Friday, May 29, 2009

Of Cycling and the Sea

So the BF Classmates invaded Putrajaya and Bagan Lalang (a beach off Sepang) last Saturday.

These are some of my pictures. Shot on Ilford Delta 400, with a Nikon FM10 and 50mm f/1.8 lens. I used a red filter on almost all of these shots; red filters darken blues and lighten reds, the net effect commonly being pimple-free faces and darker, more dramatic blue skies.

I converted the Putrajaya pictures to black-and-white (thus intensifying the black-and-white of Delta) to give them a more metallic look, but left the Bagan Lalang ones as they are to demonstrate what Ilford Delta looks like raw.

Taman Wetlands, Putrajaya

Dubious signage.

The flamingo pond. Such an ironic oasis of life, what with the huge pylons in the background.

We biked! Well, most of us anyway. A few rode along on double bikes and on pillion.

Phon and Mel navigate the slope.

Laushu, these are banana trees! (Well, technically the banana is not a tree, but...)

Bagan Lalang, Sepang

Beach hunks.

The child in Mel.


Apparently sea water does not deter some very determined photographers.

Chalets are being erected in the distance. This beach may not enjoy many more years as a relatively unspoilt holiday site.

The seafood here is quite cheap, but the veggies are not!

And the Model-of-the-Day award goes to... Jino!

Bicycle and bananas; perfect kampung boy look if not for the Sony Cybershot [in his hand, and camera pouch] dangling from his waist.

Jino carves his name in the sand. In the background a child is also playing with sand.

Perhaps some people never grow up!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

13-11-07 reprise

Remember this?

Today, while going through the printed past, I was reminded of the (MSN) conversation that sparked it off.

Oranges. Michael William. A little Dutch blood.

William of Orange.

"I hardly ever in my life write so much, with all this poetry and passion, though that was always the way in which I thought."

Monasticism and sex.

Life is fun.

First Thoughts after Slumdog Millionaire

I missed it when it was in the cinemas, so I picked up the DVD instead. I like the fact that many critically acclaimed movies are released on inexpensive DVD (RM20), such as Amazing Grace and Once.

Fresh from the movie, these are some of the thoughts that came to mind:

A.R. Rahman (the music composer) was right; sometimes it is your year, and sometimes it isn't. He was asked by a TIME magazine reader if he thought he was more talented than some composers who have been nominated many times but never won; he won two Oscars for Best Music and Best Original Song.

He was right, because the song that won, 'Jai Ho', sounds unmistakably Bollywood. It is not a bad song at all, but I cannot help thinking that a major part of why it won is because it was a novelty in Hollywood. Likewise, the year before, the indie movie Once took home the same award for 'Falling Slowly', written and performed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.

These 'foreign products' are in many ways more artistically accomplished than a lot of what Hollywood churns out, but I cannot help thinking there are many more out there that would, objectively and empirically, stand a chance at such awards but for the fact that they are not released in the States.

Nonetheless what Slumdog Millionaire manages to do is continue to widen America's window on the world, internationalising the highest echelons of cinema. The Chinese did it in 2000 with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and now the Indians have, too.

And because every culture in the world has its way of telling stories, this 'infiltration' of Hollywood can hardly be anything but good for the film industry. And I expect we will see many more of these in the years to come.

Viva cinema!

Friday, May 22, 2009


(Timed entry)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Call upon the name of the Lord

Back in my early Secondary days, I remember the song 'Shout to the Lord' by Hillsong was one of the oversung anthems in church.

At some point, it was 'Here I Am to Worship'. And so when the church sang 'Here I Am to Worship' last Sunday, I was reminded of 'Shout to the Lord.'

Lo and behold, they proceeded to sing 'Shout to the Lord' right after that!

Anyway, I'm not particularly a fan of Hillsong (that is an understatement), but that day, the words from the bridge of 'Here I Am to Worship' refused to let me go:

"Call upon the name of the Lord, and be saved."

And in hearing it again and again (for that is how it is sung), I imagined hermits from the pre-Messianic days (for that is when the words were first written) hiding in caves and walking across deserts, chanting those words until they had no more breath to chant.

"And everyone who calls
on the name of the LORD will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the LORD has said,
among the survivors
whom the LORD calls."

