Category Colour Photography

“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. 

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

“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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GFI Hong Kong Football Club Rugby Tens

It’s rugby week again in Hong Kong and I was at Hong Kong Football Club for the GFI Rugby 10s.

The returning champions Biarritz Gavekal (formerly UBB Gavekal) came into the tournament looking to make it three wins in a row. Out to stop them were 3 time finalists (since 2013) Tradition YCAC, local team Hong Kong Football Club and UK based touring side Grove Penguins. Filling out the remaining tournament berths were 4th seeds and tournament debutants Mourant Fiji Army, Samurai International RFC, Asia Pacific Dragons, A-Trade Overseas Old Boys, Kir Club Pyrenees, Project X Waterboys, HK Scottish Exiles, the Classic Wallabies, Hunter & Boo East Africans, Tiger Rugby, Irish Vikings and the Shanghai RFC Silver Dragons.

Biarritz Gavekal suffered had a shaky start to their title defence with a surprise 14-12 loss to Projectx Waterboys on day one. However the top seed recovered and battled through an intense cup semi-final against Tradition YCAC, winning 12-5 and setting up a finals showdown with 3 times finalists, but never winners, Samurai International RFC.

The champions  went 7-0 down to Samurai before levelling with a try by Penikolo Latu and a conversion from out-wide by Nick Smith. Their second try soon followed courtesy of Glenn Preston before a try from Hong Kong-based Karetai Williams (conversion by Jason Robertson) settled the contest 19-7.

 

Then and Now (3)

How, What, Why – for me these were the three stages of photographic learning. How to operate my camera, what to include in a photograph and why on earth am I photographing this thing?

Over the last few years it has been the Why that has consumed my attention and had by far the greatest impact on my photography. I am pretty sure that some people would say it has had a detrimental impact because, in the early years, I focused on the What and the What was beautiful things. The result was pretty pictures of beautiful things which, within a couple of years began to bore me. The reason was simple. They had no meaning for me; no Why. Just being beautiful wasn’t interesting to me. I wanted to take photographs that were more than just skin deep.

A good example would be the above photograph I took in Sri Lanka in 2012. A beautifully detailed old padlock on a chest at the Dutch Hospital in Colombo. I thought it was pretty then and I think it’s pretty now but beyond that it has no meaning for me and as such doesn’t. If I were to photograph it now I might do so as a commentary on the power that colonial nations exerted on their respective colonies but at the time it was just a picture and for me retains little interest after the initial appreciation of its surface beauty.

I was reminded of the Dutch Hospital padlock while out on a photo-walk back in January of this year. I came upon another padlock (though this one was

Portrait of people rushing by

certainly not as beautifully aged and wonderfully textured) attached to a set of shutters. I momentarily toyed with the idea of spending time photographic the padlock but very quickly dismissed that. Far more interesting for me was the idea of trying to capture (distorted) images of people rushing by reflected in the shutter; a rather abstract commentary on the speed of modern life. While I am sure many people will find the earlier image visually more appealing it is the latter image that I keep returning to, puzzling over the distorted shapes and trying to extract some little extra detail that I did not notice on a previous visit. In fact, while writing this I just realised that one of the figures reminds me of The Flash (the DC comic character) leaning forward at an extreme angle as he rushes along in a blur. Sometimes I think the greatest improvements in your photography come not from upgrading your camera’s firmware, but from upgrading your own firmware instead.

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Valley Rugby Football Club Game Day

Pink Dot Hong Kong card
Valley Club Day in support of Pink Dot Day

Saturday was Club Day at Happy Valley Rugby Football Club. Happy Valley 6 turned pink for the day in support of Pink Dot Day and sponsor Societe Generale ran a booth with merchandise for Pink Dot awareness. The day included Hockey matches between Valley A vs HKCC A and Valley E vs Skyers B and a full card of Rugby matches with starting off with…

Valley Griffins vs HKS

Valley Mavericks vs HKFC Bulls

Exhibition play by the youngest members of the club

A Premiership clash Valley vs Hong Kong Football Club

and finally a Premiership A match with Valley Knights taking on HKFC Dragons.

