Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 3: 'Chang Chui'

Chromacoma checking in for October with another ‘places to shoot’ entry for the guide. I shall also be using this as an excuse to post a few scans of recent, medium format film work (Rolleiflex) shots taken at this location.

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 In prioritizing what places to mention in the guide, most of the first mental selections I make are typically always old favourites, sometimes very old buildings and the like. It occurred to me last week that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the inclusion of new places also and so that is why this month’s entry is ‘Chang Chui’. You can’t Romanize Thai into English so any attempt is always subjective, that said some words are easier to try with it than others and this one isn’t too bad. But what does it mean? Basically it means a ‘messy artist or craftsman’. Kind of like one who just throws stuff together willy-nilly.

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Based upon that working definition, one might say that the naming of this place was, in fact, spot on. It is a very carefully thrown together venue but has the look and feel of something that was cobbled together on a wing (whim?) and a prayer without any careful planning. Nothing could actually be farther from the truth however as this project was the brainchild of none other thanKhun Somchai Songwattana, the owner and businessman behind the fashion brand and retail outlet ‘Fly Now’ (very famous and chic in this country). He is something of a fashion mogul in Thailand and this is a place he personally came up with as a hangout for artistic types in Bangkok. He is also very well known for being a thoroughly generous and kind man with good heart to match his good vision.

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Having only just opened this year (2017), the whole place is carefully designed to look like it came together through casual happenstance but is actually a beautifully executed presentation with a very consistent artistic theme throughout. So what is it? Well, it’s a large plot of land on the very most-Westerly side of Bangkok, but still within city limits. It was originally purchased with a view to housing an HQ for Khun Somchai’s brand but the design guru later changed his mind, instead looking to create an artistic venue and meeting place that comprises of shops, cinema, crafts, good dining and drink, music and cool people. To that end, it certainly seems to succeed.

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Subtle hints of the ‘Fly Now’ brand tie-ins are evident everywhere around the grounds of this attraction, especially in the kinds of clothes and fashion accessories on sale.  One or two such cues are anything but subtle however, such as the HUGE decommissioned commercial jet plane in its bare aluminium skin standing on its proper landing gear around which there is a bar, forming a central motif to the whole place.   There’s also a similarly ‘past its former glory’ level helicopter artistically placed to catch your eye amongst a whole slew of old radial aircraft engines, now serving roles of form rather than function.

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The heat being the problem that it always is in Bangkok means that this venue doesn’t typically open until about 4pm on through to 11pm (ish) and so was always intended to be a cooler, late afternoon through sunset and on till dark kind of affair. Another big help is the larger mist spraying cooling fans everywhere, although photographers would do well to be prepared to cover up their gear when walking through some of these misty spray zones.

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It is quiet on the earlier weekdays (currently closed on Mondays I think) but also cheaper. That means that it’s 20 baht per head as opposed to the usual 40 baht on Fridays and through the weekend peak times. If you want to see and take photos of lots of hip looking young people, the weekend is definitely your best bet. At these times there are often live artists painting and bands performing, trip hop and ambient music being pumped around the place etc. It’s generally quite pleasant. The quieter days like a Tuesday or Wednesday are great for getting nice clear shots of the place itself though, with less people in the way. I would base my day to visit therefore around what I was really looking to shoot.

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All in all, it’s a pretty cool place and there’s more than enough there to justify going there more than once, especially for photographic purposes. If you are already in the city, most taxi drivers will have heard of it by now, if not just ask for ‘Pinklao’ and then get local directions when you are in that area. It’s on the main Sirinthorn Road that you have to take west from the city to get to the main Southern bus terminal so it’s not going off the beaten path at all. If you are central or Eastern Bangkok, you could even just save hassles and ride the BTS sky train all the way out to the Bang Wa terminal at Ratchapreuk and then get a taxi going that way from there, they will likely know it.

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For more specific detail, here is the website and map info link:

http://www.changchuibangkok.com/

Even more photos below, enjoy!

CCP

 

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Places to Shoot in Bangkok: Part 2 Wat Arun

Greetings to all Chromacoma brethren,

As hard as it is to believe, we now found ourselves in September.  The year is truly whizzing by and I am reminded once again that life moves pretty fast (at least that what Ferris Bueller always told me when I was a younger).  So, I have sat down today in earnest to add another chapter in the guide with specifics about a photogenic Bangkok spot that might take your fancy.

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‘Wat Arun’ loosely translates to mean ‘temple dawn’ and so is often paraphrased into more elaborate and grandiose English translations along such lines as ‘Temple of The Morning Dawn’ etc.

I find that the longer you live here, the more tiresome and trite these standard tourist translations become but whatever floats your boat.

Speaking of boats, one suspects that on a photographic jaunt to shoot Wat Arun, you might well be needing one so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. This temple is actually on the opposite side of the river to where more than 90% of tourists to Bangkok are likely to be. This isn’t entirely a bad thing however as it gives you the opportunity to shoot it from afar with the Chao Phraya river in the foreground, as is the case for most shots of this place that you’ll find anywhere on the net.

To be specific, Wat Arun is over on the Nonthaburi (west side) of the river Chao Praya, and right up against the river. It is in what locals would probably refer to as ‘Bangkok Noi’ and can be accessed from the ‘Arun Amarin’ road there. Any taxi (even a bad one) will eventually pretty much have to take you to that road eventually to get there. However, land access to the temple is not your best bet, photographically speaking. I would recommend that you shoot it from the river side. In doing this, I would then go further and suggest that you choose one of the following: from the opposite side of the river with a long or wide lens (depending on your desired result but longer glass and tripod might work out okay here) or from a boat on the way past.

 In the case of the latter, you can either charter a private boat (difficult not to get fleeced when trying to find a private long tail boat hire charter in Bangkok city limits at touristy spots, at least you could also double up though and get the guy to take you out for a few hours along small waterways all around West Bangkok for maximum Nat-Geographic shot potential!) or simply plan to be on public access boats on the river and shoot as you go past. To be perfectly clear,  the standard express boats all actually stop direct at Wat Arun also but you get a good shooting opportunity of it just as you arrive ordepart on the boat and it depends on chance as to who or what is in your way. The shot at the top of this post was taken just as the boat was leaving on its way northbound to the next stop. You would need to be on the left (should be portside right?) of the boat coming up from Saphan Taksin BTS station (Sathorn) public pier and on the right (starboard it is then) if you were coming down from the North, basically anywhere much north of Khao San road or Thewet area.

 As a general rule of thumb, the easiest tourist option is to take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and then follow the signs down the very short walk to get on at the Sathorn pier heading north. Any orange flag boat going north for a few baht per head will get you going to (and/or past) Wat Arun and it will appear about 25 minutes into the journey (left/port) depending on the time of day, so you have plenty of time to hustle yourself into a spare ‘window’ seat on that side of the boat (there actually are no windows so it’s great for shooting. It’s almost directly opposite the famous ‘Wat Pho’ at around about pier 8. If it’s raining hard all bets are off as they will lower clear plastic sheeting over the open sides of the boat making photography a no-go anyway. This can get you in some really nice spots to shoot it as you go by. You could also get the larger (often double-decker) tourist boat that leaves from there and get the same result, there are likely to be more people with cameras looking to get good spots to shoot from on those boats however.

So back to the opposite river bank options then:  Close to (and around)  the Tha Tien pier is the area facing Wat Arun on the Bangkok side of the river. Here there is a plethora of small bars and cafes/restaurants that pay a premium to run their businesses here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful adjacent view of one of Thailand’s most beautiful temples. Many people are simply happy to just shoot from here. If you do choose this option then you might want to be aware of the thing that other people never seem to point out on the net, the sun will behind the temple as you look at it from this (Bangkok) side of the river. Likewise, the sun rises over the city in the morning, not from behind the temple. This information is not always clearly pointed out on touristy guides as it’s perhaps not as relevant to them as it would be for those specifically heading there with a view to taking pictures!

If you would prefer to get up close and personal with the temple itself, that is quite understandable. You can get the direct ferry over the river from pier 8 for just a few baht, quite literally (I think it’s less than five baht each per person, each way). For tourists, and depending on a number of very Thai variables, you will probably have to pay around 100 baht to be allowed into the grounds themselves. Be advised that you will not be allowed in if you are showing too much flesh and so covering up shoulders and legs is a must. No shorts or vests etc will be allowed in and this applies to men and women equally. If you really struggle, there are often places renting out simple items of clothing to cover you up a little more but it’s best to simply dress appropriately from the outset. Also, please bear in mind that it is a significant location for Thai Buddhists and has the status of a fully-fledged holy place for them so you should always behave respectfully at all times when at the temple, and also in the beautiful garden grounds there.  It is often quoted that the opening times are from 8:30 am to 5:30pm but in practice I have often found that it actually stays open until 6pm.  It’s more of a walk around the outside looking in kind of temple rather than a go inside for a peek kind of place. Not a problem for photographers of course.

If you are going in this close, I would suggest adjusting your equipment accordingly and certainly be equipped with something quite wide in the lens department. Although the temple looks only medium sized from afar, it is certainly a large subject once you are over that side of the river and in its midst.

The temple itself is actually quite different in terms of both design and colours when compared to other Thai temples. It is from the 18th century and is quite an exception to the ‘seen one Thai temple and you’ve seen them all’ rule and I highly recommend it if you’ve never been before. It’s beautiful early in the morning (given the name, not really hard to guess why) but it also looks pretty darned amazing at night as it is well illuminated. In the monsoon season, if the afternoon rains have subsided before sunset, then the colours of the night sky on the run up to sunset can be a truly stunning and ethereal palette for your temple shot background. Long exposure gifts aplenty for the patient. Basically, go early or go late as the harsh overhead Thai sun of midday doesn’t always make for great photos, and the heat outside will test you…unless it’s an overcast day of course. For the morning shooters, you will also get the benefit of it being quieter, the crowds can really swell later on during the high season, consider yourself duly warned.

All in all, with a little bit of planning and a modicum of luck, you should do very well at Wat Arun.

CCP

Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 1: Baiyoke Schmaiyoke

I thought it might be good to go into some detail of specific shooting locations in and around Bangkok, starting here with August’s entry to the blog.  Just in case it causes confusion for any regular readers, these will be posted here as separate monthly blog entries AND also added to the bottom of the seemingly ever popular ‘Ultimate Guide’ (click the tab header at the top of this page).

I thought that a good way to start this little series might be by addressing the elephant in the room, the Baiyoke Tower. It’s actually the Baiyoke Tower II as the original is a slightly smaller building nearby but for all intents and purposes, when you say ‘Baiyoke Tower’ or ‘Duk Baiyok’(in appalling phonetically spelled out English/Thai), people in Bangkok think of this:

It was up until very recently, clearly the tallest building in Bangkok, and by quite some margin. It still towers way above all of the other buildings anywhere in the immediate area. It was also for a long time the holder of one of those Guinness Book of World Records titles, but only on a sort of technicality. It was sort of true to say that it used to be the world’s tallest hotel but this statement needs a disclaimer; the tallest hotel building that is only 100% a dedicated hotel. There are certainly always hotel rooms around the world located within other, taller buildings but these buildings may not be dedicated hotels in their own right. On those grounds, the Baiyoke II was able to hold this claim to fame for quite a while. In fact, if you believe the blurb on site, it apparently still holds the records but this is patently false. There are now several dedicated 100% hotel buildings that are taller and newer in the Middle-East but of course this would be a huge hit to the selling point of the Baiyoke tower.  Even now you will see the old (now false) claims emblazoned all over the place when you visit, not unsurprisingly nobody seems in any great rush to update the posters and ‘fess up to the truth that they are currently hovering around 7th place at best!

The Baiyoke Tower is accessed via Pratunam, a generally busy (and sometimes a tad shady) market area mostly famous for wholesale cheap clothing including all the usual knock-off suspects. It’s not directly on the skytrain but any motorcycle, tuk-tuk or taxi driver will take you straight there in a flash. You’ll see lots of central Asians and Africans milling around the area as well as all kinds of Thais looking to sell you visits to erotic massage parlours and illegal drugs.

The main reason I am starting this series with mention of this place is actually because it is potentially something of an anti-climax from a photographic point of view and I have had so many people writing in to ask me about it that I decided to just do a post about it for general future reference instead.

