Friday, 10 July 2009

The Last Emperor of Kowloon

R0016368a (Medium) ^ Graffiti mimicking the Emperor's calligraphic style with posters of his mugshot, which makes me think of Obama's campaign posters.

The local artist community is brewing a street activity titled "Piss Me Off" to mark the second anniversary of a famed local character's death and, most importantly, remonstrate with the government for its red-tape complacency in conserving folk arts. The character in the spotlight is the deceased Mr Tsing Jo Choi, popularly known as the Emperor of Kowloon due to the reoccurring Chinese characters "Emperor Tsang" and "Emperor of Kowloon" in his graffiti.

If you haven't heard about the Emperor of Kowloon, you haven't quite known Hong Kong. If you've been to Hong Kong but not seen the Emperor's calligraphy, you missed the best part of it.

So, what is so special about this self-styled Emperor? Born in a Guangdong country in 1927, the Emperor moved to Hong Kong in 1937 when he was 16 years old. He married his wife in 1956 and started the life-long passion of doing graffiti in those special black-inked Chinese calligraphy of his. His works began to bloom in the street, appearing on electricity boxes, lamp posts, walls and whatnots. In the 1970s, for reason of the same passion, his family left him after he kept doing calligraphy in ink around the apartment. His black-inked graffiti are considered unique in style because of the filthily drippy, untidy yet fittingly balanced calligraphy, but they are interesting also for the royal title he styled himself with (the biggest characters say, "Emperor of Kowloon") and the state-secret like contents. For that matter, he was taken to be 
somewhat mentally unsound.

R0016367 (Medium) ^What being enclosed inside are the Emperor's calligraphy under conservation works after, well, the lack of it for too long a period.

That said, his works are much loved for the intriguing calligraphy and the essential part he played in the collective memory of Hong Kong people. Before the colonial British's intervention with bureaucratic stupidity to rub them away, his works were almost ubiquitous throughout Hong Kong (or more aptly, the Kowloon Peninsular). In the old days, the Emperor was often seen working on his graffiti on walls in Kowloon City. During his last few years, he become highly regarded for his calligraphic works which had been used in TV commercials, magazine covers, fashion and even auctioned by Sotheby's.

Sadly, after the death of the Emperor, his outdoor calligraphic works are fading due to weathering and the lack of proper conservation, kudos to the bureaucratic complacency. The most accessible works can be seen on one of the pillars near the entrance of the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is being boarded for conservation works.

Piss Me Off will take place in the Mongkok pedestrian precinct (the long strip of street with many Fortress and Broadways outlets along and close to the Ladies'Market) on 15 July from 9:00 to 21:00. The activity is mainly about doing graffiti in different artistic formats (probably doing something on the street furniture like this http). Be there with your camera!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Are We Cruel? Or They?

R0016427a (Medium) ^A Beggar and a Lady with a LV Bag: The photo is purposedly overexposed to highlight the two subjects, the beggar facing the camera with a forlorn facial expression and the tubby lady with a LV bag around her arm and some shopping, walking away head down. The highlighting and the two subjects serve to make a stark contrast in telling the theme: "Where is our compassion?", of which the effect is hopefully complemented by the body gestures of the two subjects.
Technically, the shot was done in a pedestrian subway. The ISO was turned to 1600 to better cater for an adequate shutter speed in the comparatively low light situation. With a lower ISO value, I would have less elbowroom for dragging the exposure to brighten up the background without blurring the two subjects (cos the adequate shutter speed would be way past the safe shutter speed to steady the two subjects; you may search my blog for some idea about the safe shutter speed).
In the streets of Hong Kong, what looks less noxious to the locals as the days wear on is a decade-long phenomenon. Probably, the Hongkongers are geting used to it, namely the proliferation of beggars.
Their multiplication is noxious because most of them are no ordinary beggars. They take begging as a profession, making a living just like you and me in our workplaces. To these beggars, the streets are the workplaces. The noxious part about it is not as much as they go about begging than they do this in a business-like fashion. Most of them joined the trade to echo the calling of the times which was the handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty to China.
Some years before the handover, there was a surge of sightings of these mostly Chinese female beggars in the streets, discernable by their similar trading tools and working smocks in black provided by the wire-pullers. They were mostly found in busy areas at certain intervals, doing the similar begging gestures to lure proceeds. These women are still seen in Mongkok and Casueway Bay at times. Then there came the Mandarin-speaking street hustlers. Their common tactics were to gain money from passers-by on excuses of pockets having been picked or losing their friends or ways.
R0016379a (Medium) ^In the film camera era when the rangefinders were common, Kodak taught users to place the main subject in the centre of the shot because the viewfinder afforded a limited coverage, which was not explained as the reason then. This teaching is erroneous in terms of, inter alia, the golden sections in photography.
Of course, some rules are sometimes for breaking when there is a reason to break them. Here the beggar is placed almost in the middle for one purpose: to visually turn him into just a part of the street furniture, complemented by the mailing facility which balances him in the middle. Hopefully, this composition underlies his identity, or the lack of it. The small space on the left of the scene is to give viewers a reference to his position and to contradict his little static universe which is an enormity to him.
When the beggar phenomenon first caught the attention of the media, the TV news departments raced to produce special reports on the matter. After some time, there was less interest in it and the professional beggars' life returned to normal. Nowadays, as to all other professionals, the complexity of modern customers has pushed these professionals to come up with new tricks for making money: beg for donations as monks! A number of arrest cases involving these fake monks had been reported when, likewise, the matter first saw the light.
The most noxious thing about making begging a profession is that this teaches most locals to turn a blind eye to the real beggars. These fake beggars make the lives of the real beggars more miserable. So, when shooting the first shot of this post, my mind was like, "I don't really blame the seemingly unsympathising lady. This beggar can be a counterfeit." Talking about counterfeits, we know who are most talented in it. So, are we cruel to the beggars? Or, are we turned into such by those really heartless wire-pullers. But then, what are the differences between us.
At least, it is too risky to smuggle the supposedly kiddnapped kids with limbs purposedly broken to make them real beggars to work for the wire-pullers. Otherwise....
---- Postscript: The multiplication of beggars is also attributable to, for sure, the two economic downturns which hit Hong Kong after the handover and again more recently. But those are about the real beggars.