 

Then and Now (2) – Sports Photography

When you are new to photography you need to photograph everything. You need to try every genre of photography and photograph every type of subject in every manner imaginable. Don’t ignore a genre of photography because you don’t think you will enjoy it. Try it first. I certainly had zero interest in photographing sports until I tried it one day. Now I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy street photography. Also, just like Street Photography, I am a much better Sports Photographer now than I was when I started. I know because I still have all the embarrassingly bad photos that I took in the early days. So here is what I have learned between then and now…..

Don’t panic

an old (bad) rugby photograph I took
Under exposed, poorly composed and badly blurred due to using all the wrong settings.

When you start shooting Sports, just like any genre, there are a host of new things that you need to be aware of. As a result it is easy to be overwhelmed and forget the basics. With the picture on the right you can see that the image was under exposed and would have benefited from a little more negative space in front of the main subject. More importantly the image is blurred because I was so busy thinking about all the new elements of sports photography that I forgot the basics. I turned up and started shooting without checking all my settings. As a result I shot the whole game at a much slower shutter speed than I should have.

Less is more

The first time I shot Rugby I shot over 800 images… of which 5 were reasonable. Many of them were bad for a number of the reasons mentioned in this article but many just shouldn’t have been taken. Put simply the players were too far away/obscured/had their backs to me. Even with perfect technique they were never going to be good Rugby photos so I should never have pressed the shutter button in the first place.

For example, It is possible to take great sports photos with an iPhone or a short focal length lens such as a 24-105 but it isn’t possible to take great sports photos of players who are at the opposite end of the pitch with this kit. When the play moves out of range stop shooting (or run down to the other end of the field). It will save you having to cull a bunch of useless images.

Similarly, when the play is heading away from you, it is less likely to produce interesting photos (just as taking a Street photo of someone’s back seldom results in an interesting image). There are some exceptions of course but generally you want to see the players face and the ball for an image to be interesting. This doesn’t mean you should stop tracking the play (after all it could quickly turn around) but you don’t need to keep capturing bursts of a players receding back.

Timing

rugby player scoring a try
Face and ball both visible – check. More importantly the body has not yet come to a complete rest/landed, making for a more dynamic image.

Another problem for novice shooters (Street or Sport) comes from an inability to read the game. Unless you are already a fan of the sport you are shooting you may not immediately understand how a particular play will unfold. From the start of the play where will the ball go. Will it be passed, if so in which direction, will it be kicked, if so where. There are decisive moments in sports as there are in Street photography. Learning when those are likely to occur will allow you to capture better shots. Learning where the ball is going to be is often more important than knowing where it currently is.

As well as the timing of the game itself there is also the micro level timing of the individual players. Sports photographs are a 2 dimensional representation of a 4 dimensional event. A sporting event unfolds over time with participants moving as it unfolds. Trying to maintain that feeling of movement can often be difficult especially when you are simultaneously trying to freeze the action in order to capture a blur free image.

Note: panning and slow shutter speed are two great techniques for capturing the feeling of movement in a photograph. However, while creatively interesting they can be a little hit and miss to pull off and don’t work in every situation – hence the default option of shooting at higher shutter speeds.

The solution when shooting at higher shutter speeds is to focus on the individual timing of the subject. As the pioneering 19th Century photographer Eadweard Muybridge showed, people’s muscles expand and contract as they move and there are times when, while running, they don’t actually touch the ground at all (see the first photo above). Capturing a shot of an athlete during these times will result in an image with a greater feeling of action/movement. In the second image above Jamie Lauder (Hong Kong) lands after diving to score a try. Despite the fact that he is on the ground his trailing legs, still in the air, tell us that he is still in the process of landing, and thus make for a more dynamic image with a feeling of movement.

Who is your audience?

One final element to focus on is the editing – specifically in regard to who your audience is. When shooting for fun at my local rugby club (or for certain publications) I will edit images more loosely to show more of the players/story. Your friends all want to be in the photos even if they aren’t doing anything particularly interesting. On the other hand if your audience is a newspaper editor they likely want a much closer crop that focuses in on individual players.

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