-- Joel 2:32 (NIV)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kirk Tuck on film

What Kirk Tuck wrote in his entry 'I stepped back in time yesterday and bought a Nikon F4', on 27 January 2009, reminds me of a lot of things I've been thinking about lately:

As the demand for large prints diminished so will the demand for the last remaining photographic labs and their master printers. All photographic art will be destined for the screen or the wild interpretations of ink jet printers on papers of dubious quality and keeping potential. We, as a culture, will have done to art exactly what we have done to the DVD player and the hamburger: We will have commodified it, driven it brutally to it's lowest price with all the attendant compromises and we will have sucked the "humanism" out of the process in a vain and egalitarian attempt to make all things accessible to all people.

So, the F4 convinces me that the expedition in search of excellence is still part of human nature....even though it is temporarily in hibernation. The feel of the camera is superb. The feedback of the shutter and mirror noise is sensuous. And the looks of my photographic peers are priceless as they try to figure out just what the hell I'm up to now."

This, written on 29 April, reminds me of the Entangled Photo Shoot (which was nonetheless done on digital):

In the film days, before immediate gratification, we would shoot and shoot. Not to waste film but to explore the possibilities. Often the "portfolio keepers" would arrive after the perceived high point of a shoot. The fun shots seemed to manifest themselves when everyone was sure we were covered and they started to relax. [...] There’s a lot to be said for not knowing exactly what’s there until you see it.

* * * * *

Michelle uses a Holga. Looking forward to seeing some of your work, Mich!

'Consequences of Creativity' by Chase Jarvis

Photographers beware!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bounce flash and burgers

We had burgers for dinner tonight!

I conveniently decided to run a little experiment on flash photography with compact cameras. Everyone knows that indoor shooting in low light is the greatest bane of compact camera photography.

Scene shot without flash. In order to limit noise, a slow shutter speed (1/2 second) had to be used. Even with Nikon's great VR (Vibration Reduction), the picture is slightly shaky.

Scene shot with the camera's flash at shutter speed of 1/8 sec. This is the reason why most people choose to switch flash off; note the horrible flat lighting in which the foreground is overexposed relative to the background.

Bounce flash to the rescue! By using a flash unit pointed towards the ceiling, the scene is evenly lit at a decent shutter speed of 1/8 sec and noise becomes a non-issue.

The Nikon P5000 compact camera which I use; this picture was shot on Mum's Canon IXUS 80 IS. I never fail to praise Canon's compacts, and I am openly critical of Nikon's compacts, so why did I choose this compact?

First of all, it must be said that cameras operate as part of a system. If you only own one camera, Canon is the way to go. But I shoot the big stuff on my SLRs, so a compact camera's role in my arsenal is that of a backup unit.

As for the P5000, it is made of robust magnesium (rather than plastic) with a nice rubber grip and rubber thumb rest on the back; this makes holding it a great pleasure. Also, exposure is adjusted via a thumb-operated sliding wheel, just like Nikon's SLRs. It has an optical viewfinder for stealth mode (shooting without the LCD) and when in direct sunlight (when the LCD is hard to see).

Canon's higher-end Powershots have optical viewfinders too, and Canon's macro focus system puts Nikon's to shame, but I don't shoot macro with compact cameras; I do all my insect shots on the SLR. There is one thing this Nikon has that makes it a winner...

A hot shoe to which a flash unit can be attached! (Pictured here with the SB-600 flash unit which I use with the D50 for indoor shots.)

Ultimately a camera has to suit its user and the purpose for which it is employed. I shoot macro and long-distance with my SLR, so I need neither compact macro nor superzoom features. A camera should feel good in the hand, because who would bother shooting a whole day with a camera that doesn't handle well?

And because the P5000 is designed externally to resemble an SLR, most of its functions and settings are accessed via buttons and dials instead of menus, making it easier to change settings when shooting under demanding circumstances. The trend in cameras these days is larger LCD screens with fewer buttons; this makes for great viewing, but bad photography.

Viva compact cameras!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Love and lessons learnt

Love is patient...

--1 Corinthians 13:4

I wonder if it was listed first because it is the quality most frequently (and incessantly) demanded of love.

