Posts By Dan Marchant

“May you live in interesting times”

I think it is safe to say that most of the worlds population have spent the first half of 2020 “living in interesting times” (as the old curse/proverb goes).

For me those interesting times have taken the form of Hong Kong’s anti-extradition protests, the covid-19 pandemic, a 6000 mile move to a new country, quarantine and a family illness…. which all adds up to my excuse as to why I haven’t progressed further with my current photography projects.

As we are now in Canada my “Neon Hong Kong” project will have to wait until I can get back there for a visit; which means focusing on other projects. Hopefully the key to our new home will also open up some new projects for the year ahead.

Kodakit shuts down

Kodakitcloses
Termination email sent out by Kodakit.

In excellent news for professional photographers, the “Uber of Photography”, Kodakit is to close down. Founded by Kodak in 2017, Kodakit was an attempt to build a gig market place to connect photographers with businesses looking for photography services.

Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that the service was not something that would benefit professional photographers in any meaningful way. In addition to low rates of pay for gigs the company had wholly unreasonable contractual terms that required that Photographers give up all rights to their images.  By all, I mean all. In most countries photographers own the copyright to their images by default and can exploit images beyond the initial contract to generate additional revenue or can sell the copyright for an additional fee. Almost as importantly they can be identified as the creator of the work and can display it in their portfolio to generate future work. Kodakit’s terms and condition sought to up-end this practice.

Any time spent on a Kodakit gig would be an empty void on your CV. The more work you got from them, the less successful your business would appear to be.

Not only did they required the photographer to give them the copyright for no additional fee but the photographer was further prohibited from using the images in their portfolio or even identifying themselves as the creator of the image. Think about that for a moment…. Any time spent on a Kodakit gig would be an empty void on your CV. The more work you get from them, the less successful your business would appear to be.

Other reasons why a system like Kodakit are bad include the devaluing of creative work, a focus on competing based on price (instead of on quality) and, more importantly, a loss of control of your business/client relationships. A third party gig market place like Kodakit or a stock agency website is basically a filter between you and your potential clients. Unlike contacts that come through your own website, while a client who actively chooses to contact you through the service will be connected, you will have no knowledge of any potential clients that might check out your offerings and no opportunity to convert them into a client. Also you have no control over the platform itself. Much like Instagram and Facebook changing their algorithm, if a market place like Kodakit changes the way that it assigned gigs in a manner that was detrimental to your business you would be unable to do anything (other than stop using the system).

Lastly any accumulated brand loyalty that you do manage to build up through a stock agency or a gig market place disappears if the service closes, which is something you have zero control over.

“Neon Hong Kong” – Project diary (3)

It may not have been properly envisioned until this year but my “Neon Hong Kong” project was begun way back in 2014. I was doing a Street Photography walk around Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui when I captured the image above (and others) which included neon signs.

Ming Court Hotel
Ming Court Hotel

I have always found the glow of neon to be appealing and this image inspired me to do a neon related project, although I didn’t know what form that should take. Over time I realised that several of the signs I had photographed were gone. Signs failed and were not repaired, or businesses updated to modern signage or else went out of business altogether and their neon signs disappeared. That was when I decided on a hybrid documentary/artistic project. I would track down and record as many of the remaining signs as possible and then choose some of the once neon filled streets and convert them so that they are once again awash with neon. The project is a fond farewell for the fast disappearing signs. Like the gods, their power is fading and their light going out from the world. But, before they disappear for good, I will document as many as I can so that we can at least remember them.

To date I have visited over 170 locations and taken over 1100 location and test photos. I have about another 40-50 locations still to visit/document and then I need to choose which signs/locations to use for the artistic element of the project. I am hopeful that with a concerted effort I can get a large proportion of this work done for January-February 2020 in order to be able to create a first draft of the full project. 

Annual Exhibition

 

Simplyhk

Hong Kong’s Cathay Camera Club (cathaycameraclub.com) will be holding their annual exhibition at the end of this month. This years exhibition theme is “Simply Hong Kong” and members will be exhibiting images which best capture what Hong Kong is for them.

The exhibition will take place at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui from 29th November to the 1st December.

Exhibition times
Friday 29th – 12 noon – 11.00pm
Saturday 30th – 9.00am – 11.00pm
Sunday 1st Dec – 9.00am – 8.00pm

There will be an exhibition opening event at 7.00pm on Friday 29th November.

As part of the exhibition I will be displaying prints from my Neon Hong Kong project.

As with all exhibits at the cultural centre it is open to the public and free of charge. If you are in the area please do come along for a look.

The Hong Kong Cultural Centre is at:
10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Sui.

 

I need to stop enjoying photography so much

Or to be more accurate I need to stop enjoying the process of photography so much. It is actually stopping me from taking photographs.

