Caeruleum

With winter comes improved chances of clear blue skies which sometimes last all day long. The lighting sharpens and the shadows deepen. (5 images)

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Theme of Parallel

“Why are you so sure parallel lines exist?
Believe nothing, merely because you have been told it, or because it is traditional, or because you have imagined it.”

— Attributed to Gautama Buddha in George Edward Martin,
The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 47.

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Is minimalism actually just a refuge?

There is this love-hate relationship I have developed with the urban minimal photography theme.

img_9167I find myself naturally drawn to seeking such subjects when out on the streets, and I find very appealing the clean–perhaps clinical–simplicity of the genre, but at the end of it all, I wonder if one may argue that there is a certain vacuum in subject matter and a certain absence of depth (at times spatial as much as emotional) which really is just a way of revealing the lack of potential in one’s photography (read: my own).

And yet there is a fabulous community of minimal photographers on Instagram, with a range of undoubtedly stunning shots that can also be taken as very inspiring and proof that there is something to be said about the genre.

I remain on the fence. But do check out #minimalphoto, #paradiseofminimal, #rsa_minimal (to name just three popular tags) to see some interesting collections, or–at times–to find that diamond in the rough.

I wonder (dread?) if my forays into minimalism are really just the seeking of refuge from the inability to produce more dynamic, deep, and narratively-potent street shots. On the other hand, the minimal approach aligns well with my current life view. Perhaps there is purpose and reward after all.

Just writing down my current thoughts… If you have made it this far, what are your thoughts on minimalist photography? Care to share?

Below is a trio of recent attempts in the minimal theme from my Instagram (anyfidelity)–they share the attribute of a wall as background. They are not very good examples, I admit, but I think the basic spirit is there.

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Selected Shots of 2016 (III)

Part 3: Rejects

• While the last two posts featured pictures for this blog taken in 2016, this post covers the images which were not posted at all.

Some are outtakes from projects, others are shots from projects which remain incomplete, and there are also images which have no assigned project. (Recently, I tend to avoid posting solo shots and instead post sets of 3 or more pictures sharing a theme). Finally, there are shots that just did not work for one reason or another.

In this third and final post of Selected Shots of 2016 (see Part 1: People and Part 2: Without People), here is a selection of twelve ‘rejects’.

1.

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Taken six months ago, since that time I have not managed to complete a set with a theme to share with this shot.

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The crosswalk-and-matching-shirt-pattern theme is perhaps overdone, so this didn’t make it up.

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At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens, a father poses with a guard for his son. I decided to post instead the picture that followed this one, showing the child’s pleasure for having taken the picture of dad while looking back at mum. See Daddy and Guard.

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These are tourists dressed in Japanese traditional clothing in Kyoto. I tried to get similar shots where my shadow was a compositional element, but it never happened.

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The Burj Khalifa was interesting for the throng of tourists vying for a sunset pic from its observatory (see here) but otherwise not noteworthy except maybe for its framing here under an arch of one of the buildings nearby.

6.

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I played with the idea of a set of shots with a narrative or two in the image along with people smoking. It’s yet another project that did not get completed. Sidenote: if you look carefully, you can see the photographer’s reflection.

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This is an outtake from the Umbrella Men series. It appeared at first to be a weak image although it fit the theme. Seeing it for a second time now, I like the contrast of angles between the umbrella and the pavement stripes, as well as the monochrome feel although it’s a colour shot. I wonder if its inclusion would have been better, as it portrays an umbrella differently than the other shots in the series.

8.

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Something which begs an explanation is going on here. It is early Sunday morning near the entertainment district in Shinjuku, Tokyo. There is an exchange of cash while an onlooker seemingly strikes a pose but is actually just shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. I am not sure if the ambiguity is a plus or a minus, but in the end I did not like the empty parts on the left and right sides of the photo.

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Here is an attempt at some abstract photography, but I did not get around to making other shots to complete a set. However, it was recently posted on Instagram (anyfidelity).

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I chose another picture instead of this one for a staged shoot in Ginza, Tokyo.

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This shot at Shin-Osaka Station did not make the cut for the small set on street nappers, To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.

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I had an idea to do a small set on mirrors with my mug as subject, such as in this hotel elevator in Athens. However, I got a bit spooked and decided not to follow through with more shots…!

Selected Shots of 2016:
Part 1 (People) | Part 2 (Without People) | Part 3 (Rejects)

Selected Shots of 2016 (II)

Part 2: Without People

• Photographing people is fine (see last post: Selected Shots of 2016 (I)), but for me there is equal appeal in pictures with inanimate subjects, especially the kind which lean toward urban minimalism.

Here are twelve shots with no human subject that sum up my 2016. They are in no particular order.

1.

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Old Dubai is a treasure trove of interesting arrangements of lines, shapes, and colour like this one of a heavily painted wall, door, utility box, and cable. It is part of the photo series Basic Dubai, a collection of shots which are compositionally simple and have at least a hint of minimalism.

2.

