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More pictures from overseas

I took this one night when heading to Brickfields in KL for dinner with my colleagues. I was drawn to the peeling paint and torn paper that was hanging off the phone booth. It was pretty late, and I had almost no light so you see a loss of detail to the right. Thankfully, this is pretty abstract, so it works well. I’d preferred to have a better transition from the sharp foreground (on the left) to the blurred background, especially since I’ve rendered the entire image so that everything looks flat- you can’t really tell which is the foreground. But I still think it works.

On my second day in the Philippines, my colleagues brought me to eat mixed rice. Turns out I picked the right dishes- one of the pork dishes (mildly spicy) I chose is apparently like one of their national dishes. It’s made from Pork Cheek, and tastes awesome. I also had an entire fried fish. Total damage? Less than SGD$5. Yumm!

I’m quickly realising that a major advantage of shooting in the day is that you can get really sharp pictures at small aperture sizes. This was taken at F9, out of the office window. Burned in the picture a bit to get more blue in the sky, but it was really sunny- hence the golden cast in the picture. With a view like that, it’s not a wonder that our Philippine office is doing so well!


When an ordinary picture just feels right

This picture is nothing special. There are no special filters; no fancy colours and no intriguing (or really, ANY) subject matter. But for some reason, everything seems to come together. The sky is washed out and the white looks ominous not distracting. The ‘feel’ of the picture, taken at twilight then converted to black and white, is also like that of a horror movie- macabre and surreal. I added the vignette for better effect, to juxtapose against the bright centre. This isn’t a great picture, but I really love how the spotlights from below are shining a harsh (and creepy) light on the entire scene.

I saw this picture and immediately thought it had great potential as a graphic shot. The monster looks darkly comic, and I added the fancy border for better effect. Taken at Haw Par Villa. The real size of this picture? About 1.5 times my height, and about 5-6 times my width. I shot this from quite far out, using a tele lens. Processed using an infrared black and white filter.


Weekend trip to Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa (now Tiger Balm Gardens) was one of my favourite childhood haunts. It was Singapore’s only theme park for a long time, and I really loved the water ride there, and the strange fantastic world that the park brought me to. These days, the park is almost completely dead. I saw an article in the newspapers the other day, that a (not-free) museum on Chinese heritage in the park was now closed down. So I decided it was time to pay HPV a visit before it closed for good…

Getting there: Turns out the park is literally 10 seconds from the Circle Line stop, “Haw Par Villa”.

PS, in Marymount’s circle line station, there was an advertisement of the ‘attractions on the circle line’. Among the ‘greatest hits’ were, ‘Shunfu Mart’ (Marymount), ‘NEX’ (Sembawang), ‘Junction 8′ (Bishan), ‘Old Airport Road Hawker Center’ (Dakota), and… No Haw Par Villa. This park is really doomed, if malls and hawker centers are deemed as better attractions.

The park: As I entered, I heard loud Hokkien music blasting from the caretaker’s office. It really fit the ambience, actually. It felt like some of the right generation was in charge here. (Although when I left, I heard Tamil music…. Erm, don’t ask me why. Maybe the caretaker is multilingual?) The rides are all gone. The museum is closed. All that’s left is (very) old statues, many looking like they need restoration and repainting, and looking like they really shouldn’t be outdoors.

It was raining lightly when I got there, so I was surprised to find that I wasn’t alone. Together with me were some Japanese tourists; some other Caucasians; and a smattering of visitors from elsewhere in the world. Basically, no other Singaporeans. Sad, right? I guess that’s why this place is closing.

The statues themselves: Just as I remembered, many statues were straight out of Chinese mythology. There were many, many Buddhist statues, and many stories of chinese Myths and ghosts being depicted. But there were also a few strange ones, like the Statue of Liberty… two Sumo wrestlers… some baby seals and mermaids…

Anyway, I would have taken more pictures, but it was raining. Good thing W was around to help shelter the camera with an umbrella. :) Anyway, I leave you with these four shots… Enjoy! Be sure to check out HPV before it’s gone!

Standing Guard

Good Seat

Meditation

Something Sinister


Photos of my offices

I travel a lot for work, and decided one fine day that I should take pictures of where I do it. After all, good architecture all around. Only have two now, but may have more to come…

Malaysia- View from Office

Philippines

Malaysia- View from Hotel


Exploring Punggol Park

So over the weekend I went to Punggol Park. It’s really interesting. It’s quite new (and super far away), so people don’t seem to have caught on to it as an interesting destination yet. So it was relatively empty. But lots was going on there- the weather was perfect, having just rained, and the sun was setting. I took a few pictures, but is my style, I don’t really care for realism. Hey, I want nice pictures. I’m not a journalist.

