Sunday, November 29, 2009

Between theirs and mine

I'd always dreamt of a shot from this angle. This girl made it possible.

(Click picture for larger view.)

I was also 'official photographer' for Adrian.

Last look out of a familiar place...

... and up into the sky!

Aunty Victoria, Adrian and Abel.

(It's not easy to get parents to jump. You rock, Aunty!)

In spite of extreme exhaustion on Saturday evening (after Friday night's Convo Dinner and post-dinner adventures, Saturday morning's shoot for Adrian and family, and Saturday afternoon's Science Convo), I found strength for some dinner.

It happened that at some point the conversation turned to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, and we talked about how he enjoys a near-godlike status there.

Then Pik Tze asked, "What else can you do besides being God?"

I cannot remember why she said that, or what the reply was, but I think it was along the lines of, "You're 'God'; what else could you possibly want?"

More pictures from the PKV Convo here.

* * *

Early in the morning on the day of Yen's Convo, I SMS-ed this to her.

Some things in life are hard to fathom, like shooting a zebra on colour film, or a sunset on black-and-white. To think that our university experiences can be rolled up in a scroll. All the fuss over robes, regalia and revelry. Crazy convo. But hey, might as well ride the wave than drown beneath it.

I think it was born half of inspiration, and half of late-night delirium. At that time, I was still struggling with rising to the occasion for Convo, knowing that I was both looking forward to, and dreading, it. The salvation that would manifest itself on the night of Convo Dinner had not yet arrived, and I had yet to fulfill my unspoken promise to an old friend.

Now eight months remain till mine. This time will pass sooner than I can imagine.

Thoughts long after CC Trip 09

I prepared this montage from my set of CC Trip photos. This year, I chose to bring only the P5000 compact digital camera, and shot considerably few photos.

It was fun watching Annabelle and Alan have fun with their SLRs; reminded me of my first year. I think three photographic highlights of the trip were the long exposures and light painting, shooting at the beach beneath overcast skies and light rain, and the engineering of the 'riskily shot' group photo.

As I mentioned on Annabelle's blog, it was truly by God's grace that I was able to join the trip, as it was initially planned on a weekend that would have clashed with a field trip.

It was truly meaningful to be with the juniors once again, after many months of erratic absences. Reminded me so very much of Adrian.

Read Belle's post here for more.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts after a Camp and a Shoot

Prophet's Call

Come meet me beneath the frangipani tree,
A stone's throw from the altar, where
On rattan mats the prophets sat
And listened to me there.

The sun has risen but the earth is wet;
Pools of water have yet to dry.
It is now afternoon, and very soon
His Spirit will pass on those lying on tile, concrete or grass.

You are not alone, for I am with you,
Whether in fearsome halls of stone
Or moss-covered hills, dripping in dew
In the dry land between there and here.

Beneath a train of strange white clouds, do not fear.
Today you are born of spirit and water;
Though torn in two, I will be with you
Whichever way the journey tends
To lead you to My promised land.

* * *

I wrote it at half past twelve, on the second day of PKV's T.H.E. Camp. It was at the end of our post-session short reflection. I allude to many things that were present at that particular moment, whether heard, seen or felt.

At the end of camp, Kim Cheng reminded me of how I first learnt silence; there was this camp called d'NA which I joined years ago, she said. She reminded me that silence and solitude are disciplines which do not come easy to us.

I think I have, over the years, forgotten some of these lessons. I used to enjoy solitude and seek silence out, but as time passed I became more sociable and company-seeking. As I prepare to enter into my final undergraduate semester, I want to reclaim some of this; I do not want to become a recluse, but I want to set aside time when I can be alone.

Perhaps I am not ready to pray yet, but I want to at least remember once again what it was like to be unencumbered by the distractions of the world.

* * *

Yet it is not (it seems to me) by Painting that Photography touches art, but by Theatre.

-- Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New set of links added

I've added a new set of links entitled 'Aperture' to the column on the right of this page. These are some photographers and photography resources I find myself coming back to time and again. They're worth a look if you're interested in photography.

Abhijit Nandi was last year's Chartered Institute of Water and Environment Management (CIWEM) Photographer of the Year. His pictures are exceptionally evocative of the culture of his homeland, India, in all its colour and ruggedness.

Andy Rouse, arguably the UK's greatest wildlife photographer. One of his most recent grand success was a portfolio on the Emperor Penguins.

Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer. I'd say his greatest feat was climbing all those mountains, lugging his large-format camera and tripod (no lightweight carbon-fibre stuff in those days) along.

Eric Chan, Taiwan-trained Malaysian photographer. One of the few people around with a real grasp of traditional black-and-white technique, and provides developing, printing and film supply services. Based in Bukit Jalil.

Eric Peris, legendary Malaysian art photographer. His seemingly simple and disarming photographs are full of nuances that effortlessly bring places and scenes to life.

Frans Lanting, wildlife photographer. With work frequently published in National Geographic, There is probably nearly nothing he hasn't shot.

Galen Rowell, landscape photographer. He went the opposite way from Ansel Adams, picking the lightest equipment so he could undertake long, nearly impossible hikes and trail runs.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the legendary photojournalist who popularised candid photography and the concept of the 'decisive moment'.

Ken Rockwell, landscape photographer and equipment reviewer. Very comprehensive website with lots of information on both digital and film photography.

Shashinki, online store founded and run by Malaysian Koh Kho King. While prices may be a little higher than in stores, this is a great place to get rare pieces of equipment and good second-hand bargains. Excellent service.

Simon Norfolk, landscape photographer. I'm not particularly familiar with his work and style, but his Maya portfolio, shot for National Geographic, sets quite a standard for evocative architectural photography.

Thomas Marent, wildlife photographer. His book 'Rainforest' is about as good as it can possibly get in terms of wildlife. It reignited my love for the natural environment, and whenever I feel like quitting Ecology, reading it is extremely therapeutic.

Victor Chin, Eric Peris's good friend and long-time collaborator on many projects. Like Peris, he initially trained as a painter/artist, and this comes across very much in his photography. Frequently photographs the disabled, offering a unique and inspiring window on their very busy and productive world.

Yousuf Karsh, legendary portraitist. Has photographed the who's who of the 20th Century, including Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Fidel Castro, Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein. It is said that "those who dream of immortality call for Karsh of Ottawa." I don't know if he's photographed Adolf Hitler, though.

Track Talk

(Train interior by Chris Guillebeau)

"Sir, one question," said the clerk at my hotel in Baku, whom I'd recruited to write Baku-Tbilisi, one-way, second class for me in the local language of Azeri. "Why do you want to take the train? It's not very nice."

Why take the train? Good question. First, I knew it would be a highly authentic way to get around the Caucasus, and also a good counterpoint to the world of Star Alliance flights that brought me from Portland to Baku, via Denver and Frankfurt. Second, I like overland travel, so why not go all-out? Fifteen hours can't be that bad, and the unpredictability and raw element of train travel adds an edginess that I haven't had recently.

--Chris Guillebeau, on taking the train from Baku, Azerbaijan to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Read more here.

* * *

On another note, what comes to your mind when you see the phrase 'colon pee'?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Disney is back!

Finally! Signs that the great master of animation and storytelling is back from stasis.

I grew up on Disney movies, classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Lion King, to name a few.

Then in recent years Disney faded into near oblivion, kept afloat by its association with Pixar and summer blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Watching the trailers of these movies, I think Disney may be in for a very good year ahead. And it looks like they're doing what they've always done best: putting creative, fresh spins on old classics.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future and Forrest Gump) continues to use the lukewarmly received performance capture technology to turn living actors into 3D characters.

But cinematographically it looks triumphant. And I've heard that it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic; that's good since I love Dickens's story!

Long-time collaborator Alan Silvestri returns to provide the music; if Forrest Gump is anything to go by, the soundtrack should be just as good, if not better, than the movie itself.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, in a movie directed by... who else but Tim Burton? (I won't be surprised if Danny Elfman is back as the music composer for this film.)

Disney is promoting this as a 3D movie, just as it is doing for A Christmas Carol. But at least both stories have a reasonable claim to artistic licence in the design department; Dickens and Lewis Carroll created these characters to be larger than life and beyond normal imagination. Disney is simply fleshing them out, just as it has done superbly with everything from Cinderella's pumpkin to the interpretations of classical masterpieces in Fantasia.

Any one of the names in Alice in Wonderland would be reason enough to watch it when it comes out. But the most interesting part of the story is perhaps one Lewis Carroll did not foresee, but would probably accept as a very logical follow-up: 19-year-old Alice returns to Wonderland.

I say he would probably accept it because, although Alice was written for a little girl, Carroll's masterpiece appealed, and continues to appeal, to much older 'children' as well. As C.S. Lewis once said, a good children's story is one you never outgrow.

