Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Street Scenes

Street photography is a popular genré, and probably has only increased in popularity since people like Cartier-Bresson, Atget and Doisneau brought it to the masses during the era when Leica revolutionised photography-on-the-move. (To be precise, Atget was only appreciated after his death, but that's another story.)

But over the decades, 'street photography' has never been an easy genré to define; it easily overlaps with other categories such as portraits, landscapes and still life. And it has given rise to innumerable clichés, some of which are discussed in this article by Gordon Lewis.

For what it's worth, I think street photography should not aspire to be 'too much', or look too imposing, or attempt to convey coerced messages. The viewer should 'feel' the place through the picture, and the message (if any) should come across through the integrity and honesty of the photograph. The best 'street photography' can only happen when the photographer actually becomes one with the street.

* * *

On 30 May, Tim and I visited the Connaught pasar malam. Despite living so nearby, I've only been to it no more times than I can count on one hand.

He wanted to try out his new 105mm, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to put the FM10 through its paces—it had not seen much action, if any, since the Kuching trip in July last year—a manual camera for 'street scenes' in the style of the old photojournalists.

View from the overhead bridge.

Char koay teow man.

Fried chicken.

The vendor and her audience.

* * *

A few days later, I decided to bring the same camera (with the same 28mm lens) on the BF Ipoh trip. The Old Town has been exhaustively photographed over the years; as Geoff Dyer wrote in The Ongoing Moment, the bar has been set so high that I was free to walk right under it. So, I decided to do the obvious, and literally just shoot whatever I was witness to.

Literally, a 'street' scene: an intersection.

Another intersection.

Concubine Lane.

Not quite the happening place it was in its heyday, but Jia's family runs a very nice restaurant there, comfortably tucked away from the main thoroughfare.

Shoes and debris, Concubine Lane.

Noodles crossing the road, in front of Sin Yoon Loong coffee shop.

The LUNA van.

If you know what colour the van is, it probably indicates how old you are. Either that, or the fact that you're still using classic colour pencils in spite of your youth and this hyperdigital era—wonderful!

* * *

Two Saturdays ago, I came across this screen by the main escalator at KL Sentral.

'Time Machine TV' was true in an unlikely sense: the show being screened was ThunderCats (the 2011 version), which now runs every Saturday on TV3, I think. It brought back memories because I used to watch the original '80s ThunderCats many years ago.

I still think of Lion-O as a super-muscular adult-bodied cat, and not a teenage fledgling of a warrior. But at least they kept the awesome theme song!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just between you and me

On the surface I am making myself useful by teaching and doing documentation projects for the University. But why should I conform to the ‘production line’ mentality in which every endeavour must result in something marketable/of commercial value?

I consider myself a creator: I write, I take photos, I paint, I create. I don’t sell these things, and only a handful of friends ever see them. So why do I do what I do? Simply because I consider all of this training and practice: the discipline of a craftsman.

The ‘usual’ path consists of either jumping into the corporate sector after graduating, else staying in academia and pursuing a higher degree. But I’m taking my time, I’m observing the world and learning things—not necessarily better things, but different things than if I’d gone down any of those other paths. And all of this is invariably moulding me, preparing me for challenges I have yet to face.

So I don’t have the career momentum many of my friends are gaining; I’m not on my way to a PhD like a good number of my friends are; but I’m nonetheless growing in knowledge and skill, sharpening my abilities day by day. And one day, I believe all of this will be worth it, and when that day comes, these abilities will, I believe, serve their turn.

(Thoughts after dinner at Jalan Bangkung, 18 July 2012.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lynn Johnson on Vanishing Voices

This is the kind of photographer I want to be:

Ever since I saw Lynn Johnson's work on the National Geographic's van Gogh story some time back, I fell in love with her style and approach.

Her astonishing portfolio for the July 2012 feature article on endangered languages:

Monday, July 02, 2012

d'NA Taiping: Revisited

Out of curiosity, and because Tim showed me his recent Taiping portfolio, I rescanned my d'NA Taiping 2009 photos, this time on the Plustek scanner at home.

Joan left a comment on this post asking about the group picture on the rocky wall, and I shall begin there.

* * *

d'NAers at the rocky wall on the trail up Bukit Larut.

d'NAers on a rock, on the Bukit Larut descent.

Tree ferns, Bukit Larut.

Joan at the Allied War Cemetery, Taiping.

View into the lobby, Peking Hotel, Taiping.

(Note the incredible tonal range from the bright signage out front, to the relatively dim hallway.)

Road crossing at night; view from a passing train.

Makes me think of Eric Peris's work on moving dancers. In his words: "I have even reduced Ramli Ibrahim to a blur."

KL Railway Station, pre-dawn.

This is the view from the other side of the train. The first shot I took—in the original post—remains among my favourite railway scenes to date.

* * *

On the trip I put two new pieces of gear—the 28mm and 105mm lenses—through their paces; the former is among my favourite and most-used lenses today, and the latter testified to Nikon's tank-like manual-focus lens engineering, surviving a rather nasty drop from a Land Rover up on Taiping's Bukit Larut.

I shot two Ilford films: HP5 Plus 400 (two group shots above) and FP4 Plus 125 (the rest of the photos above). HP5 was my go-to film until I discovered Kodak's Tri-X during the ET shoot; the former has great contrast, while the latter is much more generous in the midtones and has a certain granular characteristic which I promptly fell in love with.

FP4 Plus, however, remains largely unrivalled among all the B/W films I've shot—it seems to come into its own shot in relatively diffuse, low-light, low-contrast situations. The pictures above were developed at E-Six, and it remains to be seen what I might have been able to pull out of it had I developed it at home.