I have been mulling over pictures, feeling the least I could do is post one to wish friends and followers a Happy New Year. In fact a New Decade. I hope we’re all here to celebrate the next one, the past ten have been tumultuous but with enough fun to make it worth getting about and doing a bit of shooting.
Which brings me to one of my favourite street photos of the past couple of years.I have posted it before but it deserved another airing.
It’s a simple picture, taken ‘on the fly’ as I walked past a bar on the Mekong waterfront in Phnom Penh. One frame said it all. A hot day, a cold beer (well it was when he started) and a quite rest. In its own way it summed up life as it should be. Slower, quite and full of simple pleasures.
So here’s wishing you a decade full of simple pleasures, a great deal of good health and plenty of inspiration.
TRAVELLING LIGHT & TREADING GENTLY (with a bit of photography chucked in for good measure)
Learning to become a tight arse traveller, meandering slowly and smelling the roses, is akin to starting your own offshore tax haven. Don’t let that fool you. The fact is you may never earn enough money to pay tax. But so what? Eat your heart out, That’s my office in the picture.
These days I’m learning a perverse logic: You may as well not earn money at doing something you enjoy than not earn money doing something you don’t enjoy. Think about it!
I’ve never been mean, especially when it comes to spending Other People’s Money. Now, in the world of media’s changing economics and OPM vapourising, I’m learning to become lean and mean; a tight arse traveller. It takes practice but sooner or later unique creative accounting falls into place. Not only that but it’s possible to earn a comfortable living. For example I don’t measure my economy in dollars and cents, rial, roubles, rupiah, kip or kyat, even though my best friend is a free currency converting App on the iPad.
THE NEW ECONOMY
My economy is measured in units of air fares and the cost of beer. There is no App for that yet. One Air Fare Unit (AFU) is $250. A Unit of Beer (BU) is one dollar.
The process started in late 2008 when a global recession scattered freelance journalists and photojournalists in all directions. I was at a career point where I wanted to slow down a little. It was time for a change.
I found myself disliking driving. I’d been down the road of exotic cars, luxury appartments and had a trophy wife. I ‘let her go’ and she quickly married a Gucci. That has become the basis for a bigger story. I’m working on that.
Driving had been a passion but with crowded roads and traffic lights it had become frustrating. I was calculating how much I could sell my car for when somebody kindly drove theirs into the side of mine. The other driver should have become my new best friend. I would have bought him a few beers and traded girl friends because my car was deemed a write off and the insurers paid me twice what my asking price was going to be had I sold it. Suddenly I fell in love with an insurance company, that was a first, they can be very unlovable.
NEW FREEDOM, NEW LIFESTYLE
Within a week the money was in a new account marked ‘Travel’. I woke to a new freedom, a new style of living. I had an old bike and a worn out travel bag which, at a squeeze, could accommodate a few T-shirts, shorts, jocks, toothbrush, shaving gear and pain killers. This kit was the framework for lightweight travel and a reasonable income.
The economic benefit was instant. No fuel bills, no massive service fees, no new tyres, no broken screens, no break-ins, no parking tickets, no speeding fines, no road tax, no depreciation, no insurance and no drink driving problems. That doesn’t mean no drinking. Collectively they save me a minimum of about $6000 a year.
I axed two daily newspapers, weekend papers and a few magazines saving another $2000 a year. My travel budget was now sitting on $8000 a year. Not a lot in the overall scheme of things but sufficient.
I had been travelling on OPM, staying in decent hotels, sometimes in exotic locations. I had every so often flown first class (nice); more often business class (nearly as nice) and sometimes cattle class; not nice at all but I liked the passengers a great deal more.
I had spent years in Fleet Street, a nerve centre of journalism in those days, and was on the staff of a French magazine. After several years I went freelance, working on assignments, earning well, saving little but enjoying the freedom only a freelance journalist can enjoy. I then started working on a totally speculative basis, writing and illustrating self assigned stories. My publication rate was high and I enjoyed more independence.
