I may have mentioned before that the idea of going to Bali was to catch up on some writing and maybe take a few pictures. I booked the trip while remarkably low fares were available and arrived in a bucketing tropical rain storm. I did actually do some work, mostly while sitting on a beach with a cold beer on standby. I really don’t like offices.
When I booked the trip I’d forgotten that the Balinese New Year was to happen right in the middle of my time on the island. This is when, after a few celebrations which involves building giant monsters – the famed Ogah Ogah (read ogre) – representing the evil spirits said to roam the island. The object of New Year is to frighten these spirits and force them to leave the island. It’s a story which has been told a few times to say the least but I’d never witnessed it and in any event it seems to happen mostly at night-time which makes photography a little arduous.
As luck would have it I was staying in Padang Bai and the performance which is designed to frighten the local ogahs into a hasty retreat takes place in daylight. This was bonus for me.
In the morning I strolled around town, finding these colourful creatures having finishing touches put to their hideous bodies and watched them being hoisted onto frames, making it easy for them to be hauled through streets.
Padang Bai is small enough to walk around in ten minutes and it is not a tourist centre as such. It is a small port where ferries leave for a variety of islands such as Lombok. It’s also a popular dive centre. As the time came close for the procession of about a dozen ogahs to be paraded and ultimately destroyed the atmosphere became quite electric. I could feel good pictures in my bones.
Small groups of bands formed up. Kids, dressed in their brightest and best took up vantage points in the streets and I armed myself with my only travelling companion – the little Leica D Lux 5. “Bring ’em on” I thought. And they did.
All of the pictures were taken on the Leica D Lux 5, a perfect camera for travelling with. The 24-90mm (equivalent) lens offers a useful range from wide-angle to a short telephoto.
I keep the camera on auto everything. I have three basic programs. The first handles colour with an ISO setting of 80. The other two are B&W set to 80 and 400 ISO. I find this combination is pretty much perfect for everyday shooting in reasonable light. The D-Lux 5 has now been superseded by the D Lux 6.
Apart from a few holiday snaps I did the bulk of my shooting in one day. From about 350 pictures I edited 35-40 which formed an excellent back up to a short story about the New Year celebrations.
As a matter of interest these days I specialise in travelling light and producing stories and pictures which I syndicate. I am running a workshop at the Ballarat Photo Festival. If anybody is interested check out the details at <http://ballaratfoto.org/garwood-workshop/> This will lead you to the home page. Look for “Participate”, scroll to “Workshops”.
I may meet some of you there. It’s going to be great festival.
Each year Australia and New Zealand commemorate what is possibly the most venerated period of their history. At dawn on the 25th April, 1915, off the coast of Gallipoli, tens of thousands of troops landed on the beaches in an attempt to push through to Constantinople. In prolonged fighting over 8000 Australian troops were killed and the campaign, though a significant defeat, ensured that Australian and Kiwi troops gained a reputation as being among the toughest fighters in the world.
A dawn services marks the beginning of a day when families, many of whom lost relatives, assemble at memorials throughout the two countries. The day starts in a solemn manner but later, following what is known as a Shotgun Breakfast in many halls and clubs, lashings of bacon, eggs, hot tea and rum are served to anybody who cares to join in. Following this a parade of old diggers and sailors as well as younger military people march through towns. The day becomes a celebration.
I’ve been taking pictures of Anzac Day for about 36 years now, the first in 1977 in Perth but mostly in Fremantle which has a very homely and slightly disorganised feel about it. The military precision is not quite as precise as the bigger events.
I have generally used the occasion to wander around and shoot a few street pictures, mainly to record the event but also to keep myself tuned up. Until recently I used a Leica M6 with a 35 or 50mm lens though the earlier pictures were made with an M2. Invariably I used film, initially Tri X, more recently T Max 400 but for the last couple of years I have used a little Leica D Lux 5. I’ve found the 24-90mm (equivalent lens) and the B&W jpg processing in the camera to be excellent.
Here’s a selection of pictures from this years event with a couple from previous years.
This shot was taken as the old fellow was being wheeled onto the parade ground. Just before he joined the parade he whipped out a hip flask and knocked back a sly swig or two. Can’t blame him really.
This is one of my favourite shot. Taken in 1977 at the Perth parade. This old digger had walked over to what I assume were his regimental flags, removed his hat and stood contemplating them for several minutes …..