Perhaps it also suggests that love does not wait in vain; the act of waiting implies that something will come out of the waiting.

* * * * *

Some lessons are learnt the hard way. Here are some from the recent Penang trip:

1. Always help your friends in need. If your friend happens to be a fellow photographer, it could be the difference between actually getting shots at an event, and not.

2. If something was amiss with the first roll of film, don't wait until the third to find out.

3. Water droplets on the surface of a lens protector can irreversibly mar a great shot.

4. Always wear socks when hiking.

5. A 100-ringgit investment in a waterproof camera casing is NOT a waste.

6. Unless it is the main purpose of the trip (like setting out in search of the Malayan Tiger), never spend money on someone/something you do not fully trust, for a shot you are uncertain of getting.

7. Always, people above photography.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

700: Exodus

This is the 700th post. I've been counting down since February I think. Perhaps since the day I painted and presented this to its current owner (27 Feb), since the day I knew I wanted this to be this blog's new header; I cannot remember exactly when.

It began when Chian Ming asked for a painting last year, seeing what I did with the bird against the fiery red sky. She asked for flowers.

And then just before 10.00 p.m. on 9 Feb this year--I think it was one of those stressful seasons--she sent me this message;

"Look out the clear sky. The moon is extra big today. :-) take some time to admire it to clear ur mind off a little. Do Tc k."

So I stepped out of my room and went downstairs and stood near the cactus and looked at the moon. And so it started with a flower, and the flower was joined by the moon, the moon by the cactus, and the cactus by a desert.

At that time I was reading the article on Vincent van Gogh in the October 1997 issue of National Geographic. I was thinking a lot about art, and wondering if I might actually be able to experience the joy of painting once again. With van Gogh came the sunflowers, the melancholic portraits, the tragic life that was tragic because (as Don McLean cleverly observed) "they could not know you"--people could not understand his genius--the struggle to maintain artistic integrity, and the tulips of Holland.

I had not yet decided what sort of flowers to paint for her.

It happens that at that time, Lent was about to begin. By Ash Wednesday on 25 Feb, I'd decided that I'd use the book of the Exodus as my Lent reading. First of all, it was convenient: 40 chapters of Exodus for the 40 days of Lent. But I believe one of the strongest drawing factors was that I had been identifying myself with Moses quite a lot then, what with the feelings of inferiority, of wondering why God would choose such a person for so apparently monumental a task.

The burning bush is the deciding metaphor of the Exodus. On that mountain (Mount Sinai) God promises that Moses and the Israelites would worship following their liberation from slavery. In the blazing fire that yet spared the bush, there was a symbol of the refining, purifying act of God. "Remove your shoes for you stand on holy ground."

And in that conversation between God and Moses, God made only one point (for indeed He probably only had one point to make): that Moses was mere mortal while God was--and is--God.

I could not reflect on the Exodus without also thinking of Jesus Christ. And so images as diverse as the Ark of the Covenant, the golden calf, meteorite debris, the pierced hand of the Christ, blood, living hearts, and fire, all poured into my mind and onto the scraps of paper upon which I jotted my thoughts.

U2's 'The Fly' was an anthem of sorts for How and myself at the time; in many ways it still is. This line from the song kept ringing in my head, "Love, we shine like a burning star, falling from the sky tonight." And that was when it all came together.

It was going to be a night scene in the desert. In the desert because that is where God tested and purified the Israelites, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights before being tempted by Satan, where Jesus won the victory. At night because the moon comes out at night.

There was going to be fire. Not just fire from a burning bush, but fire from burning stars falling from the sky. And these falling stars would reincarnate themselves as tulips; and irony because tulips are so familiar yet they remind me of the artist whose thoughts and emotions reflected ideas that did not seem at all to come from Earth.

I didn't know how to draw the mountain, so I based it on a photograph I took of Mount Kinabalu when I was there in 2007.

In the painting I also liberally use, as a motif, the strokes and general structure of the Chinese character for 'moon', yuèt.

I used Arches 185 gsm watercolour paper and Artist's Alpha Water Colors, and a sponge to add texture to the mountains.