I’m an avid reader of Graham Green, Somerset Maugham and others who travelled and wrote about the region. Prompted by their influences I have let myself loose in SE Asia, an old territory of colonial France, Indochina. I saw a refreshed career as what the French fondly refer to as a flâneur; simply wandering streets and observing life, making a few notes, taking a few photographs. I disciplined myself to write most evenings for an hour or so, usually in the company of ice cold beer and a local meal.
As it happens Bali is only about three and a half hours by air from my Australian base so I made the island a second home. I can travel door to door, home to home, in about seven hours for one AFU. Once there I stay in a delightful, clean and comfortable hotel. It has eight rooms and costs me ten bucks, about 10BUs, a night including breakfast and, importantly, a fast internet connection. Adding to the romance of the place is the rumour that it was formerly a brothel. I find that hard to believe as it has cold showers which could be counterproductive in some situations. I can live for about $200 a week on the island, including the hotel. That’s less than one AFU. People don’t believe me when I say I’m heading off to Bali to work. “Enjoy your holiday” they say. My office is a beach where I write in a warung, eat fresh fish daily with salads, rice and fruit and have a beer or two at about a dollar a bottle. That’s only 2BUs v 18BUs minimum in Australia.
I go to the morning market, buy fruit and chat to the locals who’ve named me ‘Poppa’, which I rather like. I buy fish to feed the hotel’s scrawny cats and frequently a kilo of rambutan when in season but the market is always full of fresh fruits. The fruit costs me about dollar, the fish about 20cents. In my local store, in Australia, rambutan is nearly $50 a kilo! Five kilos is an air fare! The more I eat the more I save.
I’m digressing. This blog is aimed at people looking for an uncomplicated life, smelling the roses and earning a quid doing something they enjoy doing. So back to the travel light and write theme. Having spent several decades covering news and other events I was ready for a change. I have always written, always taken pictures. It was a useful combination and I see no reason to change that. This change in direction is to look at laid back stories, probably around travel, people I meet, food I eat. Like any good flâneur I have no sense of direction. I do have a list of ideas which tend to revolve around rivers, lakes, oceans, boats, beaches and palm trees. And a Happy Hour in a bar somewhere. So please feel free to watch this space.
WORKING KIT for WORDS
This is my basic working kit. I sometimes take a Macbook Air but generally find the basic iPad is sufficient. I carry a notebook and prefer the French Clairfontaine products as the paper is extraordinarily good for writing on. I used to use Moleskine but the paper is not in the same league and they cost nearly three times as much – about 33BUs against 12BUs. I like to write with a fountain pen and Clarefontaine paper doesn’t suffer from ‘show through’. Ink is often not practical in climates of high humidity either as the paper can get a little damp from sweaty hands. In that instance I use a highly treasured ball point pen. A few pencils and a sharpener are handy backups.
I’ll write about a photography kit in the next blog. Cheers for now.
I have just realised we have about three shopping days until Christmas and I haven’t made up my mind what to buy myself.
Apart from that, and in spite of my many notes to write a Christmas greeting, I’ve allowed my life to be taken over by too many coffees and cakes with friends, thus time retreated at warp speed.
Sometimes it was necessary to refuel with a glass of wine in the company of a friend or three, especially on a Sunday with Ted. Ted, now retired, is using his drawing skills on a new project. He, like me, observes people and he enjoys making sketches of them. His new project is to observe and sketch people in wine bars and he has so far compiled a list of 70 bars in Perth and Fremantle. I haven’t seen many sketches but he’s gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine.
It’s been a year of travel and broken resolutions. Why change the habits of a lifetime?
I also had to renew my old passport which I’d grown rather fond of. It had about 100 little inked rubber stamped imprints in it (some countries are very mean) also a lot of those visas which look like badly forged bank notes and take up a full page. I like those, they make me feel I’ve actually been somewhere.