I first shot from there back in the mid 90’s with a cheap (but very faithful) old entry level Nikon film SLR, a tripod that would snap if you sneezed anywhere near it and a budget Tamron zoom lens (I know my blog has more than its fair share of elitist and expensive camera kit snobbery but in the past I have also spent many a year using cheaper, humble kit quite happily!). The conclusions that I drew way back then are still basically my view of this location now, it’s nice to go once (and there are some chances to strike gold) but for shooting it’s not always that great. Here’s why:

Firstly, at the very top, it’s too far above the horizon line of the city for the nice shots that you imagined you might get. It’s not impossible, there’s some nice stuff out there on the net that you can find from people, but it’s not nearly as good as you think it’s gonna be. Secondly, the open viewing platform at the very top has a lot of wire fencing in the way obscuring a lot of your view. This is made worse by the fact that this deck is also basically quite a crude metal platform which rotates you around as you stand still (sometimes this breaks down, depends on the day). The rotation is certainly not that finely engineered, not at all smooth and this is a real pain when you consider that you might well need to be using a tripod on top of it. There will also be lots of people up there moving around that you will have to work around in terms of framing your shots and if it’s really busy this can be a nightmare. Added to this bundle of photographic ‘no-go’ joy is the fact that the winds at such an altitude are also really liable to be strong and mess up camera stability. As if that wasn’t enough, you really need an unusually clear Bangkok weather day for it to work at all, and that isn’t always guaranteed, not to mention the bright smog pollution effect sometimes  raining on your parade. One thing that can work up there (if you have all your ducks in a row) is if you can get a camera locked pointing down at a nice angle and then then shoot off a long series of frames for digital editing into a 180 (or even full 360) panorama with some kind of stitching tool. I have done this myself with reasonable success a long time ago. Long exposure, blur effects and other high altitude arty shots are also a possibility.

Okay, so is there anything else we can salvage from this train wreck?  Any other possibilities?

Well, maybe. Before you ascend to the outside, uppermost rotating platform, you will have had to climb up a couple of sets of stairs from the highest of the indoor observation floors.  This allows you all the Bangkok vista that you could ever wish for but from a solid, fixed footing with no problems of wind, weather or movement.  However, as with everything else in life there is a trade-off: It comes in the form of the very thick safety glass windows that you will see the world through up there. There are possibilities to shoot through the glass without too much of a glare debacle but it’s not always easy to do if you want decent image IQ. Sure, there will be masses of people quite happy with how these shots look on their smartphones up there but for dedicated photographers looking for high quality images, this just won’t be good enough. There are coin operated telescopes all around up here at the best spots so anybody using one of those nearby in light-coloured clothing will probably end up reflected into your shot. You might do well with some kind of lens hood that you can actually press up to the window, literally touching it on the glass as you set a camera up for a shot on a tripod and countdown the shutter using a timer-enhanced, minimal movement exposure.

Other options might be to come to the Baiyoke Tower (on the indoor floors again maybe?) before sunset and shoot from there without all the horrible direct overhead light, it’s much more likely to offer some beautiful shots (IF you get the weather right, some of the best sunsets can be towards the end of the year as the rains give way to the cooler season with ethereal colours abound). This can be a real ‘two for one’ kind of deal as if you don’t get lucky with the second half of the photographic golden hour as the sun goes down, you are then in for a treat with what is perhaps the only side of the Baiyoke Tower experience that I think is actually worth going there for as a photographer….NIGHT EXPOSURES!

Looking down at a smorgasbord of Bangkok lights and cityscape with all its traffic at night is actually pretty awesome by anybody’s standards. This is a time when you can get some real joy. There is still the problem of (night) reflections from the glass there though but by using a hood and tripod and shooting when there is nobody near you, a patient shooter can get some really good results. In the digital age, when everybody and his dog can shoot long exposures and simply chimp off a screen to see if they like what they got or not (not hating, but it’s a lot easier nowadays!), there are a lot more people up there shooting than there used to be. Back in the film days, long night time exposures required at least a modicum of decent photographic technique and knowledge combined with a bit of maths and some luck. There hardly used to be anybody up there at night with a camera. After a lot of searching I found this very modest effort of mine that I shot with the aforementioned (very) low budget Nikon film SLR and cheapo zoom and tripod 22 years ago. I don’t seem to have the original negs anymore so this already mediocre shot is not helped in its presentation here on this site by beinga scan of the actual printed photograph (circa mid 90’s). Although it's not anything to be that proud of, it was hard to earn and a lesser seen kind of shot back in its day! It gives you an idea and at least shows that people have been doing this for a while. Would still be fun to get up there at night nowadays with a film camera and some high ISO film to see what could be done, I'm sure.

Of course, as with everything else in the perpetual building site that is modern Bangkok, even this part of the city has now changed beyond recognition, this is actually looking down onto the old ‘World Trade Centre’ (now known as ‘Central World’).

I don’t know the exact costs off hand nowadays to go up the Baiyoke Tower as the price might vary from year to year and various seasons. It’s not too much, a few hundred baht at the most. There’s also a large buffet restaurant up there close to the top but although it was once a reasonably okay affair, I ate there again two or three years ago and it had definitely slipped down from ‘quite passable’ to ‘blatantly sub-par’ even by Bangkok two/ three star standards (oooh what a snob).

You generally need to take two lifts, the first one will get you up to a large and very noisy reception kind of floor where you then have to decide if you want to pay 'the full monty' to go up to the upper floors or not and the tickets are issued there. You are then fed into a line that leads to the other lifts that go up about another eighty floors or so. It’s quite the fast run up and you can sometimes even feel your ears pop as you go. For cheapskates, be aware that at certain times of the day (very late afternoon to be more specific), one really can get some very solid cityscape sunset opportunities just from the lower reception floor alone as it is already quite high up and has some huge windows and vistas on offer. That’s assuming you can get any peace or quiet from the tourist groups, in fact whilst I am on that subject…

Please be warned that, as with lots of touristy spots in Bangkok in recent years, this place has the tendency to be overrun by busloads of mainland Chinese tourists who might have a different idea about how to behave in public than a Westerner might. The tour leader (often a Chinese speaking Thai but sometimes a Chinese national working illegally as foreigners are prohibited from tour guide work in Thailand) will often simply either not be willing, ready or able to reign them in either and it can be quitea shock. Lots of shouting very loudly just for the purposes of a ‘normal’ conversation, pushing, shoving (even some spitting on the floor indoors when I last went) and general lack of respect for basic decorum in a public place can really put a downer on things. I wish I could put a more positive spin on that but it is difficult, I am trying not to judge but that was honestly my impression of the situation, maybe it's better at other times and I just got unlucky.... sorry if anybody disagrees or is offended.

The whole feel of the Baiyoke Tower is as with much of the Bangkok constructions of that era (80’s and very early 90’s), it’s generally a bit of a run down, old ‘former glory’ vibe that looks like they might have to close it soon, but yet it still somehow keeps crawling along year after year just fine. I know about the theory of too big to fail but what about too tall to fail? To be fair, I’ve never actually stayed in it as a hotel. I doubt it would be that impressive though.

So...I'm sorry if the first installment of places to shoot reads more like a place to not shoot (I really must split my infinitives more often, to hell with grammatical convention) but it’s just somewhere that I thought really warranted dealing with before I look elsewhere. Consider this case closed.

CCP

I'm Lucky to Have This...

One of my most prized photographic possessions is (in an unusual departure from the often vintage material objects spread out on the Chromcoma nightstand) a brand new photographic book which I only recently obtained. It’s not a super rare book, its price is not dirt cheap but neither is it prohibitively expensive. Its pages contain photos that can often be found for free with a quick internet image search and yet to me, it’s a really, truly precious item.

In the world of true black and white photography masters, we might struggle to name a single all-time greatest. The ‘best of’ shortlist debate here could go on ad infinitum but in an attempt to cut to the chase might I humbly suggest a brief caveat of separating would be candidates into two simple, distinct and unarguable categories:  Those still breathing and those that have left us to wash, dev and fix their frames of silver halide amidst the big darkroom in the sky. Assuming one can accept those terms, I would like to only discuss my pick for the former category in today’s post. For me, without question, the best black and white master photographer alive today simply has to be none other than the great Sebastiao Salgado.

I have had the chance to check out the work of many truly legendary photographers, I wouldn’t say my experiences are encompassing all of the true living greats but of those I admire the most, I have been lucky enough to attend their exhibitions and see first-hand what such work looks like up close and personal.

About three years ago, I had a trip to London and one of my absolute non-negotiable to do items was a visit to The Photographers Gallery in the West End to see Salgado’s breathtaking ‘Other Americas’. It was quite a life-changing experience to witness such work in the flesh.  I have never seen any other such work which had quite that effect on me, one that remains until this day. When I think of the artist’s great body of work, I tend to think of this late seventies and early eighties film stuff before anything else. I still sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have raided the piggyback to have tried to scrape together enough to have bought one of the cheaper (a relative term in this case) original prints on sale there that summer (started at around 4,500 British Pounds as I recall!).

I suspect other fans might disagree with me, perhaps they might think of his equally impressive later projects such as ‘Workers’ or ‘Migrations’ but for me it has always been about his Central and Southern American subject matter that came first. I see it as his magnum opus in many respects.

Yet the book I have here in my possession is actually nothing to do with any of the above, it is in fact an area of his work that I had looked at the least. I feel that I may have been more than annoying enough with the dangling participles now so let’s spell it out. The book in question is the project ‘Genesis’ and is the culmination of Sebastiao’s blood, sweat and tears throughout the noughties. The work is primarily concerned with nature, animals and indigenous people.  Its geographic range is huge, featuring places quite literally all over the earth. As I am not a huge fan of animal photography and natural themes in general, it was never that high on my list of wants. That all changed a while back… I would even go as far as to say that outside of Ansel Adams, you haven’t seen what black and white photography of nature looks like until you’ve seen this. A bold statement, I know.

During Mr. Salgado’s recent trip and exhibition here in Bangkok, Thailand, I was truly honoured to be given a gift from the artist to me. A lovely black fabric bag containing a glorious mint copy of ‘Genesis’ which he was good enough to personally sign and dedicate with a message to me.  I am still pinching myself every time I look at this work and think of it coming to me from my own favourite black and white photographer. It honestly gives me goose bumps. Such a kind and generous act from him towards me, a complete stranger, shows his personal self to be just as classy as his lens work.

I shall not attempt to review the book or its images here, a million words could never do it justice. Suffice to say that this is now one of my most prized photography related possessions and I shall both enjoy and treasure it dearly for the rest of my life.

Muito obrigado Sebastiao!

CCP

Everyday Carry?

EDC camera? Take it with you everywhere you go, every single day or just for when you feel like shooting?

In the depths of the web in recent years, the term ‘EDC’ has triggered schemata and imagery of emergency mini lock knives, bracelets made of parachutist ‘survival’ cord and bottle openers that can smash car windows and cut their way through seatbelts in an accident. If I may be so bold as to steer the connotations away from that kind of ‘Everyday Carry’ and direct the term towards more photographic pursuits, I should like to pose this simple question:

Should you carry your camera with you, ready to shoot, everywhere you go OR is a camera something that you should only take with you specifically when you want to shoot it, when you feel that it is a good time to do so?

Although I always had a certain kind of jealousy towards the people who had the self-discipline to force themselves into the burden of never leaving home without their camera, I must confess to never being quite bothered by it enough to actually change my ways.

Towards the end of last year, I resolved to do something about this, purely as an experiment. I forced myself to never leave my abode without my camera. At the time, it happened to be a Leica M2 but it doesn’t really matter which camera it is, the best one is the one you have with you right? I had to adjust to checking the camera was on my mental checklist upon walking out the door…keys? Check… Phone? Check…Old film camera with a roll of 400 film in it ready to go? Check!

In the case of an old manual camera with no meter and manual focus lenses, this meant that just taking the thing with me was only the start. I also had to get into the habit of having the lens pre-set to a manual zone focus length that I had memorized off by heart and quickly adjust the exposure every time I changed my environment for any period of time.

When I jumped into the car on a bright Bangkok day, I had to have the right exposure set and rely on film’s great exposure latitude to make up for any errors that I might have made. When I went into a building such as a mall with indoor lighting, I would twiddle the dials here and there one more time, safe in the knowledge that if anything happened in front of me unexpectedly, I would be ready to catch it on film forever. It was a faff, but I got used to it quite quickly.

The payoff that I was looking for was catching more shots, more often and getting more photographic bang for my buck from the great equipment that I already owned. It’s good to have a nice working condition camera that you love, but one that already has a few scratches here and there to relieve you of the worry of having to be too precious with the bloody thing, more tool than jewel.

I must admit, although it sometimes seemed like a huge pain in the ass, and although I often got some quizzical looks and random questions from people as to why I had a camera in my hand ready to go like a journalist even when sitting down for my lunch, it did yield some great moments on film. Gone were those ‘If I had my camera with me, that might be a good shot’ kind of moments and I was also surprised just how often those moments happened…almost daily in fact.