The Pen Story

A great ad which makes you think about owning the E-P1

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Old Camera, New Accessories

R0015421 (Medium)
^Old Ferry, New Paint: The ferry in Hong Kong has a history of over a hundred years. Once the main public transport across the Victoria Harbour, the ferries have remained popular among commuters with attitudes in lives. A ride in the ferry is slow but far more in style than being rushed in the underground or jammed by the road traffic. Normally painted in the quintessentially Star-Ferry (the company name) green, this one is painted in red which makes it stand out.

After using the GX200 for ten months, I am convinced enough to go for the accessories. Surely, the accessories will give the GX200, os to speak, a new lease of life. My past experience shows that a viewfinder will be needed for taking photos outdoor under the strong sunlight. And, as I wrote previously, a viewfinder can give me a proper perspective in composing a scene. Of course, the prejudice is personal. But I speak from my long experience as a SLR user.  So I hope to fetch the viewfinder for the GX200 or, properly put, the VF-1.

R0015422 (Medium)
^I anticipate it to be great fun to use the 19mm fisheye-converter to take a photo of this boat.

Then, I will need the 19mm converter for I have never try a fisheye lens. I have seen people's works by the DW-6. The results are dramatic. The converter is a cheap solution to sate this thirst of mine.

Of course, the tele-converter is also contemplated, not least after reading Pavel's review of the 135mm converter. I have taken quite a number of portraits with the GX200 but missed the blurry background afforded by the SLR. If Pavel is right, and I'm sure he is, the TC-1 tele-converter will better position the GX200 to doing portrait works.

I also fancy the CX1. Now this is partly out of the brandname loyality growing in me and partly of its technology plus the focal length. I realy don't see why I need any other camera or lens if I have the GX200 fitted with these accessories and the CX1 in one go. The Sony HX-1 can be a close substitution for the CX1 if not for its size. I have tried the controls of the HX-1 and its ergnomics is just next to GX200's.

These are in the wish list to be realised.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Win US$300 in a Photo Contest


The curious me bumped into the Google ad " photo contest" on the page top (Is it still there by now?) and found the chance for photographers to win US$300/ $100/ $25 in a photo contest, of which the details are spelled out in the image below.  The deadline for submission is 31 July 2009.

For details and entry, you may click the ad (if it’s still here) on the page top to support the efforts put in this site.


I have browsed the entries and am sure that some of you can take much more intriguing photos.  So what can be better than testing your photographic skills and earning money from it at the same time?

I'm not hungry for money but joining the contest is no harm.  For the same reason, you are welcomed to click here alternatively for details and submission.

Shoot Till You Drop

R0016420 (Medium)
^ Post processed to slightly tint the buildings for a more surreal impact. The shot was taken in Canton Road, a mecca to big brand name spenders. This is the real scene and not digitally engineered. Can you explain it?

Hong Kong is well known for its shopping experience as Ricoh cameras for photography, at least as far as I'm concerned. The Ricoh cameras are understated in their appearances as well as market share. There are something in the world that you have to try for yourselves before knowing them better and finally becoming in love with them. Ricoh cameras are definitely in this category.
The regular readers know that I've been a SLR user for many years. I'd correct myself by saying "had been" because I have finished only two rolls of films for the last ten months after acquiring the GX200. There are some areas that the GX200 cannot match the big guy. But the small camera is just way too handy and responsive to resist.
From time to time, I have seen photographers using the huge DSLRs attached with external flashguns and the vertical grips to photograph the street scenes, the foliage or the sunset sky. Beside them stood Nevin with the tiny GX200 doing the same shots. Those DSLRs looked like overkill. I just wonder on what occasions will I really need a DSLR and all those lenses for attaching and detaching.
As I wrote before, with the tiny GX200 and its great ergonomics, I as a photographer can concentrate even more on observing a scene and be more creative (Explanation to the above surreal scene: The sidewalk is reflected in the ceiling mirror panels and the photo is upside down). Ricoh has got some product designers and engineers who must be photographers themselves. This is a big reason I am loving the GX200 so much, and the Ricoh brand more as time goes by.
This is a big reason for my consideration of making extra investment in the Ricoh accessories and the CX1. A restraint of the GX200 is its zoom length. The CX1 can make a handy and good companion to the camera in this respect.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


R0016271 (Medium)

These are the leftovers of the scrumptious dish "Siu All" (literally roasted duck) for Cantonese food connoisseurs.  They all died for a good course, and a good meal too.

Have a nice Sunday! (Or can you after seeing this photo?  Sorry for the bad gag.)