I found that I’d been away for over five of the past 12 months. A sort of record. My iPhone also tells me that I actually walked a total of 1679km on those travels. That is a record. I also made a lot of notes, took a lot of pictures and did very little with any of them. Time wasn’t entirely wasted though. I caught up with many friends I hadn’t seen for years as well as making the effort to meet friends from Facebook and various other bits of social media. Those adventures took me though Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. These are countries I tend to enjoy as they encourage me to re-read the old works of Graham Green, Orwell, Maugham and others who collectively help me feel as though I’m living in an exotic time warp. That’s if you call ten buck hotels with cold, mouldy, showers and beds which seem bigger than the rooms, so much so it’s impossible to walk around them, exotic. There’s also the added luxury of bath towels which are so thin they could be used as net curtains.
I remember my well travelled colleague Mac saying “You really know you’re travelling when you’re washing your socks and jocks in a bucket of water on a hotel balcony”. He’s right.
It’s been a year of highlights though I’m not sure the offering of a fried rat for lunch in the north of Laos was one of them. It did look tasty though, especially if you happen to be a cat.
A long trip down the northern section of the Mekong has made me plan an even slower trip next year. Maybe it’s something about Lao hospitality but I was offered some deep fried insects by a lovely old lady en route.
I spent a couple of separate months in my favourite spot in Bali where an old mate, Chris, from our respective first marriage days took the trouble to fly from The Old Dart. Coincidently my photo buddy Mac came in from France. Say no more – we had one of the best weeks I can remember. Plenty of food, drink, many lies and much laughter. As long as we each manage to cling to our ageing bodily wreckage I hope we’ll be able to do it again. I may have to work a bit harder too!
I’ve been back in Fremantle for the past couple of months promising myself I’d write a lot more. I’ve got unfinished stories totalling over 30. That’s taking procrastination to extremes.
A couple of days ago I was exploring the town and was stopped by an elegant Chinese gentleman who questioned me about the abstract yellow paint on the walls in the High Street of the Fremantle’s West End. I told him it was a little difficult to explain, though I did know preciselyy what it was about.
I directed him to the bottom of the High Street, pointing out the steps to the old Round House prison and telling him to walk up the steps, turn around and look back. “All will be revealed” I said.
This is a very clever piece of art work installed by Swiss artist Felice Varini, who has produced geometric optical illusions around the world.
And so 2017 sped past and ’18 is on the doorstep. With that in mind I wish you all the healthiest and happiest New Year possible and I do hope that at least some of us can catch up somewhere other than on Facebook.
A Balinese funeral is a unique combination of the spirituality of Buddhist and Hindu rites which celebrate a person’s time on Earth and, more importantly, their transition to a life after death.
Tourists will be aware of the funeral ‘season’ on the tropical island by the visible presence of massive bamboo towers which will convey a body to a cremation. But these prominent structures are for wealthy Balinese. In most villages and towns throughout the island the cost of a funeral is shared between several families.
In a small coastal town which I look on as second home, a mass cremation is held about every three years. When a family member dies they are buried in a grave in the local cemetery.
This is a temporary resting place. Over three years enough relatives are ready to move on to a new life. In this ceremony, held in June last year (2016), 98 were cremated.
The ceremonial process took seven days culminating in the Ngaben, the cremation, after which the ashes are divided between family members and taken to sea for a final scattering on the element of water, in this case the Badung Strait.
Each year the fishing community of Fremantle has two ceremonies to ensure the fishermen and their boats are safe and the catches are good throughout the season.
The smaller of the two festivals, held in honour of The Black Madonna, is on the second Sunday of September and celebrated by the small Portugese community who live in the city. The larger Blessing of the Fleet is held in late October and conducted by the entire fishing community, mostly from Mediterranean communities, principally Italian.
Several Masses are held in St Patrick’s Basilica and a procession leaves there to parade the Black Madonna around the city’s street during the afternoon. It is a time for the younger members of the community to play a part in their industry. Many of these kids would be descended from migrants who established the fishing industry in the 1920s and will mostly become fishers themselves.