And so I made a plan. I’d spend five days in Padang Bai, then slip over to my favourite hotel in Candidasa where they have an excellent restaurant with a French influence and a brand new pool to frolic around in and finally round off the trip with a few days in Ahmed. So much for the best laid plans. Anyway, this was a working trip and I had to work out a routine of some sort.
On my first morning I thought I’d gather my thoughts by heading off to White Beach with my notes and iPad.
There’s a beach at one end of the town – White Beach. If you read the Lonely Planet guide it’s a short walk. Thus I cheerfully set off. It was a hot tropical day – humid with air like close-fitting velvet. I was told the beach was a gentle meander over the hill, a stroll past the temple ” … take about half an hour … you can’t miss it”. I’ve heard that phrase a good many times in Australia and greeted it with a sinking feeling. I’m the bloke who always misses the bright red oil drum marking the beginning of the dirt tract. Can anybody explain to me how it is possible to get lost on a single track lane who’s only destination is a beach?
Black Beach or White Beach?
It was simple as far as the temple which is just beyond the harbour’s ferry terminal. The hill then became somewhat more inclined, to the ‘short of breath’ status. After going down the other side of the hill I came to a junction. Nobody had mentioned that. The left side went up, the right side went down. Logic told me the beach must be down so I turned right. Wrong! I could hear water on a beach but it wasn’t getting closer. I stopped a guy on a motor bike which had a huge pile of hay on board, holding him in place: “Excuse me my good man, would you be kind enough to tell me the way to the beach please?” I said in my best and clearest English.
“Black beach or white beach?” he asked in perfect Indonesian.
“Er, white please my good chap”.
He indicated the direction I had come from, told me to go to the top of the hill, I’d see a big green gate, ignore that, go to the road at the left and look for a pathway. “About 25 minutes”.
Grasshoppers get their rocks off
Dehydrated and close to death I retraced my steps, found the gate, ignored it, found a network of paths and took several wrong ones, all within earshot of surf. I finally found some steps which led through unremitting undergrowth and trees. Suddenly there it was. White beach. I felt like Tarzan, in one of those films we used to watch as kids, suddenly seeing water for the first time. I grabbed the last creeper and swung down onto the soft sand and staggered up to one of half a dozen bamboo and tin warung, each with rickety tables and bench seats sitting unsteadily in the sand. I sat in the shade and ordered a Coke which came ice-cold in an old-fashioned bottle, the sort Tarzan would have been familiar with in Hollywood.The ocean was azure, palm trees dutifully did their postcard bit behind the huts and a few people plunged into the water. They were mostly of the eye candy version which gladdened my heart, making the journey worthwhile. It had only taken close to an hour and half to get here?
I made camp and settled down at the least busy table, planning to read and write a bit but allowing myself the occasional distraction. A grasshopper, massive bugger, lodged at the end of my table and was slowly rocking backwards and forwards. I looked a bit closer and there were two of them … shagging themselves silly. I didn’t want to disturb them so let them get on with it.
It didn’t take long before there was spontaneous outbreak of yoga on the beach. Not organised, just individuals. Having spent a day looking at ogahs (more about them in the next posting) in various stages of distortion and licentious behaviour I saw no reason not to enjoy what was happening. Women started contorting themselves on the beach in a manner they wouldn’t dream of doing at home, in front of menfolk. In any event they would have been hosed down with cold water.
Downward Dog was pretty easy to spot but there were interesting variations. Scratching Panda, Itching Monkey … how do you describe such things? Thank goodness they hadn’t seen Shagging Grasshopper. One tender morsel, trim, taut, terrific (and knowing it ) stood up, all but naked and covered in damp sand which was sticking like Lycra, where it touched, which was almost everywhere. She skipped to the water’s edge with one of those dainty little hopping dances which fitted a ‘look at me, look at me’ rhythm. So I did. Then ordered a cold beer and a plate of freshly prepared nasi goreng – total cost about $3.
I returned visit to the beach the day afterwards. Managed it in 27 minutes without even breaking into a sweat. It was a tad different. The sky clouded, the cloud base lowered to head height and lightening ripped through, biblical style. Thunder shook the area and torrential rain smashed into the beach, creating small rivers which then recycled it to the ocean. After the initial fright which caused everybody to retreat to the back row of tables a few mad buggers rushed out onto the beach and started to hug each other. They were all washed out to sea so I finished their beers which was the most charitable thing to come to my mind.
