Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 06 2018

San Francisco, Part 5

After the bus I thought was taking me to the ferry building unexpectedly veered off onto a side street, I got off and hurried over to meet Andy before we walked over to where our students were waiting. We discussed a few things before sending them off to shoot. Then Andy, Harvey and I took a circuitous route through downtown in the general direction of Glass Key, where we were meeting everyone for afternoon discussions and final reviews. I was gratified to see that most everyone seemed to show significant improvement, and were happy with their progress. My friend Ben Molina arrived as we were finishing up; I introduced him to Andy, and we walked back down towards Andy’s hotel, stopping along the way to shoot some nicely lit corners. After hamburgers for dinner, we went over to Cameraworks to meet up with some old friends, including Tyler and Skyid, and new ones such as Fadi. I wish I had more time to meet the other guys, but alas, I’m coming down with a cold, and my flight back to Taipei is tomorrow.

It’s been interesting, and kind of bizarre. San Francisco always seems a little bizarre to me, and that seems magnified in the photography scene, and more so in the local street photography scene, which is full of drama and intrigue and passion that seems incommensurate with what actually gets produced. Perhaps it’s simply the character of the city, but I’m not entirely sure I could ever be comfortable in such a place, physically or mentally.

posted by Poagao at 1:25 pm  
Jun 05 2018

San Francisco, Episode IV

The second day of the workshop was quite fruitful. Some of the students were already showing quite a difference as they tried new things and new approaches. We met at the Hyatt lobby and talked about the previous day’s work and set challenges for each student based on what they needed to work on, and they went off on their various missions while Andy, Harvey and I walked around Union Square amid the tourists, touts and of course the ubiquitous mentally ill homeless people that are such a prominent feature of this burg.

Later we all walked over to Glass Key photo, where I gave a small presentation on some thoughts I’ve had on the subject of motives in street photography, and we went over some of the students’ work. There was a little pushback, but that’s to be expected. There were also surprises. All in all it was a promising session.

Andy was giving a talk that night at the Harvey Milk Center, so we Ubered over there in a Dodge Challenger whose driver was playing an oldies rap station we were all digging. After Andy’s talk we listened to another by Michelle Groskopf presenting her wonderfully intimate flash work.

Tired and hungry after the long day, Andy, Harvey, and I were joined by Andy’s old college roommate, who is now a world-class yo-yo practitioner, and an aspiring community college photography teacher who had many questions for me, for pizza nearby.

posted by Poagao at 9:47 pm  
Jun 04 2018

San Francisco, Part 3

Ken and I went over to one of the photo spaces on Market on Saturday to attend the “Ethics of Street Photography” talk they were giving. There was very little of either in the talk, but I did meet Pei Ketron again, as she was one of the organizers of the thing, as well as a photowalk afterward. Pei came to one of my solo exhibitions in Taipei years ago. After the photowalkers had left, Ken, Joe, Jake and I put up some photos, soon joined by Andy, who had just gotten in the night before. Then we went out to shoot and chat as the light was nice downtown with lots of reflections from all the glass buildings. We had some good ramen at a place where they actually give you a whole egg instead of half of one as they do in Japan and Taiwan…American portion growth over the past twenty years continues to baffle me. After the others left, Andy and I had some drinks at the jazz bar on the second floor of his hotel, the Mystic, which seems like a great name for a hotel.

The first day of the workshop (Sunday) went well. I walked over to the Harvey Milk Center in the morning, dodging skateboarders and scooters, admiring the open windows and detailed architecture of the houses here. At the Center, which is located close to the Castro up the street, I met our assistant, who is conveniently if uncannily named Harvey Castro. It’s as if he was named just for this workshop, but he insisted that this is in fact his real name.

Some of the students were sitting on a bench outside, and we chatted a bit while I ate the bagged breakfast I’d bought at a corner store on the way. Andy had arrived but was out shooting, but we all congregated in the classroom at 11. One of the students who had had an email mixup decided he wasn’t interested at the last minute. Something about not really being into having his photos reviewed. Ok.

