Having spent a big chunk of my career helping others to manage their public reputations, “image” and commercial value, I have to confess that I am still absolutely incompetent when it comes to marketing myself. I like to use my inherent modesty as an excuse for this failing. But then I realise, in moments of look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror honesty, that I’m not a modest fellow… Damn. I realise that both my “real” work and my photography are infected with the same problem: I am a control freak, a harsh self-editor, a cruel self-critic. The result? Nothing gets done. Or the best bits get left out. Because I can’t “agree” with myself on what’s best. I suspect this is a problem that’s endemic to solo practitioners in all walks of life. We all need a spare set of eyes, ears etc., to help us to understand the value of things when we can’t see the wood for the trees. That’s why so many of us solo photographers are so good at pinpointing the first class images – in other peoples’ portfolios! Here are my current comp cards, as an example. I think they look “ok,” but it would be nice if they were “outstanding.” Some of them might actually be quite brilliant, but then my judgment is clouded by the fact that, for every image I publish, more than a thousand are filed away, never to see the light of day.
Tags: comp card, images, Marketing, photo editing, Photography, photojournalism, wedding photography, weddings
Tags: Balmain, Leichhardt, Sydney
Like most adventurous photographers I like to head off and travel to exotic places at least once every year. Often more than once. But, as this small series of local images reminds me…. sometimes there are exciting visual things right in your own backyard. One has to be reminded that it is not always necessary to go on expensive overseas trips in order to find challenging photographic subject matter. After all, don’t foreign tourists spend heaps of money just to be able to come to YOUR city, or mine, to explore and find photographic inspiration, in the same way as we go to theirs?
Tags: Bangkok, expedition, Night, Thailand
I’ve recently returned from a few weeks exploring old Bangkok and the Andaman Coast of Thailand – during the hot season! If you’d like to see a hundred of my favorite photographs of the trip you can see them at http://www.pbase.com/cwest/thailand_2013
It was probably not smart to visit Thailand during the hottest month of the year (April), but it certainly gave me plenty of excuses to spend a lot of time in the pool. Actually, I lie, I did swim every time I had time, but when one is visiting a country as exotic as Thailand the last thing you’d want to do afterwards would be to recall spending all your time lazing about. More so than Indonesia, I noticed that whilst I was dripping with perspiration it was very rare indeed to see any of the locals with so much as a shine on the forehead. Talk about evolutionary adjustment!
Another observation, and now I’m speaking as a photographer and explorer: if you’re as committed to exploring ancient temples, palaces and the like, it all gets a bit overwhelming. I’ve been processing thousands of photographs of the Grand Palace and temples of old Bangkok, as well as Chalong and the Phuket area – and it seems I have a gazillion images with more detail and nuance than my head can deal with. There have been times when I’ve deliberately taken a break for a few days before going on with the post-processing simply because it’s too much to handle.
Tags: bhutan, cambodia, children, crowdfunding, photo, Photography, photojournalism
UPDATE: I’ve had to cancel these initiatives, for now, as I am utterly useless at seducing people into parting with their money.
I’ve set up a crowdfunding initiative to get support for two projects that I’ve been invited to undertake in Cambodia and in Bhutan this year.
The complete details are here: http://www.indiegogo.com/chriswestinghouse
Tags: cameras, digital, photo, photographers, Photography
I was amused by scottbourne’s article, “Five Changes for the Worse in Photography” published by Photofocus on 30 January 2013 and tweeted by Corbis at http://t.co/yIvWLIFA
The proliferation of terribly smart digital cameras and photo software has certainly democratised photography, and made it far more accessible to hobbyists, wannabe-professionals, “pro-sumers” and, well, everybody who sports a camera phone. But this wonderful access to photography and its tools has its obvious downside too:
First, every Tom, Dick and Harry has taken the liberty of labeling himself as a “photographer.”
Worse, T, D and H, armed with wonderfully sophisticated digital cameras that can do everything from lightning fast autofocus to making a cup of tea, our friends Tom, Dick and Harry (and Margaret, Jill and Anne), are putting “proper” photographers into crisis. And stealing their jobs. Why, you might ask, are the hacks able to unseat the pro photographers? I’ll tell you: Photoshop and similar software allows one to do magic with just about any photograph, even the most dismal ones. So, if you’re good with photo manipulating software, you can fake anything, and fool most of the people most of the time. You can even fake talent, up to a point. Also, today’s cameras make it possible for the worst idiots to make images that are vaguely appealing to an audience (and clients) who are so accustomed to jaggy jpegs, over sharpening, and ridiculously over-contrasty images that even mediocre pics seem quite okay (Instagram has bred a whole new generation of photographers who find distortion to be funky, and defect to be cool). Add to that, of course, the fact that Tom, Dick and Harry are likely to be seduced into “doing” your photography for free in the vain promise of “exposure.”