I learned that there is definitely some potential to forward one’s photography by being ‘that guy’ who carries a fully loaded and pre-set up camera with you everywhere you go.  The shot here of a random old London bus driving along a Bangkok back street was grabbed by myself from the back seat of a Motorbike going the other way and I only got to record this image by having the right camera set up correctly in my hand ready to go as soon as I saw it drive towards me. I love the bizarre and eclectic feel of the image and would never ordinarily have got it any other way. It’s not as though you see that in the Big Mango every day.

The lady pulling the funny face looking out of the bus window at the world was a strange moment. I had seen her and didn’t fancy my chances of getting the shot in time before she moved but the camera was right there on my front passenger seat, I was sat at the traffic lights on red. As it transpired,  I even managed to get my driver’s side window down, mentally double check everything about the exposure setting and look I wanted from the shot and still capture her just as she was in the moment(completely oblivious to me sitting so close up to her in an adjacent vehicle).  Time froze just enough  for me in a way that is so rare when doing candid public photography of others.

I think I am going to try and continue this practice for the rest of the year.

So, are you an EDC kind of photographer or is lugging your rig everywhere 24/7 just too much of a pain for you to deal with? And also I suppose, are you fine with that?

CCP

I was featured on Japan Camera Hunter

I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of my older work was recently featured on the well-known and much respected http://www.japancamerahunter.com website ( based in , you guessed it, Japan).

Bellamy Hunt is the British expat behind the website and he is a pretty well-known guy in the world of film cameras and sales. His fantastic site is primarily used for his business whereby he personally goes out and sniffs out any specific second hand film camera that you may be hankering for from Japan’s incredible second hand market. He then carefully packs and ships it you anywhere in the world for a modest fee. He’s been at this lark for quite some time now and seems to have earned himself a stellar reputation as one of the premier go-to guys in this line of work and locale. You can see him in action on various youtube clips here and there. The bloke knows his stuff.

His website also has no end of useful accessories for the film shooter and even has a film product that Bellamy himself had input with and has been currently presented under the branding of‘JCH Streetpan’ films. By all means, I highly recommend checking his site out to the fullest. I’m grateful to Bellamy for featuring me and my work.

Said work on JCH from this website can be seen along with a brief supporting essay here, appearing a little differently from how it normally looks (not in a bad way):

http://www.japancamerahunter.com/2017/04/get-featured-chroma/

CCP

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Leica...

A Guide to Buying a classic Leica M Film Camera:  Part 1 ‘The Leica M3’

In recent times, I have enjoyed sharing information as to where to find good places in Thailand for the procurement of film cameras, lenses, films and service etc. Amazingly for something written by myself, it appears that this information has actually been of genuine use to people and I feel more than happy to have helped. Off the back of this minor success however, has another series of enquires arrived at my door. Specifically, ‘Which Leica M should I buy?’ This question is not always the easiest to answer. I have made several attempts at giving people the shorthand answer based around my (purely subjective) real world user recommendations yet this invariably leads to another fifteen questions. Having duly answered these questions many times for many different people, I have slowly been compiling a list of points made in all such correspondence for inclusion in my version of a Leica M film body buyer’s guide. I say ‘my version’ as this is hardly an impossible thing to find elsewhere on the internet. Lots of people have covered the subject in different ways, I don’t always agree with some things that I’ve seen around the place however and so I simply wish to provide my take on it. This assumes that you have at least heard of some of the Leica M film body models and are debating adding one to a shortlist or similar such situation. There are several exhaustive true anorak encyclopedia type books out there and they are quite well known. You can look them up on Amazon books and go from there if you need that level of detail. If you are serious about the marque, any such volume makes for a nice reference to have at home anyway. I shall try to not steal the images of others here and actually show pictures of Leica M’s that I either own or have owned in the past for the purposes of this guide. It will also have to be written in serial form as a ‘one-shot’ post would be a weighty tome and possibly become convoluted. Also, I am not aiming to produce highly technical and heavily spec centered writing on the subject, rather share my feelings on the different models by combining actual personal experience with a nod to noteworthy features and provenance.

 Leica M3

 And on the sixth day, God made the Leica M3.   In ’53, the Leica M3 was introduced and it soon took the photographic world by storm.  It wasn’t just a new camera, it brought along a whole standard for all 35mm film cameras that elevated the already very high benchmark that Leica had established to a ridiculous new level.  To borrow from the parlance of the modern corporate world (and as much as I hate this trite chunk of language), it really was ‘a game changer’. It went on to be the most popular (getting on for a quarter of a million were made and easily sold) of all the Leica M classic range.  It introduced the quick change M bayonet mount which superseded the LTM mount (whilst still allowing the older lenses to be used without too much hassle on the new ‘M’ 3), showcased three new bright line frames (50,90 and 135mm, hence the number in the name M ’3’) into an equally new and incredibly clear finder and facilitated more accurate focusing than ever before by virtue of a longer effective base length. It is still arguably the best Leica M finder to date with which to fine tune focusing using a 50mm or 90mm lens.

Speaking of the finder, when you peeked into it you couldn’t help but notice that it also came resplendent with other party tricks such as automatically changing frame lines for the first time. The camera ‘knew’ what lens the user was mounting to it and would respond in kind with the appropriate silver squares of gratitude magicallyappearing in the viewfinder waiting for your viewing pleasure. These frame lines also featured a reasonable degree of accurate parallax correction which required less guesstimation on the part of the photographer than earlier cameras. But perhaps the real magnum opus of the M3 was how focusing inside this new window on the world was to be achieved. It was done for the first time by Leica through the overlapping of two images, sometimes referred to as ‘coincidental’ images. When the two overlapped in the finder to make a single sharp image, focus was then considered optimal and an image could be taken.    

Film was advanced by a single lever, in earlier M3 models it required two strokes of said lever to advance one frame of film onwards and cock the shutter. These earlier M’s are known as ‘DS’ on account of this double-stroking operation. Internet folklore has it that the original designers and engineers feared that a single long stroke might exert too great a degree of torque onto the film itself, risking tears. Whether this is true or not is not clear to me however it sounds appropriately Germanic, logical and in keeping with Leica manufacturing brilliance of the epoch so I choose to not go any further down this rabbit hole. What is not in debate however is that Leica chose to change the design later on during the M3’s production life to be a newer, one pull affair nowadays known as a Leica M3 single stroke or ‘SS’ (not the kind to kick down your door wearing jackboots and brandishing a Luger).  I’ll return to early vs. late model differences in due course.

The single film advance lever wasn’t the only all-in-one control input on this camera either. For the first time, Leica had now managed to have all shutter speeds(from B to 1/1000th of a second) on a single, solitary dial atop the M3’s magnificent brass rampart. A huge step up from the earlier Leica cameras and their multiple shutter speed dials.

Film loading in most of the older classic M’s follows the M3 original design of using a Leica take up spool or cartridge. The first couple of times you use one, it doesn’t seem all that intuitive and you might need to refer to the excellent diagram included on the base of the camera (with the bottom removed), but with regular use you can soon see how very efficient and dependable a design it is. There are some natty little touches such as the inclusion of an arrow holed pattern that shows you exactly how far in you have locked your film leader in place. It also allowed Leica to introduce the opening back door/flap which made loading film an easier affair than with any of the screw mount Barnack Leica cameras up until the came along. Even today, this often seems structurally better than a large open swinging open rear door such as later became typical in the design of film SLR’s in the decades that were to follow. The Leica rear door still tucked back into the bottom plate when it was firmly reattached to the camera and the structural integrity remained. It all closed back up to be one solid feeling Germanic brick of photographic goodness in its owner’s hands.

Speaking of the film spool cartridge, when it was removed from the M3, a brilliantly designed film counter which was embedded nicely into the solid brass top plate to the right of the film advance lever pivot point, automatically pinged its way back to minus two frames. Once you reloaded a film and wound on the first two blanks, it was right there for you at zero and ready to tag along for another ride. The counter was placed under a bubbled, lens-like window which aided magnification in much the same way as a ‘Cyclops’ date window does on a Rolex datejust. Sheer brilliance.

The M3 also had a mechanical self-timer lever and so, although people under 25 today might find it hard to fathom, people were happily taking selfies with their carry everywhere daily cameras just fine back in ’53, imagine that? Next to this timer lever (and a well thought out safety measure it was indeed) was a guarded lens release button, like a little metal semi-circular fence that protected the lens dismount button with aplomb. It was later omitted in further M’s but is an easy way to identify an M3.

The serial numbering system for Leica is, as one would expect if one has read this far, very logical and efficient. The M3 started its earliest runs down in the low 700k range and went on to just over the 1 million mark. Collectors like the one million plus serial numbers so they are not always good value buys for actually taking photographs with. The logic behind this seems to stem from the idea that after they had been produced for that long, the production team would have been even more experienced and able to churn them out to a higher standard. I personally find this to be a likely example of an old wives’ tale and I know a few old hand camera repair people who seem to support this. Some say the early shutters were not as good, I have no real empirical research data to disprove this, but I have not seen much other than subjective opinion (yes I know, just like mine) to support it either. One could just as easily put forth an argument that the housewives of Wetzlar in 1959 (employed in the factory) might have been so sick to death of assembling M3’s by this point that they were just slapping them together willy-nilly as they discussed what would have happened if they’d won the war. No more ridiculous a notion.  However, the serial numbers do offer some advantages in terms of what you get as standard with your M3. Generally speaking, around the mid 50’s and the late 700k range, the now famous frame line preview selector lens lever (AKA the ‘what would this look like through a 90mm lens that I haven’t even got with me right now’ lever) was added. At the 900k plus mark, or thereabouts, the old double stroke design gave way to the later single stroke model. Be advised however, that lots of older double stroke cameras were retrofitted to be singles by Leica (and third party repair people) so serial numbers and film advance repetitions don’t always jive together as you might think, different strokes for different folks. Also around this time, two little cutout tabs appeared on top and under the main RF patch image in the centre of the finder window. These were carried over to the M2. They could be used for ascertaining depth of field when using a nifty fifty when the lens was approximately half open or stopped right down. The very early M3’s had shutter speeds expressed in a different (some might say more logical) way from commonly seen now, these fractions of speed might be puzzling at first. These are sometimes referred to as ‘scientific shutter speed’ dials and can be good or bad depending on how cool you might think they are. In practice, using 1 /50th when I was actually looking for the 1/60th mark on the dial has never really caused me any problems but some people don’t like it.

Nearly all M3’s ever produced are in the silver chrome looking scheme. A rare smaller quantity were in black but frankly, Leica black paint of the time was actually (and very unusually for such a gang of perfectionists) a bit crap. It soon wore off and the brass colour of the top and bottom plates showed through on high wear spots and edges, cue Cyndi Lauper. These are the so called ‘brassed’ bodies and like lots of other things in life that make no sense, these imperfect and soon discontinued bodies are now the ones worth big bucks. So big in fact that the fakers have long since moved in (sometimes with surprisingly accurate looking unofficially repainted Leicas) and this means that buying a ‘genuine’ black paint classic Leica M from the 50’s through to the early 70’s takes a large bank balance and significant testicular fortitude, especially off Ebay from a seller with single digit feedback who is happy to contact you by email and suggest that you ‘save on PayPal fees’. It’s like the anti-Henry Ford “Any Colour you like, as long as it’s not black”. That’s kind of why lots of people then want one of course, hence repainting to use rather than to defraud. In fact, it must be stated that repaints are not all bad, bad, bad (indeed…a cynic might have already passed comment on the colour of the M3 camera in this post!). A good modern repaint of an old brass Leica can actually be a truly wonderful thing as long as the workmanship is first class (there aren’t that many people or companies famous for doing it to a high standard and many of the ones that do have long waiting lists and might be in faraway lands) and nobody is trying to pass it off as Leica factory original to anyone else. The rare colour stakes were elevated to an even more insane level with the military green M3’s, usually known as ‘olive paint’ bodies. The black ones can be sold to buy you a nice used (but late model)  premium luxury car, the green ones can be used as a significant chunk of a condo! In watch terms, the green M3 is to rangefinder cameras what a 5517 British Royal Marines ‘Milsub’ is to Rolex. You’ve either got one in the attic or your late father’s dresser, or you haven’t. We can but dream. Or as they used to say on Antiques Roadshow, ‘Well, really we were just after some information about the history of the piece, how much you say?! Oh really…mmm….but we could never sell it….’ Yeah, right.

So, why the M3 over the others? Many simply say that it was the first; the best and that subsequent models have never managed to significantly improve upon it. It represents a true zenith of design and engineering from a time and place that was already setting the bar as high as could be in such a field. It’s a true cult classic and a gift that keeps on giving. It might actually outlive you which also means that you might never need to replace it (CLA and repair yes, replace? Probably not).

