Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bali Journals: Part VI - Noise Sucks, Grace & Beauty Under A Full Moon

Priestly Attendants Prepare Final Offerings With Burning Joss Sticks

To keep this thing somewhat in the vein of a photo blog, let me report now that the newly acquired Nikon D3X body as been given a workout, put thru it’s paces and has performed beyond any reasonable expectations in delivering superior image quality. The most obvious improvement unpgrade I’ve noticed from the well used D2X model I’ve been using is the D3X’s handling of digital color noise in low-light situations.
Saturday night, the gear was put to the ultimate test at my dear friend Eri’s Oton Ceremony. I will get into the lighting conditions I was working in and the way the camera performed in just a moment, but first, a little background, from my very limited knowledge of these things, on the Oton:
In the Balinese calendar, a year is 210 days long. That year is dotted throughout with auspicious dates on which many “birthdays” are celebrated. Every temple in Bali has a “birthday” and the day that birthday is celebrated is know as Odalan. These are often the ceremonies you see as you drive around the island, temples large & small, draped in colorful bunting & elaborate bamboo decorations, altars piled high with ornate offerings of food, fruit, flowers, people parading gracefully in & out all dressed in their finest ceremonial clothing. The preparations involved in celebrating these ceremonies often take days, weeks, even months of planning & communal effort by families and entire villages, gathering the required holy water from multiple sources, making offerings to entice the gods down to the earthly realm, dancing and music to entertain the gods & entice them to linger for a while...
And just as each temple celebrates it’s birthday, each Balinese man, woman & child also celebrates a birthday, determined by the date & place of the individual’s birth and having no relation to the person’s actual chronological birth date. These Otons, are smaller & more intimate affairs usually involving a high priest, a lower temple priest, their respective attendants and the person’s immediate family & friends. 

Eri's Sister Made Waits At The Altar
Prescribed Offerings Entice Gods & Appease Spirits
Eri's Sister Made (L) & Eri (R)
Again, preparations for one’s Oton require a great deal of effort and planning. Today, I had a chance to sit with Eri and ask in greater detail what was involved in preparing for her ceremony last Saturday night. Being that this Oton also coincided with the occurrence of the full moon, the date was even more auspicious and requiring special offerings. Having been around her house often last week, I took note that she was busy much of the time running around purchasing or preparing offerings as detailed by the high priest, with whom she also had spent much time consulting on the proper protocols & paraphernalia rituali required for the event. Eri explained to me that holy water from four sources directly related to her various family & village temples had to be gathered and that it was best if it was gathered fresh and no more than one day old at the time the ceremony was held in order to retain it’s strongest potency. In addition to that, holy water from at least ten other holy springs around the island must also be gathered and available for the ceremony. There were also at least ten different types of incredibly complex and stunningly beautiful offerings made of food, fruit, rice, flowers, incense, etc. necessary to appease Gods and lower ground spirits in order to insure a proper cleansing for the coming year. Add to that an elaborate ceremony by the high priest involving copious amounts of said holy water, the hand gestures of magic mudras and the chanting of mantras, interspersed with the ringing of bells, the waving of sheaths of rice, a dowsing of water by the high priest and also by Eri’s husband, who after dumping a bucket of the sacred liquid over his wife’s head, turned to the priest, smiled like a cheshire cat and said enthusiastically in Balinese: “Matur Suksma... Lagi?” (“Thank you very much... Again?”). The assembled faithful, high priest included, burst out laughing. 
Eri Flogged Blessed With Sheaves of Rice & Palm Leaf
A Ritual Drenching
Eri & Roy
As for the lighting conditions for the evening, it was well past 9:00pm when the event got rolling. We were assembled at the high priest’s home compound in Ubud, at his ritual altar in the rear of the compound, lit only by a dim florescent tube and a single bulb of perhaps 40 watts, deplorable conditions for decent photo-making but perhaps the Gods like to keep things on dark. No flash was used, camera hand-held using the fastest glass in my bag, f2.8 in most cases and an ISO setting of Hi-2 or roughly 3600asa. My old D2x would have been useless in these conditions, rendering images so noisy and spotted that they would be virtually useless unless converted to black & white and even then, there would have been extreme, pronounced grain in the final images. 
You can see for yourself, the D3X performed far better that I could have ever hoped for, capturing clean, crisp image files showing little noticeable grain which was easily dealt with using slight noise control adjustments in the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) Converter and nothing else. Blown away is the only descriptive I can use when describing my reaction when finally sitting down tonight to begin processing & editing images amassed during the past few days. 

Up next... Temple Tour 2011 though the ancient city of Yogyakarta on the Island of Java....

High Priest In High Action
Mission Accomplished! 

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