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2019 goals

A photoshoot with the talented  Paul Frontczak  that was probably an epic failure as a model. I couldn’t stop laughing despite Paul’s patient. However, I do love this candid frame. I’m definitely way more useful behind the camera than in front.

A photoshoot with the talented Paul Frontczak that was probably an epic failure as a model. I couldn’t stop laughing despite Paul’s patient. However, I do love this candid frame. I’m definitely way more useful behind the camera than in front.


2018 has been a year of growth — a year in which I learned to be more comfortable in my own skin. It taught me to find solutions to difficult problems. I’m very grateful to my close friends for helping me along my journey. The biggest part being, the so called problems were not problems but something I’d conjured up in my head. Human beings are amazingly clever like that!

“When you find no solution to a problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but rather a truth to be accepted.”

— Gautam Buddha

Photographically speaking, the first two months of the year, my work was displayed at the PROV exhibition centre in Melbourne. My work also featured in various newsletters. I did cover a few photography events — the Taiwanese film festival coverage was one I enjoyed the most.

I travelled to India and Hongkong spent time with family and friends at both places.

2019 will have its own set of challenges but I intend to focus on my art and tune out from things that lacerate my spirit. Life is short. It’s wholesome to stay focussed and true to your inner passion. There is magic in every corner we explore.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful quote from Roald Dahl — so very apt and timely. Happy New Year! May your 2019 be full of passion and magic.

“I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

My Uncle Oswald


What are your photographic goals for 2018?

Halfway through the year, I released my project work on the tribal people on Vietnam. Very soon after its release, The Hmong Spirit was featured on Fujilove by Tomash. This happened a day before my birthday and in a few weeks, I heard my photo from Melbourne was picked to be among the top two of the Catwalk to sidewalk exhibition in Melbourne at the Public records office Victoria. I flew down to the exhibition opening and found myself among friends from Sydney and Melbourne. It was a humbling experience.

Somewhere from the beyond blue firmament, Ma keeps looking after me.

I was sent on assignment to photograph a school event in Urunga in regional New South Wales where kids and teachers interacted with Artificial intelligence and Minecraft virtual worlds. Back in Sydney I also covered Interact 2017 an IT event where Mark Scott — Secretary of the Department of Education made an appearance at the Australian Technology Park. And over at the head office of the Department of Education, I also took behind the scenes photos of a team working alongside with Adobe Australia to deliver next-generation technology solutions to public schools in New South Wales. It has been a busy year. Challenging but fun and fruitful. And I have learned a lot of things I possibly took for granted.

Last year was busy and long on many counts. It was a year of learning. Most would argue this – every year or in fact every day we learn something new. Yes. Mostly. But some lessons ground and polarise you. Some leave an indelible mark and change your pathway. 2017 was one of those years of relearning myself. Of knowing to see beyond my horizon.

Earlier in the year, I was in Vietnam for an epic photography course with EricNeilCindy and . It was very nice to meet old friends and make new ones. I finally got to meet Cindy and Neil both of whom I have known for a bit. Revisiting Hanoi after eleven years brought back many good memories – I wrote about it here. The photographic journey was insanely rewarding. I collected more friendships with like-minded people. Eric definitely has a way of attracting good people together.

Taipei was the next leg of my journey. Spending time with Wei and seeing his city through the locals viewpoint was priceless. I was also very fortunate to have Lucas to hang out with me for the next few days and finally to meet Haute, KC, Ed, Chung. In hindsight, wish I had kept more time aside for Taipei. It’s a magical city and I can’t wait to revisit one day soon.

 

How photography gear changed me in 2017

But in the end, I had to let it go for two compelling reasons. It was a little small for my hand and the centre of gravity of this camera is lopsided! I made lots of tilted horizons unless constantly aware. We said our goodbyes in a mall by the tall Christmas tree.

