Monday, October 19, 2009

Naked without an iphone and other thoughts

I have not been posting many new entries for about half a year now. This is because I am in transition. I downsized my photography business and became a freelancer. On the career front, I have been working for various arts groups and doing personal portraits and this has turned out well for me, meaning that I am finanacially viable. As for personal work, I have been trying to find a new direction. I want to find a project where I learn more about the lives of other people. To this end I have been working with various organisations to teach photography and also to meet different people whom may be interesting to photograph, but nothing has really come up yet. But I have been reading and learning a lot and the iphone has become a very interesting means of self expression.

After being a professional photographer for so many years, picture quality has always been an issue for me. I never thought that at 2 megapixel camera on the iphone would be a sufficient tool for me and the initially the images coming out of the iphone tended to be washed out. However, the program Camera Bag changed my entire viewpoint of the iphone camera. There are several filters in Camera Bag but the one that I like the best is called Helga, which replicates the effect of a Holga camera. The results from the Helga filter is a square image which vignetted and the contrast increased, the results are simply lovely. The usefulness of such a camera was still in question because I did not know how well the images printed. I printed some test images onto A4 paper and was blown away. I suspect that I can also print my iphone images onto A3 but for the type of work that I am shooting with the iphone, A4 is actually just what I want. Those people who are my friends on Facebook will know that I am obsessed with iphone photography, I have uploaded about 700 images there. On flickr, you can see a small selection of my iphone images at

On a recent trip to Europe, even though I was carrying around the very competent Olympus E-P1 around with me, the raw mood produced by the iphone was what I wanted time and again. There were times where I wanted to take an image full of detail, under low light or needing a longer lens (the iphone is effectively a wide angle lens) where I took out the E-P1, but 95% of the time I was whipping out the iphone. In its basic control, its direct response to a scene, there was an immediacy, a freedom that let me take personal images as I was living life. I was not 'stopping' my journey to take the photograph, making an image with the iphone was part of the exploration, part of the journey.

Now I am back in Singapore and I am in reservists. And as I am not allowed to bring in a telephone with a camera to camp, I feel naked. There is something missing for me. Which brings be to the next point.

I have heard some people comment that photographers are not really 'there' in a situation, that instead of experiencing what is happening they are pre occupied with the photography. And there is truth in that. I mean, what are people doing touring 10 countries in seven days. How does a person interact with a country or a culture in this short space of time? In this situation, what is a photograph? Is it an experience or is it a trophy, a tick on some travel checklist? So there is obviously a case for photography becoming a barrier to a exprience. And the irony is that one can become more and more involved with the technicality of photography, the sharpness, the amount of detail, and in this become more and more detached from the situation, the experience. As Anders Peterson puts it, a photographer hides behind his camera.

I think that my experience with personal photography right now comes from a different place. There still is commercial work where the camera is a tool for creating images to a brief and in that sense is impersonal. But I am a visual person, that is how I primarily interact with the world. I am constantly looking at things, seeing shapes, color and light. The outside visual experience has an intense impact on my emotions and my emotions has a strong impact on how I interpret outside visual experience. I am intensely curious by everyman, the daily concerns, the daily communications, the joy and pain of living. As a human, part of a small group of life who has self-conciousness and cognisance of death, I try in my own way to reconcile life and death. I am interested in how others traverse this journey from cradle to grave, the lows of human depravity, the highs of human potential and the spectrum of experience in between. So for me, what I see is a constant search for evidence of the human experience. Photography is much more than a visual token for me. It is the way I interact and interpret the world. And writers do this with their writing, musicians do that with their music, artists do this with whatever medium they work in. The sum of an artists' work is not and should not be the craft in their art. An artists' work should be the sum of their thoughts, their lives and their expriences. Good craft enables them to express all that in their art work. And good art will not just prompt the audience to appreciate the craft, although there is a portion of that, it should be a life changing experience for the audience in some way. It is the sharing of human experience.

So other than my iphone pictures, I have not been taking many photographs. But this does not mean that it has been an empty time for me. I have been going for French classes, I have been meeting various people and I have been reading. Recently I have read the biography of Diane Arbus, 'Why God won't go away', 'Norwegian' Wood by Harukami, 'Outliers' by Malcom Gladwell and I am in the midst of 'The Stuff of Thought' by Steven Pinker. I have been visiting galleries and not only enjoying the artwork of great artists, but also learning about what motivated them and how they lived their lives. And at this point, living life is what is important. Personal photography is not an end in itself, it simply is part of my life.

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