Tokyo Noir

Hidden away from the glittery lights of Shinjuku is a warren of  bars and pubs called Golden Gai.  Like Omoide Yokocho the bars are tiny, eclectic and cater to only  a handful of customers.  Walking through the narrow alleys, it feels like old noir Tokyo – dark, moody, a little seedy and very mysterious.

Here are a few peeks into doorways and staircases …

… and always intriguing are the glimpses of people hidden in bars.

Tokyo, Japan. July 2017

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Playing with Light in Black & White

 

I don’t usually shoot in black & white but in my last photo walk I decided to set my LCD to monochrome.  What a difference.  I saw scenes I wouldn’t normally have seen. The absence of color forced me to look at the shadows and light.

Some pictures, like the play on reflections below, I would have missed.  In fact, when I loaded the RAW files in Lightroom, I was startled at the display of color.

These are the pictures that I took in monochrome:

 

These are the pictures that Lightroom showed:

 

Color or monochrome, they both have their appeal.

But without the monochrome LCD, I would never have seen the view.

 

Singapore. June 2017

Focus in Yerba Buena

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This week’s Photo Challenge is Focus

The Daily Post says to choose a favorite photo of a moment in-focus or out. 
I have many pictures which  are blurry and out of focus but none of them are a favorite. Instead, I  choose this one.

focus  ˈfəʊkəs’
noun
  • A center of interest or activity. An act of concentrating interest or activity on something.

“He was focused on a thought, on something within himself.”

  • The state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition
“The clarity of color, grass and stone brought visual focus to his form.”

Photo taken in San Francisco, California. 2015

Photo Challenge: Order

I’m going to try this.

Once.

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Order


I took this shot at Chow Kit Market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  It’s part of a series on local markets where I try to capture their look and feel.  I had a simple intent of showing a dry goods shop, different from the standard shots of vegetables and meat.

What caught my eye about this photo?

Originally it was the orange color of his shirt. The eye-catch which connected the passer-by to the shelves in the shop. But then the color became lines and my eye followed the network of lines within lines, the boxes within boxes. Unconsciously, my eye was drawn to the pattern within the picture, the order imposed on this chaos of small things. But then my eye grew tired of straight lines. It pulled back to follow the curves. The dark slope of the shopkeeper hunched over the counter. The blurred profile of the passer-by. The orange color of his shirt.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  2017


So that’s it then.

My first response to a Photo Challenge. 

But this program is Weekly. 

Maybe I’ll have the discipline to try it again.

Later. 

Familiar Faces in Saigon

It’s hot in Saigon. At 10 o’clock in the morning it’s already thirty degrees with a mounting noon day sun. Rivers of sweat stream down my chest and my t-shirt is wet against my skin. We’re in the market area of old Cholon, the Chinese quarter of  Ho Chi Minh City.  I avoid a passing motorcycle and hug a shade on the sidewalk.

Up ahead Arnaud our photo guide,  is telling us to use f3.5 for close-up portrait shots.

“You muss go in cloze,” he says.

Arnaud is a Frenchman living in Vietnam and enjoying the life of full time street photography.   His enthusiasm is passionate and relentless. We’ve spent three hours walking  and he hasn’t stopped talking once. Lucky for me, he latches on to my Paris born husband and lapses into French.

Two street vendors set-up stalls across a narrow pathway; one selling food, the other selling flowers.  I take a quick shot of the flower vendor. She seems familiar. The set of her mouth, the curve of her nose, the slant of her eyes. She reminds me of my grandmother.

Her friend across the street calls out, laughing and a little jealous of her attention.  I take her picture too. I’m rewarded with a bright mischievous grin

Up ahead Luc and Arnaud are circling a bemused old man. He’s been caught waiting for his wife. Arnaud’s behemoth Nikon hovers near the man’s face. He catches my eye and I shake my head apologetically. After they’ve moved on, I take my shot from a respectable f5.6 and 35mm distance.

“Are you Japanese?” he says in perfect English.

I shake my head and un-mindfuly say “Chinese.”

“Wo shi hua ren,” he says. He holds his hand three feet off the ground. “Wo li kai zhong guo shi, hai shi ge xiao nan hai.”

I catch the words ‘zhong guo’ for China. I gather that he’s originally from China and that he left for Vietnam when he was very small.

Later when I look at the map of Vietnam, I realize how close it is to China. It shares a border with Guangxi, the southern most province and homeland of my great great grandfather.  Looking closer at the old man’s photo, I see the familiar Han nose and hooded almond shaped eyes. Clumps of stiff white hair bristle from his cheek.