In the last quarter of 2017, I befriended Satan himself. I was about to commit a cardinal sin. I thought about it lots and then finally one day when the stars aligned I came home with a beautiful black Leica Q. Happy little mudlark. My good friend Andrew had a smidge influence but it would be fair to say I’ve desired one for a while for its sheer engineering finesse and the way it captures light. It was a brand new honeymoon with a whole new body!

Most purists shudder at the thought of changing gear. It is not my intention to challenge their views. Change in my view is a good thing. Curiosity is ingenuity. Till you find your sweet spot with a camera or a lens. Everyone’s process of finding their photographic path is unique. Some need change(of gear), some don’t. We are all different even though we are similar.

in 2017 I went from using the Ricoh GR-II back to Fujifilm X-Pro2. it was a strong second honeymoon with my Fujifilm X-Pro2. Then came the skittish lover Fujifilm X100F. We had some great moments together.

 

Whats in store for 2018?

Street portraits, capturing the emotion and the occasional travel photos. More writing for my blog. The truth about the world around me. These are general guidelines but once unpacked there is a lot in there. I hope you enjoy it. What is your focus this year photographically speaking?

Happy shooting!

A beginners mind


Shō Shin. (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind".

“Shō Shin. (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”

— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin

Shō Shin. See you over at my Instagram

Creatively speaking, when ego enters the mind of an artist, muse can no longer abide. For artists that create, the pureness of this state of being true to their art is next to none. To stay worthy and inspired in a world full of distractions and fake social hype - resetting the mind is a very cleansing process.

After long deliberation, today, I decided to delete all my Instagram photos collected over the past four years. Many frames, travel stories and life events. I have gained amazing friends through this channel and created beautiful memories. Here's hoping version 2 of my Instagram will be even stronger than ever.

It's a beautiful thing to embrace beginner's mind. My openness to people, their cultures, and curiosity has helped me develop friendships around the world. I keep learning, every day. I am grateful for your friendship and for you being a part of my Instagram journey.


April is my JPEG month

“Paint light and shadow with your camera. All you need is an artistic mind and a fearless spirit. When muse sees your intent it flirts with you. Embrace your rendezvous.”

— Amit Karmakar


Had a lovely catch up with my friend Sue yesterday who has been a Fujifilm shooter for a while and loves fashion, photography and architecture among many other things. Sue and I share lots of Fujifilm love and often talk about our photography ideas and challenges. On this particular meet something Sue mentioned really piqued my interest. It was about JPG shooting. The photography world is very divided when it comes to RAW and JPEG shooting. There are advantages on both sides. It really depends on what feels right for you.

I normally shoot JPG + RAW. Why? That extra insurance that if i shot a 'decisive moment' I can re-edit it later to perfection. The truth is:

  • there are a zillion 'decisive moments' happening everyday. Dan Winters wrote about this beautifully in his book 'Road to seeing'

  • there is no such things as perfection. Its a journey.

Most digital cameras produce high quality images and pack a lot of details even at high ISO. When we pixel peep, it is merely to affirm our own insecurities. A sharp and noise-free images doesn't equate to a 'better' image.

April is my JPEG month

I have consciously decided to shoot JPG all of April 2017. Maybe longer. Thank you Sue. Let the good times role. Less time on computers and less time on RAW file processing. Less time sorting out duplicates means more time left to shoot and enjoy life with your loved ones. How could that be wrong?

Things to remember:

  1. Sharp images are not necessarily better images (look at the masters of photography, the reverse might well be true)

  2. Images don't always have to be perfect. - perfection kills the soul

  3. Shadows and highlights don't always have to be recovered - what you don't see adds drama to the scene.

Make memories let creativity guide you. Don't be hung up on technicalities of photography.

 


International Women's day

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  I'm a day late for the international Woman's day. 

