Shooting self

This triptych is the result of an attempt at self-portraiture last weekend, with the Self-Portrait workshop ran jointly by Nadirah Zakariya and I, as part of the Exposure+ Photo series of workshops.

The workshop covered the historical aspects of the painted portrait from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance era and I shared the premise that many master painters utilised photography to influence their great works. I presented how the purpose of portraiture has changed with the invention of the camera and the negative, allowing the masses to make low cost reproducible photographs. In the second half, Nadirah presented and shared the works of contemporary photographers who specialises in self portraits, before setting a task for each participant to shoot a set of home self-portraits to be presented the following week.

Shooting the self isn’t as straightforward as it appears, as there are perhaps more preparations to plan out than photographing another, since you are both the subject and the camera operator. Composition, framing and concept is mostly trial and error. As is focusing, and tripping the shutter – a manual affair for my old school set up. I learnt from the other participants that they used a wifi-controlled app on their phones to compose and shoot themselves – and there was I, darting back and forth from camera to pose, checking framing and focus constantly.

I wanted to make a series of tight head shots with my 90mm at the closest focus distance of 1m, shooting wide open, but obtaining pin point focus was a task in itself, since the DOF is so shallow. Overall I took over 50 shots, most were slightly out of focus or the framing was off. Perhaps I will use a 28mm next time.

Coming up with a concept may not be easy for most, including myself. Self-portraits aren’t my strong point. I seldom even take selfies, but this workshop task has opened up a new way of representation and self-expression that is worth a second look and can be quite liberating.

Incidentally, KLPA‘s theme this year is ‘Sense of Self’ in the Single Image category and is now open for entries.

Steven

Dream Boys & ballerinas

From my archives! Came across this folder on a CD titled ‘Halellujah Shoot, Dorchester Hotel 09.2004, E.Way’ E.Way is Eric Way, the renown South African designer who had been a close neighbour to my gallery/studio in London then. This was a fun shoot, backstage and catwalk at the London Dorchester.

Rita M, RIP

Last weekend I heard that Rita, a dear friend from a local church community whom I gotten to know over the years had passed away. You know how sometimes you meet someone, despite the age gap, you get acquainted, not in the sense of a close friend, but still, but a friend nonetheless. She’s always in church, at almost every mass, and she has been a firm volunteer in the parish, being responsible for producing the weekly newsletters and also a regular reader. She’s a cheeky so and so too, and so soft spoken, a very English lady from an era where respect and dedication is everything. From the way she dresses to her hair style, she would not be out of place in a 40’s British war time drama. She is also a very private woman.

There is another reason why I am writing this, partly as a dedication to Rita, but more so because I was in a slight fret a few days ago when Rita’s grand daughter rang and asked if I had the digital files of these portraits as she really liked them and wanted to make prints for the upcoming funeral service.

Now, every photographer worth his/her salt would know about workflow and the archiving process. I was certain I knew exactly where these files were stored. These were taken in June 2008 in Cafe Rouge in Kensington. I even remembered that!

Over the years, I have invested in external hard drives as back ups, and these were before Google Drive and cloud services. From about 2000 onwards, the commercial fashion and wedding shoots were burned to CDs, and I have them readily available still. Some were put on Iomega ZIP drives (remember them?). Around 2006 I got a Seagate GoFlex 2TB SATA shared network drive which was accessible via WIFI and used that as my main back up device and also home to the Time Machine back ups for my iMac. Then about 2011 I began to use Google Drive and DropBox as backups and smaller external plug in drives for portability.

Not really knowing where Rita’s files were exactly, I spent several days shifting through all my current drives, using keywords, algorithms etc but no luck. All I found were website thumbnail files which were about 800 px in height which is totally useless for print. I categorise my shoots files into folders named under year and month, but none of these folders contained the files.

I knew they had to be in the now defunct Seagate network drive but upon plugging in, the app failed to register. Shiite. The drive was making all the right clicks and whirrs but it’s been several years since I accessed it. After a quick search on the internet I found out that the Go Flex system is now no longer working and supported and the only way to get to the drive was to take it apart and somehow connect it directly to the laptop. So, another hour on YouTube self-learning about drive recovery, SATA, PATA, IDE, converters, and adapters I finally ordered one of these [https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B078GZG4ST] . China – Geeks Love You. Amazon Prime 24 hour delivery is amazing. I literally clicked BUY last night and this evening, I got the adapter.

This isn’t the end.

Upon connecting the naked drive with this gadget into my Macbook, the drive popped up instantly on the desktop. However, the drive folder is err.. empty! Nada, although inspecting the drive properties showed it has over 400GB used. How strange. I couldn’t understand why the files weren’t showing up. Until closer inspection brought up the words Windows NTFS on the drive. I am not really clued up about compatible drive formats between Mac and Windows OS but I knew I had to connect it to a Windows machine somehow. Luckily, I have an ageing Windows laptop which I quickly powered up and got it hooked up to the drive and voila! All my backup files showed up.

