Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

Satin

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

In prepping work for display and sale, I tried various papers to use with my printer. This was a really tough process. For one, I’d never done this before; so, picking a print size, mats, frames, etc., were each a daunting task. But really, choosing the paper was the hardest.

I went into my local photo shop half a dozen times to look at paper samples and pick up sample packs, literally spending thirty minutes at a time deliberating over which one to try next. I almost went with Moab Lasal Photo Luster, which had a nice, muted quality that complemented my work. Plus, I’m a sucker for Moab’s packaging.

However, I ultimately went with Hahnemühle Satin Photo Rag. Although this is a luster paper, the profiles for my printer require matte black ink. The biggest drawback to this otherwise awesome printer is that you commit to either glossy or matte blacks. If you decide to change paper types, you have to swap cartridges, which means lots of wasted ink, and lots of wasted money. So, committing to the Hahnemühle was more than a quick decision.

The results were lovely. The paper really is matte, with the slightest eggshell shine when viewed at the right angle. At first, I thought this would detract from the prints, but it really makes colors stand out, and India is full of color, even in my undersaturated style. The only trouble I had was with some chunky black transitions (gloss differential) in a couple of photos. In the end, upping the contrast and minor experimentation was all it took to make them look good.

AKB and I stumbled upon evening services at the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Connception in Pondicherry, India. Between the dusk sky, the contrasting warm and cool lights inside and out, and all the colors present between churchgoers’ saris and statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, it was replete with beautiful scenes. We spent a long time viewing and photographing the grounds. One resulting image has become one of my all-time favorites. I grinned like a little kid when it printed beautifully – it really benefited from the delicate qualities of the paper.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Pondicherry, India

I’m still mastering this whole printing thing. This year I invested in a screen calibrator (Spyder 3 Pro), not to mention a good deal of time and money towards experimentation. I’m happy to say that I’m loving the results; now I just need to find more wall space to hang them on!

Since getting back… a recap

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Since getting back from our India/Sri Lanka trip, I managed to keep a sense of openness and forward-thinking, for a while, anyway. That’s the essence of good travel – saying yes to opportunity when it strikes. With this attitude comes great reward, and this definitely applies to life in general. Personally, I find it hard to remember, even as it’s yielded wonderful adventures. During our time in India and Sri Lanka, we vacillated between openness and being closed — the effect of wary travel, having encountered one tout too many. Still, on balance, I came back to SF with few expectations or plans, just a general sense that things would be just fine.

And they certainly have been. I serendipitously found programming work right away, which was a great relief financially. However, I have been struggling all year to find time to edit photos from our trip. I don’t know about you, but editing photos is very time-consuming for me: I have attachments not only to the photos and memories, but also to the final product. I want my photos to be good, and my travel photo sets are not just a photo diary, but also, hopefully, a source of keepers.

Chowpatty Beach in the evening attracts Mumbaikars of all ages and walks of life.

This photo of Mumbaikars hanging out on Chowpatty beach, stood out to me right away. In a bustling city, full of traffic, noise and people, some serenity can be found looking out onto the water. In truth, that serenity is short-lived: the beach is crowded with families, and the view is spoiled with litter. Photographs seldom convey the whole story – if they did, they’d be boring, wouldn’t they? After all, even the best reportage images raise questions.

As I continue my photographic journey, I’ve been looking for inspiration in artists I admire: Steve McCurry, David Alan Harvey, not to mention dozens of talented folks on the web. More and more I am able to appreciate and develop a style, to look for subtleties in my work, mystery, edge; to go beyond the simple photos. There is, of course, a clear line between travelogue and portfolio. The former helps viewers relive a journey, whereas the latter is what you will, hopefully, be remembered for.

Fortunately, I have so far been very pleased with the selects I’ve gotten from my trip. They have helped me refine my style, and complement my earlier work. The photo above was one of ten photos I displayed this summer at my very first show at RayKo, a group show aptly named Into… The exercise of putting together a show was quite useful in finding a voice, describing my work, and finding threads within it. I should also like to extend my gratitude to my wonderful fellow artists, and, of course, the instructor of the Artist’s Toolkit course, Sita Bhaumik.

As those beachgoers look into the distance, I look back at what this year has and will be bringing: a new job, some measured success in my own photography, and the very best gift of all: impending fatherhood.

I’ve been very blessed in 2010. I hope you have, too.