Here's to the talented women unnamed, unrecognised, underpaid tirelessly standing up against injustice small or big. I'm sure it's easy to point fingers at developing nations and see the obvious gaps of corruption, gender inequality, poverty n disdain. But Australias poverty is of a different kind. The countries ongoing treatment of women, attitude towards the traditional owners of the land, domestic violence, marriage equality & treatment of refugees is something that history will not be kind about.

In 1984 sex discrimination law was passed for fair & equal treatment of women. Fast forward 33 years - we're on a hamster wheel! Ref: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/education/face-facts/face-facts-gender-equality

What makes a nation or city beautiful is it's people. We can do so much more by standing together as equals and lead by example.

Land of fair go, fair dinkum, mateship? Are we?

Black & White titillation

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  When I shoot in black and white (which is mostly)... I kinda miss colour a bit. But then I start to see everything that could have been a great colour composition and frame, just like Alex Webb or Jesse Marlow's frames to name a few. No seriously! Drat! I sigh. But with B/W I feel the sassiness - the intense POETRY that truly only good B/W brings! (debatable I know) I'm in LOVE with the world again... in B/W ha! When I don't give in to my muse for colour she knocks on my door. Persistent! Loud! And then she screams in my head:

Hey, you ARE missing out!

In all that inner turmoil, I succumb. I switch.

But it only takes me a few days to feel how much I miss the wispy poetic B/W frames. I miss the B/W titillation. I miss that arousal that tones bring. I say bye bye Alex Webb and Trent Parke. I'm back to square one.

Do you feel that way? It's ok if you do, or if you don't.

I'm shamelessly happy to admit I go through this almost every day. :)

Happy Friday everyone.

Ladakh - Prabuddha Das Gupta

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We had no common language. She spoke no Hindi or English and I spoke no Tibetian or Ladakhi. But the communication we had, just by touch and through our eyes, was more real, more significant than the communication I've had with many people with whom I have shared a long-term relationship. We held hands, I took her pcitures, she blessed me and I left with tears in my eyes and a few photographs of her face against the luminous desert sky...

Buddhist boy in Ranbirpura, about 20 kms from Leh, pictured in black and white

I've just finished reading "Ladakh" by Prabuddha Das Gupta for the second time. An engrossing book on the landscapes and people of Indian top eastern end. Having grown up close to the foothills of the northeastern parts of India myself I feel a sense of nostalgia with Prabuddha's work.

The north-eastern plains of India are still relatively warm in the winter months. During this time the foothills of Himalayas were completed frozen over and locked from all forms of life. A lot of the people from the neighbouring countries, particularly from the hills and valleys of the Karakoram ranges take shelter in the relatively warmer climate of India.

This temporary but mass exodus is an annual ritual for most people that live within a day's journey to the Himalayan ranges. During winter we'd await their arrival in our cities and towns and see them set up life on the go!

Life on the go

We would get to see a lot of Bhutanese and Nepalese people come down to India during the colder months. They would set up shops in parks and street corners and sell their goodies, making a living from it. Life is hard for them and these hardships seem to make them such endearing people. They never stop smiling, are polite and have good business acumen. The hardships of life taught them to be grateful and agile.

Imagine having to pack up your life and move for three months with your loved ones every year. With no definitive place or destination in mind. All you know is you have to go to survive the bitter chills of the mountain air.

As a kid, I did notice how different their kids looked to most of my friends, how they always smiled and waved at me. I loved their facial features and how they have mystified quizzical eyes that seem to ask a lot of questions. I remember having many a chat with mum about why they visit India and then disappear.

Some of them found jobs and would stay back for good. But a majority of them were and I guess still are transient travellers exploring the tepid plains of India when the icy cold winds stop everything in their tracks.

Prabuddha’s Ladakh story taps into my childhood memories. When I look through his imagery it takes me back to my alma mater! It evokes nostalgia on every page and frame!

The Mountain calleth

There are quite a few striking frames in the Ladakh series. I'm equally blown away by Prabuddha's diction, his conflicts, his semblance of life and love for the stoic mountains. The parallels he draws from his own life to relate the desolate yet connected world in the high altitudes of Tibet.

