Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Magnum Opus

It is about 11.00 a.m. now, and I have just been born. Twenty years ago.

Dad was walking Knight the Dobermann and Mum's childhood nanny was massaging her. Next thing they knew, he was rushing them to the hospital. It was an easy first birth by most standards, and I was out in no more than four hours.

* * * * *

Thank you one and all for your SMSes and well-wishes.

A BIG thank you to my friends at 3rd College for a memorable countdown supper at Sahur. Here's hoping we won't get blacklisted for weird drinks and rowdy behaviour anytime soon. [Note to d'NAers: imagine the Putrajaya Lake Club dinner reenacted...]

Yen: despite the physical and temporal barriers that separate us, thanks so much for making the effort to come.

Li-Shia: what can I say? 317 and counting! =:)

* * * * *

I have decided to title this entry 'Magnum Opus' (Latin for 'great work', which usually refers to the best achievement of an artist) because reflecting on twenty years, I find myself in the midst of the Master's great work. And I am myself part of it.

[God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

--Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

And also because what follows below is my photographic Magnum Opus (so far, that is).

While in Mersing, I wondered if it would be possible to theme the photos I would be taking. Better phrased, I wondered what it would be like to take photos with a specific theme in mind. Being a person easily and almost always awed by God's creation, I immediately thought of the grand Psalm 104.

That was on the second day, during quiet time before we left for Rawa. The photos I have selected are supposed to reflect the respective verses they accompany. Note, the photos accompany the verses, NOT vice versa; I did not find verses to append to my photos, but rather sought out pictures to express the verses.

This also may finally explain to those in Mich's car on the last day (i.e. Alissa, Teeming, SooT and of course, Mich herself) why I was so excited to see the bird when it landed on the bare tree, and why I was so grateful to get a shot of it, after which it immediately flew away. Visible birds on branches (i.e. not hidden amidst the leaves) were scarce in Mersing; it was a blessing to find one in Kluang.

From a technical point of view, I used all three lenses: 50mm for most of the shots; the wide-angle 18-55mm for some of the more creative, adventurous pieces; and the telephoto 55-200mm for, among others, that memorable bird picture. And I also used a waterproof disposable camera for a number of shots on Rawa.

But beyond all technicalities, I take photos to express ideas and emotions. It was a pleasure and challenge to let God's Word be that central idea in Mersing, and I must say it was a very, very rewarding endeavour.

While in Penang, someone (I think it was Greg Yang) said that the difference between a professional and an amateur photographer is that the pro is often more consistent at producing good photos while the amateur may have a great shot once in a while.

Mersing was a great experience, but while it represents the best of my abilities thus far, I think most of it is a vision of what I may aspire to in time to come. Firstfruits of a coming era of much better photos. This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Mersing so much, and why it will more likely than not remain the holiday, and a benchmark for my photography.

I hope you will enjoy viewing the pictures as much as I enjoyed making them. Perhaps I will explain each in detail someday, and tell why they each mean so much to me. But for today, I shall not get in the way of the Word that first inspired me and gave me the courage and strength to see the 'mission' through.

To the d'NAers, may this 'gallery' rekindle some memories and spur us on in constant devotion to our Master and to one another, even as we grow old together and blow out many more candles and eat many more cakes! It was, after all, a birthday trip to begin with... ;-)

If there is one wish I would like to make today, it is that I may always keep God's Word central in my life, and let it be the driving force in everything I do. And then maybe many years later I will be able to look back and say that it was very challenging, but also very rewarding.

To God be all the glory. Amen.

* * * * *

A word on the last two pictures:

While working on the post, I might have accidentally deleted the ones I'd saved in the draft. Thankfully I have a copy of the last picture on my 1GB SD card which I've been carrying around with me, and an alternative for the second-last picture also on the same card. It was not the angle I originally had in mind, but now I think it probably works better!

And it is also good that there is Powerpoint on this computer so I could 'sign' my name on them.

All verses from the New American Standard Bible.

Psalm 104 with photos by Benjamin Ong

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,

2 Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.

3 He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;

4 He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers.

5 He established the earth upon its foundations,
So that it will not totter forever and ever.

6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.