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A traffic sign and a wall in a residential area of Athens had me thinking about the appeal of negative space. It is taken from the series Basic Athens.

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An interplay of cable, shadow, and door frame caught my eye while walking through the main town of Aegina island, a short ferry ride from Athens. It is part of the photo series Basic Aegina.

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It was well past midnight and I was on the tarmac of Dubai International Airport about to board a plane. There was no time to fiddle with camera settings and framing, so I could  manage only one shot as I passed by the massive wing engine. The result was one of my favourites of the year, as simple as it may be.

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Having just returned to Japan after nearly two weeks of travel which took me to The Emirates and Greece, I was on a hike in Nara when, in the middle of a forest, I was struck by the lush greenery in the trees as something to savour in place of the grime, concrete, and grit found on my recent trip abroad.

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There’s something oddly attractive about pipes. I was caught here by the juxtaposition of gentle curves and hard lines in this doorway to a an old home in Osaka.

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Somewhere in downtown Osaka I came across this mysterious fixture on the outside of a building. I liked how the pipes ran perpendicular to the unusual trimming on the base of the wall. It’s part of a small set of minimalist images which ran in Autumn. See ••• and the posts which precede it.

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At the entrance to Athens International Airport was this flagpole bearing the Greek flag. As it billowed in the wind, I liked how it created fluid lines which contrasted with the hard edges of the airport building behind it.

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Bright blue days are always to be appreciated. In this geeky shot I like the sunlit plaster walls and the tile trimmings. It’s part of small set of images featuring the tiling of traditional Japanese architecture, commonly found in temple compounds. See ••••.

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This is a blend of lines from a large parasol and the fence of a terraced beach cafe outside Kobe, Japan. Here I spent the better part of an afternoon drinking a few beers in the shade. Ah, summer.

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There is something alluring about the desert. Dubai Dunes is a small series of shots from a desert outing in The Emirates.

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Wandering about Osaka Station, I happened to look up and saw this interesting combination of lines, shapes and angles that made up the  ceiling. I framed it square because it accentuated these elements. It’s part of a small set called Theme of Angle.

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Selected Shots of 2016:
Part 1 (People) | Part 2 (Without People) | Part 3 (Rejects)

Selected Shots of 2016 (I)

Part 1: People

• Below are twelve pictures that sum up 2016 for me. They all contain people as the subject (a second set of shots without people will come next). The selection criteria was based merely on their emotional appeal–in other words, they stand out for their personal memories of 2016. They are in no particular order.

1.

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It was early spring and I was in Dubai. I was keen to get back into street photography, but there was a prickly feeling that something was wrong with taking pictures without permission. The dilemma came to a head when I spotted a fruit seller who seemed down on his luck and who looked right through me when I took the shot, recounted in my post here.

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It was a thrill to visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens. I also sought a picture or two contrasting the artefacts on display with museum visitors. The best I could manage was this one of a young student, evidently part of a school field trip to the museum, with pencil and notepaper in hand while examining one of the main exhibits of relief sculpture. I chose this picture to accompany my post about returning to blogging after an absence of six years. See Back Again: To Recap.

3.

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I saw red on the island of Aegina, Greece. This photo is rather ordinary, except for the number of items sharing the same colour. What first got my attention was the red shirt of the waiter framed by the red facade of the cafe. But when I noticed a redheaded customer enter wearing red sneakers with a red pullover tied about her waist, I knew I had to capture her when she exited.

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I was being a geeky tourist in Athens by photographing a marble building with huge columns. It was across the street from where I was standing, so I made use of my zoom lens at maximum setting. I took several shots and took my time about it as I waited for pedestrians to get out of the way. But I realized it would be a while, as a man exited the building for a smoke break and stood behind one of the columns, eyeing me suspiciously. So I made do with his stare and waited for an elderly couple and a pigeon to join in.

5.

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For my first attempt at layered photography, I positioned myself carefully so as to capture pedestrian traffic on both sides of the street. I was in Kyoto, it was mid-summer, and the many Chinese tourists were helpful in lingering about without caring that I photographed them. I targeted a pair in the background and a lady in the foreground as I eyed them all through my viewfinder. Peripherally, I discerned that a cyclist was fast approaching and I knew I had a chance to an add an extra layer to the shot, if only I could time it right. It was featured on the website Urban Picnic Street Photography.

6.

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It was a hot summer day and I was in Kyoto on an errand. But I had brought my camera, and it was not long before I spotted a kimono-clad woman holding a parasol. The challenge was to get a shot that would not look cliché. I raised my camera above my head, pointed it downwards, and shot blind so as to try to get a “figure to ground” picture. I’m not sure if I managed to avoid the cliché, but I was satisfied with the result.

7.