The photographer's devotion to turning himself around from portrait photography to capturing moments of the wide sweeping mountain plains and the hardships of life recreated him and gave him a new lease on life. In the western world where we have so much and yet want more — this book draws a clear message through his imagery. In his own words.

For the Ladakhi, the entire philosophy and practice of life is based on the connectedness and unity of all things, big and small. Nothing has an existance of its own. Everything is inextricably linked. The land, the elements, the fauna that roams the valleys, men and women, body and spirit...

Two striking images

There are many stunning black and white frames in Ladakh series but two of these are absolutely adorable and I felt a connection deeper than normal. These are:

  1. Muslim shepherd near Kargil. The first indication that we were leaving the domain of the Buddha and entering that of Islam

  2. Sumdo village, on the way to Tso-Mo-Riri. As we stopped to rest this little girl came up to the jeep window. There was neither curiosity nor hostility in her gaze, just the calm detachment of an observer.

"High on India's northern frontier, at the edge of Tibet, lies Ladakh, a desert wilderness that is the final stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism. Sparsely populated, it is a place of extremes of climate and inhospitable terrain, but it is also one of spellbinding beauty. Prabuddha Das Gupta, one of India's finest photographers, first went to Ladakh in 1995 and has since returned eight times, in thrall to the magnificence of its landscape and its compassionate, serene people.

In this book, he allows his camera to range over forbidding views of snow and stone, expanses of sand furrowed by the wind, mysterious conjunctions of water and earth and endless vistas of sky and cloud. The photographs also reflect the vitality, dignity and calm of the exceptional people who inhabit this vast and empty landscape. together they depict an unforgettable portrait of this ancient and enigmatic land..."

Is stealth mode a necessity in street photography

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Is stealth mode a necessity in street photography?

Not always, but it definitely helps frame better expressions. This obviously depends on the kind of photography you intend to do. I ask people for making their portrait sometimes, other times I don't. Street photography is a very generic term and there are many sub-genres in it. But, I definitely don't recommend being sneaky with your camera in public. That is clearly creepy and unacceptable. Its the same as taking photos of kids without their parent's permission or the homeless. Be kind to people even when you make portraits. But I definitely think being somewhat discreet or invisible in the crowd while being respectful - helps frame natural expressions on people's faces. And these natural expressions are what make photos steal a moment in time! That's what gives me happiness in street photography.

Openness to strangers

People seem to live in an alarmed state of panic. I don't necessarily think this is a good way to be. Yes, there are a lot of bad things that happen in the world. But there are equally good things happening all around us. This often goes untold. We need to celebrate these little miracles too. I wonder how many more beautiful moments we would all capture if we were more open to change and accepting of people we don't know. Being open to the idea of strangers taking photos of you takes photography to another level. Giving street photography and street portraiture a chance to grow and showcase the cities you live in or visit.

An uncomfortable incident but with a good outcome

Two weeks back, I was happily shooting the streets of Sydney when two plain clothed policemen (man and a woman) decided to approach me. Little did I know I was being watched. And I'm guessing they had been watching me for a while. As I crossed the streets and got to the other side where the police officers were... they stopped me. The policeman showed me his badge - the policewoman didn't. Shecoughed constantly. A smoker perhaps? I was baffled. And for about two seconds I was indeed gobsmacked. Are you serious?

Nanny State Sydney. Aren't you charming!

They wanted to know why I was taking photos and observing people. Well, how else does a street photographer take photos? I tried to explain street photography and explained why it's important to take a photo in a candid mode to capture the real human feelings. I showed them the last 10 - 15 frames. At this stage, I could sense they had lost interest in my rant and even my photos! The policeman luckily had a sense of humour and said he was more than happy as long as I didn't take a photo of him. Ha!