It reminds me of my father, who at eighty three years doesn’t see or shave as well as he used to. In fact this man has an uncanny resemblance to my father’s friend, Uncle Louie. I call him uncle not because he’s a relative but because it’s the traditional term of respect for Chinese elders. When I was little I used to think that I had the biggest family in the world. Maybe I wasn’t half wrong.

Photos taken in HCMC, Vietnam. 2015

Myanmar Portraits

Cheroot Smoker (Bagan)

Whenever I travel I take lots of pictures.  After the trip, it takes me a while to sift through them all.   I discard the (many!) uninteresting and bad shots; select the context and story shots  and choose the ones that I just plain like.

I  always prefer pictures with people in them.   Inevitably my favorites are portraits. For me, the sense of place is best captured in the expressions and character of its people.

Here are a few from my trip to Myanmar.

For whatever reason, I almost never take pictures of children and cats.  Don’t get me wrong, I love children and cats. Some of my favorite people were children once. Cats even.  But as photo ops? Not so much.

Except for this one.   This little monk had just gobbled up a special treat.  He’d claimed a small cake included with the rice in the daily alms collection.   I love the expression on his face and the overall delight in his posture.

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Little Monk (Bagan)

My absolute favorite portrait from Myanmar?

That would be of the Cheroot smoker. It was taken on our first day in Bagan. We’d visited the early morning market and she was setup right at entrance.  Over the next eight days I took hundreds of photos but this one, taken in the first hour, is my favorite.

Myanmar. December 2016

Taking it to the next step … and stumble

What’s the first thing to learn about Street Photography? You have no control of the light. You can chase the light and wait for it but you have  no control.  I enjoy doing street because frankly I am a point and shoot type of person.  I keep my camera in A-(aperture) or S(-shutter) mode, never ever M(-manual) mode.

Last week I decided to take the next step and learn more.  I signed up for Portrait Photography lessons.  I should have studied up on light.

Portrait photography is all about controlling light. Over two days we spent hours looking at light: natural light, studio light, speed lights, strobe light, light modifiers, reflectors etc.  All shots were in manual mode. I took so many shots with so many different settings and modifiers that I lost track of  which was which.   Some shots were pretty bad; clear indicators of a person without a clue.

Once in a while, with lots of help from my light gaffer (Hubby) who  knew what he was doing, I managed to take a decent shot.

spidec42016-0995Sometimes with a bit of luck, I even managed a nice one.   Like this picture of our teacher Peter Soh.  It was taken in full sunlight, with back and front flashes to get a halo effect.  Peter’s hair was perfect for capturing highlights.  Luck came in clicking at the right moment of an impish smile.

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Pictures like these encourage me to continue. But my next lesson will be on the Fundamentals of Light.

Singapore. December 2016

Workshopping

eystreetogws-0460One of the things I do is write.  Not only blog writing like this, but short story and creative non-fiction  writing. An essential part of writing is reading and as every creative writing student knows, an essential part of reading is learning how to give feedback.

For every novice student a dreaded ordeal is the writing workshop where your work is critiqued by peers. After a couple hundred times the ordeal becomes less so and the learning value becomes apparent.  The value of work-shopping is for both the writer and the reviewers.

I’ve never thought much about the similarity between writing and photography.  In my mind they were totally different things. Writing, particularly fiction writing was about making stuff up. Photography, particularly street was about capturing real life images on the fly.

I recently attended a Street Photography workshop with Hubby.  We’d registered months before, it was a sold out session but I seriously hadn’t been in the mood. We’d just come off a ten day trip where we’d spent our time shouldering through the 1.2 billion crowds in China. Given a choice, I would have really preferred to retreat from humanity and hide out in my cave.

Instead, bright and early on a Saturday morning I was in a room filled with amp’ed up men strung out on coffee and DSLRs. They strutted about pointing their cameras at each other, talking in that f-stop-shutter-speed babble-speak that photographers like so much.  The session was in a Leica store and I walked around looking at sleek new cameras housed in artfully lit glass boxes. Cameras so expensive that they didn’t have price tags, just discreet cards advertising savings ‘starting at $1800.’ A dull roar of excitement announced the arrival of our workshop leader Eric Kim.

Eric was an electrifying, high-energy, enthusiastic guy.  He talked fast and short, in a voice pitched slightly above normal.  With his close cropped hair, bright round eyes and frenetic smile he reminded me of a manic Asian Tintin. I didn’t know it at the time but Eric was a famous street photographer.  I just thought of him as a kid, young enough to be my son and way too peppy for 10AM in the morning.