Should I offer an apology? May be I should but I haven’t. In any event I doubt that too many people will be losing much sleep over it.
The truth is I said I would post Part II of the Mekong Delta story: Travelling with Dragons. In the event I ran out of time to complete that and decided to take a backlog of work to Bali, find a cheap hotel and catch up with ‘stuff’ – basically unfinished stories. For readers who don’t know Fremantle, where I live, you may consider that it’s rather extravagant to hop on a plane to Bali. In fact it is quicker (that’s stretching a point a little) and a lot cheaper (that’s not stretching a point) for me to go to Bali than to go to next nearest place of note. . It’s a three hour drive to our nearest resort region and it’s very expensive territory.
Thus I find it easy to slip into Bali, not quite a commute but it’s getting like that.
Marco Inn: Not five star but cheap and clean
Thus, decision made, I fronted up in the small coastal town of Padang Bai in the middle of a tropical downpour which delighted me as I hadn’t experienced real rain for about a year. It was well after sunset and, as I like travelling with no prior hotel bookings, I lobbed into the first place I found. Marco Inn is tiny, about eight rooms, and right on the waterfront of Padang Bai. Like may of these small hotels it is situated down a narrow alley which is wedged between a shop on one side, which sells many wooden carvings, and a warung which sells icy beer, fresh fruit juices and snacks.
A room was available on the first floor and had all I wished for – it was clean, there was a shower, toilet, fan, a small desk and a cupboard. It was not five star, more like a monk’s cell. Even in the damp climate of the wet season it smelt fresh and when the sun rose, summoned by roosters crowing, dogs barking and the booming horns of ferries I was able to look out over rooftops to the harbour. Perfect. Even better it was nine dollars a night which included breakfast.
Like many visitors to the island I am totally addicted to banana pancakes for breakfast. That and a heart starter of Balinese style coffee – somewhere between Greek and Vietnamese – sets me up for the morning.
Breakfast was taken in a small frangipani scented courtyard with blooming pink Bougainvillea. And to round it off my banana pancake was served by an attractive and chatty Balinese woman named Jasmin. In the middle of the courtyard yard is a small structure, call it a family temple, and the day’s offerings to the Balinese gods and spirits were already sitting beside small statues. Sandalwood incense sticks were slowly burning and tiny columns of blue smoke mingled with the frangipani’s aroma.
You may have guessed that these days I don’t like to work under pressure.
I specialise in travelling light. So much so I even lecture in the practice. My total baggage weighed a little over 8kilos – about 17-18 pounds. I travel with an iPad, a keyboard, a Leica D Lux 5, a few cards for the camera, notebook, pens and pencils, about five T-shirts, three pairs of shorts and bits – shaving gear etc. I carry this onboard as hand baggage. (TIP: Jetstar allow 10kg of hand baggage). I book a seat up front in the plane and am invariably in the first half-dozen passengers through immigration.
But this trip was going to be full of surprises so tune in tomorrow …. or the day after, I’ll see how I go. And I will finish the Dragon’s Tale soon as possible.
I had an email the other day, a blast from the past.
A colleague, David Levenson, had contacted me to ask why I hadn’t continued with my blog. He had contacted me some months ago and reminded me that I used to write a column in a magazine, Photo Technique, and it had inspired him to become a photojournalist. I didn’t really know whether to feel flattered or guilty but I went for the former.
We subsequently exchanged a few emails and it transpires that during the decades which followed his inspired moment we have shared many mutual contacts from agents to picture editors. I have to say it was a pleasant feeling to know that he, like me, shared equally enjoyable careers. I think we’d both have to admit that times have changed but, with a bit of willpower and hard(ish) work it’s still possible to keep our heads above water.
I guess I’m one of the lucky ones in this world – my bread does have a habit of falling buttered side up.
So why didn’t I continue?
Well, it wasn’t really by design. I’d have to admit I got lazy. If I’ve mastered the art of anything it’s procrastination. I also lost direction but after a bit of thought decided to keep on the same track – keeping the blog loose but a touch anecdotal, a few pictures here and there and sometimes a bit of technique thrown in.
