At the Top End of The Dragon

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.

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this was another picture taken from what transpired to be a series of musicians in a Saigon park

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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.

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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.

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This was the smiling face of sting ray in the fish market on a bank of The Pearl River in Hue

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And this is The Pearl River

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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.

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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.

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While speaking of smokers, which I was, this was an offering at a small temple.

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Eat your heart out … this is the view from my hotel window in Sapa.
all pictures copyright Roger Garwood 2013

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Saigon and Heading North: 1

The Curse of Technology

I’m cursing myself. I suppose I’m allowed a few moments of stupidity but sometimes I really wonder if I should spend my time simply being content with a good book and a bottle of wine and never being let out alone.

A few months ago I decided that the iPad, good though it is as a travelling companion, it really doesn’t have enough grunt for serious work as in editing pictures, writing text and, in particular, blogging.

Thus I bought myself a MacBook Air and immediately fell in lust with it. It’s fast, has an excellent keyboard and all the whistles and bells. I’ve got LightRoom and Silver Efex Pro loaded as well as a few other goodies which form a perfect combination.

So what did I do when I left on this trip? I decided to leave the Air and take the iPad, purely on the basis of saving a bit of weight. It quickly proved to be an error, though not a life-threatening one. I found it almost impossible to work WorkPress properly on the iPad so am at this moment trying a small experiment. That’s to say I’m writing this blog in Pages, an excellent little word processing programme in App form. Hopefully I can drop a few pictures in. We’ll see. It seems to be very ‘clunky’ so the plan will be to post little and often.

The following shot was pretty much the first cab off the rank. I have a peripheral project which is to photograph people reading newspapers. Sadly they are a diminishing breed.

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Pensioning Off The Old Fellows

There comes a time when some treasured things have to go …

It was my son Ben’s birthday last Friday 21st June. He happened to be born on the day of the winter solstice and, as a small birthday present I took him and one of my grandsons, Sam, out to breakfast at a local restaurant.

As it happens Ben is a successful young bloke on a career path which most people dream about. Heaven knows where he got his brains from but it wasn’t me. He certainly had the brains not to go into photojournalism or any sort of media. Needless to say I’m exceedingly proud of him and the family of Garwoodies – Bek, my daughter-in-law and two grandsons, Josh and Sam.

All that stuff aside I am always left with the problem of what to give a bloke who has everything he needs in life. Well, I think he has anyway. I have, over the past few years, been passing a few of my own ‘treasures’ over to him. Little things I’ve lived with and enjoyed. They don’t amount to a lot but are the sort of things we become attached to.

I have been staring at my two oldest cameras, a couple of Leica M2s, the very first cameras I bought. That was back in April and May 1963, 50 years ago. They have been sitting on the mantlepiece over the fireplace, staring back at me and reminding me of my career in a very pleasant fashion. Now and again something flashes through my mind and I’ll look at them and say: “Remember that?”. They stare at me with blank eyes.

My first Leicas. For a few years they formed the basis of the equipment I used. The upper one is still very smooth and the lens, an old Summilux, is delightful. I still use it a great deal. The lower M2 was overdosed on sea water many times and finally called it quits. The lens, an old 35mm Summilux, was also drowned.
My first Leicas. For a few years they formed the basis of the equipment I used. The upper one is still very smooth and the lens, an old Summilux, is delightful. I still use it a great deal. The lower M2 was overdosed on sea water many times and finally called it quits. The lens, an old 35mm Summilux, was also drowned.

And so it was I decided this year, after 50 years media use, they should go to Ben for safe keeping, a part of family history. One of them is buggered – too much salt water inhalation – the other is working perfectly. They actually got pensioned off about 15-18 years ago as I have a handful of M6s and an old M4-2 which fill their shoes these days.

When I give Ben ‘stuff’ I write a little of the history, A few pages which help him to know a little about my life. I do this because I know virtually nothing about my own family background and don’t want him left in the same position.

I Saved the World

In short I explained that I was studying engineering and hated it. In fact I pride myself in the fact I may have saved the world. By quitting engineering I didn’t design planes which fell out of the sky, bridges which collapsed or ships which sank faster than a stone. The world owes me!

I happened to be sitting in a physics lecture next to a friend, Alan Draper,  and can remember leaning over to him  and whispering: “You know something? I’ve got a feeling I want to be a photographer”.

Until that moment I had never given it much thought. I was an avid newspaper and magazine reader. Many years later I realised that my mother, in teaching me to read before I went to school – we only had newspapers and magazines – The Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Illustrated and Picture Post in the house – had hot wired me and conditioned me for a career in the media. Thus, no sooner had I made the decision, in April 1963, than I also decided I had to work in Fleet Street. Not only that but I had a clear insight as to whom I wanted to work for – Paris Match – which was a regular publication stocked in the college library and had a reputation for being a hard hitter.