The past few months have been the beginning of a watershed. A slight change of life style and direction. Only slight of course, I don’t like drama.
I have been living in Fremantle, Australia, for close to 40 years. Those years have been great fun, sometimes profitable and sometimes a touch irritating when it comes to glancing at the pile of bills alongside the bank statement. I imagine a few people experience that feeling.
I’ve pretty much covered Australia from top to bottom and side to side. Produced a number of books and written umpteen articles about everything from mining, agriculture, prospecting, cattle rustling, rodeos, fishing, pearling, diamonds … it goes on.
Now, with massive changes in the media resulting from new technology, great changes in photography for similar reasons and changes in my mind for no particular reasons, I have made a decision to take a sideways shift in lifestyle.
Bali, peaceful and charming
Fremantle is a little over three hours flying time from Bali, a place I enjoy for it’s laid back lifestyle, peaceful culture and charm. Thus I thought “Why not work from Bali?” It costs very little to live here in reasonable comfort and it is a convenient point to reach pretty well anywhere in Asia. So now I’m spending a few weeks here looking for a suitable place with two or three bedrooms, a swimming pool and space for an office. Thus I can live a ‘fly in fly out’ lifestyle and friends are welcome to drop in when they wish.
The idea is to carry on doing what I do, produce a few more books of one sort or another, write a few articles and not make any rigid rules. I don’t do stress.
I’ve also made a commitment to shoot more film, black and white, as well as the digital colour necessary for articles. More on that later but I have bought myself a rather indulgent Christmas present. I’ll show and tell in a later post, probably mid January.
Here’s the view from what I refer to as my ‘Lunch Office’. I also have a ‘Coffee Office’ and a little further down the road a ‘Beer Office’.
I confess that I do enjoy taking snaps on my iPad. This was a straight shot which went through a sort of random button pressing process on the Snapseed App which is far more entertaining than any computer games.
Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. The WordPress App is a real bugger to operate and I had to trash the last post as the pictures were too small. Naturally it transpired it was my fault. At some moment in time I’d changed the picture size, then couldn’t find out how to change it back.
Anyway, I think I’d said that this trip has been a photographic smorgasbord, a real feast, and rather than write a lot of guff off said I’d post a few pictures taken thus far. They are not necessarily my favourite shots but are among those I really enjoy.
I did however find it relatively easy to put captions into place and also admitted that I had used what I call the ‘dynamite’ button on the Snapseed App on a few of them. Probably all of them if I think about it.
this was another picture taken from what transpired to be a series of musicians in a Saigon park
Markets are always a happy hunting ground for pictures. This was taken in Hoi An, famous for it’s cloth market but in this case I was more interested in the garlic and the knife which had been used by the stall holder for the best part of her life.
I was walking around the back streets of Quy Nhon one night when I looked though the door of what I assumed was an abattoir and saw this cow, I assume it was a cow, who was beyond help. I asked a guy, who happened to be holding a large knife, if he’d mind me taking a picture. I hated to think of the consequence of upsetting him.
This was the smiling face of sting ray in the fish market on a bank of The Pearl River in Hue
And this is The Pearl River
This woman was making fish cutlets while talking with a few customers. One of them was smoking and the smoke drifted into the picture, adding a little extra. Sometimes I like smokers.
I couldn’t resist this shot. An old fellow was resting beside his market stall and had propped his feet on his scales. After I’d taken the picture I asked if he minded. He was delighted and happily posed for a portrait but it didn’t match this shot.
While speaking of smokers, which I was, this was an offering at a small temple.
Eat your heart out … this is the view from my hotel window in Sapa. all pictures copyright Roger Garwood 2013
Actually this is the last part of a blog I started a few days ago. I had to divide it into three sections as I was having problems. I’ve also added a bit.
A few weeks ago I was holding a workshop at the Ballarat Foto Biennale. I was fairly happy with the way the workshop operated and particularly happy to have been at the festival. Being able to view the work of a lot of talent is inspiring and every time I go to a festival I find a little bit of inspiration rubs off and sticks. Apart from that I caught up with many friends I hadn’t seen for years. I’ll come back to that in a later blog.