Andy and I introduced the workshop and ourselves, and we proceeded to review the works the students had brought; there was some very nice stuff, and we were able to figure out more or less what areas they needed to work on. Later, we boarded a train downtown and took the students shooting, meeting up at intervals and doing some individual guidance as we went. As evening approached and the students departed, Andy, Harvey and I climbed the stops above the tunnel and had some drinks at the Tunnel Top bar before catching an uber out to a Korean barbecue restaurant to meet up with Joe, Rob and Rob’s wife. The food was excellent, and I ate way too much as I hadn’t had any lunch.

I am now staying at Ken’s place as the basement I was previously staying at is otherwise occupied, but it’s all good. I’m sitting in his dining room right now typing this early on Monday morning before anyone else is up. Today we’re meeting the students in the lobby of the Hyatt downtown, and Andy says if they try to throw us out he’ll whip out his Hyatt Member Card, but hopefully it won’t come to such drastic measures.

posted by Poagao at 9:59 pm  
May 16 2018

Books, photography, albums, etc.

While it’s nice and all that my book Barbarian at the Gate: From the American Suburbs to the Taiwanese Army has been listed on Taiwaneseamerican.org’s 50 Books for Your Taiwanese American Library, their description of the book’s content is not quite accurate. But I suppose I’ll let any potential readers out there find that out for themselves. Coincidentally, also listed as well as shown in the lead image of the page is Francie Lin’s The Foreigner, which features one of my photographs as the cover art.

It’s hot and muggy out; everyone is waiting for the plum rains, but the weather just doesn’t seem interested this year. As the water flowing under the Bitan bridge assumes more of a coffee hue from the lack of rain, no doubt drought will be announced soon. I’ve been scanning old negatives at home while listening to podcasts, and am constantly amazed at how poorly the original photo labs printed these shots, cropping out significant portions of the photos and seemingly making exposure decisions at random. I’ve also been busy with my photography course, leading students around various part of northern Taiwan and covering material in the classroom, as well as planning for the upcoming BME street photography workshop in San Francisco that I’m teaching along with Andy Kochanowski. I’m looking forward to seeing the SF crowd again…if I make it into the country that is; I’ve successfully applied for the visa waiver program, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed that I’ll get a decent immigration officer. The Muddy Basin Ramblers’ third album is slowly coming to fruition; the two riverside listening tests we’ve held so far have been promising. Other members of the band have predicted that this one’s going to be big…we’ll see. I’m just enjoying the ride, and regardless of how well it’s received, I’m happy to have been part of it.

Riverside testing our new album.

The catchword for 2018 so far has been “surreal”…everything feels like a loaded plate balanced at the very edge of a table, and half of us just want to see it fall. The transition from winter to summer is usually the most volatile, atmospherically speaking. China has increased its efforts to erase Taiwan from everyone’s awareness, and for all of their crowing about democracy and freedom, businesses, governments and media all around the world seem perfectly happy to go along with the charade. For our part, our precious leadership here in Taiwan, which has become infamous for the many things it hasn’t done since it came to power, has decided that screwing up our air quality is no big deal as long as they don’t have to face any criticism from raising our laughably low utility prices. And the U.S. is…well, you know. Plate. Table. Shrug.

But hey, happy thoughts! I should remember that I have a great deal to be grateful for, many opportunities in the four+ decades I’ve been on this particular rock. I’m lucky enough to have a great place to live, a good employment situation, health and friends. So, as the great Joe Walsh once said, “I can’t complain (but sometimes I still do).”

posted by Poagao at 11:34 am  
Oct 24 2017

An extremely busy month

The second and final symposium of the Dadaocheng photography event was last Saturday, bringing to close the main events of this month. It has been a whirlwind of activity, with Chenbl and I arranging a three-gallery exhibition, a three-day international workshop with Burn My Eye, and the two symposiums, of course with the help of several dedicated student volunteers. I had no time for anything else, missing several shows with the Muddy Basin Ramblers as well as all my violin classes. My own community college photography classes were also put on hold, and I had to take some time off from work. I even neglected to visit my friends at the aborigine protest site as well as other friends I should have visited.