Saigon

Friday, May 25th, 2007

The bus ride from Phnom Penh to Saigon was the worst I’ve ever taken. Feeling a little out of sorts to begin with, I took my place in the back of the bus, which was overstuffed with scruffy backpackers. Apparently, the Koreans at one point decided to design buses with no storage space, as I was crammed in the back seat, trapped by two dozen backpacks which lined the narrow aisle running down the vehicle. If having barely an inch to move wasn’t bad enough, I was in the middle seat, essentially sitting with my back to the massive diesel engine, which would heat my seat for the next several hours. The air conditioning, barely functional, failed to reach me, and so I sat, doubled over, dozing in and out of sleep, sweating my entire body weight into the nylon seat and fellow passengers. We stopped over for lunch at the border with Vietnam, where we had to walk several hundred meters under an unforgiving sun, from the Cambodian building, a shiny modern Khmer thing, to the impressively communist looking Vietnamese edifice to be processed.

By the time I got to Saigon, the headache I had started the day with had turned into some horrible migraine. For the next four days I would be mostly stuck in my hotel room, prisoner of some god-awful combination of dehydration, overheating and viral infection. When I found enough energy, I managed to walk a small radius around mini-hotel alley where I was staying. Most of the time, however, I had barely enough energy to walk a block, the pain behind my eyes making it hard to focus and concentrate. It was my first bad case of travel illness, and though it may sound like I’m over exaggerating, there were hours-long periods when I wished I’d had something as simple as terrible diarrhea. It was boring (how many cable movies can you half watch in a day?), frustrating (all I really wanted to do was walk around, and here I was wasting time) and lonely (I’d just spent the past week traveling with friendly folk, and here I was, moaning into a pillow in the middle of the night.) I eventually went to a clinic for some blood tests. I was already feeling better, but wanted to confirm it wasn’t Dengue or Malaria (it wasn’t, but was likely due to some other viral infection.)

After a very frustrating and painful start, I was more than ready to go exploring. Luckily, my new friends Scott and Zoe had decided to spend a couple of weeks in Vietnam before heading to Laos, so we spent a couple of days wandering the streets, taking photos. We visited the Reunification Palace, once known as the Presidential Palace, and the seat of the South Vietnamese Government. A giant postmodern concrete building, it has evidently been left exactly as it was in the mid-seventies, when the communists crashed the gates and took power. Well, they’ve since fixed the gate, but visiting the interior is something out of old spy movies: extravagantly decorated meeting rooms, a gambling hall, movie theater, bedrooms, all decked out in the finest decorations and furniture the seventies had to offer. Beneath it all, in the basement, one can walk the long, narrow hallways that connect the various offices and war rooms, underground reinforced bedrooms and perfectly preserved then-state-of-the-art communication equipment. It is actually really cool. Large maps of Saigon’s tunnels; strategic plans showing the whole of the country; old desks with multiple colored telephones, and, of course, big red buttons.

Next up was the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government), which features a great photo gallery from the Vietnam War in addition to loads of American warplanes and helicopters, guns, prisoner cell recreations and the like. All in all, it’s pretty much as you expect, a reminder of the horrors of war; not as poignant as the Holocaust museum in DC, but worth a visit. [My one complaint is not seeing Monsanto’s name mentioned in the gallery of Agent Orange victims. In case you didn’t know, agri-business giant Monsanto, today proponents of genetically-modified, “roundup-ready” crops, provided the US government with Agent Orange (along with Dow and other companies.) So, before they started suing hapless farmers, whose crops have inadvertently cross-pollinated with patented Monsanto corn from down the road, they were busy making defoliants that ravaged forests and caused a generation’s worth of birth defects. So, there. Fuck them.]

We wandered the streets of Saigon, eventually finding everything from alleyway noodles and vegetarian pho (yum) to entire streets devoted to manufacturing street vendor carts. What was striking about Saigon is the much better preserved (or reconstructed?) French-style buildings and cathedrals, sitting right next to communist-style plazas. Colonial-era buildings have been converted into government buildings, flanked by statues of Uncle Ho. Surprisingly, there is little disconnect between it all. It works. It’s a large city, in some places modern, others ancient and grand, and others yet grey and sprawling like any other metropolis.