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I had just purchased a Ricoh GR and was eager to use it, but it was the middle of the rainy season. Unperturbed, I went out with an umbrella, shot under it in the rain and also ventured into covered arcades and underground passages. With all the umbrellas about, I thought a project on men holding umbrellas would be fun (see Umbrella Men). My preferred of the series is this one, as I think I managed to time it just right. I was in an underground passageway with intriguing black and white tiles like a chessboard. I decided to see what I could get out of it, and I was happy with this interplay between the floor pattern and a passing gentleman holding a clasped umbrella. I stood there for quite a while to get it.

8.

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Japan has quite the drinking culture. Public drunkedness really isn’t frowned upon, nor is it something the police generally bother to do something about. Early Sunday morning in downtown Osaka is always an opportunity to find people snoozing away after a night of drinking fun. This photo is part of the small set To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.

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This picture is part of a small set where a hand had special focus in each shot. It was taken at a famous shrine in Kyoto while a temple staff member was closing a sliding door. See Job of Hand.

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The late summer was a particularly stressful time. To distract myself, I escaped Osaka for a weekend and went to Tokyo to do a few days of street shooting from dawn to dusk. It was early Sunday morning and I was milling about Shinjuku station feeling disappointed with the shots I had taken so far (a common feeling) when I sensed that this security guard might be an interesting subject to juxtapose with passing pedestrians and the adverts behind him. It is one of my favourite shots of the year, as the angles, lines, and hues resonate with me.

11.

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I quite enjoyed doing the photo project Umbrella Men during the rainy season, mentioned above. But when the rains stopped and the summer started with its intense sunshine, the parasols came out in full force. Japan is rather unique that way–parasols and umbrellas are everyday items. I guess it was natural to follow with a project on parasols, but it didn’t dawn on me right away. I was in the downtown area, street shooting, when, after taking this rather simple shot, it occurred to me to start the project. It would last for several weeks. See Parasol Women.

12.

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It was early autumn but it was still hot. The sunlight was intense and the shadows were deep–an enticing invitation that photographers would understand. I was in downtown Osaka prowling about for street shots, but without success. On a whim I started taking pictures of passersby from the waist down. Here is what I ended up with. I am not sure if it really works on any level, but personally I like it. It became part of one of my last sets for the year, Theme of Black.

*

To mark the new year, my heartfelt thanks to all my visitors, and those bloggers whom I follow, for stopping by and inspiring me during 2016.

Selected Shots of 2016:
Part 1 (People) | Part 2 (Without People) | Part 3 (Rejects)

On time

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A sunny autumn day lured me and my camera outdoors. I roamed aimlessly around the neighbourhood taking pictures of the simplest of things, like traffic posts, door frames, shadows on walls, or pavement lines. I sought nothing extraordinary, and found something comforting in the simplicity of my subjects.

And thus while making my way down the streets and alleys of northern Osaka, I found myself reflecting on a book I had recently finished: Hardcore Zen, by Brad Warner.

Or perhaps it was the other way around—the book had lingered in my mind and it was only now that I was noticing it.

For apart from its illustrative drawing of parallels between punk rock and Zen Buddhism, Hardcore Zen introduces the reader to a concept central to Zen: the focus on the present moment. While the author asserts that punk rock and Zen find common ground in their principles of questioning authority and being non-conformist in nature, he also stresses the stripping away of idealism, illusions, and notions of past and future in order to focus instead on what lies before oneself: a reality rooted in the present, however banal it may be, and where, importantly, insight can manifest itself. Central to this goal is the practice of meditation, which is both absurdly simple and difficult at the same time. (Paradox appears to be an abundant motif in Zen readings, at least for the novice).

By striving to ground oneself to the here and now, steady meditation can bring balance, clarity, and perspective to an otherwise hectic world.

It is in a similar vein that an activity which absorbs a person enables a “losing of oneself in time”. As for mindful pursuits, photography may be regarded as having a particularly interesting connection with time because the end result of that activity, the photograph, can be an artifact of the complete engagement of the photographer and not merely a snap of the so-called past. As for the genre of street photography, it has been described as an attempt to “transcend the everyday”. It does this by toying with content, space, and compositional elements.

Overhead a constant stream of airplanes flew by while descending on their approach to the city airport a few kilometres away to the northwest.

Eric Kim Workshop (Kyoto) – Day 2

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It would have been ideal to finish the weekend with some stronger images, but that did not happen. I could not produce anything noteworthy…

However, it was a treat to see everyone else’s self-selected top three shots, as the workshop culminated with a critique and discussion to vote on the best photo from each participant—and there were some very good images indeed. Getting a feel for each other’s unique photographic style was not just fascinating, but a source of inspiration, too.

See the roundup of student photos for the Kyoto 2016 workshop on Eric’s blog here.

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Eric Kim Workshop (Kyoto) – Day 1

That’s quite a hiatus — 2 months — but the days zipped by while I refocused on my day job and committed what little free time I had to my DJing. However, there is nothing like a full day of street shooting, banter, and guidance at an Eric Kim workshop to get things going again. It was a thrill to meet the man himself and other street enthusiasts, including the legendary Junku Nishimura (Flickr) and Sean Lotman.

Here is a trio of shots from the first day.

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