Friday, December 30, 2011

Out With The Old...

2011 is now in it's final throes... the last assignment of the year just completed a couple of hours ago, the end of year bills and a few of next year's paid in full, bookkeeping up to date. Remaining on my list of to-do things for the first days of the coming year are to bring the web portfolio up to date, focus heavily on a marketing & promotion plan for the new year and get this studio space organized and cleaned (top priority). And speaking of lists, everyone it seems has one representative of the promise of a new year, best intentions and all of that. I have my own... but rather than bore you with the additional details of mine, allow me to direct your attention to a couple of recent lists I've stumbled upon in the past couple of days with particular relevance to those of us working in the creative industries.

Leslie Burns Dell'Aqua... you've seen her name here before... a creative/photographer consultant and most recently, an attorney has just compiled her list, geared specifically at photographers. The list: 10 Things to Do For Your Biz in 2012 (The Gloves Come Off) can be found at her Burns Auto Parts Blog. Lots of good advice here... and just like Nigel Tufnel's amplifiers (This Is Spinal Tap), Leslie's list also goes to 11. Do yourself a favor and take a few moments to read it.

Buffalo, NY based photographer Luke Copping has compiled another list worthy a few moments of your time. Titled: Lessons for 2012, Luke shares his thoughts on working as a successful creative.

As I look back on the past twelve months, I can honestly say that a year that started off looking rather bleak business-wise, ended up coming on strong towards mid-year, finishing up as one of the best years creatively and profitably in quite a long time. New mainland resort clients had us flying around the state for 5-11 day assignments for several months, new campaigns commissioned by Oahu's top agencies helped in filling the coffers, a first opportunity to venture into the world of TV Commercial filming presented itself and a handful of local clients deciding it was time to step up their advertising helped round things out overall. 

In the end, we've finished the year in the black column, a month long trip to Asia, new friends, new gear and maybe even a couple of extra pounds due to my delightful overindulgence in all things pork whilst visiting Indonesia. All in all, I'd say things have been pretty good this past year. 

And as always, we've had to say goodbye to a few old friends who will be sorely missed. We... or at least I, am coming to an age when this happens more and more frequently than I am comfortable acknowledging.

And while we're on the subject of age... I remember reading an interview recently with a photo editor who made the claim that most photographer's have their most productive years while in their 30's. As I never even picked up a camera until I was 30 years old, I beg to differ... I look forward to further years of productivity... As Imogene Cunningham once said: "Which of my photographs s my favorite? The one I am going to take tomorrow..."

So, with all that in mind, let me ring out the old year by saying THANK YOU to all friends, clients, assistants, family that have inspired me, driven me, challenged me & loved me. Thanks for the opportunity to continue striving to be better each day. Thank you for the opportunity to continue working in the creative community... 

May you all enjoy the best that's left in 2011 and all of the ripe promise of the coming year.

See you again in 2012...

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Journey Never Ends, More Zen Architecture, A visit To The Sultan's Palace

I've now returned home to Hawaii after a long series of flights that returned me to South Korea where a long, nine-hour airport layover ensued before eventually boarding bound for Honolulu. And though this leg of the trip has been completed, the journey, in so many ways, has just begun. The memories are fresh and the photo record of my days abroad have allowed me to relive the experiences, places & people I have visited, met & enjoyed along the way.

When I left you last, our happy posse of pilgrims had made our way into the main shopping district of Yogyakarta on the Island of Java. My original plan to visit Java was simply to visit the Buddhist Temple Complex of Borobudur on the outskirts of the city. The place had been calling to me as a photographer for many years and now I had the opportunity to see it for myself. Fortunately, Mr. T decided to join the journey to Java, enriching the experience more than I had thought possible. It was Mr. T that suggested the additional side trips... the one to Malioboro Road... and a couple of others that we now recount in this journal entry...

After making to separate visits to Borobudur, while magnificent and offering many great opportunities for photo-making, our little group was left with a feeling that can only be described as a bit heavy. That quickly changed when Mr. T suggested another side trip, this time to a massive temple complex closer to the city of Yogya. Candi Prambanan, built in the 9th century, is the largest Hindu Temple outside of India. Occupying a massive footprint I imagine along the lines of Angor Wat in Cambodia, the site hosts various shrines honoring the various deities of the Hindu pantheon as well at least one shrine dedicated to both Hindu & Buddhist teachings.

It was here that each member of our party had remarkable experiences, sometimes tearful moments as we toured the site, now in various states of either disarray or reconstruction. Prambanan has been declared a World Heritage site by Unesco and efforts have been underway to reconstruct earthquake & volcano ravaged structures since the 1950's. Work continues to this day and it appears for decades to come.. some shrines appear completely restored while other are reduced to piles of rubble with work parties working carefully to identify and organize the rubble for eventual reconstruction.