I finally managed to locate the Rita folder with all the CRW files shot on my Canon 5D with a 35mm f2 and 50mm f1.4 lens and I can sleep easy tonight. There is a lesson to be learnt here, but for now, I can’t think what it is. Goodbye, Rita.

Back in time : Kuala Lumpur

It’s Sunday and where I live it’s now Tier 2 of the latest Covid-designated level of restrictions. Tier 1 being Medium risk, 2 meaning High and Tier 3 is the absolutely no mingling stay home, pub-closing variety. Anyway the scientists (who listen to scientists anymore, I wonder) say all these tiers are confusing and pointless, since the virus cannot read and they fly around in the boundary-less air with the wind, and they will come and infect you whether you are drinking in the pub, exercising in the gym or do sweaty yoga unless you are in Westminster and your name is Dominic or so they say.

But I digress. Here are some pictures of KL central, from way back, yes in 2008, when I was hoping to be a successful ‘street’ photographer (don’t we all) since almost every photowalk that has ever been organised that I recall always starts in Petaling Street and teaches street photography.

Has it changed? I wonder where these people are today, their faces frozen in time. Do you recognise them, it would surely be interesting to know. Apologies for the garish oversaturated colours, but like sepia and spot colouring, it was in trend back then. I’m more into muted tones now.

Elizabeth’s garden /1

My neighbour Elizabeth is an elderly spinster who has been very ill ever since I moved in next door to her last year. She is bedridden and does not go out, and she gets visits from carers several times a day to feed and care for her. Since February this year, she deteriorated and I understand she is now staying in a local care home.

Her garden is completely overgrown but there grows some beautiful wild weed, roses, blackberries and shady trees.

Winter into Spring

Discovering that all the local trees have sprouted their leaves and blooming with flowers since we entered the lockdown in early March, I took a walk along the towpaths of the River Wey about 15 minutes away.

On a small private island, there is a public park with many mature trees, some are in full bloom, like this one, a hawthorn. Simply magical, shady and fragrant.

Earth Day 2020

Earth Day 2020 today, calls for Climate Action. Clean air is a major factor to healthy living. During the current pandemic, many industrial centres across the world – China, India – have seen a dramatic improvement if air quality and a reduction in CO2 emissions. In the UK there are current research into the causative effects of London’s highly polluted air and the number of serious COVID-19 patients. The city of Milan in Lombardy, the most polluted and affected region in Italy, has announced an ambitious plan to rededicate 35kms of city centre roads to cycle and pedestrian use this summer.

I hope for a cleaner and healthier post-pandemic world, which could begin with forest regeneration and less reliant on fossil fuels.

Bruno Cattani : Eros & Memorie

both

I had the pleasure of acquiring not one, but two photography books from Italian photographer Bruno Cattani last November at the Photolux Festival in Lucca. So much has happened since my rained soaked weekend in the beautiful walled city of Lucca where Puccini was born, and I was recently reminded gently by the gentleman, Mr Cattani, if I could give him my views on his books.

With the current lockdown in the UK due to the pandemic, and with ample ‘lounging-around’ moments throughout the days (weeks and even months ahead…) I finally got to look at, and into – the photographs in these publications.

Not often, I find myself so intrigued in fine-art photography – especially in book form, since most of my recent acquisitions were documentary works  (see Road to recovery : Noriko Takasugi & Catalina Nucera). Documentary works inform and illustrate stories told by their authors – of distant lands, events and peoples, their struggles, their celebrations and their encounters.

Eros, 2018 and Memorie, 2014 do not do that. However, they evoke feelings and emotions, sometimes repressed and locked away in one’s mind.

IMG_20200403_181708

Eros is a collection of detailed black and white studies of marble figures. In Europe, these decorate the internals of churches, in public spaces and museums in all their splendour, magnificence and artistry, as common as can be. However, Bruno’s pictures capture the sensuality and erotism in their depiction of the often accentuated female and male forms made more pronounced by detailed lighting, texture and composition, which is his signature style in this series.  Ambiguous representation of marble or flesh? Figurative depiction or human skin? Abstraction or true form. Seeing beyond what is present in the shapes and shadows. The human body fascinates me, all the same.

Some of these thoughts will surely cross a viewer’s mind, as they did with me. Translucence is the emotive phrase I am thinking. Of mind, body and spirit, where clarity and opaqueness meld into each other.

Sometimes, we encounter an image, a sound or smell that triggers our hidden memories and they become as clear as the present day. Looking at some of the photographs in Memorie did just that for me. Even as I have not lived in or visited the city of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, as the collection in this book depicts, it acts like a proxy trigger to similar places and experiences I have experienced in my years living in Europe.

That’s why I love this book so much as the scenes, some mundane and private only to the author, allows the viewer an insight to the personal encounters and memories of the photographer and at the same time gives me an opportunity to rediscover my past experiences too. More than feelings.


Contact the photographer for more information here :

http://www.brunocattani.it/en/?page=Publications