Saturday, 5 June 2010

Off Topic: May 35th and Deer Died

Note: The videos contain scenes of bloodshed and seriously wounded people which may be not suitable to some.

The Chinese government's great firewall was operating at full strength yesterday to block any words or photos about or suggestive of the June Fourth massacre, as widely reported in the local newspapers today. The internet blockade was even done to the SINA HK blog service which is a subsidiary arm of the China-based SINA ISP. The general bloggers as well as the local singers and artists have had their June-Fourth related messages or blog posts deleted. I think that is outrageous and not what Hong Kong people can or will tolerate.

The newspapers coverage also include some creative way of the Mainland Chinese bloggers and internet users to work around the censorship. Some wrote messages about the May Thirty-Fifth incident (that is, 4th June); some used homophonic words like Deer Died (Deed sounds like June in Chinese; Died like Fourth) in "The death of the deer... is saddening and unforgotten; some used homophonic words and wrote the important phrases backwards.

Wait a minute, that is creative yes. But can you imagine they were doing this in 2010? They just try to express their thoughts. So were they:

(The video shows the footages from various sources; an early scene shows the Chinese official dressed in an army green jacket is Li Peng. He was the one who declared the movement counter-revolutionary and martial law in Beijing then; in the middle of it some blue screens showing mugshots are the arrest warrants issued then by the Chinese Government after the massacre; the four characters appears at the end says, "Don't Forget June Fourth)

Friday, 4 June 2010

On This Day 21 Years Ago

R1229924 (Medium)A flyer on the floor reads "Don't Forget June Fourth".
On this day every year I feel nostalgic, and actually rather depressed. Twenty-one years ago, this was the day when the massacre on Tiananmen Square took place. My Mum was my age then. Now I have lived to my Mum's age when she saw the massacre, but the wrong in the history has not be righted while the underprivileged Chinese people have to bear with the political backwardness which was pretty much why those brave protestors took to the street. They were eventually randomly shot dead, clubbed to death, run over by tanks or executed by their government; those lucky ones were jailed; the even luckier ones are still living, with the wounds unhealed.
Every year this day, Hong Kong puts up its beautiful face with the yearly vigil in memory of the massacre and the dead. Tonight 150,000 people took part in the vigil. Back from it, I am too tired to put all the photos in one post. Here are some I took tonight.

RIMG8559 (Medium) "Redress the official assessment of June Fourth"

R1229932 (Medium)I love democracy

RIMG8560 (Medium) June Fourth – the continuing oppression

RIMG8563 (Medium) A performer remembers the incident in a special way.

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Crowds going to the rally

RIMG8580 (Medium)The new statue of Goddess of Democracy – the icon of the 1989 movement.

RIMG8573 (Medium)The original Goddess of Democracy – this one is a replica of the fallen statue on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing when the tanks moved in

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RIMG8585 (Medium)A monument to honour the dead ones killed 21 years ago.

RIMG8582 (Medium)An old lady is tiding up the wreath . The Chinese characters read "Redress the official assessment of June Fourth".

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The sculpture evokes the memory of those of us who saw the night of the massacre on site, on the TV and in the newspapers.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Short Cuts and Back Roads

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If you are into photography, having bought a camera or two and read lots of camera reviews but scantily books on photographic techniques, my counsel to you is: "How sacrilegious!"

If photography is about anything, it is least about cameras. In the film era, at least in Hong Kong, there was quite some number of advanced photographers being keen on using low-end point-and-shoot cameras to do great photos by using their photographic skills to work around the cameras' limitations.

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Maybe I have forgotten more than what I have read, but I have read quite a number of materials on photographic skills. Most of them were borrowed from the libraries. But we all want to take short cuts and back roads to get to the destinations easier and faster, don't we?

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Just in case you have missed it, one of these short cuts is to scan through the masters' works. If you asked me, I try to see from the shooters' perspective for the intriguing photos which catch my attention: What did the photographer try to express? Why did the photographer do the picture this way? What if the shutter release was pressed a second earielr or later. These are some of the questions I usually ask.

The photos (screen captures) in this post are the weekly best pictures voted by the editors here. For more, see here. Don't skip the books though.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Spick-and-Spin

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The GX200 is known for producing film-like images with respect to the coarseness and grains. Which of the these images were shot with the GX200? Check out the answer at the bottom of this post.
Two years ago a friend of mine was appalled by the wedding photos the studio photographers did for her. Her first reaction to the photos was like, "Gosh, why do these photos look so coarse? Those of the other batch were cleaner."
What gives? My diagonsis that she had been digitally poisoned was later proved correct. The photographers replied that the two batches had been done separately with a film and a digital camera.
That was two years ago. How much more widely the illness has spread since then? Well, there are some glitters of hope.
Last week, I ran into two teenagers in a cafe. No later had they sat down than I noticed the curious little silver machines on their table. One was a Leica and the other an Olympus. Both were old mechanical 135-format film cameras. They just made me feel itchy in my heart.
Curiosity caused me to move over to have a little chat with them. On my question why they did not use digital cameras, they said that film cameras offered better fun and produced more tasteful images with an unspeakale visual quality on the printouts. Digital cameras are simply not their cup of tea.
Wow, that can make any nostalgic photographers feel hopeful. In Hong Kong, most photo shops do not accept orders for film developing any more. Film cameras are virtually not in sight on the streets or in the shops. The other day I walked past a rag-and-bone's kiosk, alas, I saw a dozen of them! The situation is absolutely irritating to film camera aficionados.
Digital cameras certainly have many advantages and the film era is surely beyond the point of return. But while the imaging sensors become more capable of producing impeccably clean images, can the camera makers give the user an optional function to make the images look grainy like film ones?
While thinking, I played with my GX200, beaming a silly smile to myself that at least this little piece of machine gives out film-like images. I like it.
(Answer: The centre one and the one to its right were not shot with GX200)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Camera Reviews: Trusting What You Read?

