Saturday, 25 February 2012

Between Brain and Camera

staygoL (Leica D-Lux 5)

The question left half unanswered from the first post of the discussion is what we are actually learning in photography.  Previously, we discussed that the ultimate goal is to learn to not believe what we see or see what we believe. For the learning process, I suggested focusing on three aspects. First, the psychological aspect is to cultivate one's empathic thinking so that eventually it will preponderate over dualistic thinking in judging the reality. This will enable a photographer to see new connections in a scene or happening and be better positioned to reflect new insights in the final, unique images. This is where we stopped last time.

In this post, we will discuss the other two aspects.

The second, aesthetic aspect requires the photographer to practise holistic seeing.  A photo should first be thought as a medium more than two dimensional or an aesthetic interplay of with and without light only.  Observation should no longer be made just on the visual level but with all of one's senses geared to interpreting the new connections found, so the wind, the smell and the sounds all become contributory factors to how and what the photographer produces in the final image. That is to say, the physical and psychological factors at play which are keenly felt on the scene should all be given a bearing on the technical bits in constructing the final images. Therefore, why and where an area should be in the light or the shadows are decided not only for want of visual joys.  Likewise, a certain angle and a particular camera movement are employed not simply for reason of composition.  They are invariably choreographed moves to reproduce the conclusive messages arising from the-whole-body-and-mind seeing to cue the aesthetic faculties of the viewers to receive such.

Lastly, for the practical aspect, it is to learn to see beyond the naked eye. How a camera records a scene differs from how our brain receives it in terms of the amount and quality of lights. Simply put, with different settings of white balance, exposure duration or camera movements, a camera can see the same scene in a variety of ways. A case in point is when the other day I let a young lad see through the viewfinder of my camera with the shutter speed dragged, he took a shot and exclaimed, "Why the window looking onto the street with the trees is like a framed painting on the wall in the image I took? It looks much better than what I now see with my bare eyes" Surely, readers know that it was because the longer exposure time allowed plenty of lights to fall on the tree leaves which on the image became much brighter and smoother in light quality than it was the case in reality. The camera looks at a scene very unlike our brain.

The discussion in this series is not to exclude doing photography just for fun, pure aesthetics or commercial purpose and so on. As I wrote in the first post, the answer is given in the context that I need to think up one ultimate reply to the question: What actually are we learning in photography? Curiously, moving further up this learning curve, I become less easy going in fully pressing the shutter release, and stay longer at the same spot to do an image. I will not necessarily end up with better images. But now I am more aware of what I am doing and why I am so doing in constructing an image for the desired effect and message.

Friday, 24 February 2012

An Opportunity to Shed Light

DSC04401L (Sony A55)

Hong Kong has been veiled in mist for a whole week. What a luck it was to run into an amazing scene like this! By the way, the photo exhibition at the Upper House Hotel runs from today to until roughly a week later. A cocktail party to celebrate the event will be on next week. I will be meeting some photographer-collaborators of the project and hopefully will learn a few tricks from them.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Between Seeing and Interpreting

truth be prejudiceL (Leica D-Lux 5)

To continue from yesterday, there is still an unanswered question: What actually are we learning in photography?

Again, the final answer is a matter of context. The perceptions of what photography is for and the self-assessments of one's photographic skills carry a great deal of weight in forming the answer. If I need to give just one ultimate answer, it is that photography requires us to learn to neither believe what we see nor see what we believe. The learning process takes three parts.

First, psychologically, it is to learn to transcend duality in interpreting the happenings around us. This takes an attitude to make the known unknown as Einstein put it or, as  the modern version goes, to take the truth as prejudice.  For the latter, I borrowed from Eugene Smith but am not referring to manipulating images – it is that if we use subjectivity and assume "truth" as adulterated, our empathy will begin to take an increasing measure of control over our dualistic thinking. While we enlarge our empathy, we can find more previously unknown connections between different elements involved in a scene. From there, we will reflect such a thinking in the photos which therefore shows evidence of advancement to a higher level.