 A word to the wise though, it is not necessarily a perfect fit for everyone. In the era in which it was designed, 50mm was very much the standard lens and this was reflected (or rather it wasn’t) in the lack of internal 35mm frame lines. Hence if you were a wide shooter, you were almost SOL. Luckily, those clever people in Wetzlar soon sought to address this Achilles heel and many wider lenses were produced with a special optical external accessory, most often referred to nowadays as ‘goggles’ attachment lenses. The correct term is perhaps more likely to be ‘M3 version lens’ for the sake of accuracy. These lenses have a slightly bulkier (and a tad heavier) construction and the use clever optics and mechanics to allow the 35mm frame lines the ability to ‘magically’ appear in a reduced width, which just fits snugly inside the standard 50mm frame line set. This is handy as the M3 then became a 35mm lens camera just as many photojournalists slowly changed towards using‘thirty-fives as the new normal’, if you’ll excuse the snowclone butchery. This also allowed one to see more outside of the frame (and more easily) than with a normal 35mm frame line set in later M’s. This jived well with the 'see it take place outside the frame before you catch it within rangefinder' advantage that people still pay lip service to today. It also meant that those shooters who wore glasses could now use a 35mm inside a Leica viewfinder more easily, although doing so introduced them to the slight drawback that any classic early brass M metal diopter circle would ‘do a number’ on their right side glasses lens, with more scratches than Afrika Bambataa on a hot Bronx night. Despite what you might think, the goggled lenses are not a dead-end street should you commit to purchasing them for a Leica M3 and later wish to use them on other M bodies. They work just as well on other M’s (even modern digital ones!) and offer the same aforementioned advantages in such cases as well. They add a little size and weight (but really, I find it a moot point) and the difference cosmetically is a real opinion splitter. Probably the majority of people hate them on an M, I personally waiver between ambivalence and adoration, depending on the exact combo in question. As such, the best news for people wanting and using  these lenses nowadays is that despite costing more than the non-goggled (read: non M3) versions when new, they are now typically cheaper, depending on your exact locale and market forces there. Colour me happy (even though I’m really a black and white guy). The flash is also a weird one, they are unusual in having their own non-standard kind of flash connection terminal, and it won’t connect to the normal PC cord without third party adapters. I have never been concerned by this as I see the M as an available light body anyway, especially considering the fact that most of Leica’s lenses work very well wide open, at least compared to many other brands. That’s not to say that people haven’t used flash to great effect with M’s, they have but I'mjust not one of them.

Still, despite the quirks of the M3, if you are even remotely ‘bi-image curious’ :-J, you owe it to yourself to at least try one for a while. If you like rangefinders, you’ll probably fall in love. If you discover that you are just not an RF kind of shooter (and there’s honestly nothing wrong with that at all) then even the cream of the crop isn’t going to do that much for you anyway. Plus, it’s truly one of those rare things that you can usually buy and sell for the same, slightly less or slightly more than you paid for it. People say that about lots of things but so often, it just isn’t the case. With a Leica, they are always wanted and patient sellers of decent M3’s have nothing to fear.

Leica virgin, a touch for the very first time…

Enjoy

 CCP

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year to all followers of this blog and site! To kick the year off I have decided to keep a promise I made to myself a year ago and return to the 'Ultimate Photographer's Guide to Bangkok' article I wrote and add to it with an up to date yearly summary of new developments for photographers in Bangkok, with a special focus towards film shooters.

You will need to click on the banner at the top of this page and then scroll down to the very bottom for the latest updates. If you have never read the full article, I highly recommend you to do so, but it's a long read that is perhaps best attempted in parts or over a very large cup of coffee!

Wishing every one a happy and healthy year of photography for 2017...

CCP

Quality Street (photography, not chocolates)

Firstly, apologies to the non-British contingent of this readership who might find the title somewhat confusing. I found recently found myself down a series of different, yet related, Internet rabbit holes. I had several tabs open on several different windows at once and all but one of them were opened to photographs that were variously agreed upon by the creators and curators of those pages as belonging to a genre known as ‘street photography’. The exact defines of this genre have certainly become blurred over time, especially in terms of the past ten years or more. There’s so much of it out there, it’s hard to fathom at times.

 

Once was a time, pre-digital photography, when the term ‘street photography’ was pretty clear. Perhaps you might argue over semantics such as whether clearly it started around the time of Walker Evans or Brassai and you might also have some debate over who exactly belonged in this clique but, generally speaking, it was a well-known kind of work. On the whole it didn’t consist of photographs of actual streets, rather of the people who were to be found within street scenes, usually shot candidly in unposed situations.  Photographs of the public, in public places, with unusual twists that added something interesting to the shot. Typically these might be facial expressions, contrasting motifs or generally clever composition.

 

More photos are being taken than ever before, across all genres (none more ubiquitous than the selfie of course). Thus it stands to reason that the genre of street photography has swelled in terms of output in the world in contemporary times. Lots of finely set, unofficial (yet generally understood) membership criteria for different genres seem to have become blurred. In this context, it’s perhaps as though ‘street photography’ has become a catch-all umbrella term for anything shot in public, sometimes not even featuring human subjects in the frame. We might challenge this of course but in the classic street work of previous decades, the genre was like porn, you knew it when you saw it. Whereas now there’s a significant hunt through mediocrity that has to take place before you hit familiar pay dirt. It seems as if it’s almost harder to find ‘the good stuff’. Is this because although the gold nuggets might actually be greater in number than ever before, the amount of mud and rocks is equally great?

 

In street days of yore, were it not the case that the people who were most prolific had to have levels of self-motivation and patience that are less of a pre-requisite in today’s photographic status quo? The street work was just as difficult but the tools were much more basic and unforgiving. The films, the dev, the wait, the patience, the ‘pay-as-you-go’ significant expenses of the all film era. Did this drive allow for a better quality of street photography in the hands of a few who rose to become more highly skilled as practitioners of the genre? It seems a stretch doesn’t it? The grandmaster level of street work does still exist after all.

 

Yet, I wonder if whether the sheer new volume of work in any way cheapens the genre (as I have heard from others at times) or does it only aid in showing just how good the best classic stuff still is? Is it like a post First-World War German economy? The zwei million-mark banknote of the Weimar republic springs to mind, made in such staggering quantity that it no longer had any real value. I’m not being totally serious of course. Obviously I’m not so sure that I fully subscribe to the parallels between this economic theory and the photographic reality that we all now live in but I am sure of this much: 

 

To be good now means really good…

 

Thus, in terms of shooting street, we find ourselves in interesting times photographically. The sheer volume of work out there is harder to wade through than ever,  yet it might also be better able to influence a wider group of people.  It also stands to reason that nowadays, to be able to find oneself anywhere near the top of the ever-growing pile in terms of output, you have to try to be as good as the masters of yesteryear, and arguably perhaps…try to be even more so. Is that even possible? Or would that be like trying now to paint the Sistine Chapel all over again but somehow better than Michelangelo did it?  Is this perfection attainable? If it were, would it be worth having?  In the meantime, as we ponder this, we’ll just have to keep on trying.

 

As this year draws to a close, I’m thinking that just simply trying to be better next year than I was this or last year is perhaps all the goal I need.  This actually applies to shooting anything in my mind. ‘Street’ is only one photographic genre that interests me, both to shoot and in looking at the work of others. I know that Winogrand hated the term and in many ways I can see why. It’s probably good to avoid thinking of your photography in such a delineated manner anyway, it arguably doesn’t need to be so. As much as I like having set, clearly defined goals (and I was able to tick off a long list of them list year, both in terms of my photographic life and also in other areas), in photography… the narrowly defined target can sometimes become an obstacle to a greater good. Hopefully that greater good will be an improvement in terms of both quantity and quality of work that I hope to shoot out and about.  In a pinch though, I’m sure we’d probably all take the latter. The main thing is to enjoy it and to keep shooting, one day at a time, one frame at a time.

 

CCP

As I sit in Bangkok, looking at the work of Alex Webb, I weep...

I’m so glad that the world of photography has people like Alex Webb. Sure, he’s a Magnum photographer (whatever that even really means now that they have mutated into something different, I’m sure it’s still a bloody good thing though regardless) and it’s not hard to find jaw dropping photographic output and inspiration in that kind of company. Yet there’s something more than just excellent work in his portfolio. There’s just a mind numbing combination of tour de force art that inspires you to an almost drunken state before kicking you hard in the balls for even beginning to think you could achieve such work in your lifetime. It’s a familiar struggle for the all-aspiring artists of the world standing on the sidelines without any real flesh in the game. You want to be this good so very badly but you know deep down inside that this isn’t ever going to be a ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ issue. It hurts but yet feels so good that there are humans in the world who can somehow pull it off and at least offer you some outside semblance of hope that it can be done:

Alex Webb HERE

Look now if you will, but be warned of the double-edged sword that is exposure to an artist of this calibre. You’ll need more than a few last rolls of your favourite film stock and a five-minute appointment with your regular early Sunday morning muse to get on this tip. The man is depressingly good. I see the same world he sees, I see it every day, I live in it too. I even live in a pretty vibrant and exotic country with much photographic potential. I can have the same camera and lens or even a better one than he has in my hand. I can study and practice photography every single day for decades but I just cannot see, REPEAT AFTER ME, cannot see in the way that he sees. Start with ‘The Suffering of Light”. Look at every one of those shots. The one taken in 1979 in the room with the three different coloured panes of glass (red, yellow and green), which I would guess, is probably on Kodachrome. Are you kidding me? So simple, the best ideas usually are right? I never get bored of this shot. That’s perhaps one my favourite all time shots from the venerable Mr. Webb. What about the Mexicans arrested coming over the border with the helicopter in the background? Who sees that? Who puts a frame like that together? It’s just so surreal and utterly dreamlike and it’s hard to believe that it ever actually happened anywhere on planet Earth. This is soooo pre-photoshop people. Think how good you would have to be even now to do this, then imagine doing it in the 70’s with kit of the era and on film with no screen to chimp at.

His oft repeated motifs of eyes in patterns and strong harsh sunlight picking out hot primary colours in the golden hour for clearly delineated foreground/background interplay is all deceptively simple looking.  The woman frozen backwards in mid air from the platform above the pool in Mexico. Such an often done freeze frame kind of pool dive shot but the way he has her, the smoke from the industrial chimney in the background, the colour palette to the piece, just so beautiful.

Another personal favourite of mine from this same series which really blows my mind is the shot from Haiti in 1987 with the truck blocked in the background by fires that protesters have lit. One of the protesters (or perhaps just a passer by on a BMX) is blurred and up close in the foreground but the background focus is on the top of the truck cab. It’s quite a famous shot of the era and I can’t imagine seeing and framing that on the fly, let alone making such a great and unusual choice in terms of focusing. It’s just such a genius frame, it really is. I love these guys like Webb and David Alan Harvey who can bring the colour back from the Caribbean and show it to us so warmly, I feel like I’m caught up in some kind of intoxicating spell when I see this work, as though it were cursed upon us and embedded into the roll of Kodachrome itself like a voodoo doll.

In ‘Under a Grudging Sun’ Webb really turns up the shadow play, especially of his human subjects. There’s an insanely good composition shot taken in Haiti in this series around 1987. It’s about an Army Day celebration. There’s a troop of soldiers marching away from us in the background and in the left hand side and the foreground we see a sharp right angle from a building and the almost completely underexposed yet clearly discernible outline of a flat cap middle-ranking officer right in front of the lens. The two shadows work together in a way which is just so right. I could have stood there all day and night and not ever seen an opportunity like that if there were a neon sign blinking ‘Alex Webb quality shot available right here’. It’s not just fortune and happenstance; you have to know when it’s happening before you. You have to know when to grab it by the balls and when to tickle it like a fish out of a river.

One hallmark of a true artist is often in being able to do something so difficult and present it to the world in such a way as to make it look easy, almost effortless. I think of Alex Webb’s work in such a context. He’s like Hemingway. Saying more with less and making you think that it’s something within your reach, until you try it for yourself and see, or rather you don’t. (Urban) legend has it that Ernest won a shortest story writing competition with a tale of just six words “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. After I look at Alex Webb’s work I feel I should pen the following story for the world: “ For sale, my eyes, never used”. Note to self, must try harder.

CCP

 

Somebody Else's Recent Bangkok Film Work That I Really Like:

Can’t quite remember exactly how it happened but I found myself looking at a lot of my Bangkok film work on a Google images search. I also can’t recall the exact keywords that lead me there but the general gist of the situation is that I can never find enough, recent film work of Bangkok that appeals. There’s just not thatlarge a pool of it to draw from. Amongst my efforts, and probably using keywords like ‘Bangkok tri x’ I did however catch more than a fleeting glimpse of some really nice work with some recurring themes that was clearly well executed. It didn’t take long for me to spot that this work was probably all shot by the same person; there was a consistency to the eye involved. Funny how you can just sort of guess that for yourself if you look at enough of the work after a while.

