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
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
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 have 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.
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
Amidst all the hype about the new iPad from Apple, it seems most photographers are missing the most exciting thing about the new technology. I am talking about the amazing retina display. And, no, not just the fact that it is brilliant to look at… I am talking about what it means for your business.
Igor Faletski refers to it in his short article for CNET on 13 April 2012, when he points out the fact that corporate design (and this actually means ALL design, including photographic images) aimed at the internet is going to have to be…. well, “re-designed!” Why?
In the past everybody who had any visual elements of any kind on their web pages was able to get away with fairly mediocre imaging. This applied to photographic elements too. So what? How did this affect professional photographers? In the most undermining posssible way: every Tom, Dick and Harry (and their sons and daughters) were able to make photographs that were kinda “good enough” to pass on the internet, because normal screen resolution was pretty forgiving. So, in an effort to cut costs, many companies simply got their photography done by the Chairman ‘s teenage son or daughter, who went out with a point-and-shoot or a smart digital SLR and shot all the images for a few Dollars of pocket money. Not any more.
The good news for professional photographers then, is simply this:
1. Statistics overwhelmingly demonstrate that folks who own the new iPads and iPhones prefer to do their online shopping using their new mobile devices – with retina displays. More than 60% of iPhone and iPad users prefer to shop on their mobile devices rather than their regular computers.
2. Poorly photographed products and other visual elements look fairly awful on these devices – and web designers and photographers whose work is destined for these websites…. will have to produce images that are a whole lot “better” than before. No more asking the Chairman’s teenager to take some snaps. Unless you don’t care about your customers’ experience of your website…
Apple’s retina display technology cannot avoid being the catalyst for a return to high standard photographic imaging. That means using a professional.
If you’re keen on a holiday in a south Pacific paradise and you don’t need too many frills, Vanuatu (previously the “New Hebrides”) is well worth a visit.
My partner and I have been frequent visitors to the main island of Efate, staying at various locations in and around the capital city of Port Vila, “Vila” for short.
No matter what your budget is, you’ll not go hungry here. Snappy nightlife? Nope. Sophisticated restaurants and shopping malls? No, though there are plenty of really good restaurants, serving local dishes and French-influenced cuisine that will make your mouth water. Hotels? Plenty of them, and varying between the luxurious and the… well, shall we just say “quaint?”
The roads are pretty awful – but then so are the roads in suburban Sydney. Just a few years ago the first “proper” road was made around the whole island. In past visits we endured what can only be described as a muddy track. And yes, we got stuck and needed some help. Nowadays it’s ashphalt, and you can circumnavigate without a 4X4.
I can’t speak for Vanuatu’s 80-odd other islands, but they are still substantially primitive and a favorite location for photographers who enjoy documenting wild nature and communities relatively untouched by modernisation.
One theory that I have put to the test on each visit is this: it has been claimed (over the years), that the Ni-Vanuatu (the folks who live there) are the friendliest people in the world. I take this sort of claim with a pinch of salt. Usually. But I am very happy to endorse it. Friendly, happy, totally community-forged, these people, young and old, touch my very soul. Yes, they are somewhat influenced by a hundred years of intense Christian missionary work, but I believe that regardless of that, they are a nation that is inherently blessed – no gods required. They are what we westerners might call, “a poor nation.” They rely utterly on foreign aid. But look beyond the bank balance, and they are without a doubt a very rich nation indeed. You can tell that I love this place.
Tips? Sure. You won’t need to carry bags of cash (they have reliable ATMs). You will need some sunblock, and comfortable clothes, hats and shoes – this place is hot and humid. Hotels come in all shapes and sizes and good food is always just a minute’s walk from wherever you are. You won’t be nagged by hawkers, like those in Bali, for example. And it’s politically and socially stable. Crime? Apparently not. In fact, on one of our visits we were told that some prisoners were going to stage a jailbreak one evening. In proper fashion they informed the guards of their intentions. And then proceeded to “escape,” setting fire to some rubbish in the grounds and then being ushered back inside. Very civilised.
Things you should do? First, you must visit the produce market on the foreshore in downtown Vila. It’s the centre of everything, a meeting place, a town hall, a bazaar. Produce is very cheap, totally fresh and strolling through the place is a delight. I’ve visited it a million times at all times of the day and night – even photographing vendors in the very small hours of the morning. I produced a book of portraits in 2009 in which market people were my primary source. You can preview it here: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/771217
You should take an all-day cruise. I’ve never gone on one of the yacht charters, but I have done the all-day cruise on Havanna Bay on the vintage sailing vessel, “Congoola.” I recommend it for all ages – they pick you up in a bus, take you to Havanna Bay, ferry you across to the boat and set sail for a turtle sanctuary, snorkelling off the deck, and deposit you for a few hours at an isolated, stunning beach for some swimming, snorkelling and a beach BBQ, before returning you to land later in the afternoon. I’ve loved this trip every time.
You simply must visit the Mele waterfalls, just a few minutes outside of Vila. The main entrance area has become a bit commercialised in recent years, but as soon as you walk up the mountain in the direction of the source, you leave the bar and restaurant behind you. It’s a longish walk to the falls, but they are among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. There are numerous pools and a chain that you can hold onto while you clamber through the shallow rushing water on the granite outcrops before discovering the main falls. They are high. Most of the time they are open for you to explore. But beware, the water is crushing! If you are really adventurous you can even try to navigate under the falls to find the concealed cave, which is completely disguised by the falling cascades. There are attendants on hand who will look after your cameras and other belongings. And yes, there are two vareties of snakes on Efate – but they are harmless, so don’t be afraid if you encounter one. The spiders on the island are magnificent – if you’re into that sort of thing. You can touch them all at the “Secret Garden,” about half a kilometer from the Mele Cascades.
I’ve left out so much…. perhaps I’ll tell you more another time! In the meantime, you can visit my galleries of Vanuatu photographs here: http://www.pbase.com/cwest/vanuatu_2009
My partner and I visited Bali for the first time in 2000, staying in Kuta for almost a month, and venturing out on day trips to explore the beautiful “Island of the Gods.” We were living in South Africa then and Bali was considered to be just about the most exotic travel destination one could imagine. It was.
In 2010, after living in New Zealand for 5 years, and Australia for another 5, we decided to venture back to the place that had captured our hearts. Looking at Bali with Australian eyes is not the same as looking at it with African ones. For most Australians, sadly, Bali is a synonym for Babylon; a place where ill-mannered and uneducated slobs go to explore their dark side. It had been 10 years since we had last been there, but we had faith that the fantastically mysterious and magical Balinese people would be just the same as we remembered them. And they were. Kuta was just as challenging as in 2000, but this time we swapped it for 12 days based in the place I call the centre of the universe, Ubud.
Kuta may be Babylon, and Denpasar may be the motor vehicle’s version of Hell, but anywhere and everywhere you go… sanity and unspeakable natural and human beauty is just a few steps away. But you must be willing to step away from the main street in whichever town you’re in, and take a walk down an alley, a bush path or a broken sidewalk. We do that all that time. This is where you will discover Bali.
In a few weeks my partner and I will be returning for our third visit, yet another photo expedition. This time we will be a bit more adventurous. We’ll kick off with a few days in Sanur and then take a drive around the east coast until we get to the Lovina area, where we’ll be spending about a week in an off-the-beaten-track, traditional resort on the beach near Singaraja. Then we’re off to Ubud on what I guess we will consider something of a pilgrimage for a few days. And we’ll top off this visit with a few days in Jimbaran, exploring the fish markets and the new developments that have been happening in the Jimbaran area recently.
I intend to blog as we go, and plan to upload some images along the way.