I hit the tourist path some more and visited the nearby Cao Dai Great Temple, the largest temple of Cao Daism, a modern religion that merges Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, native spiritualism, Christianity and Islam. Trying to describe the site doesn’t do justice to its very colorful mix of symbolism, from the Eye of Providence (which you may recognize from such currency as the one dollar bill) to Buddhist imagery, Sun Yat Sen and Victor Hugo. Worshipers hold four prayer sessions per day, which tourists are allowed to watch. After fifteen minutes of watching and listening to their beguiling chants it felt like more of an intrusion, but thankfully our tour moved on to another major tourist attraction: the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The tunnels are part of the extensive underground network started by the Viet Cong in the forties, and later finished and used Viet Minh during the American/Vietnamese war. The tunnels allowed the Viet Minh to travel right under the Americans’ noses, and even exited in one place at a noodle shop frequented by US soldiers. The vast network let the Vietnamese not only hide from and ambush US forces, but were designed for extended residency to survive chemical attacks from above. Today, tourists can crawl through small sections of the tunnel, which have been widened but remain cramped. On the grounds are also examples of different gory traps and makeshift weapons employed by resourceful Viet Cong. Tourists can shoot AK47s, hide in underground holes and pretend to live in the humid jungle under constant threat, all of which I did with some glee, abandoning my general reservations about tourists traps. After being bed-ridden for a few days, this was pretty fun.

Coming from Cambodia one notices that nothing in Vietnam has been left to crumble idly. From urban construction projects in already dense cities to rice paddies and agricultural fields in rural areas, not an inch is left unused in Vietnam. The miles upon miles of unused (or underused) land in Cambodia are made laughable by sheer necessity here. With about six times the population in less than twice the space of Cambodia, the difference in development and efficiency is felt as soon as you cross the border. It makes me wonder what Vietnam looked like just twenty years ago, before the massive economic and infrastructure investments. I can’t help but wonder what Cambodia will be like twenty years from now.

After a week in Saigon I’d seen about half of what I had wished to see. However, feeling stressed for time, it was time to say goodbye to Scott and Zoe and the south and hit the road. My next stop, the mountain town of Dalat, near the Central Highlands.

Delayed

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Well, I’m more than a week behind in my updates, but will post soon. I’m actually in Saigon already, but the Worst Bus Ride Ever turned what was a headache in Phnom Penh into a full-blown migraine. I’ve been more or less bed-ridden for the last three days. I’ve seen nothing beyond a three-block radius. I feel bored, lonely, frustrated and in terrible pain most of the time. My sleep schedule is broken, my appetite not happy with what i’ve found to eat so far. There are only so many cable tv movies one can half-watch in a day. If the pills the pharmacists have given me don’t work I’ll have to go see a doctor; thankfully, it seems to be getting better. Knock on wood.

All I want to do is walk around this crazy, huge, glossy, rainy town. I guess that will have to wait.

Anyways, stay tuned for entries about quaint Kratie, fresh-water dolphins, and the muddiest roads ever in Mondolkiri, a part of Cambodia unlike the rest.

Update:
Went to the clinic and got some blood work done. It’s not Malaria or Dengue, which is a good thing. I’m to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Thankfully, today has been better than before (the codeine sure helps.)

Conveying the Moment

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Being a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and having seen every episode of A Cook’s Tour (and subsequent No Reservations), I recently picked up a copy of his print travelogue of the same name.

Bourdain, much to my enjoyment and dismay, captures so much of what I’ve observed and most likely failed to describe while traveling in Asia. His Vietnam chapters eloquently describe the tastes, smells, sounds, sights of the region; and though I haven’t yet arrived in Vietnam, much of his essays could describe Cambodia verbatim.

So, I am dismayed because trying to write well, attempting to weave all that I’ve seen — the smallest of details, those that constitute the real memories — has been difficult, especially under time constraints at internet cafés. Use a pen and paper, silly! you say.. well, yes I am silly. And I’m simply more used to typing. What a generation. I am a converse parody of my own father, who has been typing everything from books to screenplays to letters on a typewriter for as long as I can remember, signing the latter and adding postscripts in pen. [I won’t be surprised when my children, decades from now, will laugh at my touch-typing while they control their computers with their minds.]

I guess for now, all I can offer are rough sketches of my experiences, both written and in picture form. Perhaps I will write better, longer essays later; I will certainly make proper photos of the rough pictures I’ve posted so far.

Tony, I apologize in advance if I inadvertently plagiarize your writing.