We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

~ T.S. Eliot, 'Little Gidding'

* * * * *

On 6 Feb last year, I wrote: I think it’s fitting to mark the 600th entry on this blog with a reflection on my recent sabbatical from, and subsequent return to, photography.

A hundred entries and a year later, I am returning to watercolour and other forms of art. But I am not leaving photography behind; I'm seeking ways to create hybrids of the two.

Ai Wei

Boys and girls go to school
And girls they make children
Not like this one.

I was of the feeling it was out of control
I had the opinion it was out of control.

~ U2, 'Out of Control'

NSCF 2003. d'NA Stage One. Form Five. National Service. Ai Wei.

Tanjung Tuan, with thoughts on photography

I recently acquired a Nikon FM-10 film SLR, which I consider to be on 'permanent loan' from the Teachers' Christian Fellowship (TCF) Malaysia. They gave it, along with a Canon film SLR, to Tim. He doesn't shoot film, so he figured I'd be able to make better use of it.

It's the most basic of film cameras, although it does have a meter. Film advance and focusing is manual, as is the setting of shutter speed (via dial on camera) and aperture (via ring on lens). If you've seen a traditional film camera, you will know what I'm talking about; if you haven't, go look it up... you don't know what you're missing!

I picked up a roll of year-old expired Kodak Max 400 colour print film from the KPS mini market and shot my college's CC Nite with it. Unfortunately I didn't know how to load the film properly and, as a result, it did not actually advance. Disastrously, I received a blank roll of developed film.

Somehow I managed to load the second roll properly; it was when I loaded it that I realised my mistake with the first roll. Rummaging through the camera bag, I discovered a cable release, a close-up filter and a new roll of Kodak EliteChrome 100 slide film (though I didn't realise this until I loaded it; I really need to read more carefully!). There is also a flash unit, though I don't think I'll be using it anytime soon.

The EliteChrome expired in 2003, but just for fun I decided to try it out. And so with it I shot the Invertebrate Biology field trip at Tanjung Tuan on 29 March, while How manned my D50. The colour was a mess, but amazingly the pictures looked great when I converted them to black-and-white on the computer!

These pictures were shot with the FM-10 and my 50mm f1.8 lens. I didn't have batteries for the meter then, so I estimated exposure using the guide provided in the film's packaging.

* * * * *

Beach scene, Tanjung Tuan.

Three generations of ecologists: Dean of Science and lecturer at the Institute of Biological Sciences Professor Dr Mohd Sofian Azirun, the legendary but degree-less Senior Lab Assistant (retired) Haji Mokhtar Ibrahim, and the future, Thary.

Exploring the ecotone between mangrove and beach. Aerial roots of Avicennia everywhere.

We found that many animals find refuge in coral, including snails, mussels and this crab.

Sea cucumber, Holothuria, with Shannon and Amir. Thary later found a really large one!

The rocks exposed at low tide were really quite treacherous, what with sharp quartzite minerals all over the rock surfaces.

How destroyed his slippers (Asadi, I think) along the way.

How and I fell in love with this one.

This shot took some time to grow on me. I asked How to take a picture of my taking a picture of the coral; at first I thought it was 'OK' but How was so sure he'd shot it exactly as I wanted it.

Now as I look at it again and again, I realise he was right.

* * * * *

Lately I've been experimenting with black-and-white prints on consumer photo paper and professional-quality watercolour paper, using the Canon Pixma iP2580 printer I received from UM's Alumni Association.

I tried my hand at watercolouring my black-and-white prints, a la Eric Peris. The results were quite stimulating!

In the process of all of this, it occurred to me that the print is probably the true end of all photography. Ansel Adams (and undoubtedly legions of photographers in his day) understood this. We do not shoot to amass digital files or negatives, but to produce prints which may end up on cards, bookmarks, in books and magazines, within frames, or on the walls of art galleries.

Talking to Ai Wei recently, I am convinced more than ever that film is more enduring than digital. If you tear a negative in half, you can still print the two halves of the picture; if you break (or even scratch) a DVD containing a thousand photographs, how many of those photographs would still be usable?

* * * * *

Thanks to Kelvin Chan for teaching me how to rewind fully-advanced film, and to Mr Jason Chew for teaching me how to set the ISO dial.