As it happens I’m in Vietnam in blistering heat and humidity and loving it. I’m getting a swag of pictures and a few of them I’m very happy with – I haven’t shown them here yet but will wait until I get a proper edit finished.
I also get a bit of entertainment with them, playing around with the baby brother of Silver Efex – Snapseed, a great App for the iPad and a lot more fun than computer games. I’ve included a few pictures, more or less at random, in the blog. I’ve played around with them a little and will try and get a few more off in a couple of days.
A couple are shown here, before and after versions.
Snapseed – The App of Choice>
I’m a fairly judicious shooter, having been trained on 4×5 sheet film and roll film. I also edit in the camera during a coffee break, simply deleting the junk (and there can be a fair amount). Then, at the end of a day, I sit and download a few of the better pictures on to the iPad.
I also get a bit of entertainment with them, playing around with the baby brother of Silver Efex – Snapseed, a great App and a lot more fun than computer games. I’ve included a few pictures, more or less at random, in the blog. I’ve played around with them a little and will try and get a few more off in a couple of days.
A couple are shown here, the before and after versions. I explained previously that I’m shooting with the Leica X2. I have the camera ‘de-tuned’ as I call it. It has been set on ‘Low Contrast’, ‘Low Saturation’ and the lowest sharpening. When shooting with film, especially in contrasts light, it is a battle to retain a full dynamic range between the highlights and shadows. As a general rule it’s easier to print contrast up rather than cut it back. I find the same applies when shooting digitally. Thus I find the X2 delivers a very nice working jpg in most situations. Sometimes I like to help it along.
This picture was taken a few day ago at Hoi An. It’s a bit of tourist trap but the great pleasure is that all traffic, other than push bikes, is banned from the old city’s streets. This shot is taken along the river and I have to confess it’s a bit of theme park, the sort of place I avoid, but it’s done well.
Then, for the hell of it, I tried the image in Snapseed, just using the ‘dynamic’ feature. The result was surprising and I felt: ‘Huh! Couldn’t, really have done better in the darkroom’.
I’m inclined to feel it is a little bit overworked but I can live with that.
Here’s another original followed by the the dynamited version.
Finally, a picture taken on the other side of town, out of theme park. This has also had the Dynamic button applied.
And in case you hadn’t guessed I admit to playing around with the borders a bit.
So long for now. It’s about beer o’clock.
Well, after yesterday’s attempts at getting a blog out I’ve decided that for the rest of this trip it should be a blogette. Little and oftenish. This is going out on the WordPress App (I hope). It’ll be more of what I tried to get out yesterday.
Today I came up the coast from Hoi An to Hue where I,m ensconced in a really top hotel which is setting me back the the best part of twenty bucks a night … cheaper than being at home. And there are bowls of fruit, complimentary drinks and views over the city chucked in.
Anyway, enough of that:
Once more on the Dragon Trail
Again, I’m chasing dragons in Vietnam and after a few days in Saigon meandered up the coast and am now in the old town of Hoi An whose principle purpose seems to be a training ground for touts offering everything from cold beer to hot women. Thus far I’ve fallen for the former but avoided the latter. In fact I shouldn’t be too flippant. The people are delightful; friendly, really hard working and obviously trying to make a quid. I wish I had their tenacity and patience.
It’s becoming obvious that this and the previous trip will produce enough material for a book. It’s a photographic smorgasbord which has me being very critical of myself in that it’s difficult to get anything different. How on Earth do you avoid cliches? How do you get pictures which are remotely different? I wish I knew.
I decided to use one camera, the Leica X2 which has a fixed 35mm equivalent lens and does produce remarkable quality. It’s light, it seems to be bullet proof (I’ve dropped it twice) and just feels good. The focussing is very fast in most conditions and I do like the manual exposure control as well as the spot meter though for the most part I use a fixed shutter speed and leave the aperture on auto. I also have an optical finder which I tend to use happily in much the manner of my M6s.