How come Leicas? Well, I was rushing for a train and picked up a magazine – Photography  – from a news stand at the railway station. In it was an advert for the Leica M3. The punch line, after the general advertising guff was: “It still expects you to find the picture” or something like that. Check it out … I still have it after 50 years.

I suppose I can say that this ad set me on a career path. And what it said is true - they do last a lifetime.
I suppose I can say that this ad set me on a career path. And what it said is true – they do last a lifetime. This is from Photography Magazine, April 1963

In retrospect I like the opening line too – “The Leica does not set out to do your thinking for you”.

It’s a short story as to how I got going and I may tell that later. All in all I can say it was pure arse – fortune shone on me very quickly. I sit here writing this and wishing fortune would recharge its batteries!

So last Thursday the old Leicas were gift wrapped and handed over with very little ceremony but stirring many, many, memories.

Aside from covering news and shooting a lot of features I used one or the other of these to stroll around the streets, mainly in London, and do a bit of street shooting.

In the past few days I’ve been travelling down memory lane and scanning some of those early images. I don’t know that these are the best as I’m still sifting through boxes of negs. Here are a few. Non of them have been worked on in LightRoom. They’re straight scans from the Nikon Coolscan V. I’ll work on them another time so please forgive the scratches and drying marks.

Big Gap Here

I ran out of time after starting this entry. I’m going to add a few scans and then catch my breath a bit.

Coal Miner on Strike, England, 1973 © Roger Garwood 2013
Coal Miner on Strike, England, 1973
© Roger Garwood 2013

I had been covering the coalminers’ strike in England. I can’t really remember if it was 1973 or ’74. I’d spent the morning down one of the pits, wading waste deep through water, crawling along filthy passages and getting totally filthy. I’d gone down at the invitation of union members who were striking for a wage of 5000 pounds a year. When I got to the surface, showered and cleaned up and joined the miners in their social club I was asked what I felt about the situation. With great honesty I said I wouldn’t do their work for 5000 quid a week, let alone a year. As I left, I saw this miner munching at a pie and asked if he’d mind me taking a picture. Shot with a Leica M2 and 35mm Summilux on Tri X.

London, circa 1965 ©Roger Garwood 2013
London, circa 1965
©Roger Garwood 2013

This shot amused me. I was wandering around and looking at the sign, a theatre poster, thinking somehow it had to make a picture when this old fellow wandered along, stopped, and looked into the magnifying glass.

Ballroom Dancing Championships, Fremantle circa 1995
Ballroom Dancing Championships, Fremantle circa 1995

I’m not that interested in ballroom dancing. People gliding around a dance floor, stately as galleons, don’t do much for me. I can only say I must have registered an interest in off floor pictures. I may have been attracted to the dancers legs but can’t be sure of that.  Leica M4, Noctilux, Tri X

I’ll post a few more of these old shots later. In the meantime there are still a few places in my workshop at the Ballarat Photo Festival (BIFFO) in August. Check out the details at

Back to the Streets

Trawling the Files

I spent a few days nursing one of those damned head colds which cause victims to reach out for a bit of loving care and attention and, when they don’t get it, to reach for the ‘medicinal uses only’ whisky bottle. This was a half bottle cold.

Being one of those characters who always seems to find his bread falling buttered side up I had a friend bring around some beautiful home made soup and another who arrived with a bottle of whisky. Both of them made me wish I could have more colds to use as bait and attract these people more often.

The upside of colds is that they offer an excuse to meander through the files and dredge for forgotten pictures.

Here’s a few to keep the ball rolling. I like pictures to be a little whimsical, something which may put a smile on peoples’ faces. At the very least I like pictures to have an obvious reason for being taken.

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There’s something funny about photographers. They always take up a sort of crouch when shooting.Sometimes I’ve seen them stand on a chair, then they crouch a little which takes them down to their normal head height.

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I was out shooting with my photo buddy Lidia D’Opera on what we termed a ‘pooch mooch’. Lidia was working on a book about dogs and I became a sort of deputy dog spotter. We both got this shot, how could you resist it? Check Lidia out at  http://www.lidiadopera.com.au and look for her books. 

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An artist working at Fremantle Markets. He’s there every weekend come hell or high water. The picture at the top left is a self portrait I think

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This was taken in Saigon. Somewhere under the plastic is a man selling newspapers. He’s sheltering from the rain.

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And this is a nice closing shot for now. I get the impression they were good friends.