This led me to find Doug Kim’s work which is currently shown HERE (select places and then 'Bangkok' as your starting place perhaps):

There’s more than one page of this lovely work so keep clicking through the page numbers at the bottom. I see he also has a lot of Thai stuff that is newer, in some cases just in recent months.

There’s a number of things that I would like to say drew me in. Firstly, the shots are of course really interesting and well done, secondly the tags of ‘Leica MP’, ‘Summicron’ and ‘Kodak Tri X’ in relation to Bangkok shooting revealed that this was a man after my own heart and obviously worthy of further investigation. I reached out to Doug and had some chats with him; he strikes me as being a really decent bloke. I would love to actually meet him one day. He’s currently based in Brooklyn, New Yawk (I believe) and is American Asian. I was interested in his take on Bangkok shooting.  The work shows some good street, a keen eye, beautiful young Thai femininity without the stereotypical bargirl clichés and some great off the beaten track forays into subjects such as poverty, youth, Thai boxing and well exposed nighttime shooting too. The variety of the work and the way in which he shot it made me certain that he must be resident here. I was most surprised to discover that this clearly isn’t the case. My surprise was rooted in the fact that I can’t see much of the tourist photo element in his photo essays at all really. Sure, there’s the odd clue in the form of a skytrain station shot here and there maybe if you wanted to be hyper-critical about it but it’s not like I never shoot up on those platforms as a big mango denizen myself now is it?

The suburbs over in Thonburi, the wandering, the little potential of the would-be ‘Nak Muay’ slugging it out on the pads, street vendors and their dogs, an occasional messy electrical overhead wiring shot….it all points to a more experienced eye of somebody looking beyond the immediately obvious and searching for more authentic detail of a less trite nature. I really appreciate all of Doug’s work. Turns out that Doug wasn’t perhaps completely updated on the best places for developing and so he opted to carry all his Tri X back to the States with him for developing instead. I’ve since pointed him in the direction of my ‘Ultimate Photographer’s Guide to Bangkok’ page (click banner at top of this page) so I think he’ll be even better equipped if there’s ever a round two. In fact, scrub that Doug…next time you are in Bangkok shooting, drop me a line and I’ll dev it for you myself!  

I was also wondering if perhaps Doug’s ethnicity gave him any advantage for wandering and shooting incognito in Bangkok. This was something of an interesting afterthought for me. I know of one or two British citizens here with Chinese heritage who basically walk around in full ‘stealth mode’ and are assumed to be local by the locals. Suffice to say, this is a feat that I will never be able to achieve. I have found other ways to put people at ease in any uncomfortable situations when Thai street shooting over the years I guess. It is certainly possible that if dressed to blend in and not carrying excessive luggage, an Asian-faced Westerner in Bangkok could have a different experience to somebody of another ethnicity. Looking at the ‘gotcha’ faces of Doug’s subjects on the shots where they just catch him in the act (sometimes he obviously intended for that to be the case I would say) I am trying to see if they are different to the faces that I get in my work. I might be imagining it but I can almost see there might be a discernible difference. It’s as though in addition to the ‘Why is he taking my photo, better smile and be cool in public’ quizzed Thai face that I sometimes get looking back at my in my own negatives….there’s also another debate going on in their heads maybe. ‘Is he a tourist or not?’ I might be projecting this or just completely imagining it but I find it interesting to compare nevertheless.

The other nice angle for me is that I personally recognize many of the places that Doug shot and have frequented them myself on occasion. It’s really cool to see how somebody else would see it walking along with a film camera of the type that I might also carry around there on any given day. This is easy to do in a city like New York where there is just so much great film work from talented people upon which to base your compare ideas but the corpus of film work in the City of Angels that we find is so much less extensive. Nice that Doug has been able to add to it and show the way for others.

My favourite of all Doug’s work on his blog is probably the floating market series as it should have all come out looking like a stereotypical touristy nightmare but he makes it look more like classical ‘National Geographic’ of yesteryear. It’s really well done and a joy to look at. Would make for some great prints I’m sure. I also like the moody shots of the model, really tasteful and with an original sense of mystery and intrigue, I am impressed to say the least.

For a real ‘down the rabbit hole’ experience, there’s the veritable myriad of other locations around the world that this man has also shot with aplomb. I highly recommend having a look and I am grateful to Doug for sharing his lovely Bangkok film work online with the world and also for being friendly and welcoming when contacted to talk about it.

CCP

 

What Does Owning a Leica M mean here? (or anywhere I suppose)

The brand of the red dot has been accused of attracting snobbery beyond compare, it’s a rich man’s game and of that there can be no doubt, but where is it really at nowadays in The Land of Smiles for adherents to this brand?

 

Materialism is huge in Thailand. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise for a moment. The ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ shenanigans that you might have escaped from the West to avoid is actually being played here at a much higher level in many ways. It had been that way here for many decades with the smaller elite but with the rising middle class of the new millennium and their new money, petite bourgeois bank accounts swelling out of control, there’s now an increasingly large number of people who feel the need to loudly shout and display to others just how far removed from the agrarian proletariat they have become. It’s no longer exclusively the reserve of the Sino-Thais either; it’s been a bigger change across the board. It always used to be a Rolex at the peak of Mount Aspiration in Thailand. Now that brand is merely the entry point to the climb, with Pateks abound on the skinny wrists of the Thai soccer moms parking their 300% import dutied Benzes at the mall.

 

For the guys in this social class, the narrow selection of imported grey paperwork motorcycles of the late 90’s simply wouldn’t have been enough. The local market bike laws changed and so did their incomes. Now, a whole slew of new monied young to middle aged Thai blokes have to at least a Ducati. So much so that the richer guys no longer want to be seen dead on one unless it’s a limited edition high end affair. They even have Ducati dealerships now in large cities in the Northeast; you know… where the poor people live! It simply won’t do. One well-known young Thai celebrity hunk recently complained to me about how ‘very low’ Ducatis have now become.  It’s hard to know what to say and what face to pull here sometimes, it really is.

 

Once the trophy wife, minor wife, house plus condo, Benz and unmentionably expensive ‘wrist game’ has been sorted, other toys come onto the radar. A camera is needed but not for really taking pictures, more as ‘neck game’ to go with the watch. The fact that it also can be used for taking ‘snaps’ of their spoilt, poorly behaved children is merely a bonus of course as nearly all of its owners photos are typically shot on his iPhone anyway right?  Without really giving full attention to actually learning photography too seriously, the questions soon arise: ‘Which is the most expensive?” and “Which is the most hi-so brand?”…maximum obvious brand recognition and luxury status are the main objectives in the first instance. One need not make any attempt to learn the craft as long as one has the keywords to the most expensive items off-by-heart in case the need arises to actually talk about the camera with one’s peers, not that it matters as they are usually in the same gang of course. Perhaps Leica is like the Rolex of cameras. Great brand history, previously popular for decades because it was genuinely perhaps the best tool for the job and purpose back in an all-analogue world. Its reliability and fit and finish became the stuff of legends until gradually it became mechanically obsolete, existing now as an expensive anachronism that has long since been superseded in the eyes of any sane, rational person. The legend then helps form the ultimate high end, boutique branding that the other brands would kill for but just can’t quite catch up to, at least not within the same niche. Then come the amusing statements about how ‘A Summicron isn’t fast enough or good enough” somehow? Typically the people in question couldn’t shoot to save their lives but the root of the problem is always that they haven’t got the very best kit, it couldn’t possibly be related to a lack of skill, ability or just simply putting the time in and doing the work now could it? They don’t care anyway, most expensive = best and most face gained. Sure, there are people in Thailand with M’s who can shoot amazingly and make stunning work. Trouble is, you don’t often ever meet them as most of the red dot guys here seem to be the South East Asian equivalent of  ‘rich dentists with a Leica’ demographic that is often mentioned in North American circles.  

 

Yes, I’m hating and ranting but it stops here…..why? Because in some way, I am ashamed to admit that I am probably one of them, at least in part. I love to covet a Leica M, I love the gestalt, I adore the feeling of it in my hands and the way it handles and looks…none of this has that much to do with the results that actually come out of the bloody thing. There’s a fetishism that’s hard to ignore, it’s palpable, and quite hard to resist if you are that way inclined. There’s also very little else quite like it. For post-war Aryan assembled mechanical heft and optical brilliance, the only other thing which equals (and surpasses) ownership of an all brass era Leica M is perhaps my Rolleiflexes (till death us do part). There’s really not any other camera that I could even begin to compare to an M. It’s hard to pin it down to one specific criteria, rather it’s a case of being greater than the sum of its equal parts. I also do kind of like ‘being in the gang’ with one even though it’s full of dilettantes and posers of every stripe. Hell, perhaps I really am one of them. My only genuinely fair argument in support of my owning one is that I am a ninety-nine percent film shooter and I like public, street and candid sort of work with some forays into photojournalistic style work. For the well practiced in this area, and to those who do so on film, the Leica M is perhaps the best tool ever made for the job. I will offer some concession to any small film SLR like an old Olympus or Nikon with a small, fast prime for being quite possibly nearly as good but I still think an M just pips them to the post for such work.  This is my only genuine justification that really holds water. Sure, I could wax lyrical about resale value and ‘as good as money in the bank’, ‘best way to use the Leica glass I’m already invested in’ etc. but deep down inside I ‘fess up to the fact that I just plain like the swanky feel that I get from one. I admit they just feel great hanging from your neck or shoulder, it’s a really great feeling. It somehow even completes my outfit for the day, and I know this (but wouldn’t actually say it aloud!) I get it, I really do…they are actually cool.

 

Let me continue my weak attempt at justifying why I’m not a hipster and everybody else is: Wanting one for shooting film is actually a reasonable defence to take against the heinous photo legal charge of ‘posing with an M in a built up area’. At least it separates the wheat from the chaff in this category as the vast majority of Leica M local owners you’ll find here in Thailand are firmly in the digital camp. You know they tell you to never say never? Well, I’m saying never because I will NEVER buy a digital Leica, the idea makes me laugh. Don’t get me wrong, digital cameras are great but German cameras get two things right and they typically always have, mechanics and optics. Pay huge money to a German brand for outdated electronics in a product that will be obsolete in a few years anyway? No thanks, that’s why we have the Japanese brands. I mean everything about the electronics, screens and software of the various digital Leica M’s I’ve tried so far only serve to confirm this assertion. They just leave me cold. And to pony up that sort of serious coin for something that definitely isn’t going to be handed down as an heirloom but simply end up as a very expensive paperweight, sheer madness to my mind. I would probably go with Fuji if I needed something like that, not quite a rangefinder but close enough and great glass for good prices.

 

I think that owning a Leica M in Thailand these days is really just a way for people to flaunt wealth and have some fun with their money buying a new toy here and there. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just so amazing to see what Leica M cameras were and what they once meant versus where they are now. I doubt it’s much different elsewhere in the world in all honesty but with Thailand having experienced an explosion of the new money crowd in this millennium , there’s just more of them around to see I guess. Funny story: There’s a well-off Thai man here in Bangkok known in certain camera buying circles who collects ONLY digital M’s, starting with the M.8 through to the present day. A worse use of funds I have never heard in all my life. It’s not just madness to my mind either, he’s the source of much confusion and bewilderment to quite a few within the trade here also. Still, like Ms.Crow sang ‘if it makes you happy…it can’t be that bad”, good luck to him. In fact, good luck to all of us red dot toting wannabes in the Land of Smiles.  I’m not a hipster, I’m not a hipster (repeat to fade).

 

CCP

What Have I done?

This is not an evangelical preachy post, it’s just a ‘this is what I have done and this is why I have done it’ entry to the blog today. After much debate and internal struggle with myself, I have finally decided to go with just one system this year. I promise I will not use the ‘Why not simplify your equipment to improve your photography?’ mantra ANYWHERE here today, no way. Not me. Use what you like, use what works. Use what gets you the results you want, how you want and when you want. Holga, pinhole, Leica, disposable…use whatever you friggin’ like.

 

Here’s how I personally got to this point: I love film (in case this were not already obvious). I love keeping busy, I love shooting and I genuinely enjoy developing my own films. I seriously love the negs I get on medium format more than anything else, including 35mm. What I don’t love is spending too long scanning and the kinds of scanners that we have available on the market today. I also don’t have the time to be fully analogue all the way through to the finished prints; this means nearly all hybrid work for me, with only the occasional sortie into a wet darkroom in the time-honoured fashion.