At the start of this year I committed to working on two personal projects that I would complete by the end of the year. Eleven months in and one is just about on schedule, while the other (“Loss”) is nowhere close. Oddly the delay in this second project is not because I can’t think of what to shoot or that I am not enjoying it. In fact the problem is the exact opposite. I am enjoying the process too much. Spending too much time thinking about the images, constructing them in my mind, reconstructing them, thinking about each of the elements and what they mean. In some cases I’m constructing multiple different versions; alternate takes on the same concept.

While my “Neon Hong Kong” project is up to 20 (candidates for finished) images “Loss” is far behind. Oddly I have been enjoying the process so much that Read More

Fluid Dynamics

“If you want to take beautiful photographs, point your camera at a beautiful subject”. I don’t know who first said that but I certainly agree that it is easier to take a beautiful photograph of a beautiful subject. Point your camera at a lovely flower or a handsome face, a top of the range super-car or visually stunning landscape and you will have the perfect raw material for a beautiful photograph.

Personally I prefer to stay away from beautiful subjects. I prefer to focus on, what are often thought of as, the ordinary, normal, even boring, places or objects; in an attempt to find the abnormal beauty we often overlook. I prefer the challenge of finding an interesting image that may not be obvious when you first look at the ordinary. One favourite techniques for accomplishing this/exercising those creative muscles, is to look at the same subject in as many different ways as possible, both physically, creatively and over time. “Fluid Dynamics” is project that started as just such an exercise.

Projects like this, I think, are best done over an extended period of time. Returning to the same subject and trying to see it in a fresh way each time really exercises the creativity. Unfortunately this particular project will be rather difficult to continue for more than a few months as the subject is just outside my home and we are planning to move thousands of miles away. I guess I will have to find a new subject once our relocation is complete.

Check out the current state of the project here.

“Neon Hong Kong” – Project diary (2)

I now understand why artists paint with elephant dung, or why photographers convert a flat panel truck into a giant, mobile, pin hole camera. This year has seen a major shift in my work and how I view myself. I have always known that I wasn’t satisfied with taking pretty pictures but struggled to know what more I could do with photography to give it meaning (for me).

This was made more difficult for me because I struggle with extreme social anxiety and so doing anything personal that others might see/interact with is very difficult. This year I finally reached a point, after several years of thinking about projects, where I was able and determined to put some of them into production. By that I mean that I would plan an entire project with a set minimum number of images that would constitute a complete project for me and then begin work producing those images (knowing that the project could still evolve and change during production). This is very different from my previous photography (mostly Architectural and Street Photography) which was undertaken on a more ad-hoc basis, with no clear idea of what would constitute a whole/complete project.

The first of these was my “Loss” project and the second is “Neon Hong Kong”. The topics for both are very different but they both share something in common. For me, the process is becoming as important as the end product. By that I mean that thinking about what constitutes a complete project, planning it, conducting research and doing multiple test shots (and continuing to test even when I think I may have a potentially final image) are all as important as the final image. In the case of “Neon Hong Kong” I have spent several months researching the locations of Hong Kong’s neon signs. From an initial list of over 220 potential locations (many old signs have long ago broken or been removed altogether) I have finally whittled it down to a list of about 125 locations that will be worth an in person visit. My process for this was to visit each location in Google Maps Street View. While the images in SV aren’t necessarily current it still helps a lot because, if a sign has disappeared in an image taken in 2016 it is a good bet that it has not reappeared since. At the time of writing I have visited about 15 locations and have 8 images that I consider may be part of the finished project. I also have a greater appreciation of elephant dung or the construction of automotive pin hole cameras as part of the artistic process.

It just remains to be seen if I am still in love with the process after several weeks pounding the pavements of Hong Kong in 31+ degrees C heat and 80-90% humidity.

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Streets of Hanoi

The Centre Of Attention, Hanoi, Vietnam. 2018.
The Centre Of Attention, Hanoi, Vietnam. 2018.

I recently returned from my second visit to Vietnam – my first to include Hanoi, and I would rate it as one of my favourite cities for Street Photography. This is in large part due to the crowded nature of the city creating an environment that is ideal for social interactions of various types. The city (much like Ho Chi Min City) is famous for the chaotic mass of scooters that fill its streets. At least chaotic was the impression I got when I first arrived. On closer inspection however, it became clear that the chaos had an inner order to it, like the flocking of birds or the shoaling behaviour of fish.What appears to be a crazy and chaotic mass is actually a huge group of individuals all being careful not to collide with each other. Having recently witnessed a Hong Kong taxi driver speed-up because a pedestrian had the audacity to cross the road in front of them, I would certainly say that Hanoi drivers are far better/safer than those in Hong Kong. They seem to work to two simple rules: #1. Don’t hit what’s in front of you (however badly they behave), and: #2. The sooner I let this person pass me the sooner they are out of my life and not bothering me.

