Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts after lunch with Eric Peris and friends

I reflected on my first meeting with the legendary Eric Peris in this post:

A year and eleven months later, I found myself having a meal with him—and friends!—again.

(Many thanks to Aunty Sheila who made all this possible in the first place.)

During lunch, one of the things Eric talked about was the careless shooting attitude digital photography seems to encourage—it seems to be a recurring topic for him—in which photographers these days seldom think before they shoot, partly because we are no longer constrained by the 36 exposures of a 35mm film roll, and partly because 'bad' shots can be erased later. The conversation—principally with Uncle Rahman, Danial's father—began with Eric talking about why he doesn't bother getting larger capacity memory cards.

He summed up his stance in three words—"Think of 36." We would do well, he believes, to imagine we are still shooting with a limited roll of 36 exposures; then, he says, we will be more careful before pressing the shutter.

This led me to think of two recent shoots I did for a UM friend's company. At the first, I had forgotten to charge my camera's battery the night before, and to make things worse, I had forgotten to bring along the spare. Every shot counted, and—thank God, really—the battery lasted. I ended up making just about 200 exposures in four hours; I have a feeling the company may have wanted more—or at least, more shots taken so that we'd have a larger pool for selection.

At the second shoot, I went all-out and shot something like 800 frames in six hours. Were the shots from the second engagement necessarily better than those from the first? Not necessarily! More varied, yes; capturing more random nuances, yes; but more compelling as a portfolio on the whole? Not necessarily.

I do believe that photography is about knowing what you want and going for it; yes, you do approach the subject from different angles—but from a FEW angles, not by racking off 100 frames or so, hoping to record the anatomy of a yawn. (Then again, some people seem to like this sort of stuff these days.)

* * *

Later in the day, on the way home from a five-hour whirlwind errand run—which included the said lunch—I thought about the Penang workshop/trip I made with the PCP people in May 2007. After the morning photo walk, I remember hearing one of the guys at the workshop asking another, "So, how many gigs [gigabytes] did you shoot?"

Strange that the question wasn't, "How many good shots did you get?" let alone, "Did you encounter anything interesting?" or "What did you see?" It wasn't even, "How many shots did you take?"—the question was about the total size of the digital files!

At that time, I secretly thought to myself, "I think I took more pictures than that dude, but because my camera's files are small, I probably didn't hit anywhere near a few GB."

We are no longer Hemingway's old man, out there pursuing that great marlin, but mere trawlers, sweeping the sea with our giant nets and hoping to get lucky. We think—as these modern 'fishermen' do—that we can easily dispose of with whatever we don't want.

As I look back on those photographs, I find that I had shot nearly 500 pictures over the morning and evening photo walks; I can barely count 10 gems, looking through them. Amidst all that trawling I did get this picture:

But it was taken in the evening, when I was less obsessed with shooting every moving object, and more attentive to texture and form—when I was relaxed enough to look down at the beach and notice the extremely long shadows the strolling pigeons made.

This was the shot that received praise from renowned studio and advertising photographer Kelvin Chan during the group sharing session.

* * *

Plug: A photography exhibition on Nepal, curated by Alan Ng, is on display at Kokopelli Travellers Bistro, 4 Section 14/46, PJ, until the end of this year. So hurry, drop by and see it!

The photos include a stunning silver gelatin series by Alan Ng, and photographs taken by restaurant owner Ariff Awaluddin, Soraya Yusof Talismail, young Ushuaia Arif, Ange Choy, Choy Khye Fatt, Wong Lee Ling and Tovee Wan HL.

How do we maintain relevance in a world where photographs are so effortlessly made, and, perhaps for that reason, so arbitrarily disposed of?

I think this is what Eric Peris has been going on about all his life, and his photographs give us a strong clue as to the direction in which to head.

So I got my copy of Gitanjali signed, but unfortunately Soraya could not make it; Imaging Selfs will have to wait!

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