 

I wish there were a commercially available, automatic, decent scanner for 135mm film whereby I could just set and forget, a la “Le Pakon 135’ on the market. Something that at least handles the bulk of the work. Not interested in ancient kit with dubious support, don’t want to have to run virtual box facilitated copies of Windows XP from thirteen years ago, don’t want to jury rig my main work tool and hope that the wheels don’t fall off it every time I fire it up. I know you can load up a lot of 35mm negs into some of the aftermarket carriers for various flatbeds but that’s not really my bag. The automated process is only one side of the wants list however, I’m also not that happy with the quality of 35mm scans from most of the current offerings until at least, say Epson V7XX levels or higher and that is a lot of outlay compared to the still fairly cheap prices of scanning available here in Bangkok on old Fuji Frontier era kind of kit. Alas, that means relying on random operators apathetically dabbling around scanning your negs on old kit with hit and miss results. Okay, maybe more hit than miss but still hassle plus delays only to eventually yield less than satisfactory results. It’s perhaps just the whole relying on other people thing that turns me off it too.

 

Then we come to the larger world of 120. The lack of number of shots per roll is something that some people struggle with. I used to be one of them. For me, I’ve reached a point where I am fine with that. I would rather try and focus on quality over quantity when shooting and I find that cameras like Rolleiflexes and Hasselblads tend to really make you double (and triple) check everything so much that the keeper ratio can be surprisingly high once you get into the swing of things.  Besides, I think any serious shooter needs a double camera set-up (ideally comprising of two identical cameras) and thus my double Rolleiflexes give me 24 shots before a reload between them as well as offering differentiation between high or low speed, colour or black and white etc. The results are so nice to behold, I get much more of a feeling of anticipation and satisfaction from slowly pulling out a roll of freshly devved 120 off the reel than I do with 35mm. I can’t say exactly why but those who regularly shoot and dev both formats will know what I mean. There’s such an integrated work of art already encapsulated into my Rolleiflex negs held up to the light, before I have ever printed or scanned them.

 

Speaking of scanning, medium format is a breeze. This is another part of the impetus towards my decision. It’s amazing to me how much easier it is for a keen hobbyist to obtain really nice results in scanning MF compared to 35mm. It’s just all so much easier when you are dealing with that increase in real estate. I’m sure LF shooters might say the same when comparing their negs to my 120 but I find medium format to be a sweet spot for my own practical purposes. Also, once you have your workflow down, it can be really quite quick to scan twelve frames to a nice standard and be done with it. This is a real bonus for me. I don’t have a scanner at home that I’m happy with in terms of 35mm results and so this means outsourcing. When I shoot MF, I can shoot, dev, scan well with regular kit, post process (and even publish) on the same day, all in-house. And, I like what I see. Granted, I don’t often follow such a feverish pace but the fact that I can do it all on my own terms and time is a great advantage to how I want to work. It’s hard to argue with the ‘self-sufficiency’ economy of this workflow (Thai based readers will know what I mean!). It seems as though not only are the results from MF better for me, but the convenience factor of the workflow is also much higher. It occurs to me that there is much irony to be found in this situation. 135mm was so successful for so long precisely because of how practical and convenient a format it was, the sweet spot with 24-36 frames on a smaller sized roll that still yielded high image quality was hard to deny. Now, when I hold up a freshly devved, long, uncut strip of 36 frames…it seems like a bit of an awkward burden, it’s not far enough down the road of practicality for me. To cross the finishing line from there either means upgrading my equipment and spending a lot longer time in front of the computer or dropping off and picking up at the local lab with fingers crossed.  In comparison, the shorter, wider roll of 120 glory appears much more ‘user-friendly’ to me.  The shots are already eagerly jumping up at me like a dog whose owner has just returned home and I know that once it’s dry, I will soon fly through the last stage after dinner and file it away into my ring binder, job done. It’s just a much more practical, useable and enjoyable option for where I am at right now.

 

There are things I will miss. The larger number of frames on a roll of thirty-five are much more appropriate for street photography which is, let’s be honest, a genre based around a very low keeper rate to begin with. I also like the perspective and depth of field of 35mm, the way all those classic street shot frames of the last century appeared on the medium have almost come to define how we expect such a style to be. I shoot a variety of things in public however, more candid than street perhaps, I shan’t go any further down the sticky path of precise sub genre definition. I also find 35mm film a little easier to handle on and off the rolls in my tank, perhaps even a tad quicker, but this is hardly a big issue. There’s a greater variety of films available too of course although all my favourite films are very well represented in medium format so again not so much of a deal breaker here for me either.

 

I also like the simpler approach of only having…..oh-oh, nearly went there. Must. Resist.  I find that my two Rolleis JUST squeeze into the same tiny bag that my two Nikons used to. Note the inclusion of: ‘used to’. This is the correct term for the situation as although I have regularly shot with Nikons and Leica M’s in 35mm, I have now passed them on to their respective new owners. Only the big, twin guns of MF Navarone remain to keep watch over any potential shots that may appear on the horizon of my creative seas.

 

I’ll need to practice with them more too, there’s a lot more that can be done with Rolleiflexes than the casual observer might think. Sportsfindering, chest or waist level finders sneakily turned ninety degrees to steal away candids of calibre, zone-focusing, Rolleinars…all ways to increase the versatility of these fine machines.  A lovely, whole system in a nice well-machined little box. There’s a definite incognito, unthreatening vibe to an old TLR when deployed in public, basically it seems that people either don’t know or if they do know, they don’t care for some reason. I’m not saying that a Rolleiflex or Yashicamat can pull off some hitherto unknown change in the laws of physics but regular adherents to this kind of rig in public will know what I mean. You’re either met with indifference, a harmless smile or nod. Somehow that ‘old thing that you have to wind the big lever’ on isn’t anything that could threaten, discredit or shame anyone and it’s output certainly couldn’t appear on social media, could it? If only they knew. It’s a true weapon for candid work, it really is.


So, with nothing but 120 in the freezer and twin TLR’s for this geezer, I walk forward into the epoch of the Goldilocks format. Not too big, not too small but just right. Let’s see how this goes!

CCP

The Best Tripod Ever (...it's not what you think)

Here in Thailand I have found the best tripod ever made for photography. It’s definitely the best I’ve ever used.  It’s light, can easily go anywhere with me and will fit on planes, trains and automobiles without fuss. It helps when using big and heavy cameras but also works surprisingly well with smaller kit too. It works well when deployed on short trips but certainly is up to the rigours of more heavy duty long-term application. It’s not made by Gitzo or Manfrotto, it’s not made of aluminium. It’s not even made of carbon-fibre.  You don’t have to be in Bangkok, chances are you’ll also easily be able to find one near you.

 

One of its legs is woven of a special, timeless and precious material called ‘motivation’. This is very strong and powerful, yet is often overlooked when looking for something on which to rest one’s camera. It works wonderfully well but can often be lost or misplaced and take a long time to find again, leaving your set-up unbalanced. When lost, the biggest challenge you’ll have to overcome with this material is in recognizing the fact that it is indeed worth looking for again. Even when you know where it is, it still needs the odd polish and a touch of maintenance here and there, it’s not that resilient a material.

 

Another of this wonder tripod’s legs is constructed of something perhaps equally strong as the first, it’s a common enough resource, freely available to all those who seek it. It’s called ‘exposure’. Here the word is not used in the traditional photographic sense, moreover it pertains to being exposed to the great photographs made by other people over say, the past one hundred years. This benefits your photographic pursuits greatly. The pricing of this wonderful material varies. In high-quality, pure and glossy form, it can be very expensively acquired in sizes and weights befitting storage atop a coffee table. However, casual glances at similar chunks of it can be had for (almost) nothing by way of internet research. There’s also glossy second-hand store versions of it out there waiting for you. One can even access its ultra-premium grade form in galleries all over the world. This regular, constant exposure will surely support your photography well.

 

The last leg is built from something of an unknown quantity. Its exact make up and atomic weight are hard to state with any certainty. You are the one who decides on such things.  It’s a massively variable  and unstable element we shall refer to simply as ‘opportunity’.  In this instance we are talking strictly about opportunity to practice the craft rather than the opportunities that await you out there, although they are also certainly relevant. Given that enough of this resource has been seized upon and used wisely, it will surely be the last leg that helps to hold your photography (as Ashford and Simpson would have had it) solid as a rock. A lot of people find it on the weekend, but you can also scoop up whole chunks of it before or after work and even on your lunch break. A day off anywhere in the world is likely to lead to its discovery assuming the other two legs are present. You need to have some equipment with you to harvest it, at the minimum this should be one camera and a lens plus a sensor or some film.

 

I’ve tried the monopod thing. It didn’t work for me. Supporting my work with just a single leg consisting of pure motivation wasn’t enough, it got left in the back of my car or under a table at the local coffee house somewhere. I sometimes remembered that I used to have it and would often briefly search for it in vain. Most of the time I told myself that I didn’t need it and went out with one or two of the other legs instead. I knew something was off, but I just kept going through the motions. Sometimes I didn’t even bother at all. This situation sometimes persisted off and on for months or even a year here or there. Indeed, that is often the best way of realizing that you have lost this precious part of your tripod, indifference is a noteworthy symptom all of its own. You feel like you can’t be bothered to shoot and you don’t always realize that a negative change is afoot. Ignorance and apathy…terrible bedfellows at the best of times. What’s the definition of ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t f*&#!?g care. Another key warning sign is the selling off of kit. You might be telling yourself that you are simplifying matters and paring down stuff that you aren’t using. You find it harder to justify the unused equipment. Then one joyous day you finally discover where you left your precious motivation and no need to ‘single leg it’ any more. It pushes you towards the other two legs, the tripod is back again, fully supporting your photographic ambitions to the fullest. Now you feel the need to use that kit after all. Problem is that when you have to go out and buy it back again, you either can’t find it or soon find it’s more expensive the second time around. The only cheaper ones are on ‘that’ internet auction site, the parcel arrives, a game of Russian Roulette that can lead to angry early morning tourettes.  For those of us that have been at this game for a while, let’s at least not embarrass ourselves by pretending that this sort of thing never happens. :-)

 

 Exposure alone also failed me as an adequate brace, we can only stand on the shoulders of giants for so long before descending to walk our own path. I truly appreciate poring over the glossy books of photography’s true masters. It’s one of my very favourite photographic things to do outside of actually taking pictures. I also tingle at the idea of going to a gallery to see the ‘hard stuff’ in neat form hanging on the wall, waiting to show me the way. Trouble is, doing too much of this whilst not actually shooting sufficiently or being motivated can lead to a severe case of: ‘Neverbegoodenuffitis’; a terrible affliction which has proved to be surprisingly resistant to anti-biotics. Many have tried to self-medicate against this using alcohol and drugs. Anyone doubting the dangers of this very real and artistically debilitating disease need only to visit an art gallery showing the real prints of Adams or Salgado.  Alternatively, spend an evening  in bed with Garry Winongrand, Robert Frank or Eggleston… metaphorically speakingat least (though in the case of the latter it might have been a literal possibility given a very dark red room and an ‘open’ proclivity in your personal relationships...think more’ Maroon Three’ than’ Maroon Five’).

 

I had also harboured high hopes for a monopod hewn frompure opportunity, but the construction of my photographic house always seemed to need something more beyond simply having the time and space in which to build it. I needed some direction and the force to push me towards it. When fully backed up with motivation and exposure, this material has great tensile strength. It’s easy enough to find everywhere but as a sole material to support my leanings?  No. Taking the chance to shoot without motivation and inspired direction is like shooting a video in public of your first attempts at Parkour to share with the internet, there’s an outside chance at coolsville but probably not going to end well. Sure, maybe you are one of those lucky few who can start off with the opportunity, walk around aimlessly and then ‘shoot your way into’ motivation. I know they exist but I’m just jealous as I also know I’m probably not one such fellow.

 

Equal thirds motivation, exposure and opportunity are all I need. It occurs to me that these factors could be equally applicable to learning lots of new skills such as a sport, a martial art or a language.  To me, I see them not only as a ratio of which I must be vigilant to keep in good order but also a perfect tripod for photographic empowerment and improvement.

 

CCP

 

 

 

 

Prelude to a Miss, Stopping Those Bangkok Shots from Getting Away

To love shooting street, candid or any  ‘as it happens’ photography in Bangkok is to love a losing game.  As cities go, the sheer number of things happening before you simultaneously is at times just hard to comprehend, let alone keep up with. This seems to be the case much more so than in many other of the world’s cities that I have been in. Those who have tried to tame it before their lens know exactly what I mean. Bangkok is a wild tropical animal, restless and risky at night, remaining perilous and unpredictable by day. She is not easy to approach, can punish you without warning for your contact with her she and eats her young.