I won’t go into how the day progressed.   It was good. I took pictures. Learned some stuff. Talked with the DSLR men, they weren’t so bad. Waited for Eric to calm down.

My big revelation came in the feedback session when we each shared our Three Best photos and critiqued them as a group. While work-shopping I suddenly realized that there were many parallels between writing and  photography.

Both are created realities, encapsulated in word or form.   The best pieces are those that tell or hint at a back-story. Both have complexities of layers – the ones we see and the ones hidden below the surface.  The best works are those that invite the viewer to look around, to think about what happened before, what will happen next. Good stories make an emotional connection. Good pictures do, too.

One of Eric’s nuggets of advice was  “Do not take pictures, make them.”

That’s what creativity is all about – making stuff up.

The other thing I learned was that I had a photographic style. Much like a writers voice, photographers have an individualistic way of capturing scenes and people.  It shows in the way they tell their stories and take pictures. Without attention that style is unconscious, intuitive and raw.  With attention, it can evolve.

When Eric projected my Three Best  he asked the room what they thought when they viewed them as a whole.

“Secrets,” someone said.

“Strange,” I thought.  I wouldn’t have described them that way. But when I looked again I saw what he meant.

I also understood why I had selected the ‘Girl’ shot.  Of the three, it had been my  favorite but I couldn’t have explained why.  With that single comment, I knew.

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It was an ordinary shot about an ordinary girl who had a little bit of mystery. The half space background, leading lines and rain slicked pavement gave a sense of loneliness.  The turned away figure to the left emphasized her isolation. The light and shadows on her face were pensive but her slight smile showed hope.

De-constructed, these were  the elements that provided the first impression or initial read, of the photo. The second were the questions. What happened to the girl before this? What was she thinking? What were her secrets?

In creative writing we’re encouraged to show and not tell our stories.  In photography, we tell our stories in what we show and what we don’t.

So in that single comment I had a personal epiphany.  Suddenly I had insight into the types of pictures I faved and those that I made.   I also saw what I didn’t make.  In reviewing other peoples’ shots, I analyzed what I liked and more importantly, why  liked them.   I saw techniques that I could use or at least try. I saw compositions around the edges that took me out of the frame but added to the image.  I saw accidents of light that  worked and wondered how to make them deliberate. Suddenly, by being conscious of my own style,  I recognized all the things that I had not been doing. Techniques that I could adopt, adapt and evolve into my own.

So that’s the value in work shopping. It’s something that I’ve appreciated in my creative writing group and something that I’ve come to appreciate in photography.

Singapore.  November 2016

Hello Streettogs!

When I first read Eric Kim’s email confirming his street photography workshop, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.  Hello Streettogs! Did  he mean street-hogs,  like for bikers? or street-togs, like for shoes?  Only after saying it out loud did I figure it out.  This was the first thing I learned from Eric.

Over the next couple days I had the chance to learn more.  Hubby and I were part of a workshop on “Conquering Your Fears in Street Photography” where we walked through Singapore practicing the Art of Street according to Eric.

layers

On our first day we focused on rejection – how to conquer the fear of strangers by asking their permission to take photos and then dealing with the no’s. I call it the day of “Cans and Cannots.”  Since we were in the heart of Chinatown it was very easy to get the “Cannots.” I quickly exceeded my quota of five No’s.  The big surprise though was the number of Yes’s.  My end of day tally showed fifty percent more Yes’s than No’s. Even more surprising were the quality of shots  taken with permission.

The big lesson of the day was to take many shots and work the scene by taking different angles and poses. It’s very tempting to shoot and run but Eric’s advice was to take at least ten shots and then twenty percent more.   I didn’t quite achieve that target but found that my best shots were from sets of multiples,  of people I’d engaged and talked with over a period of time.

mafia-contact-sheet-2The second day we focused on Candids. We shot sneak streets and practiced taking photos on the sly.  One of Eric’s tips was to take pic’s but continue shooting long after the subject’s moved out of the frame. I admit to not having any good shots on day 2.  Maybe I was too ‘ttogged out – I was just coming off an 10 day trip.  I felt a little bit like this guy.

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My favorite part of the workshop was the feedback session at the end.  We each shared our three best shots with the group, gave and received critiques and voted on each person’s best shot. My classmates had some amazing pictures and showcased a range of style and perspectives. For a view of  their work, have a look here.

These were my 3 Best Shots. Can you guess which was voted best?

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For good reading and great tips on taking street photography check out Eric Kim’s blog.  He also gives fun workshops but sign up fast because they sell out quick!

Singapore. November 2016