Thursday, March 27, 2008

Entangled in Experiments


I missed the Entrepreneurship Day because of Mum's operation (which, by the way, went well; praise God!) but I heard it was quite a success. My team sold friendship bands (made by Ying Jin, Poh Yoke and Cherlene), herbal tea (mixed by Yi Wooi) and 3-D cards (something like the pop-up variety).

How had two custom double-sided bands made for the two of us. On one side were our names and on the other, the opening lines of the first chorus of U2's 'One', which he's been hooked onto ever since I first played it on the computer for him.

Thanks How!

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(Photo by Henry Wagner)

People used to wonder why on earth U2 went so far in their mid-90s experiments. The giant mirrorball lemon and all the elaborate techno-infused concerts of the 90s were such a departure from their sparser and more visceral 80s sets.

Many were glad U2 got rid of all of that when they launched the Elevation tour following their hit album All That You Can't Leave Behind, but the reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet probably said it best when he pointed out that U2 would not be where they are if not for the 90s experiments.


Lately I too have been experimenting and exploring uncharted waters.

When I agreed to do the photography for Entangled the Musical (UM's Easter Production) instead of assuming a position in the cast or ensemble, it was more because there wasn't anyone else to do it than any other reason.

There was Tim Cheng, but he was then tentatively on the music team, playing drums.

As the weeks and months passed, what started out as a one-man shooting spree for memory's sake became a full-fledged documentation effort. Tim was replaced by Wern Loong so he could join in photography (I was always hoping for a team of at least two photographers), and Yen also joined the company.

The fact that there were three photographers meant we didn't have enough DSLRs. I began entertaining the idea of shooting on film, so Yen and Tim would use the DSLRs while I'd be shooting with the EOS300 (formerly Jon Siao's).

Somewhere along the way, videography was added to my portfolio. Adrian mentioned that a video of last year's musical Love Came Down was recorded, but somehow it was never quite distributed or broadcasted. So I had to source for video cameras and people to man them.

One of the most significant lessons I learnt was that it is not always easy when God answers prayer. In fact, often answered prayer is harder to deal with. When we were finally armed with not one, but three, video cameras, the whole venture became a lot more complicated. New options opened up; the prospect of shooting the musical from various angles and coming up with an edited concert-style recording suggested itself.

I'd always thought of my family's video camera as a final backup option, so when Sean forgot to bring his family's unit from Penang (following the General Elections), we were back at square one. Then Suit Lin said she could procure her father's; then Dad gave the green light provided Kevin would man ours; and then Sean called me to say he was back in Penang and was going to bring his.

As a matter of fact, Sean said there was a problem as his recorded on tape. Thing is, I'm not sure if I was riding on a wave of old-fashionedness, but I told him that it was actually a good thing as the quality of tape is good. I'm really not sure if this statement is justified, but I suppose if landscape photographers still shoot on large format film and filmmakers still use those humongous reels, there must be some truth to it that analog has some sort of upper hand over digital.


Anyway, in the end we managed to assemble a team of three photographers and three videographers, with Francis agreeing to do video and much later, Kenneth volunteering (he had initially signed up, via Adrian, to be part of the stage crew but pulled out of it due to a shoulder dislocated in his sleep). God provided the gear, and God provided the people. And it was so exciting to be able to work with Kenneth again!

I had the long dormant roll of Provia 100 developed and shot two rolls of Astia 100 (one pushed to 400) to practise my judgement of light. Over the three rolls were recorded lunch at Chili's with Li-Shia and Joanna, camera-hunting outing in Mid Valley with Yen and SooT, dinner at Delicious with Guru and Kishan, Jin Yu's 21st Birthday party and the final rehearsal at SSGC for Entangled. Exposure-wise they were virtually perfect from start to finish, with my manual exposures at Jin Yu's turning out beautifully.

One of the great strengths of film: highlights are very well controlled and the tonal range is far superior to digital, thus there is less risk of blown-out bits due to overexposure.

I followed through with an idea I had long been tossing around in my mind: using black-and-white film to shoot the musical. (It should be clarified here that I'm not exactly a fan of black-and-white; I love the brilliant colours of my Nikon D50, but the spirit of Entangled seemed to me to speak best in black-and-white as reflected in my interpretation of the musical for the poster.) Thus I armed myself with the roll of Fuji's Neopan 400 I bought at the fair in Times Square last year, Kodak 400CN and Ilford Delta 400.

The rolls were sent for developing this morning, so next week I will be able to see just how well the experiments turned out. 108 exposures in total is nothing compared to the hundreds I could've made had I shot on digital. Thus I made it a point to be mindful of my shooting and to think ahead rather than keep shooting from all possible angles.

Often I lapsed into my usual self and so found that I was running out of film quickly; as the musical progressed, I slowed my pace and ended the night with a bang (literally) having shot from a mad angle without looking through the viewfinder.


Francis, Ben, Tim, Yen, Kenneth and Kevin.

It was new territory for most of us. Yen's first shoot with an SLR, Kenneth's first time handling a video camera, Kevin's first time helping coordinate a video team, Francis's first time recording such an event (perhaps even his first time handling a video camera). And for Tim and me, we found ways to innovate; Tim made a last-minute investment in a ladder while I went all-out for interpretative juxtaposition and grainy black-and-white.

Annette believes there is a conspiracy; the Ben-in-the-limelight conspiracy. "We don't know if you were a prop or part of the cast."

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Some of our most memorable and instructive experiences stem from impulsiveness.

Bear with us; we are still learning and experimenting and making mistakes and daring to do what the experienced no longer dare to do because they have too much pride and are afraid to fall. (Such a Hemingway-esque sentence!)

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