Also, things did get busy. I made few trips and found I had a lot of editing, both words and pictures. I had a pile of stories to complete and get out. So, forgive the time gap.
It’s an idea driven industry
Photojournalism, any type of journalism, is an industry driven by ideas. If you don’t have ideas you don’t survive. I guess I’m fortunate in that I enjoy developing ideas and have a pretty good hit rate. I’m now at the stage in life where I don’t depend on commissioned work which is not so much a sign of financial success as a case of keeping my overheads low. Thus I can afford to work on the ideas I want to work on. And one of them has been tucked in my head for well over 40 years.
Back in the very early 60s I read a copy of Paris Match featuring a story of the Indian monsoon by a Kiwi photographer, Brian Brake. Strangely that magazine feature gave me a sense of direction – I wanted to be a photographer and, more particularly, I wanted to work on Match.
In subsequent years I met Brian. He was a quiet, self-effacing character with immense technical skills and a lot of experience. It was about 1976 that he projected his entire edit of Monsoon for me. The quality was stunning, all shot on an old Leica with 35 and 90m lenses using Kodachrome – probably the old 12 ASA stuff but it could have Kodachrome 25.
Thus Brain Brake inspired me in much the same way I inspired David Levenson. Brian felt flattered and so do I.
My family seems to be steeped in maritime history, or up to their necks in water, whichever way you want to look at it. So it’s no surprise that I decided to specialise in anything connected with water: ships, boats, oceans, rivers, fishing … anything. Thus the Indian monsoon stuck in my mind.
For many years I thought about reshooting the Indian monsoon. Several photographers, notably Steve McCurry, had been there, done that. All of them very well but none had quite captured the soulful, spiritual, essence which Brian Brake had so successfully recorded. I dropped the idea as I didn’t feel I could do better than the original and, if I had I’m not sure I would have been happy to chip away at a great photographer’s legacy. Very noble of me!
But I didn’t let the idea drift away altogether. Geographically speaking I live a stone’s throw away from the Mekong Delta. Put another way it’s a cheap airfare. Thus I revamped the idea and was happy with the notion of working on a feature about the monsoon season over the delta.
Thus I booked a ticket for August, statistically the wettest month of the year. I packed plastic poncho’s, an umbrella, a length of string and clothes pegs, anticipating spending a month soaked to the skin and wearing damp clothes, ripping leaches off my skin and smacking mosquitoes to a pulp.
I arrived in Saigon (I still call it Saigon as that’s still, in part, it’s name and I like the romance of it) and caught a local bus down to the delta. The first few days were spent in beautiful sunshine streaming from an azure sky. The humidity chewable. And that’s how the weather stayed – hot and humid without a skerrick of rain. Well, maybe about ten minutes in total but not enough to open the floodgates of a full-blown story. No mozzies or leaches either. My idea, through no fault on mine (which makes a pleasant change) had gone completely pear-shaped.
Thus a decades old idea came to a temporary standstill.
I was having a great time moving around from town to town on the delta, which is known as The Nine Dragons. There are nine huge rivers which make up the delta, starting at Chau Doc, on the Cambodian border, and splitting into the nine dragons which then meander their way to the South China Sea.
My preferred method of travel was on old wooden cargo boats, cadging a lift for a few bucks and not having a clue as to where I would be at the end of a day. In fact it was often difficult to find out where I was – the language is pretty much impossible to learn and it took a week to master the art of ordering a coffee. But that’s the fun of escaping the bubble of the comfort zone.
So, the idea, figuratively speaking, was dead in the water. No monsoon. A minor mishap for me but for the coffee growers a little to the north it had the makings of a disaster.
Nevertheless, I had to make some sort of story from the trip and it came to me one evening. I was sitting beside one of the dragons’ tributaries, in a small waterside cafe, enjoying fresh fish, salad and ice-cold beer, the total cost of which was less than three bucks. After a couple of beers my mind started to drift. I watched rickshaws, locals people in the market, the general timeless socialising which happens in the tropics and the idea hit me. “I’ve travelled back in time”
Thus the story line was in place: “Time Travel With The Dragons”
For the record, I know Brian took a few trips to complete his monsoon feature. I’ve booked again in September – the second wettest month.
I’ll continue with Part II of posting in the next day or two. Watch this space