Travelling with Dragons: Part II

Time Travel in the Slow Lane

I promised part II of this odyssey some weeks ago, in fact about three months ago. However, time waits for no man (or person depending on how politically correct we feel we should be). Thus I found myself sidetracked by a trip to Bali, a lot of writing and, better still, a few weeks of good old fashioned darkroom printing. That has been followed up with preparing notes for a workshop I’m giving at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in August. (http://ballaratfoto.org/garwood-workshop/). I will also be reviewing portfolios.

Also I freely admit that if anything looks as though it is going to interfere with my stroll to the cafe in the mornings it gets put off – forever.

The whole idea of travelling with the dragons is outlined in the original post (February). It was in fact a story which went off at another angle. I had intended to photograph the Mekong Delta in the wet season, the monsoon, but it didn’t rain. Thus I turned the idea into a time travel story. That idea morphed from the observation that travelling on the delta did seem like turning the clock back to days when travelling was a sedate pastime, when there was time to savour the atmosphere of a town, interact with the population, enjoy a journey without an itinerary and not worry about finding a cab to an airport.

It was with those things in mind that I cadged lifts, quite illegally, on cargo boats which ply goods through the lacy network of broad rivers and tiny creeks which make up the delta. To hop on an old cargo barge and negotiate a days travel with the skipper, with no notion of the final destination, is fun. Sauntering along at something above walking pace with a deep throated diesel engine powering you from village to village is a relaxing experience which no organised tour can match. Nudging into jetties as all manner of goods are loaded and unloaded – anything from eggs and bricks to chickens and rice sacks – is an insight into how the world used to be.

By the way, just click on pictures if you wish to enlarge them.

A typical landing point for cargo boats. These are good spots to cadge lifts.
A typical landing point for cargo boats. These are good spots to cadge lifts.

A small cabin, its ceiling low enough to make it impossible to stand upright, with rush bedding on the floor and simple wooden shutters which could be removed to allow a cooling breeze to slide though, was luxury. And cheap. A days travel would cost around five dollars and you are spared the ceremony of eating at the captain’s table. It was a good idea to take a few snacks along as well as bottled water. If you felt inclined you could go below into the crews’ quarters and steal a nap in a hammock. Crews invariably consisted of a husband and wife team and maybe a deck-hand. A real treat would be a pot of lotus tea and dive into a bag of coconut toffee sweets.

A typical day on the delta involves dropping into small towns and villages to offload cargo. This is all labour intensive work, often in high temperatures and just made for pictures.
A typical day on the delta involves dropping into small towns and villages to offload cargo. This is all labour intensive work, often in high temperatures and just made for pictures.

The Lightweight Photo Kit

I tend to specialise in travelling light – very light in fact. The photo gear on this trip amounted to nothing more than my Leica D Lux 5 and about 15 4gb cards.

I don’t backup images while travelling but do edit the obvious junk out ‘in camera’. I’ll also download a few shots onto an iPad each day to use when emailing friends. The intention of doing that is to make them feel green with envy while they work on their desk jobs in the big city, something I’ve never done. The notion of working at a desk in an air conditioned office is the greatest incentive of all to want to spend a life travelling and writing. Rather like feeling thirsty and hungry is an incentive to look for wine bars and restaurants.

There is a certain paranoia among photographers with regard to backing up images while travelling. I really never bother. I know one day I’ll lose something but I don’t really look on that as a matter of life and death. Obviously, If I have a really top shot, which is rarely, I’ll back it up – send it to the cloud or Dropbox. The reason I use 4gb cards is because (a) they are cheap (b) If I lose one I haven’t lost a truckload of pictures (c) the contents of a 4gb card fit perfectly onto a DVD which is how I back-up when I return home.  So what happens if everything is stolen? Tough – I refuse to live in fear. It’s worth pointing out the advantage of travelling light – simply put you can keep all of your gear with you all of the time.

One great advantage of using small cameras is they are inoffensive. Lugging a large DSLR around in order to shoot pictures of people can be deemed offensive – small cameras don’t seem aggressive or intrusive.

The D Lux 5 or its successor, the D Lux 6, each with a 24-90 (equivalent) zoom are perfect for candid pictures and deliver very high quality. I’ve had a number of magazine spreads  used from DL5 files and the quality is such I could kid myself the work was taken with a larger format camera.

I call 'Keeping and Eye on the Kids'. This boat was moored on the river bank and the kids had rigged a couple of swings up. And no, they didn't fall into the mud. A;; boats have giant eyes painted on the bow to ward off sprits - or see where they are heading.
I call this ‘Keeping and Eye on the Kids’. The boat was moored on the river bank and the kids had rigged a couple of swings up while the tide was low. And no, they didn’t fall into the mud. All boats have giant eyes painted on the bow to ward off spirits – or see where they are heading.