7 At Your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.

8 The mountains rose; the valleys sank down
To the place which You established for them.

9 You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
So that they will not return to cover the earth.

10 He sends forth springs in the valleys;
They flow between the mountains;

11 They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.

12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
They lift up their voices among the branches.

13 He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.

14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the labor of man,
So that he may bring forth food from the earth,

15 And wine which makes man's heart glad,
So that he may make his face glisten with oil,
And food which sustains man's heart.

16 The trees of the LORD drink their fill,
The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,

17 Where the birds build their nests,
And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.

18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
The cliffs are a refuge for the shephanim.

19 He made the moon for the seasons;
The sun knows the place of its setting.

20 You appoint darkness and it becomes night,
In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about.

21 The young lions roar after their prey
And seek their food from God.

22 When the sun rises they withdraw
And lie down in their dens.

23 Man goes forth to his work
And to his labor until evening.

24 O LORD, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all;
The earth is full of Your possessions.

25 There is the sea, great and broad,
In which are swarms without number,
Animals both small and great.

26 There the ships move along,
And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.

27 They all wait for You
To give them their food in due season.

28 You give to them, they gather it up;
You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.

29 You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
You take away their spirit, they expire
And return to their dust.

30 You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the ground.

31 Let the glory of the LORD endure forever;
Let the LORD be glad in His works;

32 He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.

33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

34 Let my meditation be pleasing to Him;
As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD.

35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth
And let the wicked be no more
Bless the LORD, O my soul
Praise the LORD!

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Gastropod on the Trail

Chee Seong spotted this snail along the path out of Block E, while we were on our way to breakfast. The sky was extremely cloudy and by the time I returned to camera to my locker, it had started to rain. I set the white balance to 'cloudy'.

It reminded us of our Biology of Organisms test today, in which we will be tested, among other things, on molluscs.

Thanks Chee Seong for being so patient while I ran upstairs to get my camera, took time with the photo shoot and rushed up again to put away the camera. (I think it cost you breakfast, didn't it? Really sorry if it did.)

I asked if the computer lab would be open tomorrow morning (it has been closed on a number of Tuesday mornings; booked for class or something), and the lab assistant/technician (?) said it would.

So if all goes well, I'll put up an entry I've been meaning to post for quite some time now. After all the delays, I've decided to use it to mark a rather significant milestone.

Here's the 'trailer':

Keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two months later...

What are the odds that, exactly two months after your grandfather dies, your grandmother from the other side of the family does also?

Expected and gradual was the first.
Unexpected and sudden, the second.

7.25 p.m. on the 25th of July.

Rest in peace, Ah Ma.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

On Death

Death has been a theme running through the last few books in the Harry Potter series. In the toilet (of all places) just now, I found myself thinking about this and other instances of deaths in novels.

I think the question is not really about whether or not a character dies, but why and how he/she does. I ponder three instances, two of which I've read and one of which I've learned from friends.

The death that binds the reader

Li-Shia said she cried at the end of 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving. I have since transferred ownership of the book to her; I bought it in Form 3 but never quite got past the first chapter.

She said she knew he would die but because it was such a long book she grew so close to him that she'd rather he didn't die. As I thought about it, I realised how unusual a character Owen is (anyone who's watched the movie Simon Birch, which was based on the book, will know this), and yet sometimes we can identify ourselves with those most unlike us.

Maybe for a moment their deaths became more real than our lives.

The death that isn't quite death

'Big Fish' ends as it begins; the main character Edward Bloom's death is as mythical as his birth. He unmistakable dies an unspectacular death in a hospital ward at the end, but at the same time it is a spectacular transformation in which he becomes a fish. Author Daniel Wallace doesn't distinguish between the two.

I wonder about the deaths in fantasies and myths, in which characters are definitely dead, yet also more alive than they have ever been.

The death where everyone dies but that is not the point

I have yet to see a children's book in which more characters die (and are resurrected) then C.S. Lewis's 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. Here virtually all the good guys die, and yet they are all alive at the very end.

Maybe it is summed up best in Aslan's words at the end of the sixth book, 'The Silver Chair': "Most people have [died], you know. Even I have. There are very few who haven't."

Lewis describes deaths in a very matter-of-fact way, neither as the epic end of a hero or villain nor as the conclusion of some climactic battle. It's almost as if the death is not the point, but rather the life (or lack thereof) after death.

