Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Four months - a reflection

It is almost August, almost four months traveling. This is without a doubt the trip of my lifetime. I have been fortunate as I have had very few bad experiences on this trip. Yes, the tummy upset at the beginning, but nothing else like that so far.

Visiting Milan, for my third time. And visitng Moscow and Rome for the second time after ten and twenty years, I realise how human I am. How human, we all are. We can only experience such small portions of a city, and our human brains will forget what it has experienced. It is all in the head, what we experience. It is only with a brain that we can be cognizant of what our eyes, ears, nose tells us. And then the brain, limited in capacity, will forget it. We only have the shadows of the shadows of the experiences in our heads. And these shadows are mixed up with the dreams that spontaneously come into our heads. Time passes, and things will remain in a tangled memory for a while, to be forever forgotten when we are gone.

This trip has been great, showing me so many things that I have never seen before. giving me the opportunity to met old friends too. And a reason for me to take some photographs. But I asked my friend Jaizki about how he felt about his trip overland to Spain from Singapore, and he replied that it was like a dream. This life that passes so quickly, is really just a dream, a passing moment in eternity. A spark in the infinite darkness.

But I will tell you what, I am a happy spark. And I hope that they will be able to see me at the edge of the universe.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A week in St Anna in Camperana, doing a photographic workshop

I spent a week in St Anna doing a photographic workshop with Arno Minkinnen. I worked pretty hard and took more pictures than at any other point of my trip, but I am not ready to show the work. The project, called 'Starlight Sonata', was chosen as project of the week and I won a Spyder 3 screen calibrator. But this is the first project that I think that I will be able to continue after the workshop is over. Particularly since I am still traveling and I think that there are places where I can continue with the project as I travel. So I do not have much to say or show for this week.

On the way to St Anna, I stopped off at the house of my friend, Gianluca, for lunch with his family. The photos of the children are his nieces and nephew. And on the way to Milan from St. Anna, I traveled with Mario, whom I am staying with now in Milan. I met both Gianluca and Mario at the TPW workshops. So, you can see how all this ties in together. At St Anna itself, all I have are a few portraits of the people I met.

I made new friends in the week and plan to visit some of them in Finland later on this journey.

As much as I enjoyed all the courses in Tuscany, this may be my last time there on course. I think it is time to take my work further, and maybe look for photographic residencies, to that I can continue to build my body of work.

Another Rome

Except for a one day visit to the Vatican a few years back, I must have not been back to Rome for twenty years, my first impression of it not being good. I remember crowded streets and crazy drivers. But my Roman friend Gianluca kept assuring me that there is a Rome that is warm and friendly. So I decided to give it another chance after all these years, why not?

On my first day in Rome I went to places like the Spanish steps and was just assailed by the huge number of tourists there. I guess that me being a tourist means that I should not be complaining, but I still did not enjoy it. I started taking pictures of the tourists and graffiti. This is another Rome for me, a Rome that was not as bad as in my memory, but not the Rome of the guide books.

And the summer heat was just full on when I was there.

I did have a nice dinner with my friend Gianluca, and I did visit a William Klein exhibition on Rome. The typical Rome is not attractive, but there is Another Rome.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A little bit more Arles

After doing my best to cover most of the exhibitions at Recontres in seven days, I took it easy. I also met quite a few people I know like Herman, a fellow student from TPW, the french photographer, Francois Hugier, who stayed in my house for a month in Singapore, Carlos who runs TPW, and Diego and Claudia who assisted at TPW. So nice.

I did do a one day workshop with Paolo Roversi on a Sunday. He is a tall elegant looking Italian gentleman. His images are so beautiful and timeless. He stressed that one needs to put heart into the photography and there needs to be some risk and surprise. So true. He looked at my images and noted that there is not very much Singapore in it. And I wonder what of Singapore could I put in my images that is true and not a cliche, self-censorship? That is the truest Singaporean input that I have in my work. Ah well, I am what I am, I am inspired to continue trying to capture beauty. With all the horrifying images that impinge on our eyes constantly, we need beautiful ones too.

My landlady and landlord took me to the beach a couple of times. The first time for a quick visit, the second for a swim. They are the Italian couple in the pictures. They are Olga and Michele. I had such a nice stay and when I return to Arles, I will stay with them again! The boat in the pictures is the boat I stayed in.

So just a few more impressions of Arles as I walked around this pretty town.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Les Rencontres Arles Photography

Le Recontres Arles is a big festival. It is recommended that at least three days is needed to see all the exhibitions. I had a seven day pass, and it was still difficult to assimilate all the images. An image is not like a play or a dance piece, which takes 15 minutes to three hours. We can view hundreds of images in an hour, but we can only hold one image in our minds at a time. Well, at least I can only hold one image in my head at a time.  When you are going through 60 exhibitions, a multitude of books and slide presentations, it is like an animal being force fed.

I have been constipated in my own photography. I gorged myself at this visual feast, hoping that something inside will burst out of me. Will it be a golden egg or just shit? I do not know, but I want something to come out of this intake, anything. Regardless, I want to go in a new direction. Anxiously, I stuff more images through the openings in my eyes, I open my eyes wide.

I do not have a ticket today, thank goodness. It is an excuse to rest.

Like anything this big, some work is mind-blowing and some work is simply bad. Some work I can appreciate for its originality, but it is not aesthetically to my taste.
I am talking about anybodies reaction to any such a festival.


My persona favorite exhibition is a retrospective of the Italian master Mario Giacomelli.  His imagery is graphic, high contrast, visceral. Another favorite of mine was the collection of film maker Marin Karmitz. He has work by Anders Peterson, Michael Ackerman, Roger Ballen, Doisneau amongst others. His collection is also of very strong visceral work as well.