This much for the answer for today. To be continued.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Between Light and No Light

DSC04218L (Sony A55)

The other day I approached a kid with my camera and he asked, "What's so special about photography?" He is a 10 year old and his ability to point out the gist of the question should be admired.

So, what's so special about photography? And what actually are we learning in photography?

There is no canned, simple or uniform answer for either question, which must be considered in the right context. But these two fundamental questions are for all photographers to ponder on. To me, on the first question, photography is interesting as it can capture the nature of things and, more importantly, that of mankind. But what is special about photography goes beyond the captured images. An image itself reflects how well the photographer can see and understand such natures. The more insightful a photographer becomes, the better the images will be. Therefore, philosophically speaking, the advancement in the art of photography hinges on the breakthrough from the "non-understanding" of oneself. After having fully penetrated one's motives, convictions and attitudes, one can know the world and others from the most crucial, more insightful and thought-provoking perspectives. When these perspectives are reflected in a space between light and no light, the images become uniquely intriguing.
That's what photography is so special to me.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A Charming Face

L1000467L (Leica D-Lux 5)

See the charming grinning face of a lady with a big oval eye, long eyelashes and straight hair going round her ear? This shot corresponds to the one featured last week.

Doing street shots on a daily basis does not necessarily guarantee any intriguing shots. To the contrary, one may come up with more mundane ones if the seeing is not combined with visions of the mind's eye. While daily practices can shift a photographer from being adpated to adept about the technical bits, the practising must gradually move from there to the active use of all the senses to see the intricacies in a scene and make manifest the desired message in the final image. A decade ago, I met the niece of the chairlady of an association of Hong Kong's professional photographers. A secret of the chairlady's success is she never takes a shot from the perspectives which have been in existence as she is aware.  For the shot of the same object or subject matter, she always racks her brain to come up with a final image whereby she can give an unprecedented  new message. That requires an extraordinary ability to observe and imagine, making the final images unique in the viewers' eyes.

There is a long way to go before one can be successful in this, but I am determined to move towards the same direction (while I will go on snapping shots on the street though).

Monday, 20 February 2012

Best Cinema Experience

L1000604L (Leica D-Lux 5, Film Grain mode)

If you are a cinephile, being new in town or travelling to Hong Kong or surprisingly having been here for a while but not heard about it, the best cinema experience is only to be found in the Broadway Cinematheque tucked among the back lanes but close enough to be accessible from the Yaumatei MTR station.

Map picture

The Cinematheque does screen popular movies. But for roughly half of the screening slots, it shifts away from the lousy Hollywood stuff in favour of the classy productions of note from all over the world. It also puts up special regular movie festivals. Such a taste is shared by the Cine-Art House, a cinema of the UA line, located in a busy shopping mall at Kowloon Bay which is exactly why the Cinematheque is much preferred by cinephiles.

L1000606LThe place has just undergone a 6-month long renovation, bringing the building a spick-and-span whitewashed facade with random voids outlined by wooden-frame-like fittings. Hanging on the facade are two huge canvases for movie ads which will immediately bring up one's memories of those oversized hand-painted ads of yesteryear's. The bookstore-cum-eatery next to it has also been given a facelift, which looks more orderly in the book area and interestingly neighbourhood-like in the eating area. The Cinemetheque member's club now operates in the lobby of the cinema. The membership entitles members privileges including watching premier screenings for free.

L1000609LIn case waiting for formalism to unfold in popular movies and going through a noisy place to the movies don't exactly work around your way, try the Cinemetheque. And there is an added bonus coz the Temple Street night market is just a few minutes' walk away.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Spellbound Reader

L1000345L (Leica D-Lux 5)

Hush, approach in silence. She is spellbound by the goddess of sleepiness.

This is Sunday. Why not take an afternoon nap?