In a nutshell, access to the new technologies has spawned an era of photography that has become cheap, in more ways than one. In fact, looking at dozens of “photographer wanted” ads every day, I am struck by the fact that the majority, almost all nowadays, indicate “no pay, but we’ll be giving you exposure and an opportunity to add to your portfolio.” Pro photographers can’t eat exposure, and most can find plenty to publish in their portfolios.
Second, there’s the issue of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
There are honesty issues in making photographic images. Like the odious self-appointed wine Tsars, who flirt with fruity gobbledegook to describe everything from the produce of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to plain plonk, there is a new political correctness accompanying the spreading malaise, in which it is considered “wrong” to say that a crap image is… crap. Oh no, everything must be appreciated, and everybody must be congratulated and lauded, even if they have no skill, no talent and almost no brain, and their images prove it. It is not politically correct to critique honestly – one must always praise. It seems that criticism, however constructive, must always be a sign of the viewer’s own lack of insight and failure to understand an image. Bollocks. When I look critically at a photograph I am trying to detect and appreciate the photographer’s camera skill and an honesty about the scene that has been imaged, not the photographer’s ability to do conjuring tricks with post-production software. Get it right: are you into photography or are you a playful graphic designer at heart? A photographic image is not a doodle. Pretentiousness in photography, like all things, is rarely welcome. To be sure, neither is deliberate unkindness. Access to the tools of photography on its own does not automatically make for successful image-making.
I believe there are three basic elements to good photography in this digital age: A decent capturing device (camera), practical photo editing software, and the eye of the image maker. Unless these three elements are capable of working together harmoniously and intelligently you’re never going to create good images. Obviously there are other elements too, but they’re not so basic to the creative process – luck, serendipity, the unexpected gift of beautiful, natural light etc., all help.
Bali is many different things to different people. In Australia it’s notorious as the place where younger people go to let down their hair and generally behave badly, and it has consequently earned a reputation that it doesn’t deserve. For many others, it remains of a place of intense spirituality and of deep religious, cultural and social fascination.
My partner and I simply avoid the places where you’d expect to find louts – they’re pretty obvious, and probably worth taking a look at, just to see how the “other half” aspires to live. Yep, I’m a bit judgemental. Largely because I have a strong affinity for the Balinese and I find the abuse of their heritage by disrespectful, drugged up and boozed up visitors to be offensive. Enough of the negative. But you need to know.
For this trip we decided to do things differently.
Instead of spending most of our time based at a central point, we made reservations at hotels all over Bali and hired a first rate stationwagon for the duration (two weeks of rental cost the same as you’d pay for a single day back in Australia!). We arrived at Denpasar airport and were quickly whisked away to the Puri Dalem Hotel in Sanur. The whole staff stood around watching as we checked in, especially because it was very late at night, and they were a bit amused to find that their two guests from Sydney were two guys – I guess they expected a “normal” couple. But, no matter, in minutes we were graciously ushered to our room by the marketing manager, Gege, and his staff. This was not an ordinary room. We found that we had been assigned a whole cottage, right next to one of the massive, sparkling and fabulously maintained swimming pools. Talk about falling out of bed and into the pool! We stayed a few nights, before undertaking our big expedition to Singaraja in the far North. I cannot recommend Puri Dalem highly enough – the warmth and service was impeccable and we’ll stay there again.
SINGARAJA / LOVINA
We had intended to spend a week up in the North exploring the cultural icons and doing a lot of snorkeling. It was not to be. The hotel we had booked had somewhat misled us in its advertising, and a litany of management failures led is to call in the manager over breakfast the next morning and tell him to prepare the bill. We were leaving. First, far from having “free wi-fi” its internet wasn’t working at all, and staff didn’t have a clue when it might be fixed. This was a no-no since I needed to keep in touch with home. Second, whilst they only had about a half dozen guests they still felt it was appropriate to give us a room overlooking a sewer… Not a single chair in the room, mould growing in the kitchen and cupboards, a swimming pool that closes at 7:30 at night etc etc. Can you imagine being in a sweltering tropical place and not being able to swim in the evening? As I pointed out to the manager, we had sat in the breakfast room for an hour and had not even once been greeted by any of the staff – which is terribly un-Balinese. And the beach was a laughable option, with medical waste strewn all over. It was a disappointment to say the least.
We drove into Singaraja, picked up a wi-fi connection and contacted our friend Gege back in Sanur and asked if we could have the cottage back for another week. Puri Dalem opened its arms wide and we started our return trek to Sanur via the mountains, Batur, and Ubud. Arriving back in Sanur was like coming home.