On a more commercial note, I loved the work of Claude Gassian, a french photographer for music. He has shot so many great musicians like the Rolling Stones, Chet Baker, Oasis, Rod Stewart, the list goes on. He also had a slideshow in one of the evening presentations.

The great find for me was Paris based photographer Klavdij Sluban. His exhibition was based on this travels in Trans Siberia. His book won the European book publishers award. It was a very moody black and white world.

Except for Claude Gassian, I found that most of the work that really grabbed me was black and white and was strong stuff. Gassian's work was very dramatic too!

Besides the work that many of my friends would guess that I love, there was also very interesting work which was not photography in the way we usually think of it. For example, there was an exhibition called Shoot!, which is about how fun fair shooting galleries used to have a camera which would automatically take a portrait of someone when that person hits the bulls eye. This was a fascinating collection of famous people like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sarte amongst images of anonymous people.

From China, Zhang Dali, exhibited a piece of work called Second History. He went to research the images archives and found the original images that proved that a lot of the Chinese propaganda images had been collaged and doctored heavily. And it was amazing what could be accomplished way before the age of photoshop. I would not buy these images to put on my wall, but the work was truly intriguing.


While more of a visual artist than a photographer, Leon Ferrari, made use of images to criticize the Roman Catholic church in Argentina as well as the Americans continual use of force. They hung his most famous piece, Western Christian Civilization, which is a Christ figure, crucified on a jet fighter, in the altar place of an old church. Controversial indeed.

There were activities in the evening, like slideshow screenings and prize givings. So there was little time to rest.

Recontres D'arles is similar to the Edinburgh Festival in that it has an alternative festival called Voies Off which I think is the image equivalent of the Fringe in Edinburgh. A lot of Voies Off happened in the African quarter of Arles and evening screenings there were often accompanied by music and food.

This was truly a great slice of photography. It was inspiring in the best work, intriguing in the challenging work and of course sleep inducing in the boring work. I do want to come back again.

And I was very fortunate that my friend Anna, recommended this boat on the canal to stay on. It is owned by a lovely Italian couple, Olga and Michele and is a short walk from the city centre. But in the summer heat, being on a canal really helps. However, one has to take shelter inside about 7pm because the mosquitoes come out in force at that time. Still, I would definitely stay here again.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Arles- Inspiration from books

Not only are there exhibitions in Arles, but there are many books as well. There is a book competition and in a hall there are four hundred books on the short list. Here are some that caught my eye.


On Borrowed Time by Henrik Malmsstrom

Black Passport by Stanley Greene

Flow and Fusion by Ken Kitano

Daughters by Margaret M. de Lange

 Francesa Woodman by Francesca Woodman

So much to see, so little brain to store it all away.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A sea of images in Arles

There are so many exhibitions and great images in Arles. But here are a few of the most inspiring for me.

Candy Darling on her deathbed by Peter Hujar

An image from a work called 'MAD' by Gabriel Valansi

Roast in Mendiolaza by Marcos Lopez

Musicians Portraits by Claude Gassian

From the work 'Half Life' by Michael Ackerman

An installation by Christian Boltanski

More to come...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

St Petersburg to Arles via Moscow, Berlin and Paris

After spending five days on the Trans Siberian Rail, other trips do not seem so daunting. But honestly, the Trans Siberian is about chilling with different people for five days on the train. Making my way to Arles took 4 days, three different trains, a night in Moscow, 12 hours in Berlin and another night in Paris. When I got to Moscow, I found that my hotel was way north of the centre of town. I got to the right metro station, Vladykino, and then got lost. In three months, this is the most lost I ever got, but fortunately I found a taxi who took me to the hotel for rubles. The next morning I decided not to take the chance, I booked a taxi to take me to the train station.

The train from Moscow to Paris was very close to empty. I do not think that many people know of this train. So I had a three bunk cabin all to myself, but even then it was pretty small. The unexpected surprise is that there was a twelve hour stop over in Berlin. I took the opportunity to book some train tickets for Arles to Rome, change my traveler's cheques to euros and buy medication for hay fever. That is what I love about Germany, they are efficient! I made friends with a Russian girl, Ann, from Smolensk, on her way to Paris for a summer attachment. She had never been out of Russia before and was nervous about finding her way around. It turned out that I became a tour guide for the first few hours in Berlin. I took to Brandenburgh Tor and then the radio tower and then to Alexander Platz. After a hamburger lunch, I had to return to the train station to do my stuff although Ann seemed a bit nervous. I was happy to see her at the train station later that night before it was time for us to continue our journey to Paris.

And Paris. It is one of those cities that I have visited several times for a few days at a time, and so I have only seen parts of it. It is such a large city. I booked a relatively cheap hotel near the Bastille. The web site said that the showers were shared so it is more like a hostel. That did not bother me, but the summer heat was a killer. And my room faced the main street, with traffic and loud Parisians walking by. I sleep well most of the time, but this was as hard as it gets for me to sleep.

The next day, it was a relatively short train ride to Arles where my landlord, Michel, picked me up. A friend, Anna, had recommended this bed and breakfast place on a boat in Arles. I did not really know what to expect, but I found a lovely little boat on a canal. Olga and Michel are an old Italian couple living here because the air is much better than in Italy, or that is what they say. Right now there is a group of Italian photographers renting other rooms as well on the boat. I have already spent a day walking around in Arles and visiting the exhibitions. It looks like it is going to be a lot of fun, but I will save that for the next post.

I will still have some overnight trains before I finish this journey, but I think there will any more long continuous days of journey. Coming to Europe, there are more options, but it is not necessarily easier, and it is definitely more expensive than the first half of my journey in Asia. C'est la vie!