My First Driving Lesson
My First Driving Lesson

Attempting to cross the road, which at first appears to be a exercise in stupidity, turns out to far easier than in many other cities. The sheer density of traffic makes speeding next to impossible and rule #1 above means that scooters and cars will literally go out of their way to avoid hitting you. All you need to do is step forward into any gap in the traffic and then keep moving forward at a uniform pace. The one thing you mustn’t do is step backwards as most vehicles attempting to avoid hitting you will do so by driving behind you.

For anyone wanting to do Photography in Hanoi you should definitely visit Hoan Kiem District (aka the Old Quarter) and Ba Dinh District (aka the French Quarter) where the government offices are located. A day of Street Photography goes very

Pho Soup Noodle And Beer
Pho Soup Noodle And Beer

well when fuelled by a morning cup of Vietnamese Coffee with a pastry, a Bánh mì (Baguette filled with pate, pickled carrots/diakon and often chicken or pork) for lunch and a bowl of Pho (soup noodles) with a cold beer for dinner.

The area around Hoan Kiem Lake is especially good at the weekend, when the area is converted into a giant pedestrian only zone. Locals take to the streets with youngsters dropping bags for goalposts to enjoy a game of street football, groups of music fans listening/dancing and parents giving their kids their first driving lessons (ride on electric toy cars).

Since returning to Hong Kong I have been experimenting with Bánh mì recipes. I have found that the key to a great Bánh mì is the chilli oil. Obviously a fresh baguette, crisp pickled carrot/daikon and a tasty pate are important but to be really great it needs just the right amount of chilli oil smeared across the sandwich. Just enough to give that chilli tingle up the spine. Hopefully this will mean that I can continue to enjoy a little bit of Vietnam at home while I wait for my next return visit.

 

“Neon Hong Kong” – Project diary

It seems that starting my “Loss” personal project has opened something of a flood gate. Soon after starting production on “Loss” back in January I revisited another project that I have been thinking about…. since 2014 (and making no progress). “Neon Hong Kong” is an artistic lament for the fast disappearing neon signs of Hong Kong.

Neon signs arrived in Hong Kong back in the 1950s and reached the zenith of their popularity in the 1970s and 80s. Since then they have been in steady decline. Some signs were damaged and ceased to work, others were removed and replaced with more modern shop signs as shops were updated and some vanished when the businesses that owned them closed down or moved away.

Since giving this project a mental kick start I have taken about 160 test images and have about 8 that I think are final. I have over 200 location in Hong Kong to check out (many old signs are long gone) and hope to have enough images for an exhibition by the end of the year.

I have also come up with another two projects (and a possible 5th) in the last two months but those will have to wait for next year.

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“Loss” – project diary

Five days of mind numbing depression. Unable to get out of bed. Way to start a new photography project.

My 2019 new year’s resolution was to start a new personal project. I have several that I have been considering/planning for quite some time and decided it was time to start one. I didn’t want this to be an indeterminate, ongoing project, like much of my Street Photography. Instead I wanted this to be something that was planned as a whole from the start, something with an envisaged end. Of course it will change/grow/morph along the way but I wanted that to be generally towards a completed whole project. It took me over a month to choose one and then the same again to think about possible images – to ensure that I had the minimum necessary for me to view it as complete.

The project I chose was “Loss” – a photographic examination of the losses that accumulate throughout our lives. I also wanted to challenge myself by trying a genre of photography I have never done before – Still Life (from the Dutch “Stilleven”). Unlike Street Photography or Sports, I would have complete control over the content of the images and decided that I wanted to construct them using various elements that all (or at least some) had a meaning that related to the specific theme of the image. I also wanted the series to share some of these elements and as such have an overall language; even if it was one that only I understood. So far, so safe.

Of course we knew that wouldn’t last. What is the point of doing a personal project that is general in nature. The more I thought about the images the more personal it became. Lost love, lost friends, a father lost to alcohol… not topics that are easy to think about or likely to inspire happiness, which brings us back to five days of depression. I’m bipolar, it’s a chemical imbalance triggered by my brain overreacting to something, often quite minor, that is occurring in my life. This was on a scale I’ve never experienced before but, after day five, there were a whole bunch of days where I was no longer depressed. We are in March 2019 – finally time to pick up the camera and start shooting test shots.

So here I am thinking about how to assemble the various shots. Thinking about props and what they mean, how they will be put together, where I can find a half bottle of vodka (can’t find one anywhere in Hong Kong). Taking on a project that is outside your normal style/genre is certainly an invigorating experience (when your brain isn’t polluting itself with unnecessary chemicals). Looking forward to the other challenges this project throws up.

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