Lots of good stuff here:

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Christ plays... and Delta returns

While reading a National Geographic article on the resurgent Russian Orthodox Church, I was reminded of why I believe. I believe because only Jesus can make Himself incarnate in any and every culture; Christianity is defined by its ability to make itself at home in any social background.

I was reminded of what Uncle Hwa Yung shared at d'NA, on how the Russian Church survived the Communist revolution because the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were not destroyed.

In Ireland Jesus was crucified on a heavy stone Celtic cross; in India Jesus wears a turban; in Nigeria Jesus eats cassava; in Malaysia Jesus' roti canai was broken and the sirap of the New Covenant was poured out for us; in Germany He wore the robes of a monk.

And then I was reminded of Eugene Peterson's book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, which Sivin gave me on the occasion of my 19th birthday. From Advent 2003 when the book was written to Pentecost 2006 when I received it, to Easter 2009 as I am reminded of it, Gerard Manley Hopkins's words ring true:

For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

* * * * *

Ilford Delta 400 returned to the Canon in early March; I think the last time I shot it on SLR was at STOMP in June 2008.

(Film pushed to ISO 800 on all pictures below.)

Yu Deng playing the guzheng at 3rd College's Chinese Cultural Night (Pesta Tiong Hua IV). She debated for the College during last year's Orientation Week.

Yen at FeSeni.

This looks like it might have been shot in the 1950s. Film has so much character!

7th College's Chinese Dance team in action.

Yen, and in the background the robe she will don come August.

Sze Sze, Yen's roommate.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Of the Saviour, Singapore and Surprises

Christmas 2008 was well-spent in Singapore. Besides much family time, I managed to meet up with two 'old' friends and received one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

Fang Hai and I went gallivanting about downtown Singapore, near and around the Central Business District. Here, we couldn't help feeling that the Fort Canning Centre bore a peculiar resemblance to one particular school in KL.

He brought me to the SMU hostel where he lives.

Then I met up with Jessica, having learnt from my uncle that Holland V stands for Holland Village, not Holland Five.

(Speaking of which, Astro recently aired U2's Milan concert from the Vertigo Tour; Dad said it was on Channel Five. It was only later that I realized he meant Channel [V].)

The next day, Fang Hai brought me to Taos. Great set meals, and the price is hard to beat!

Jessica showed me the film SLR she bought for her photojournalism subject some time ago. It took me a while to convince her that film is still a viable medium, but eventually she got herself a roll of Provia!

Majit, the neighbour's Persian. My family and I had quite a field time shooting away at him, heheh...

This time around, I wanted a pair of cargo pants and needed an umbrella. Among the gifts I received were an art deco umbrella (from Mum and Dad) and a little folder (from Aunty Daphne) to put paper and organise stuff - perfect for all those scraps of paper on which I jot my thoughts!

(Dad recently got me the cargo pants. Great stuff at Pertama Complex in KL.)

Dr E.N. Poulson delivered the Word on Christmas Day at Grace Community Baptist Church. As I saw him stand on his walking stick at worship, I was overwhelmed by a mixed emotion that was part awe, part humility, and part reverence. Here was a man whose age and frailty were no obstacle to his ministry.

My December meditations were on the book of the prophet Jeremiah.

"They will ask the way to Zion
and turn their faces toward it.
They will come and bind themselves to the LORD
in an everlasting covenant
that will not be forgotten.

My people have been lost sheep;
their shepherds have led them astray
and caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
and forgot their own resting place."

Jeremiah 50:5-6 (NIV)

After service we visited Dad's friend in Pasir Ris.

And I received the biggest surprise of the year, as well as felt the full measure of the phrase, "What are the odds!"

So that afternoon we went around town and visited, among other places, the Nativity scene that was set up outside Plaza Singapura as the centrepiece of a week-long 'Back to the Bible' sort of joint-campaign by many churches in Singapore.

And at night we were all hosted by the Lee family in Dover. Aunty Daphne and Uncle KH looking very Christmas-sy indeed!

Almost everyone.

Finally, the last day was an unforgettable twenty-four hours of extended grace.

Love, joy, peace... and scarcely a better sun to set on Singapore, to set on the year 2008.