When on these trips I don’t back up. It just means carrying more gear and wasting more time. I take a handful of 4gb cards and use about two a day when in what I call ‘shooting mode’ (as opposed to eating, sleeping, drinking, travelling mode). That equates to roughly six rolls of 35mm film a day which is about what I used per day in the good times. I use 4gb cards for two reasons. Each will burn perfectly on to a CD and if I happen to lose one it’s not the end of the world.
I had intended to shoot film on this trip, being addicted to TMax 400. However a touch of common sense did prevail so I’m shooting with the X2 set on RAW plus high quality black and white jpgs. A point which has a largely been overlooked by reviewers of the X2 and other Leica digital cameras is the phenomenal in-camera jpg processing. The software built into these cameras all makes post processing redundant unless, like me, you feel like going a bit silly now and then.
Here are a few random shots from the past week or so. I may not be able to get captions on them and, if it proves to be a problem, won’t even try. Please feel free to have a guessing game.
Loved this group in one of Saigon’s Parks. At weekends, particularly on a
Sunday, the open spaces are full of people of all ages socialising and generally speaking enjoying life.
While on the theme of in park entertainment there happened to be a small park at the back of the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory of Music from where students would wander out and have impromptu rehearsals and micro concerts.
And this one is just to underline the musical theme
This was taken in a back street in Quy Nhon. I was walking past and found this man operating a lathe. The whole thing was incongruous in that his workshop was set in a row of general shops selling anything from umbrellas to bits of pigs.
Well, not exactly on the road. Up in the air would be a better description and that probably describes my state of mind better than the mode of transport. In the past six or seven days I crossed Australia three times in the space of 20 hours, largely as a result of bad weather forcing the return of a flight from Melbourne to Perth with the added problem of waiting about ten hours for another flight. This resulted in a door to door trip of 36 hours and no sleep in that time. But I satisfy myself with the thought that if that should be the worst thing to happen to happen to me when I fly I’ll be a very happy wombat. Now, to add insult to injury, I’m stuck in Changi Airport, Singapore, after an overnight flight and waiting fourteen hours for a connection to Saigon. How do airlines manage these schedules – or mismanage them? Small wonder my favourite means of transport is foot power. Nevertheless this is not a bad place to be stuck. The shopping area in the transit lounge is bigger than my home town and there’s a strong temptation to top up with watches costing about fifty thousand bucks each as well getting a designer wardrobe. As it transpires the only thing I really wanted wasn’t available anywhere – a case to hold SD cards. I did manage to get one decent shot in Melbourne, or a least a shot I liked, whilst wandering around with an old photo mate, Michael Coyne. A group of artists were sitting around the steps of a grand building so I snapped them. Then, a few days later, I went for a wander to a local football ground where kids practice and parents watch and jagged another shot. I particularly liked this and it once again reminded me of the influences great photographers have on us. This time Lisette Model.
New Project Right now I’m en route to start work on a larger project which, for starters, will take me up the coast of Vietnam from Saigon, or HCMC as the official name of Ho Chi Min city has been short formed, up to Hanoi. I’m keeping the principle story under wraps as I expect it to take several trips through SE Asia over about three years but, along the way, I hope to pick up many smaller stories. Ultimately I think there will be a book in it. I think I’ll leave this post for the moment. I’m working on my iPad and this is the first time I’ve worked in WordPress with it. I’ll see what mistakes I make first and then carry on with a summary of what I was doing at the Ballarat Photography Festival. Briefly it was a workshop on combining writing with photography to create feature stories and finding ways to make photojournalism viable in the digital age. Total Bogan Apart from that I don’t feel like doing a lot more writing. I had no sleep on the plane last night and was crammed in next to a total bogan, complete with baseball cap worn back to front and using a neck rest decorated in the style of an Australian flag. I don’t know why he bothered with it as he had no neck – it would have been impossible to hang him!