We returned to Ubud for a few nights, staying at the Artini2 cottages that are located more-or-less in the middle of the residential village. We always spend time in Ubud – like most frequent travellers, we have one or two favorite spots, and in our case it’s Ubud, the royal and cultural capital of old Bali. Artini2 provides excellent accommodation in “severely Balinese” style.
The last leg of our journey saw us spending four days in Jimbaran Beach, famous for its breathtaking sunsets and the freshness of its sea harvest. Everybody goes to Jimbaran to eat the freshest seafood on the planet, right on the beach. Our digs were a treat and much more than we expected: The Puri Bambu Hotel is a magnificent, traditional, artsy, beautifully maintained treasure that you will find down a backstreet not 200m away from the fabulous beach itself.
WHAT DID WE DO THIS TIME?
The road trip from Sanur to Singaraja along the East coast was brilliant. As one leaves the commercial centres the crazy traffic gives way to a more rural pace, few vehicles, villages that are less frantic and people who are less sensitised to being overwhelmed by tourists. It’s quieter and the scenery is lovely. In Singaraja, though we ended up only staying one night, we went shopping at a great big shopping mall, where we managed to replace our ailing sandals with two pairs of the most robust sports sandals you’ve ever seen for a price that would be ridiculous anywhere else.
The trip through the mountains from Singaraja to Ubud took us far higher up in the peaks than I anticipated – the road is windy, pretty full of vehicles (mainly motorcycles) and amusing. Just when you thought you were touching the clouds and couldn’t go any higher…. you went higher. It was marvelous, fresh, crisp and I must confess I found it extremely exhilarating. Winding down the other side we were faced with the flooded temples on the banks of Lake Buyan, centre of the “stroberi” industry, which you and I know as “strawberry.” Not far down the road is the famous Lake Bratan, with its famous temples on the lake, now overlooked by an imposing new Mosque that is being built on the overlooking hill. We decided to take side roads to get to Ubud. Probably not wise. To this day I still don’t know exactly how we managed to get through the boggy, ditched, be-bouldered muddy tracks, but we did. Never again. Don’t do it unless you have a proper 4×4! The joy of this risky business is that it took us to the most charming, small villages in the middle of nowhere, definitey far from the tourists.
In Ubud, we simply “hung out,” spending a lot of our time in the famous Monkey Forest, eating a lot, walking the town and its suburbs, and yes visiting the compulsory Ubud fresh produce market, royal palace and obscure temples. Ubud has great places to eat, our favorite being “The Dirty Duck,” a place to which we always make a pilgrimage.
Our first visit to Sanur back in 2000 had not been a pleasant one. Tides had washed away the beach, we were almost ripped off by crooks and had cut our stay very short. This tme was different. Sanur’s beaches are brilliant, well served by restaurants and vendors, and the most wonderful late afternoon / evening meeting place. Thousands of people throng to the beach every evening and stay long after the sun has set, highlighting the imposing Gunung Agung, which towers over everything despite its distance. Now one can hire a bicycle and cycle the entire length of Sanur on a path shared with pedestrians.
I had not realised until this visit (armed with our own vehicle), how easy it is and how close, to get into Denpasar itself and some of the glorious architectural wonders like the Monumen Perjuangan Rakyat.
Jimbaran is a very convenient base for exploring Kuta, the so-called Beach Babylon of Bali. I may be wrong, but I am certain that there has been a lot of improvement in Kuta. Not only in terms of infrastructure and facilities, but noticeable also in terms of maintenance around the beaches. It was a pleasure to do walks on the beaches that, some years ago, were messy and uninspiring. It’s almost as if Kuta has woken up to itself and taken a bit more pride in what it is.
The highlight of Kuta for me was when I went in search of a woman named Christina, from whom I had bought my first, gawdy beach sarong many many years ago. I dared my partner to help me find her. We went to the spot where we had first met her and asked after her, only to be told she had moved along a long time ago. Something said to me, “keep looking.” And lo and behold, not 20 metres away I stared straight into her face and said, “you are Chris!” She said, “Yes, my name is Christina.” It was a lovely reunion. So many things have changed in my own life over all these years, but hers was exactly the same – except that she now had a bigger, better sarong stall. Her busband still drives taxi number 5 at the airport too!
Jimbaran also provides an easy commute to the less well-known theme park, Garuda Wisnu Kencana, which features a massive bronze of Vishnu, among others, and where tourists can watch a concoction of performances of Balinese dance. It is highly, highly recommended. And while you’re there, if you’ve never ridden on a Segway before, give it a go!
For more photographs please visit : http://www.pbase.com/cwest/bali_2012