I’m not going to rabbit on too much about the travelling, that’s saved for magazines, but I’ll put a few more pictures and captions in. Interestingly, while on this trip, I have produced one major story and several small ones. That’s to say one of about 2500 words and a handful of ‘fillers’ each of around 500-800 words and a handful of pictures. From the original shoot, which was done in RAW and high quality jpg, I edited about 100 pictures for the delta story. From those around 40-50 are sent for editors to work from with a note saying more are available.

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This is a short series from various floating markets on the Mekong Delta. On these occasions I hired a boat and local boatman to get me around.

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The original files are RAW but of these shots have been worked on from the jpgs, straight from the camera, and put through Silver Efex Pro 2, a great program to work with.

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It’s in tight situations like this that the flexible 24-90mm zoom on the DL5 comes into its own.

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Every small town and village has at least one market and they’re  like a magnet to me. I don’t generally  take less than flattering pictures of people but I couldn’t resist this one.

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To give editors a wide choice of pictures when presenting them with a feature story it’s important to give a broad selection which takes many aspects of the story into consideration as well as making sure there’s a variety of vertical and landscape pictures. People always add life to a feature, they give a story ‘pace’.

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These two men were sitting in a riverside cafe playing a board game. They could see there were no seats or tables free and the guy on the left stood up, walked over the road to another cafe and came back with a small table and chair and indicated for me to sit down. That’s the sort of kindness experienced all over the country.And I got a couple of reasonable pictures.

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This man is a sewing machine repairer. He works from a small workshop with his wife. Language was a difficult proposition but with a bit of hand waving and pointing the old gentleman happily obliged while his wife looked on.

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As I said, markets are a magnet. I don’t think I’m an exception in that as most street shooters tend to look on them as happy hunting grounds.

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Wandering around Chau Doc, on the Cambodian border, I came across wonderful lady who lived under a bridge. She insisted on showing me her kitchen.

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Dried fish! It took me a long time to realise what these were. I had assumed they were a sort of grass or seaweed but the tiny heads gave the game away.

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A noodle factory on the banks of the delta. I have to admit that I tend to use the D Lux on a simple automatic setting. Thus the lens seems to operate wide open most of the time. I use the slowest ISO of 80 which produces extraordinary quality from a small sensor. I don’t mind a little movement creeping into pictures and in this instance the steamy atmosphere added a great deal to the image.

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Viewed from my hotel room at Chau Doc. This is where many of the homes are floating on large oil drums and are accessed by planks from adjoining streets.

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Looking for ‘filler’ shots is essential to give stories some character. These spotless white ducks were in a little creek off a main delta tributary. I’m not sure if they were waiting for their dinner or about to become dinner.

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Graphic images are formed by the boats’ hulls.

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Don’t you just love old technology?

Serendipity’s Role in Photography

Most photographers will tell you that serendipity plays a large part in their work. Those fortunate moments when the gods shine on us. When the elements of a good picture fall into place, we are in the right place, we have our wits about us, and we manage to capture the moment.

Most photographers with a bit of experience will also tell you that if you really work at it, practically day in and day out, you may be fortunate enough to get a world class picture every year or so. If that notion was good enough for Cartier-Bresson it should be good enough for most of us. I’m happy to accept the philosophy.

I think the two most difficult aspects of photography are landscape and street shooting. Photographers will appreciate they have absolutely no control over any of the elements which make the difference between a mediocre picture and one which brings the bacon home. Landscape photographers will revisit a location many times, note the light, the time of year, weather patterns. They may camp for a few days, knowing the weather is changeable and will ‘happen’ for them. Similarly street photographers like to be around people, watching the elements which may form a picture and be ready when it happens. I’ve been known to follow two or three nuns for hours (that’s not true – but a lot of minutes anyway) and still fail to get a decent shot. Street shooting and landscape photography are like going fishing. Sometimes you catch something, sometimes you don’t. Either way it’s always good fun.

A few years ago (about 1972 to be precise) I was in Brighton, England, and happened to be looking at a wall who’s bricks had been carefully painted, alternately black and white. I took a couple of frames and turned to carry on walking when I saw this couple walking towards me. So I waited:

Brighton Promenade, England 1972

© Roger Garwood 2012

It was a one framer, no second chance, no control over the picture. Leica M2, 50mm Summilux, Tri-X. Exposure would have been about 1/250th @ f8.

I count this as the first conscious moment of being aware of the part serendipity plays its hand in the work of the street shooter.