Sunset at Punggol Park

White Oysters on Black Rocks

“Harry Potter”


Retro is in: A silent movie review (“The Artist”)

I love silent movies. Fire up a Humphrey Bogard special or a Charlie Chaplin classic, and I’m all set to be entertained for the next two hours. Beautiful classical music, emotive facial and body expressions, dialogue kept to a mere minimal. Silent movies were always meant to be an escape- not to imitate life, but to be larger than it. Watching a silent movie today- where directors are far more concerned about realism, is like a throwback experience. Fun, but well, we’re glad that’s over.

Nowhere was this more true than when I recently watched the Best Picture favourite, “The Artist”. All I’d seen before the movie was a one-liner synopsis: ‘silent movie star struggles to adapt to talking cinema.’ I certainly wasn’t expecting a movie that was entirely silent. But, well, it was. Even in the critical middle of the movie, when a transition is being made from silent movies to ‘talkies’ and we finally hear a voice for the first time, it turns out to be the voice of a female singer. Nope, no dialogue here. Move along now…

Silent Films are not subtle

For a silent film to go beyond ‘fun’ and be artistic and serious, it turns out, subtlety need not apply. “The Artist” is just about the most in-your-face arthouse film you’ll ever see. For example, the star’s last silent movie, his swansong, is screamingly titled ‘Tears of Love’. Just in case you don’t get it, we spend two minutes watching the actor die in the last scene of his movie: sinking slowly but surely into quicksand, never to return from oblivion.

There are tonnes of examples like this. As the one-time star crosses the road having just auctioned off everything he owned, a billboard in the distance flashes the film for the day: “Lonely Star”. And when the actor finally decides to see a talkie, he chooses one starring a girl he had a crush on, and who’s been silently looking out for him. The film’s name? “Guardian Angel”.

Then of course, there’s the fact that his best friend in the whole show, a great fellow actor, who at one point also saves his life, is a star that can never talk: his dog. At one point, as the actor walks out from “Guardian Angel”, a woman stops him. Is his fame still lingering? Does she remember? No, she wants to see his dog. “If only he could talk!” Our star sighs. Of course, the one refusing to talk- refusing to act in a ‘talkie’- is the star himself.

No worries. There is a happy ending, as there always is. The star does finally decide to act in a ‘talkie’. In the movie’s final five minutes, the star makes an amazing transition, skipping past the entire ‘talking drama’ genre, and reinventing him and his costar as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, tap dancing extraordinaires. So the artist gets to remain an artist (now throwing himself into dance), while finding a way to become relevant again.

Astaire himself would have appreciated the irony of this ending, having once quipped, ‘the actors today… they think they can dance with their faces!’ Dancing with his face is what the star of this movie, one George Valentin (movie name) does best. His smile is megawatt, up there among the best of them, and his ability to emote expressions is wonderful. But perhaps the greatest trick of acting he pulls off only gets revealed in the last scene. There he stands, having just finished a dance with his co-star, in the American studio “Kinograph”, for the American film “Sparkle of Love”, evoking one of the greatest American stars of them all, when he utters his only words of the movie.

“Perfect take, George… But can you do it again?”

“Avec plaisir”

That single scene sums up the best and the worst of a silent movie. A silent movie is truly art, and needs the finest director and actor to guide the plot so the audience wouldn’t get lost. But it was also an exceedingly difficult genre, and anything not-obvious (in this case, that the American star is in fact French(!!!)) would easily be missed.

“The Artist” is a movie with excellent acting, with great direction, but with a fluffy popcorn plot. In that sense, it’s very unlike most other Oscar nominees (the script seems to be serious + boring = winner). So why is it, in fact, a leading Best Picture contender? I think this reviewer sums it up best:

“If you’re looking for an explanation to all the Oscar buzz, then consider this — like Valentin, Hollywood loves few things more than its own reflection. No surprise they’ve fallen hard for the simple pleasures of The Artist.”


Morning flights at the airport- everyone has a coffee

Catching the first flight out again for work. Zzz.

coffee at the airport


Immortals is a whole lot of fun

Half an hour into the movie “Immortals”, it becomes extremely clear why the movie has been rated M18. As punishment for his cowardice, a defecting soldier is made to spread his legs, and a guard walks in with a giant hammer. The scene mercifully cuts away so you don’t see what happens, but you certainly hear the screams.

It seems that movies/ shows about ancient times- 300, Spartacus Blood and Sand- all come served with a heavy dose of gore and blood these days. It’s not even just violence. It’s gratuitous, celebrated violence. Kinda reminds me of Kill Bill. Immortals is slightly less stylish, and more gory, but the blood is the same.

This, in short, is a guy-flick through-and-through. If you’re the kinda guy who enjoyed 300, this is right up your alley. (They’re even produced by the same people). There is lots of fighting. Everything is stylised, from the brownish skies to the over-the-top costumes. There is also a dash of humour: when the main character meets his mother outside of a temple, he remarks: “I don’t believe in your religion, but your monks sure do have strange hats.”

