Sunday, August 29, 2010

McCurry's Way

On assignment, McCurry has twice been reported dead, and has survived a plane crash, a monkey attack, and a near drowning by thugs. Yet he remains addicted to travelling. "It’s fun to be a little off balance," he says. "Outside your comfort zone, your senses are heightened."

Maybe this is what I want to see when I look in the mirror.

* * *

Read more here and here.

Magnum Photos' resources on McCurry here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

All the World's a Circus

And I am your Ringmaster.

* * *

Photo by Adrian. Kodak Portra 160VC, 11-16mm lens at 16mm.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


For Christine.

Wailing walls of the whiny kind
The internet
Will not let us forget
The things we thought we left behind.

Remember, remember the first of December
The flashfire, reason and shot;
I see no reason why
The blackwater season should ever be forgot.

And after this, our exile.
At the end of Episode IV, while
You are not a jedi yet.

Uncle Ben, I can't go; or is that my uncle talking?

She sells seashells by the seashore
(Or saltwater breeze in the online store)
The smell of an ocean where I've been before.

Flicker. Walk into the sun
Because what is the sun if not a flicker
In time and place, a corner of the universe
Here in our space.

The seventh of May;
Were those the thoughts you still think today?

Write me a letter; I'll read it when I'm home
From chasing snails, and with the wind in our sails
Let us go.

I thought I was in Malaysia...

But obviously this website thought otherwise:

It's Christine's excellent online postcard store called Remember December.

Go check it out!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In praise of Fujichrome Astia (and farewell Kodachrome!)

The world knows Steve McCurry as the photographer who famously shot this National Geographic cover image:

Sharbat Gula was then, in 1984, an adolescent refugee during the Soviet War in Afghanistan.

But McCurry is more than just a one-hit-wonder photographer. Over the years his images of India and its neighbours (i.e. the South Asian subcontinent) have come to define the way much of the world views those nations.

A key tool in his work was Kodachrome 64 colour slide film. Known for its brilliant, deep reds, it reproduced everything from Indian trains to Sharbat Gula's shawl, and even dust, in characteristic rust-red hues that evoked emotions about the subjects of his photographs in a way, many might argue, no other film could.

This is how he recently described the film: "It has such a wonderful color palette... a poetic look, not particularly garish or cartoonish, but wonderful, true colors that were vibrant, but true to what you were shooting."

You can read about the adventures of the last roll of Kodachrome produced here.

Train and Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal reflection.

Rajasthan dust storm.

McCurry said of this image, "My first instinct was to put away the camera, to protect it from the dust. But then I figured I could buy new equipment, but the moment would not come again."

* * *

Over the years, McCurry, Kodachrome and the Indian subcontinent seemed to 'co-evolve' and define each other to the point of synonymity.

Closer to home, I think I may be developing a similar affinity for Fujichrome Astia. Its reds are nowhere near as earthy or rusty as Kodachrome's, but of all the film stocks produced by Fujifilm, it is perhaps the most 'human'. Velvia is for wild, saturated colours; Provia makes everything look natural; and Sensia is the 'consumer' (as opposed to 'professional') slide film, which I have not tried.

Based on random internet searches, it appears that Astia is the least popular of Fujifilm's colour slide films in spite of how it is marketed as an 'ideal' film for portraiture. But I like it!

It all started when the photographer Kelvin Chan gave me a roll of Astia to try out; having moved to digital, he gave me quite a lot of his unused film stock. I brought it with me to Pantu, Sarawak during STOMP in June 2008, and shot these:

The kitchen in Tuai (village leader) Usop's house, Kampung Abok.

Luke riding on the back of a pick-up truck with one of Tuai Usop's relatives, and a fresh harvest of sugar cane.

There was something in the reds and skin tones that looked different from the other film stocks I'd shot, and certainly worlds removed from digital. The pictures had an aged, yesteryear look that seemed at times sympathetic, at times melancholic.

It wasn't until June this year that I had another opportunity to shoot Astia. I employed three rolls over the course of SUSI, all during the Big Island trip: one on the Pu'ukohola Heiau hike, one at the Volcanoes National Park at sunrise, and one at Ka'u.

I considered all three rolls successful, in different ways.

At the Volcanoes National Park:

This shot of the Halema'uma'u Crater (one of the most active volcanoes in the world) at sunrise became an instant hit with my mother.

Loads of sulphur dioxide gas spewing out of the crater.

On the Pu'ukohola Heiau hike:

I like how Astia renders the skin and earth tones in this picture of my room-mate Ronald.

The brilliant blue sea contrasts with sharp, piercing grey rocks in this portrait of Nasha.

Put these attributes of Astia together and you get:

One of my favourite pictures from the trip to Hawai'i.

But the most disarming (and surprising) experience of shooting Astia came one evening when I set out to take pictures of the Ka'u landscape near and around Pahala, where we were staying during the second half of our trip to the Big Island.

Clouds, Ka'u.