 

I want you to get more of the shots that you want in this environment, I want you to score with a higher success rate and feel that you are making progress in your photography in Bangkok. It’s tricky to be so focused on your subject spotting, planning the shot and then making it work whilst also not getting run over, hassled by touts or pickpocketed by somebody whose gender is hard to pinpoint. Let’s try though, let’s get better. I‘m writing this because I truly want to help, I mean this sincerely.  Down to business,  in Bangkok street work in general, one needs to be uber-familiar with ones equipment at all times. We’ve all heard the usual clichés about the camera ‘being an extension of your arm’ or ‘it just gets out of the way and lets me shoot’ but these are borne out of the truths about being able to work very fast and smoothly against those fleeting moments we all encounter that are masters of escapism.  If we are to catch them, we have to be on point.  A good litmus test to find out where you rank is to see how you can set up and handle your camera for a shot without looking at the camera itself and working by feel alone. This may seems like a request somewhat akin to any cheesy eighties action movie with a martial arts theme. The restless and impatient young apprentice turns his nose up at having to endlessly repeat such a seemingly banal and humdrum menial task and can’t understand why the wise old master (yeah right) refuses to teach him anything else until he has perfected it. The hidden relevance of mastering the aforementioned chore suddenly becomes all too obvious in some grand final scene whereby the hitherto innocuous skillset now becomes the key to unlocking all conquering power against a formidable challenge. If you haven’t seen the link between that and success in street/candid photography in public yet, go back and read that last bit again.

 

I repeat, know thy camera well, by hand and touch. This is easier for manual camera shooters on film, Leica Ms, Nikon FM / FE’s, Olympus and Pentax SLR’s of the same era, these are all easy cameras for this exercise. You are not exempt if you shoot digital, set up the menus in such a way so that they are ready for street and practice using your hands only to push the right knobs and buttons, and turn the right rings correctly to get you ready for street work. So as to avoid charges of elitism, I shall avoid giving the run down for a Leica M body and concentrate here on the generic film SLR body type, but honestly much of this could be applied to a whole smorgasbord of modern digital cameras.  Pick the camera up; rotate the lens all the way to one side, and then back all the way to the other, how many turns from lock to lock? Hopefully, you have some focus markings and some DoF markings on there too.  How far do you have to turn it back from one of the sides to get to a spot that is familiar to you for shooting street? For me I like to be at around two metres and I know almost exactly how far to rotate my 28mm f2 Nikkor to get me at the two-metre mark. I can do it ten times without looking at it and get it almost perfect nine times. The other time, I would still have been close enough. How many clicks for the f-stops does this lens have? Again, stop it right down, or open it right up, go to one extreme or the other and count how many clicks you need to rotate it before you find yourself at a good street aperture, that might well be say, f8. Again, on my Nikkor 28mm (and 35mm lenses on other bodies and brands) I can do this without thinking about it. I can pick up the camera, not look at it and move it to be at f8, and bang on focus at two-metres dead ahead.  Practicing this is free and incredibly effective. All one needs to do is sit at home in any room in a comfortable position and mess up all of the controls on your camera, put it down. Then pick it up back up again and see how quickly you can get your camera back into the optimum street ready condition that you prefer without looking at it. With practice it soon becomes very quick and natural. Next step is understanding depth of field in and how to make it work for you (not against you) in shooting publicly in fast moving situations. I like to work at ISO 400 or thereabouts. I won’t include the full theory of depth-of-field here (Google depth of field calculator) but at that ISO, and with my 28mm example lens stopped down to f8-f11, I find myself not only having the  subject at exactly two-metres in focus, but also anything from one metre in front of them all the way out to nearly five metres behind them will also likely be acceptably in focus too. This is a great way to work in these situations. It’s also better than relying on modern auto focus systems to focus on the right thing, they sometimes get it wrong as only you really know what your intended goal is. Set your camera to manual focus. Don’t leave it to chance. Assuming you are still sat in that same comfortable spot fondling the camera, here is the next step of your training:  Now look around the room at large objects, preferably those with straight vertical lines. Estimate how far away you think they are, using your preferred unit of measurement, feet or metres.  If you see the leg of a table that you think is two metres away, try turning the barrel of the lens to that distance (without looking at the camera) and then bring the camera to your eye. If it’s a typical split prism SLR kind of finder, you will see the subject appears correct in the finder if your guess was accurate. If not, it might be split in two and need further refining adjustment. It is also possible to do this with many different kinds of smaller digital cameras but you’ll have to consult the manual to find the best approach on a case-by-case basis. It’s amazing how quickly you can get good at it, it’s most satisfying after a while. Once you’ve got a solid feel for your favourite set distance, it then becomes really easy to over or under compensate if you feel the subject is one metre or three metres away accordingly. Or you can also simply keep your camera at the two-metre mark and get used to moving yourself nearer or closer to the subject instead.  Assuming you are well versed in exposures on manual mode (something for another post perhaps), or perhaps using aperture-priority shooting, this now means that pretty much all of the technical stuff is out of the way and you can concentrate on the really important factor of composition, putting everyone and everything exactly where you want them in the frame becomes the main task and you are free to concentrate on this to the fullest. This is how I work in my humble, botched attempts at street shooting BUT this is also how so many of the grand masters of this photographic genre shot for decades to give us many of the best images of the twentieth century.  Have the camera ready to go and the framing of the shot in mind either before or at the same time as you lift the camera to your eye. If you use the same lens often enough, you’ll likely already have a pretty good idea of what the framing will look like through the finder before it’s even in your sightline…again this expediency all helps.  All of the above means that you can keep your eye on the scene rather than looking down and messing with your rig, plus because you are ready to rock and roll before the camera is at head height, it means that you won’t need to keep it there for very long at all. The less time you have the camera to your eye, the less likely your subjects are to notice you shooting them and the more natural your shots are likely to be. There’s nothing worse than having what you know is a great shot in the making ruined because you had to fiddle with the camera more than you needed to or you held it up longer than was really necessary. The subject sees you and reacts accordingly, destroying the moment forever.  Only when we think about all these things do we really see just how tough shooting anything naturally occurring on the street can be. Your shots need to be carefully, solidly constructed with precision and awareness, not hastily assembled with paper glue and indifference. This genre is made to look oh so easy by its masters but woe betide anyone who thinks that they can gingerly stroll down the street for a half hour and come back with photographic street gold. There’s a lot to be learnt and practiced if we are to be ready when the proverbial ducks start to stand in front of one another.


Shooting in Bangkok (as with any big city) might well be a game of luck, and one in which the odds are surely stacked against us, but we can do much to improve our chances. Knowing your equipment intimately, having good technique and engaging in regular practice will all help transform you from  inept neophyte to  adept in flight, ready to swoop down and seize the moment with grace. In the words of Seneca ‘ Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’, take your shots with elation and impunity in the City of Angels . You might not be punished by the frames that you couldn’t quite make, but you will surely remember the ones you didn’t take.

 

CCP

Dickens Meets Nikon (50 1.2 Ais / 50 1.4 Ais): A Tale of Two Fifties

It was the best of primes, it was the worst of primes, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of (low) Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,

 

 

I had everything before me, I had nothing before me, I was going to photographic heaven, I was going direct the other way and my bank balance was soon to follow. In short, that period in photography was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest internet experts insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of photographic comparison only.

 

There were a king of an ultra-fast lens with a large jaw in thy local camera dealers and a queen lens with a plain face, on the throne of my camera shelf. In both cases, they were clearer than crystal and to the Gods of photography, the local bank manager and preservers of State to film and developing chemicals, such things were settled for ever.

 

It was the year of Our Lord two thousand and fifteen. Spiritual and optical revelations were conceded throughout England and the rest of the world at that favoured period such as this. The Nikkor 50mm 1.2 Ais was lauded as the fastest  ever to be made by said folk. For the poorer subjects of the kingdom whose unfortunate station in life had yet to surpass that of humble caretaker to the one point four, a terrible storm of doubt and confusion rained down for twenty seven long, hard years.

 

Ok, enough of that prose, down to brass tacks. I never really feel comfortable in knowing that there’s a faster lens than the one I already have from the same manufacturer. This is the very making of the terrible ‘faster=better’ stupidity disease that affects many photographers without good reason.  This often defies logic as faster lenses can have not insignificant trade-offs across the full aperture range and are invariably much more dangerous to one’s financial health. Regular readers might recall that I have already touched upon the perils of illogical fast glass lust in another recent blog post. In the case of my Nikon lens collection over the years, I had eventually whittled it down from more than twenty-five F-Mount lenses in the past fifteen or so years to just three and all of them manual focus (Ais) older designs. In this mount last year, I only owned the 28mm f2, the 50mm f1.4 and the venerable 105mm 2.5. I had been lucky enough to get all three copies from late production runs in the early 2000’s with full boxes and papers in mint condition at good prices. It just took a little patience.  The first and the last usually receive high praise across the board and are generally recognized as belonging to what is perhaps best referred to as the ‘five-star legacy glass’ fold. I know some prefer the 2.8 in 28mm but I’ve had both and find that on black and white film at least, there’s just something ridiculously good about the f2. It’s a real star and packs some serious potential as a street and walkabout lens, that’s the one I kept. From the first time I saw portraits from the 105, I knew that I would never, ever sell this lens. It has to be one of the best deals in photography.  It’s worth owning a Nikon mount camera just to shoot this lens. I used to be madly in love with my creamtastic 85mm 1.4, it was part lens/part dairy product and all dream machine but for real world use, I actually prefer the 105. It’s as good as it gets optically, small and compact, easy to bring along as a second lens and has a built in hood. It’s also way cheaper. I wanted to write this without using the words ‘Afghan Girl’ but… oh well, I just did.

 

So what of the middle sibling in my fold? The nifty-fifty-Nikon one plus three pennies. This seems to be a lens which is always rated as just being somehow ‘quite good’ to middling but never really seems to garner any more praise than that. I guess it doesn’t stack up against the more modern glass and that has further hurt its slightly lackluster rep in contemporaneous times. I think many people who have owned one feel like it’s perfectly serviceable yet never really anything special. Nice to have but not enough warm, fuzzy feeling is included with one in your stable. This is the first stage of the terrible disease, that slight sense that you might be somehow missing out on something. The blurring of the line between want and need typically starts somewhere around here, many of us have been there. Enter the 1.2, it’s got quite a cult following in certain circles and the extra bit of speed and unusual size and shape can lead you to think that you simply must trade up.  The higher price tag only seems to confirm your growing sense that it must somehow deserve its gravitas in the world of high priced goods, sometimes the price tag is part of the product itself.

 

After many a year of doing this dance on and off every few months in my head, I finally caved in and picked a used one up from a local dealer. Where I live, they are nearly three times the price of the 1.4 if boxed and in mint condition. Depending on where you live and what dealer you talk to, you might still be able to buy one brand new in a box. I did something that I don’t normally do at this point, I didn’t trade in or sell of the old model at once, but kept it to one side. This is unusual for me as I normally feel that I have to move something out when I acquire a new arrival. At first, I was quite enthralled with the new charmer, it has the usual incredible Nikkor manual quality and feel, there’s a reassuring heft to it. I honestly think I like the way these lenses are built perhaps more than any other, certainly as much as the brass Leica stuff of the mid-twentieth century.

 

It’s a seven element, six group older spherical design.  It has nine diaphragm blades which can assist it well in terms of pleasant out of focus background areas. Wide open and in lower light, its charms continued although the depth of field at this extreme is ultra thin and requires very deft deployment. Perhaps this is exactly what one would expect. I’ve seen some wonderfully artistic stuff done at this aperture with the 1.2 Ais all around the web by people who are better at handling and exploiting the DOF than I am. A lot of them seem to own this lens specifically for such an aim. Also, when wide open the effects exhibit something of what is referred to as a ‘glow’ by many, not unlike some of the older Leica lenses of the sixties and seventies when used at maximum aperture. I think from a technical standpoint, it’s more a result of spherical aberrations and a little coma but subjectively speaking, it can appear most pleasant. That’s something that is either loved or hated, you’ll have to decide if that’s something you are okay with. Stopped down a bit to around f2 I found it more useable and just about as sharp as I can imagine any lens in the world ever really being, I’m talking brand new surgeon’s scalpel kind of sharp. Very nice indeed, yes it’s surgical but not in an overly modern way.  However, for a lot of what I shoot, and in the very bright country in which I shoot it, I am often stopped way down anyway. Much as I hate to admit it, I don’t really need an ultra low-light weapon all that often. I liked how it does colour but I don’t shoot that much of it in all honesty, and call me a philistine but on black and white film it certainly didn’t look any better than the 1.4 to my eyes.  Additionally, when stopped down to f8 or f11 sort of ranges, I think I again prefer the 1.4. The 1.2 also felt a little heavier and less balanced on my smaller bodies (FM3A and FE2), not a massive weight or anything but compared to the 1.4 it was a more awkward package overall to carry and deploy. This was no great deal breaker per se but I think it warrants mentioning and was something that I hadn’t really expected.

