So for the first time, I spent three days in a garage just taking photos. I think I covered the garage as best as I could and hit a wall. On the 4th day, I just took pictures of flowers and personal portraits, some with my 90mm tilt-shift lens. The funny thing is that Antonin only used my shots from the 4th day! Including ones with my 90mm lens. He advocates using a 28mm prime and smelling the armpits of the subject. So many people were expecting garage photos but did not see them. Well, here they are.

A note on Travel

I guess the Costa's Coffee shop in Heathrow Airport terminal 4 is about the best place to write this blog entry. It is not about photography, at least not directly, but it is about travel.

I just did a three week trip, and I booked everything online. That includes 3 return flights, between Singapore and London, London and Marrakesh and London and Florence. I booked my hotel in Marrakesh and my workshops in Tuscany by email. I also booked a car for my two weeks in Tuscany over the Internet. It is fantastically convenient, and although it is cheaper without the travel agent, I am not sure that I did get the cheapest deals ever. This is because to do that, it would have taken me much more time for research than would have been worthwhile. I think travel agents must have lost a sizable amount of business to the new travel web sites.

And now we have e-tickets. I checked-in for my flight last night and printed out my boarding pass. When I got to Heathrow airport, it took me no longer than 5 minutes to get my luggage checked in. The security check took longer and was more tedious.

And this is the down side of travel now. We are restricted to one piece of check in luggage and one piece of carry on. To some locations in Europe, the check-in luggage can weigh no more than 5kg, in other places 8kg. For a photographer who carries camera, lenses and laptop, this is a disaster. I was forced, on the way to Marrakesh, to decided whether to check in my cameras or my laptop. I decided to check in my cameras. Fortunately nothing happened to my cameras. But I swear, in Marrakesh, I looked out the window to see the baggage handler throw around luggage and let several bags drop onto the tarmac from a height of 1m. Maybe there is something to be said for only shooting with the Canon Powershot G9!

It is amusing what can happen at security check points. You remove your laptop from your carry on. You take off your belt and your shoes. You cannot carry on liquids and if you have them, you throw them away. I have lost a Leatherman pen knife before for forgetting to put it into the checked in Luggage.

And when you arrive, the immigration officers are becoming more and more abrasive, especially in America. They think we all want to sneak into their countries illegally. I think that there are probably much better ways to sneak into a country than through the airport immigration. Maybe the best way to stop this global exodus, is to help poor countries upgrade themselves. Then people will not be literally dying to leave their homelands.

I wonder if I am growing old and begin to reminisce like an old fogey, but it seems that aeroplanes used to be more reliable and on time. Flights get delayed quite regularly now, and it is best not to plan transits that are too short. Or you may find the connections hard to make.

I love to travel, in fact I think it is vital to keep me fresh in my creative work. But while it has become easier to book the trips, the act of traveling has become more stressful. We need to prepare well for it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Phillip Toledano - Days with My Father

Phillip Toledano - Days with My Father

My friend Yi Qian sent me this little gem of a web site. In this time, when I am trying to be more in my photographs, this photo essay strikes a chord in me. And it reminds me how frail we all are. And I wonder if I should be trying harder with everything, or taking it more easy. I don't know, but this is a wonderfully touching journal.

Tuscan Night

I spent the night out in the countryside when I did Antoine D'Agata's workshop. This was perhaps the most fun part of the experience. Besides drinking wine with two models in the same countryside, but that is another story. But I thought that the images of the countryside by moonlight was surreal and beautiful in an interesting way. I thought that they would be nice to share.