Each of us felt an overwhelming sense of presence here... remarkably different from the experiences at Borobudur. The architecture of the place alone was far more stunning than previous sites visited and the sudden, what I can only describe as a lightness in being, that took hold as I walked amongst ancient stone & gods was a bit overwhelming.

Here are some pics:

One other side trip we squeezed into our limited time in Jogya was a visit to the Sultan's Palace, a sprawling series of buildings, courtyards and pavillions, now largely open to the public and serving as a sort of museum & historic record of the royal lineage. The Sultan, who is also the current Governor of Java,
still maintains a residence & presence in a quartered off section of the massive compound. The areas open to the public are staffed with courtly musicians and an ample supply of Palace attendants.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bali Journals: Part VIII - Jogya's Malioboro District, Denis Shops 'Till He Drops, 'Tut Vogues

Yogyakarta's Malioboro Road District hosts the central markets & main shopping districts. You'll find it all here, from fantastic food, clothing, jewelry, indigenous batiks to antiques and just about any other form of gimcrack known to man. At one point, Denis & I noticed a guy with quite a selection of old, worn & dusty cassette tapes. We laughed, wondering what in the world anyone would play them on. Three stalls down and across the crowded path, we spotted another guy selling old, worn & dusty cassette tape players. Should have know better...

The preferred methods of travel around the district seemed to be either horse drawn carts called Dokars or the pedal bike version of the rickshaw known as Becaks. Dokars were obviously winning the day we visited, most likely because none of their drivers were asleep at the wheel.

Our man 'Tut kept his eye out for the ladies, while Mr. T scouted for batik... I searching for photo-ops and Denis seemed to just want a nap after our second predawn attempt to mount Temple Borobudur earlier that morning. Here's some photos from the outing, in no particular order:

'Tut & Mr. T = Dynamic Duo

Denis Naps In Deep Meditation

'Tut - Indonesian Vogue

Bali Journals: Part VII - Zen Architecture, Walking In The Shadow Of The Buddha

Long before the break of dawn, Mr. T arrived to collect me. Also along for the ride for this journey was boy lothario & Mr. T’s incredibly skilled driver, ‘Tut and UK based cosmic comedian Denis. An hour’s drive thru dark village roads later, we arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport’s Commuter Terminal in Denpasar; all sleepily exiting the vehicle to clear security checks and eventually board a flight to the Island of Java.
Our ultimate destination - Yogyakarta, a city known for it’s literati and the multitude of ancient temple sites & ruins that surround it. An hour & a half flight later, we quickly collected cameras and other baggage and commandeered a driver to wisk us away to Temple Borbudur. Built in the 8th century, Borobudur is a Buddhist site listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Making our way through villages and amazingly civilized highway traffic, we passed ruined towns buried in ash & lava flows, a consequence of eruptions from Mt. Merapi a year ago, the dominating feature of the landscape, still smoldering in the distance. Antique shops piled with colorful and ornately carved antique doors, small food stalls of infinite variety & domed mosques of every shape & size lined the roads as we headed to our lodings for the night, a small & quaint hotel situated just outside of the temple complex and shaded by a forest of old teak and bodhi trees, the tree under which Buddha was said to have found enlightenment.

Our party made two trips into the complex, one the evening of our arrival for sunset and another, the following morning for sunrise. Architecturally speaking, Borobudur is a marvel. Built of cut stone of various hues, all piled into place and held together by gravity, divine design and no mortar, carved in intricate reliefs depicting scenes, at the lower levels, of the animal nature of man... then with each ascending level, scenes of more heavenly inspiration... until the top level, barren of carvings. The planners of this temple meant for the faithful to begin their ascent, circling from bottom to top, pausing to meditate on the carvings, from base & earthly at the bottom, gradually becoming more divinely inspired, until they reach the top where there is nothing - Nirvana.

Add to all of this a liberal sprinkling of statues of the Buddha, and at the upper levels, gigantic stupas shaped like bells, along with amazing views of the surrounding mountains, surrounding jungle - steam rising in the humid equatorial heat, and the smoldering presence of Mt. Merapi in the distance, the effect can only be that one is left gobsmacked, awed & humbled.

Borbudur has been ravaged over the centuries... time, erosion, earthquakes, waves of invading moslem hordes, looting & more earthquakes. Many of the statues of the Buddha remain decapitated, evidence of religious intolerance during Indonesia’s 14th century Islamic conversion. With all of this, the site remains remarkably intact and constant efforts continue to maintain, restore and recover lost artifacts.

Our tiny party of pilgrims spent hours here... photographing, staring in wonder, meditating. Mr. T made offerings and prayers at various parts of the complex on behalf of all of us. 

Climbing down the steep temple steps following our final ascent, we regrouped, headed back to our rooms to shower, enjoyed a communal breakfast buffet and then headed back into the center of "Jogya" to the frenetic area known as Mailioboro Street. 

Stay tuned....

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!