On a side note... do you even know how many street cameras monitor people and take their photos everyday? They are at nearly every street corner, lifts, supermarkets, banks, shopping malls, parking places, schools, libraries, offices, parks and cinemas. The list goes on and on. And you question me when I take photos on the street!! Oh, the irony!

Being yelled at is not fun, but it happens

Well, this is not the first time I've been yelled at with camera in hand. It started in Brunei back in 2008 when I was photographing construction workers on the street. Few uncomfortable moments being followed around by a street hawker in Hoi An after I took her photo. She followed me around everywhere in Hoi An the next two days and even knew where we were staying. Yes, Hoi An is a small sleepy yet picturesque town. Sadly though for me, I was glad to get out of Hoi An. Don't get me wrong - I do love Vietnam.

This was followed by many a yell in India over the years -- the one I clearly remember was while trying to take a photo of a wireless tower in 2010. The irony is I grew up about a ten minutes walk from this wireless tower. There are many childhood memories associated with this particular landmark. In the end, I didn't take the photo since the guard yelled at me relentlessly! Reasoning would have failed. Only money works in India and I was determined not to pay. I shouldn't have to pay someone to take a photo of my own hometown landmarks! And now Sydney in 2016.

What can I say -- It's a badge of honour. But, this is to be expected a little doing candid photography! Challenges like these make one grow and be more determined to work the scene and shoot better photos with passion. Obstacles are nothing but pillars of growth.

Be a good messenger

If you are a street photographer, chances are you are going to be stopped one day too and asked to explain what you were doing with a camera on a crowded street. The answer is simple: Do as I did. Be humble and honest, don't fight it or tell them what the law is. Explain why you shoot the street, show them what you do with your camera. Be a good messenger for streettogs. Talk to them about street photography if you still have their ear.

People that question you are not always ill-intentioned. They are probably uninformed or plainly curious. Help them understand you better.

Happy streettogging!

Street Photography with Eric Kim

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Eric Kim's Sydney workshop

No matter what I write here about Eric Kim is going to fall short of the man he is. Be warned this is going to be one blatantly biased post but also a very truthful one. Very blessed having met Eric Kim and even more to have his friendship.

It's going to be difficult to surmise the few days spent with Eric, Greg and the amazing gang that had signed up for Eric's workshop in Sydney. There were people from across Australia and as far away as the Middle east and Paris . There were some from the presentation Eric had done a couple of days prior to his Sydney workshop. And boy oh boy! Can I just say I have not met a nicer group of photographers!  Humble, open and inclusive.  This post clearly is not going to capture the essence of what the group experienced in these few brief moments. But I do have on good authority that Eric is nostalgic about his Sydney workshop. :-)

I have done a few photography courses and nothing has come close - not even by a quarter to what Eric's workshop has been. In Eric's course alone, I've learned things  I haven't in the last five years or more. Eric gives without the thought of return. This is why he is such an amazing teacher. His honesty to walk his talk touches every soul that meets him. He is beyond a teacher - he creates little streettog Yodas and inebriates them with the fire and passion of street photography. You cannot read about or buy in a store -  only experience the energy if you are open to learning.

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Why do I stress on real teaching?

Having been a teacher and a trainer myself, both in India and Australia, I know when a teacher fails. I know when a teachers greed for affirmation and ego dictate their very being. There are many around you. I'm sure you know some.

I have met some outstanding teachers in my time. Sadly, I have also met some really awful ones. I am talking about my combined school, engineering days and adult life here in Sydney. I've been very fortunate to have an English teacher Rashmi Ashtikar that made school oodles of fun. During Engineering, I met Shraddha Oza who taught me Electronics and she made me fall in love with every electron particles in matter. And now for the third time - I met Eric Kim. The purity for his vocation is real, contagious and downright charismatic!

I feel a huge sense of gratitude and love and thank you, Eric, Greg, Neil, and the entire group both at the workshop and presentation for making this an experience beyond words.

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