The monk in question had a hat slightly stranger than this one

The only thing missing from this movie was skin. For an M18 show, it was very tame. We only got to see one woman disrobe from behind- the kind of stuff that, frankly, you can easily catch on TV nowadays. Anyway, I’ve been watching a lot of such shows lately (finished the entire Spartacus Blood and Sand in less than a week), and this was a movie I certainly enjoyed. As long as you don’t expect this to be a ‘superhero saves the world’ type of action movie, you’ll probably enjoy it too!

Recommended.


Photography 101- Fill the Frame

I’ve realised that more and more of my audience is now comprised of amateur photographers like myself, so I thought I’d write about the easiest and most important tip to improving your photography- Filling the Frame.

When most people start photographing stuff, their first instinct is to ‘get as much into the frame as possible’. They try to keep their subjects wholly in the frame. What they don’t realise is that this killing their shot. There is a lot of ‘dead space’ around the main subject, and has the end effect of making the viewer feel like they are completely removed- and disengaged- from the action.

Instead, get right into the thick of things. Keep your edges right at the edge of the frame- and preferably spill out of the frame if you have to. The more of the frame your subject takes up, the more people feel like they’re involved in what’s happening. This is like the trick that writers or movie directors use when they start off the plot in the thick of action. Nobody wants to navigate past the empty space to get to the good stuff. Just give it to them already.

Above: I came across this motorcycle in Little India. I was immediately taken by the tones of the paint on it. It really looks like the flames of a fire, gently enveloping the entire vehicle. Notice that you can’t see the whole motorcycle- the wheels and handlebars are cut off, and the result is that the bulk of the picture is taken up by the most subject of most interest- the paint on the body.

Above: This is another version of a picture I took a few weeks ago. The statues on the left are leaning left, and it looks like they’re doing so to make room for the lamps on the right. Note how I composed the picture so that everything just fits into the frame. In fact, the statues on the left are partly cut off. This adds to dynamic motion within this static picture- I am showcasing an off-balance lean, not a steady pose. Thematically, the two elements of the picture, statue and lamp, are united by a single bronzed color cast across the entire scene.


Abstracts at night

My approach to photography in the past has mostly been ‘turn the camera off once the light goes off’. There’s good reason for that- I really deplore using flash, since I can’t be bothered to use off-camera flash (too much trouble once you add in reflectors, gelling, and so on), and on-camera flash makes everything look like you just hit them in the face with a spotlight.

Indoors, however, there is just enough ambient light so that you can use the appropriate (read: large aperture) lens to achieve good results. You can even do this outdoors, as long as the image is well-lit. Buildings for instance are good candidates for photography, and taking stuff illuminated by street lamps works too.

Above: As the sun begins to set, you get opportunities to photograph it. In this case, it was slowly setting, although still too bright to photograph directly. But I got lucky. I spotted a window of opportunity when the sun began to hide itself behind an ominous-looking cloud. When I was young, my mom used to tell me that they used to call a lunar eclipse 天狗吃月亮 (roughly translated: “the heavenly dog devours the moon”). When I showed her this picture, she said it reminded her of this.

 

Left: This was the building I was photographing that night. The diagonal lines you see are the results of stray light from a street lamp hitting the lens and resulting in lens flare. Technically that makes for a poorer picture, but in this case the effect was wonderful, so I kept the picture. This is the Westin, and the round circles you see at the top of the building are of New Asia Bar. I made everything look dark, and with a purple tinge, so it looks more like something out of a comic book, than a real-life building. What can I say, I have a preference for very graphical pictures.

Above: At the restaurant that I was at for dinner, I looked down and saw the light under the counter. This was being reflected off some metallic surfaces and I thought it was worth photographing. I waited for a waiter to appear on the right of the frame to balance out the picture before taking the shot. Notice how I timed it so that his feet are both off the ground- he’s reaching up for something. This frozen movement adds some dynamism.

Right: This picture was taken at Shanghai Tang. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired, retail never fails to wow me. It seems there’s always good design- of colours, of ambience, and of lines- to be seen at retail outlets these days. Shanghai Tang is definitely one of the those that focuses on design. Their look is a vibrant, almost futuristic look- using smooth reflective plastic materials for their furniture, and using cool lighting to set the mood. I took this picture without the head of the shop assistant to simulate the look of a mannequin. His body position also fits this interpretation- it is passive, like an unmoving plastic model.

Above: I took this picture as I was leaving the mall. The reflection of the brights lights in the glass, contrasted with the solid shapes of the people through the other side of the door, makes this an interesting shot with a lot going on. You can see both the McDonalds sign as well as the menu options in the reflection of the glass. It’s not immediately clear that this is a reflection, however, which adds some intrigue to the shot- what are all these lights doing in the middle of the shot? This picture tempts you to look twice, which should be the aim of any good photograph.


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