 

Then I compared negs and prints to a lot of the stuff I had shot last year on the same cameras and film but using the 1.4. Although it is often chastised for being soft wide open, I actually quite like the way that softness looks. It is a seven element, six-group lens also of an old design.  Its diaphragm is two blades less at seven in total, I like the later model ones for the newer coatings but this is entirely subjective opinion. I also like the way that when used on Tri-x, sunlight and backlit outlines around the edges of people take on a very nice older 60’s kind of look. Not unlike the older Leica glass that I shoot with. I think it’s important when reading around the web to take people’s input onboard but also to actually look at what your work looks like with the lens and make comparisons based on that for your own personal circumstance. The internet tells me that the 1.4 is a fairly good lens but I really think it’s a great lens and I like the way that a lot of its technical ‘shortcomings’ look on my film. After doing a lot of side by side work between the two lenses over the following month, I eventually decided to return the 1.2 to my dealer who was happy to take it back for a very small fee (check out my ‘Ultimate Photographer’s Guide to Bangkok by clicking on the banner at the top of the page for a suggestive list of friendly places to buy and sell camera gear in Thailand). I think it was  just a little bit too fussy and somehow overly ‘specialist’ for my tastes and application. I think a bigger part of the problem is that with a brand like Nikon, even the expensive glass is only typically a fraction of what you would pay for Leica optics and as a keen M shooter, it seems almost deceptively reasonable in comparison. This is not always a good thing though as it makes it too easy to act upon said lens lust. In comparison, for my M, I would never really dream of casually chopping in my ‘Cron for a faster version if I were perfectly happy with it just ‘to see what it’s like’. In Leicaland that would mean the suffix of ‘Lux and suffering mo’ bucks. And if I had a ‘Lux right now I would certainly never seriously entertain the idea of chopping it in for a huge and second mortgage facilitating Nocti either!

 

My conclusion: Happiness in photography, as in life, might not be found in having what you want rather in simply wanting what you already have. This applies to lenses superbly and really needs writing down on a post-it note to be stuck on to either my computer monitor or my credit card, or perhaps both.

 

What in the Dickens was I ever thinking? The 50mm 1.4 Ais, It is a far, far better lens that I shoot than I have ever said, the far, far better rest are better left unsaid.  


CCP

Picasso, Breasts, Bangkok...What Can Photographers Around the World Learn from the Master Painters?

A good few years ago now in Thailand, I went back to full time education. I have to confess that the use of the word ‘back’ is a falsification of sorts that I have become accustomed to slipping into this sentence with alarming ease and comfort. We all do it, that little white lie that has fallen out of your mouth in relation to a given topic to save personal embarrassment so often that you actually somehow believe it to be true yourself. This implies that I was somehow there in the first place (in adulthood at least, this isn’t entirely true). Actually what really happened was that I enjoyed a wonderful period in my life being a ‘mature student’. Although a charming euphemism for ‘older person who amounted to very little in their youth’ I must confess to since having grown a tad fond of this term. I think that for many people such as myself for whom regular school just was never going to work out back then, there comes a real satisfaction in learning about the arts (in my case) at a later station in life. If you can handle the level of self-discipline, newfound time management skills and motivate yourself towards full-time study alongside a career, kids and everything else that life throws in your face….you are already on the way to winning the game of life in no small measure.

It was all going well, but like so many university students in their first year, we were first forced to study a more general course than we would have liked before earning the right to specialize more deeply in our chosen courses. I was horrified to discover that I had to study about (and critique) paintings ranging from the renaissance through to the twentieth century. Long essays were demanded.  I cringed at the idea of joining the ranks of these pretentious dilettantes in the world, endlessly bleating nonsense about dead people’s moody daubings as a means to further aggrandize their self-importance to others.  I recall late nights poring over the full colour prints in the mandatory course books. I noted that although I found most of what I saw to be generally beautiful to my crude eye, the idea of a regular bloke like me actually constructing sentences to critique Francesca and Raphael’s work seemed downright ludicrous. I mean, where does one even begin?

As a way in, I tried to look at my favourite photographs of the twentieth century, and make notes about what I liked about them. I focused a lot on portraits, as these were often the closest things photographically to many of the paintings that we had to choose from for our essays. Looking back now I realize how stupid I was at first in being perfectly okay with having a working knowledge of the photographic medium and yet failing to recognize its relevance to the paintings thrust upon me. Many renaissance painters were the portrait photographers of their day of course.  It’s actually not that hard to find photos that are lit like a Vermeer or a Titian, and I didn’t notice that this sidetrack I had gone down was becoming a strangely enjoyable pursuit in itself. The way that these great painters saw light had to be just as important as to any photographer since. I became a touch disappointed at myself for never having made more of an effort to study this previously. In hindsight, this is the good thing about the first year of such a degree; it forces you to study things that you would never have chosen to of your own accord. Through this situation, you can discover new things about yourself and the world that really open your eyes. It’s never a bad thing. My first few essays on this faired better than I had expected, despite a particularly cruel professor in that year. By the final paper of the term, we had reached the lofty heights of twentieth century art and were given a choice of just three paintings to critique, the required essays were now of a much increased minimum word count.  The paintings were obviously carefully chosen as works that had had a lot less written about them in the usual places, woe betide anyone looking to plagiarise or paraphrase one of the few articles out there at the time on them. I chose Pablo Picasso’s ‘Girl in a Chemise’ (google it lest I be sued by one of his relatives for its inclusion here) from his blue period and I based my approach on the way I would look at a portrait photograph. However I was sure to use all of the technical terms of analysis that we had been taught throughout the course for the discussion and critique of fine painting. I felt it was perhaps a bit of a gamble but had secured enough reasonable scores at that point in the term to feel confident with such a move.

I’ll spare you the full essay but here is a key extract from what I wrote:

“The painting ‘Girl in a Chemise’, by Picasso is a portrait, painted around 1905.  It is an oil on canvas measuring approximately 72.7 by 60 cm. The girl is the sole subject and the picture plane puts us so close that we may only see her from the waist upwards. The view of the subject is from the front and slightly angled. Her head is turned away to her left, as though to repel any empathy, affording us only a single sided view of her face and upswept hair. Onto her emaciated frame, Picasso adds a provocatively oversized breast, which penetrates into an almost spiritual blue halo. The modelling of her diaphanous garment around the collarbone is detailed enough to emphasize its flimsiness.  There seems a paradox between her wraithlike appearance and her exuded sexuality. Our main focus is drawn towards her porcelain face, gaunt expression and dead eyes.  The modelling of this translucent face is more detailed and caricaturial than that of her lower torso, perhaps because of the wider tonal range between figure and ground at this point on the literal plane. The brushwork elsewhere seems perfunctory, with less merging of colour and some paint runs in the background. The room the girl is in appears dark and cold with a small light source on the top left side, out of our view. The subject looks as though her skin would be very pallid and clammy to the touch. The artist used a contrast of light subject against dark blue and green background to impart not only a melancholy darkness but also a cold, disconsolate atmosphere to the illusionistic plane as a whole. Even the warm tones of her rose shawl fail to permeate Picasso’s chill.”

 

I was very lucky to have received my highest score for that course from this essay but perhaps luckier still to have been educated in how to look at, analyse and enjoy the fine paintings of the masters and relate them to my existing love of photographic art. I later had an exam on this (even had to fly to the U.K. for the pleasure of sitting it) within a tight time limit but really enjoyed it and did reasonably well overall. I wonder how many other photographers also enjoy (or would enjoy) this exercise? It was an undertaking that I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to embark upon, and one which certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I recall that I felt awkward and uneasy about trying (what I perceived to be) something I wouldn’t be able to do. I later learned that Pablo once said “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Turns out that we have might have something in common with the great painters after all.

 

CCP

Dear Retro Cameras In Thailand: I Want My Camouflage Back

A definite photographic change has been slowly afoot in Bangkok. The new retro-look camera seems to have been the catalyst for this change. At first I thought it might have just been my own imagination, or a false perception of mine in some way. Now I am decided, the newer cameras of a more vintage design have slowly taken back a previously built-in advantage to somebody shooting street here with an older film camera. I clearly recall up to around 2011 or so, my chrome and black Leica M6 classic occupied a lovely spot on the photographic equipment continuum. It almost seemed to be like a Germanic cloaking device for discreet image making. The typical reaction to it would vary but in general it would either elicit quaint smiles, indifference or simply no reaction whatsoever. Back then, as long as it wasn’t a large, matte black SLR/DSLR body with the usual long lens sporting a brightly lettered yellow or red corporate-branded camera strap…it was almost certain to be under everybody’s radar. Didn’t have to be a fancy-pants Leica of course, a black and chrome seventies SLR with a small lens on might also have faired similarly well but something about an old rangefinder in that classic look with a little patina here and there really got the job done.

Then it all changed. Looking back I now have a clear memory of exactly when that tipping point was. Of course, as is so often the case with pivotal moments, you don’t see them for what they are at the time. Only in retrospect does the significance and detail play a part. I think it was in 2011, I was commuting by Bangkok skytrain. Arriving at my stop, I found myself in that less than completely comfortable purgatory state between not being as early as I would have liked for work and in danger of, but not quite yet, being late. As I walked hurriedly through the shopping mall that obstructed the route between the train and my place of work, I took a glance in the usual camera shop window and noticed something odd catching my eye. At first I thought the owner of the shop selling all the digital gear was just having some fun showing off his prized, boxed Leica M film camera on the shelf to add a certain sizzle and window dressing. I then took a closer look and saw a Fuji X100 for the first time; it was in a nice box lined with some kind of classy looking satin material. The material served as a beautiful way to contrast against what was increasingly likely to be a digital camera in front of my very eyes. The black, the brushed silver metal, the rangefinderesque windows on the front. An obvious rip off but very well executed. I viewed it without tension, trauma, hate or neurosis, which served as evidence of how right they got it from the start in identifying this new market. I had a hundred questions of course but the shop was closed and the clock was ticking against me.

 

Later on, the full extent of what I had witnessed was revealed unto others and myself all over the web. The rest, as they say, is history.  History is best defined as our sources of information combined with our expertise in processing them.  I didn’t really process the information from the sighting of this thing very well at the time and now I can look back and see how this crept up on me. Fuji wrote history their way and much as I loathe the term ‘game changer’, in fairness… this might actually be one case where the hat fits. Anyone doubting that need only look as far as the veritable smorgasbord of small cameras in a chrome and black retro style that have since emerged over the past five years or so. Frankly, it has been a little hard to keep up, even for the camera geeks. It now seems as though any Thai kid who feels the need to have a photographic device in addition to their smartphone (admittedly a shrinking group but that might best be reserved as a topic for another day) is brandishing such a camera style. There was a strong ‘you better have a big DSLR on your person at all times to look like a pro or you ain’t s*#@t’ movement prevalent in Bangkok that was truly hard not to notice in recent years. Kids taking pictures of the food they are about to eat in restaurants using full sized pro Nikon D digital bodies designed for professional sports photographers was something that I personally witnessed many times. However, it seems as though many of its adherents have now become turncoats, crossing over to salute the new flag of smaller, often mirror less black and chrome kit. Just a perfect match for ripped skinny jeans, large square-fronted baseball caps and a cool T-shirt whose English meaning might not be completely understood by them as they wear it.

 

Of course, ultimately I am happy that so many young people now love buying cameras and that they dig the retro vibes. I even believe that history has in some extreme cases come full circle. Some young people who have used modern retro-looking cameras have found them to be a gateway drug for actually buying some of the real old film cameras upon which their digital descendants were based. To be fair, it isn’t just the young ‘uns. This is a photographic paradigm shift that has occurred throughout the older demographic of camera carrying Thai people also. That can’t be a bad thing besides photography doesn’t need any more old men on lawns telling the kids to go and play in front of their own houses. I’m just grumpy to have lost that little edge. I am now forced to be more inventive with my approach for stealthy and innocent (preferably film) cameras capable of delivering excellent results on Bangkok streets. The TLR world via Rolleiflex is proving to be the perfect thumb in the dike for me presently. Of course, it is now so old and quaint that it can actually elicit compliments and conversations from the very strangers that I am trying to shoot, something of an own goal perhaps. Not to mention the appearance of the odd digital camera in a TLR style on the market here and there in recent times. Maybe five years from now every hipster will be ‘rocking a twin lens’ and they will be less incognito also. Still, Churchill said that ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm’, maybe I should just walk around Bangkok grinning like a maniac with an 8 x 10 camera on a huge wooden tripod and shoot with a large black cloth over my head like Meyerowitz.

 

The hipsters would never cover their heads like that, nobody would be able to see how cool they were and I would be more camouflaged than ever. Mm, I might be on to something.

CCP