We are told that the main characters are all involved in a railway accident in the last book, but then it is not elaborated further. Instead, their life after death becomes the dominant reality.

No, I don't know much about death. But something tells me that death is tragic because it puts us face-to-face with the unknown, and because the ones who die have come to mean so much to us. Death is comical because we have seen joy which no death can overcome.

And for what it's worth, we don't have to mask death in any way because we can look it squarely in the face and know that through tears we have triumphed over it in Jesus' name.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Reflections of a Photographer

I had at first intended to put up my best photos from the following categories:

Still Life

As I searched my inventory, I discovered countless portraits and little else. Or maybe it's just the way I think.

To me, my shots of landscapes are more like portraits of the world around us. Still life shots are portraits of objects. Children and portraits of children; what's the difference? Action shots are portraits of people in action. And travel photos are portraits of places I've visited. Everything is a portrait of some sort, and I don't know how to differentiate!

Of course, this does not apply if 'portrait' is restricted to studio images. But that is hardly the case in photography.

All that aside, it has just dawned upon me that nominating a 'best shot' is a very tedious undertaking. I can think of definitive or memorable shots, but they aren't necessarily artistic; conversely, some of my most 'artsy' shots are hardly definitive pieces.

The photos below are not my most recent, but they each mean a lot to me. None have been edited, so for better or worse, they appear as I shot them. Together, they represent the photographer I was, the one I am, and the one I hope someday to be.

* * * * *


This was among the first few photos taken with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, and Yen was my first 'model'. I think it started here, that I began to fully understand what 'cropping-in tight' meant. With a wide-angle lens, it is easy to snap a picture without paying attention to what to include and what to throw out.

A 50mm lens at close range doesn't offer the photographer that luxury. I learnt to be more careful in my composition, and more focused on the intensity of the emotion. The result? The trip to Mersing the day after meeting Yen turned out to be my most successful photography outing to date, and most of the shots were 'portraits'.

So where am I now? I've experimented with weird portraits by just including parts of the face, like the eyes without the mouth and vice versa. Nevertheless, I still think traditional portraiture is the best!


This is one of my weaker areas. I can never think of a landscape in terms of 'foreground interest' and 'leading lines' and other patterns familiar to the landscape photographer. Or maybe it's just that I haven't seen enough landscapes.

But then again, anything can be a landscape, even the plot of unused land at the end of my road. And to me, a landscape is as much about the emotion as it is about the beauty. As a result, many of my landscape shots contain people in them, simply because I like to show how I perceive human interaction with the environment.

The first digital camera I acquired was a Minolta DiMAGE G400, and the first full-fledged photo 'project' was d'NA Stage Two. This photo of Soo Tian walking away from the morning petal shower (affectionately called the MPS) was taken on the morning of the last day. It would also be the last 'last day' without a Graduation Ceremony.

For an ad hoc shot, it is surprisingly well-balanced in terms of composition. I would only learn the implications of composition some two years later.

Still Life

By and large, most of my attempts at still life photography have been pictures of food, as anyone who has eaten with me will know. It didn't actually occur to me that the picture I chose for this category also happens to be food, until now. Apples are food, right?

After dinner at the al-Marjan restaurant in KLCC with Soo Tian last June, I decided to fiddle around with the apples. I liked the contrast between the green and red apples, and the rather dark table. This was shot with the Minolta.

To me, still life is mostly about texture and colour, and less about form. Again, the emotion is central to the shot. Most of my still lifes are either melancholic or contemplative in nature, as I believe this category is best suited to such emotions.


Hands down, my worst category. It's not that I don't see enough children; I just don't have a strong enough rapport with them.

The ingredients of successful child photography are simple: shoot from their level, capture the fun and innocence. I suppose I'm just not quite there yet, and most of my other photos of children seem better suited to the 'portraits' category.

This was taken with my recently-acquired (well, two months ago anyway) Nikon P5000.


The photo was planned, but the effect was accidental. The Minolta overexposed the shot, resulting in very bright 'washed-out' highlight areas. And I love it! I took another couple of shots with balanced exposure, but the effect just wasn't the same; this reminds me of something Kelvin Chan said, that there is no such thing as correct exposure, only what you want to achieve.