And this picture rules them all:

It was a horribly overcast day.

There was a gorgeous sunset the evening before, and so I decided to set out at the same time the next day, to take pictures of the late afternoon glow over Ka'u. But the sky was a lot less generous on my attempt.

Still, since it was the last evening we would spend in Ka'u, and in fact on the Big Island, I decided just to take a few snapshots to record the appearance, if not the mood, of the place.

When the slides were developed, I was stunned. Astia gave the drab, cloudy landscape a particularly sympathetic quality that maintained the beauty of the place in spite of the poor light. The orange-red foliage contrasted well with the green, and the dried grass in the foreground stood out against the deeper greys in the distance. What I did not expect was for Astia to bring out the red-orange-brown end of the spectrum the way it did.

The glimpses of inspiration at Pantu were reborn in Hawai'i.

And so, my love affair with Astia continues!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Where to, from here?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Revelationary Saturday

When I awoke yesterday, it occurred to me that the problem with the present decision-making process is that I have been asking the wrong question.

I have been asking, "What do I want to do next?" instead of "What do I want to achieve?" or "Where do I want to go?"

At the Friends in Conversation lunch, it was suggested that it is easier to think of tasks than outcomes.

(It was great to meet the likes of Kia Meng and Yew Khuen after such a long time!)

Visiting an exhibition by the late photographer Caecar Chong, I was led to ask myself what I would want to leave behind when I die.

Over dinner with the Chows, the topic of Steve Irwin came up, and how, in spite of his (relatively) short life, he redefined zoology for such a wide audience.

And then we talked about epitaphs on the way back to UM.

So I'm going to start asking myself the question I should have asked myself long ago. And then maybe the path will be clearer.

Indeed it was a 'revelationary' day in many ways.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yesterday morning

While the family was downing roti canai and papaya with lime, guess who came to breakfast on the periwinkle:

None other than...

Mr Caterpillar!

Halfway through a leaf. It practically finished the entire leaf within five minutes.


Mr Caterpillar's even fatter friend was also spotted lurking around in the garden.

A sense of scale; those are my sister's glasses.

By their powers combined, these two have decimated more than half of the periwinkle, leaving in their wake droppings that resemble fertiliser pellets.

* * *

On another note, moving has not been easy. This week, we're finally moving over the rest of the stuff from the old house; things like all the remaining books, clothes and miscellaneous items.

It's really quite a lot, and since returning from the States, I'd been all excited about starting a 'new' life and leaving the past behind. This week (and we're halfway through) has been, in such context, a regression of sorts.

But along the way I discovered that we still kept my old stuffed Basset Hound, PP, whom I'd just been thinking about the other day. Thinking that my parents might've given him away or something, and wondering where he now was.

And I also came across that box which I was supposed to safe-keep for an ex-girlfriend.

I don't know; maybe some things you just can't leave behind.

* * *

The path ahead is as hazy as ever, though the options are becoming a little clearer.

1. Take the obvious, well-supported and well-resourced path, but one which I do not enjoy and find little satisfaction in.

2. Take the path that will help me support myself and my hobbies, but which will leave me little time to actually enjoy this post-graduation respite.

3. Take the path I never imagined considering until sometime a year ago, the end of which is unknown and barely guessable, but which may just put perspective and purpose into what has all this while been a side (though some might think otherwise) passion. The costliest of the three, and the least predictable.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Every Which Way

Every door is open, come on in
The dawn is breaking, the day begins
Some nights stopped by cops
Drinking too much your world is spinning
Lonely walk on the top
Slowly losing touch, you keep on winning.

Lemons, limes and roses
A tonic for these disco days
Glassy ices and miniature poses
Dancing, swirling in a daze.

Flashes of brilliance, midnight pirouette
Down into the dark, green grove
A mob in a dance, moving moves
Across a dim-lit park, exit stage right
You're off the set.

Do you want to take the dive,
Down into the unknown archives?
To engage your future you must embrace the past
(I know it's hard when everything is going by so fast.)

Or hide amidst leaves of grey,
Journeying to the days when those rails still rattled;
Rattled and shook when the train burst onto the scene.
Inception, an idea in the rain --
What is real when all has settled,
How do I mean to say what I say to mean?

The jailer locked him in and threw away the key
But the soul wins when the soul's set free;
Turn away, walk away
Walk this way, walk which way
You will walk.

Walk with me.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

His Grace

To me, was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Receiving the Royal Education Award from HRH Sultan Azlan Shah, the Sultan of Perak and Chancellor of the University of Malaya.

Delivering the valedictory speech.

With Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon (Vice Chancellor), Tan Sri Arshad Ayub (Chairman, Board of Directors), Dad, Mum, and the Sultan.

The Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, was in the room also.

With Fitrah, Ruth and Ann Gie.

With Nasha.

With Juin and Anuar.

Thanks for coming in support!

(Photos by Dad, except stage photo by Foto SZ and Royal Lounge photo by UM staff.)