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In the film era -- or the era of mechanical cameras, to be exact -- buying cameras (135 format) was less complicated. As the film camera is just a light box, there are not much to compete about for the camera body. The competition mainly went on for the optical quality of the lenses. So, in essence, the decision could be made simply basing on the camera maker's ability in producing lenses with prime optical quality.  And then you just stuck to that camera brand with more investment spent on the lenses. With the advent of automatic functionalities, camera bodies began to upstage the lenses somewhat.

Now, digital cameras are the prima donnas and, if you like, uomos. As these jack-of-all-traders (and masters of some) take up a larger part of the investment with their ambitious pricing but a shorter life cycle, it becomes almost necessary to read lots of reviews to make an informed purchase than to regret later.

But after reading all the reviews, how much more informed you have really become?

When the now defunct Minolta launched its digital Dynax 7 DSLR, a big site reviewer called it an "overkill" with reference to its twin-dial design on the body ridge. For some suspicious reason, the camera didn't receive a good rating there.

Later, when Canon G7 was released, the reviewer of the same site hailed the similar twin-dial design as a smart user-friendly thinking.

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A recent example is the NX10 review done by another big site. The tester wrote that the viewfinder was dim and went on guessing the reason. Fact is, the viewfinder is dim when left in the default brightness setting which can be adjusted. When I reviewed the NX10, I was first puzzled by the same issue. But simply referring to the user's instruction, I had the cloud of bewilderment cleared up.

With the benefit of hindsight after testing some cameras, I as sort of a person-on-the-know have discovered that the camera reviews, notably those published in magazines, consist some intended or unintended limitations.  In some cases, reviewers would talk about the minor shortcomings of the cameras but gloss over the major ones.  In the commercial world, this is understandable.  As a self-styled reviewer, I can claim that I know an aspect of this: If I lash out in full force at the shortcomings, will I be able to receive another test items the next time?

So, camera reviews should be read with some pinches of the following:

1) The reviewers’ comments on how they feel about the ergonomics of the camera are generally trustworthy but you need to feel the camera for yourselves;

2) Doubt the reviewers’ comments about the results of the quality of the side-by-side shots and make your own conclusion.  Scientific statistics are useless until it is interpreted in the context of the individual user’s preferences;

3) When a strength is spoken of the camera, consider it a 70% truth;

4) When a strength is lavishly touted, consider it a 50% truth;

5) When the camera are reviewed without much weaknesses mentioned, or mentioned but the camera maker doesn’t sound dumb enough to overlook such weaknesses, try to download a user’s instruction to read for yourself;

6) When a minor weakness is spoken of the camera which seems like an afterthought to give credence to the review, make sure that you look to the other non-commercial sites to learn about the users’ comments because probably the worst things of the camera are being glossed over;

7) When a major weakness is told but then the reviewer tunes it down like, “But who needs…” or “It really doesn’t matter because …” or “I don’t care about the downside…” or “It doesn’t bother me…” et cetera;

8) Reviews of big brand-name cameras: as a general rule of thumb, downgrade their rating to one level;

9) Reviews of the underdog cameras: you'll have to play with the camera to make your own judgement; and

10) So, visit a store when it is quieter to try out your targeted cameras. Don’t forget to bring a memory card with you to store the pictures for review later.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Faces of Hong Kong: A Contest and a Book

(Postscript: Just got a news from the organiser of the Faces of Hong Kong photo contest (for HK residents only) that they now extend the contest to close on 20 June 2010. Participants can submit two entries instead of just one.)

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While the Faces of Hong Kong photo contest, which closes at midnight today, is exclusively for Hong Kong residents to take part in, the book depicting another face of Hong Kong titled "Hong Kong Nature Landscapes" is for all lovers of Hong Kong spectacular hiking trails and aspiring landscape photographers.

The author and photographer, Edward Stokes, grew up in Hong Kong and returned in 1993, to work on projects about the natural landscape. He began with Hong Kong's wild places and criss-crossed them until 2003. The unique aspect about Hong Kong's country parks is not just that most of them border between thick woods and blue oceans, but more notably that they comprises 40% of Hong Kong's land. In comparison, the United States, for example, has designated only 3% to 4% of the country's land area for country parks.

The easy accessibility of Hong Kong's country parks is a great plus too. They are mostly within an hour ride by public transport.

This is a book I can easily recommend. You may check it out here and here. A reader gave his review on Amazon which I appended below. The author will give a club launch (lunch hour) at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong.

Veteran Ed Stokes has come out with this fascinating collection of his pictures takes over the years, showing the Hong Kong natural landscape at its best. Apart from giving reasons why he took these pictures he also shares the technical details with the readers. In my 20+ years of hiking in HKG I have covered all these places, but seldom have I seen such beauty first hand. It is a testament to Ed's tenacity and hard work that he has chosen the best season, time of the day and vantage point to create these beautiful pictures.