Virtually all my shots of people are action shots, simply because they are doing something in the photo. But in terms of 'action' conveying force and energy, this one is about as good as it gets. Phak Hoe struck this pose beneath a tiny 'waterfall' in FRIM, and the water droplets 'frozen' in mid-air bear traces of heavenly power.

If there's one thing I need to improve, it is my spontaneity. I'm not a very fast photographer, much to the annoyance and frustration of my friends. Thankfully, they are sympathetic and patient with this budding photographer!


First things first: the 'Selamat Jalan' sign was not intentional. I took this picture two years ago, and it was only today that I noticed the sign!

I chose this picture (taken with the Minolta during the d'NA reunion in Kluang) to represent travel because of two reasons:

1. The d'NAers are my perpetual travel buddies.
2. The car will always remind us of our dream Road Trip.

[At this point (9.18 p.m.) there was a split-second blackout. I'm so, so thankful everything up to this point was saved. God must be telling me it's dinner time, so I'd better hurry up!]

Indeed, I have loads of travel photos, too many from which to choose a 'best' or 'definitive' shot. Every trip has its finest photos, and every trip is different. But the picture of the whole lot of us squashed in Michelle's Tiara represents the two most important elements of any trip:

1. The people.
2. The journey; whether on foot, by car, by bus, by train, by ship, by plane or any other means. The joy in the journey, and not just the destination, is what makes travel the great fun it is.

[It has just occurred to me that Blogger's saves the entry every minute; what an excellent system. And since I take time to string my words, I don't write a lot in a minute.]

* * * * *

So this is a trip down memory lane, showcasing a selection of photos spanning two years. I'd like to ask the ones responsible for firing up my interest in photography, and who remain till today some of my favourite subjects, namely the d'NAers: how have I changed and developed as a photographer since Stage One?

* * * * *

One more thing:

Happy 23rd Anniversary, Mum and Dad!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Portrait and Still Life

The purple...

and the green.

Later in the evening yesterday, it stormed.

And on the other side, there was a rainbow. But no rain.

But there was no rainbow here.

One half is missing the other.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


It rained a little just now. No thunderstorm, though. ;-)

Eleven it is.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Yen at 21

One of the greatest joys in life is, I believe, growing old together.

Happy 21st, Yen! (This is the third consecutive day I'm wishing you :-P)

Maybe someday, Yen. Remember these words:

Maybe someday.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Some things you can take along with you

Officially Day 4 at the University of Malaya.

I've written two entries on my experience so far on my Form Six classmates' blog. The first is on the Orientation Week here. And a little on my other experiences so far here.

* * * * *

It has been great meeting some old faces, especially these two seniors:

Kenneth was President of the VI Christian Union in 2002. He's a third-year Genetics student. Met him about 3.30 p.m. on 9 July.

In the SMS he sent at 3.23 p.m., he said;

"Hey bro..It is going to rain sooon..Do remember to bring an umbrella along..I'm still here in the Science Faculty Canteen..See u soon!"

It didn't rain in the end, but I will always remember the day it rained back in 2000. That afternoon we prayed together in the classroom I would occupy some four years later in Form 5.

Had supper with Yen and her friend Sze Sze on Monday night after the Mentor-Mentee programme at college. What with a Yen Yen and a Sze Sze, why not change my name to Ben Ben?

Bandung panas tarik is actually better than bandung panas!

The photo above was taken at Sahur's Cafe in my college. Yen came over for dinner yesterday.

Apparently it is more incriminating for a guy to wipe a grain of rice off a girl's mouth than vice versa.

* * * * *

This morning two songs kept playing again and again in my head: Muse's 'Starlight' and U2's 'Walk On'.

For 'Starlight', it was the theme piano line and the part that goes "I just wanted to hold you in my arms" again and again and again.

For 'Walk On', it was the outro stanza;

Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme...

(I think I really like anthemic rock.)

As I reflect on the lot of us building new lives, I am again and again encouraged by the thought that not everything has to be left behind. (My hair is standing and I'm getting goosebumps even as I write this!)

And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage that you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind

'Walk On' was written for Aung San Suu Kyi, but I think it also best sums up U2's return to rock centrestage some seven years ago.

Who is to say that, three years from now, everything would have changed?