So how did it all go? In a word, swimmingly, with only a few snags. After wrestling with some rather non-professional printers in the run-up to the exhibition, we finally found a guy who did a great job for not a lot of money. He was very helpful as well, showing up and helping us hang the prints. The exhibition opening on the 1st was great; the venue was packed, and we enjoyed a few nice speeches before leading everyone to the second gallery and ending up at the third one, the BME exhibit at Le Zinc, in time for a nice evening get-together. Our exhibition space was later enriched by the presence of a sound art piece overseen by David Chen, made by Nigel Brown, Alice Chang and Yannick Dauby, providing a lovely audio experience to match the photos of the area. If, like me, you’re into ASMR, it’s even more interesting to listen to.

Next up was our workshop: I’d been a little worried about this because I’d never run such a large, international workshop before. Fortunately, fellow BME member Andy Kochanowski flew out early, arriving on the evening of the 3rd to get the lay of the land, and we spent hours walking around the area and mapping out a general direction for the various parts of the workshop over the next several days. Our other BME instructor, Junku Nishimura, flew in from Japan at noon on the 6th, followed by Rammy Narula from Thailand that evening, and we all got together for hotpot in Ximending that night. Both Andy and Junku were rocking film, Andy with his rare black Contax and Junku with his Leica M6, while Rammy sported the new M10. My old Sony, dinged and banged up so that it’s largely held together with duct tape at this point, definitely felt a little ragged in that crowd.

The workshop itself was a blast. I’d been praying for good weather, and we were fortunate to see all kinds of weather and light over the course of three days, from bright sunlight to misty rain to windy, almost typhoon-like conditions. The students were also able to see four very different styles of street photography between us, and though a little subdued in class as most Taiwanese students tend to be, were quite enthusiastic. We also had students from the U.S., Canada and Scotland, so it was quite an interesting mix of styles and commentary. Andy tended to do the most talking in the classroom, preferring to send students out on missions for outside work, whereas Rammy was a bit more hands-on outside. Junku was always around and offering advice, but he has always been a little shy, unless he is currently drinking you under the table at a karaoke bar. I was dividing my time between running the workshop, making sure no one got lost (in a bad way), watching students shoot and offering my opinions and suggestions when I felt it was necessary. After three days, we were happy to see impressive improvement from all of the students, and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a great experience, and has made me more interested in doing more workshops in the future. A good third to half of BME’s current membership was actually involved in workshops in October, not just in Taipei but in Brussels and Barcelona as well.

The first of our symposiums was a talk by my friend Chang Liang-I, a longtime photojournalist, and the second was by another friend of mine, Ethan Chiang, who runs a popular street photography blog. Both were well-attended and full of useful advice and insights. Members of the audience had many questions, and the back-and-forth was fascinating at both gatherings.

So I count this event a great success, one that has hopefully raised awareness and appreciation for the idea and practices of street photography as well as photography in general in Taiwan, both on the part of the students as well as the instructors who were able to sample photography on the streets of this town I call home.

One thing I can’t stress enough is that I couldn’t have done all of this without the help of Chenbl and my student volunteers. Even after all of this, Chenbl went straight to another event with his company, with no break in between. I don’t know how he does it; that man is incredible. You can tell this from the fortitude with which he faced a snail crawling up his leg during the workshop, as photographed by Andy.

For myself, I’ve been taking it slow these few days; the weather seems to have decided it’s time for us all to wrap up and go inside, and the recent death of a friend has given these days a more serious tone as well. Our lives go on, in any case, until they don’t. But that’s all the more reason to do what we can while we’re here.

So here’s to the next thing: May it go well.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:59 pm