It's great to see a sequel with a smart idea for a change; let's hope the movie lives up to the hype!

Along the lines of characters ageing, Andy is now about to enter college. This is the moment everyone was talking about in Toy Story 2, when Andy would be too old to play with his toys.

So what happens next? I must admit I was a little alarmed when I heard there would be a sequel to Toy Story 2. Disney-Pixar have never resurrected any of their characters except these toys, and common wisdom dictates that a movie should not have too many sequels (think Sylvester Stallone's Rocky) lest they be the undoing of a great work.

However, I remain hopeful. Toy Story redefined a lot of things, and did it remarkably well; Toy Story 2 performed exceptionally well for a sequel. On top of that, the people in Pixar have proven themselves time and again, and I don't think there's any reason to doubt their judgement here.

3D remains, in my opinion, very much a marketing gimmick, very much like Face Detection technology in cameras, but so long as they continue to release 'plain' 2D versions, I wouldn't be too worried.

At any rate, these movies exude a certain freshness that's been missing from animation in a very long time, and I shall indeed look forward to watching them.

Of IKEA, Sisters and Frogs

Exams ended today for me. Went for a late lunch with Fit, Zilah and Ruth. The rains are torrential these days.

IKEA dinner, as promised, with Mandy, Louise, Moon, Elensha and her sister Eleanor.

A linguist, and ecologist, and the things you can do with cutlery.

Au revoir, Louise.

899 in Cantonese sounds like, 'prosper sufficiently'. May it be a most blessed trip, a blast of a birthday and a wonderful Christmas over there!

A frog in the Rimba Ilmu pond. Brings back memories of last semester; one of the greatest challenges in my course so far, and one of those things that really set the tone for everything from then on.

When you come back, Loo, we will all go for a walk in Rimba Ilmu ya!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Red Carpet

Cartier-Bresson was famous for popularising the concept of the 'decisive moment' in photography.

Victor Chin suggests that, for a scene, there may be more than one 'decisive moment'.

Today, in trying to save film, I missed two moments which, in retrospect, would have made excellent shots. Such is photography, that the digital shooter is insatiable and the film shooter often too cautious.

* * *

They will forever remain mental images, and maybe there is still power there.

The way he apologised for not being able to stay for lunch, and the way they parted with that mock-European cheek kiss.

The way the two of them, old friends, walked down the corridor looking like twins, little girls again with so much of the world to see.

* * *

I think it's a concept.

Maybe 36 exposures is really for 12 scenes. Three perspectives to a scene.

Approach 35mm with a medium-format mind.

* * *

This is the last lap.

Do it well, Ben, for you will not pass this way again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Something I stumbled upon today

When Ai Wei told me she met Jimmy Lim, the owner/architect of the present 100 Cintra Street, it reminded me of last year's Penang Trip.

Looking through the photos, I came across this:

Macaques of Penang Hill
17 November 2008

Some memories are slow burning. They take a while to settle in, and when they do they linger indefinitely.

Like monkeys that still haunt you a year down the road.

* * *

Two more papers to go.

Ecophysiology of Marine Organisms does not end at 10.30 a.m. on Monday. It will continue until the end of April 2010.

Perhaps I will find the strength I need for one last bow, before the final curtain falls.

I trust Him. I can only trust Him.

(Don't let me fall here, please.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009


It is Thursday.

That long day when you know the weekend is at hand, but the week is not quite over yet. It doesn't help when you've two papers tomorrow and it's the second one you're dreading (hence longer wait).

It is also Thursday in another sense.

The 'Thursday' part of the exam season, when half of it is just about behind you, and the journey should get easier from this point on; but sometimes you're just so drained that you don't even have the strength to look forward to the end.

Oh well. Next week will be eventful.


* * *

In a dream just now, my parents said they read my blog now and then.

* * *

On a very happy note, college dinners don't get better than this evening's.

Fried chicken
Fried kunyit fish (the big kind, of which you only get a cross section)
Pumpkin and ikan bilis stew
Cucur tepung


This is all that I have learnt: God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.

--Ecclesiastes 7:29 (TEV)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.

--Ecclesiastes 9:10-11 (NASB)

Freshly cut grass.

Peppermint tea.


Smells, tastes and sounds of Exam Season.

Monday, November 09, 2009



Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.


For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

5.00 a.m.

'Between the midnight and the dawning'...

Bilik Bacaan, Third College, University of Malaya.