Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 11 2016

Of Rights and Rambles

This weekend has gone non-stop. It started Friday night when I piled my instruments onto the 650 bus to Liuzhangli so I could make a gig with the ramblers at Bob’s. And not just the Muddy Basin Ramblers, but famed bluesman Rambling Steve Gardner as well, who flew in from Tokyo for the Tiger Mountain Ramble on Saturday. We met Steve at the Yokohama Jug Band Festival a couple of years back, and we’ve stayed in touch, always prodding him to make a trip over. The gig was a riot, and Kat served up tasty meat pies, potatoes and pizza afterwards.

After hauling my ass out of bed Saturday morning, I put on some Rambler-approved clothes and again hauled my instruments out and took the subway to Ximen, where I stashed them so that I could proceed unhindered to the Marriage Equality event on Ketagalan Blvd. Even though it was just starting, huge streams of people were joining from all directions. It was difficult to get into the crowd; I haven’t seen that many people there since the Sunflower protest, so I mostly just walked around the periphery. Suming gave a short speech and sang, and there were other performers with the MCs on the stage.

It was heartening to see so much love, hope and idealism, a real contrast from the previous anti-marriage-equality protests, which were mostly driven by hate and spite as well as stacks of cash from American Christian groups. For one thing, the anti-equality protests were much smaller than reported, even though the churches bussed entire congregations up to Taipei, and populated mostly by middle-aged people; so many of them were dressed in white and wearing masks that it was alarmingly similar to a Klan rally in all but name; “Straight Power” was pretty much the theme, and people there would throw their hands up in front of their masked faces when I raised my camera to take a shot. A good 10-20% of the protesters were actual Christian clergy, priests and nuns in full garb. One tall Western priest stood by one of the “praying” priests, and I managed to not enunciate my hope that he would get deported for taking part in the protest.

But that would never have happened, as the Christians (who claim homosexuality is a “foreign influence, oblivious to the fact that Christianity is much more of a foreign influence than homosexuality ever was), carted in an Australian woman who has some kind of personal vendetta against her parents, Katy Faust, to actually address the Legislature on what she clearly knows nothing about. The appropriately named Faust has no expertise on either homosexuality or Taiwan, yet not a single lawmaker saw the obvious violations of the actual law that her visit incurred. The media hasn’t really been on board with Reality either, e.g. articles like this from Focus Taiwan, which calls the event a “concert” that only “thousands” attended, even though official estimates run from a quarter million and up, and highlights claims of “bullying” of Christians on the subject.

As I was wandering around the East Gate and up the road toward the Presidential Office, it occurred to me that these people, not just the people at the marriage-equality protest, but other similar groups like the Sunflowers, et al, are the very people who were targeted by government forces during the White Terror period. Forward-looking people, people with inspiration and ideas for the future. In the awful times after 2/28, all of us would have been on those lists.

And who would have been writing those lists? The people who showed up in white robes and masks to protest equal rights.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I had to go retrieve my instruments and head over to the Tiger Mountain Ramble, where we were playing in the late afternoon. The mountain road was apparently so difficult to navigate that my cabbie shushed me when I tried to tell him where the place was. “Don’t talk to me!” he said. “I’m trying to concentrate on these GPS coordinates!” He found the place despite this.

The ramble was a little behind schedule when I got there, putting my stuff away and greeting friends. The cloudy skies threatened rain, and someone had started a bonfire. Steve presented me with a lovely gift: His photobook, from his days as a photojournalist on the theme of the American South, specifically the people of Mississippi, entitled Rambling Mind. It is a beautifully printed, large-sized book, one of only a handful left from the print run. The photos inside are wonderful as well…it’s a real treat, and I’m so happy to be able to add it to my collection.

It started to rain as we climbed the metal steps of the mobile stage and began our gig. It was a raucous affair, and most everything went right. There was much dancing in spite of the rain, which got heavier as we played. Afterwards we had to slog through the mud to get back to the storeroom, and everyone was huddled around the former temple for shelter. I was tired after a day of walking around as well as the show, so I packed up and headed down the mountain on foot, pulling my cart behind me. I met one of the other bands on the way, and they said some very nice things about our show, and I returned their compliments.

This morning (Sunday) I had to head out again, this time to lead my photography students on a walk around Keelung. We met up in front of the train station at 10 a.m. to find a large gathering of Indonesians, including dancers, martial artists and singers, as well as stalls selling food and attire, and a stage. It was all very festive; I bought three nice new hats, but we couldn’t stay long; we had to catch a train to Keelung.

Of course it was raining, because Keelung. We got off at the brand-new train station, which is worlds nicer than the awful old station, which itself was…much more awful than the old Japanese station. Some people were a bit peckish, so we had some food at a breakfast shop where the owner told us how to get to the big KEELUNG sign at the top of the hill. “You go up,” he said helpfully.

So we went up, following alleys, complimenting one household in particular on their delicious-smelling curry rice and dodging the scooters that would occasionally charge up the steep slope. One of these was a Gogoro electric scooter, with no less than two people on it. Impressive.

We paused at the big KEELUNG and then proceeded up to the platform at the top of the hill, caught our breath, and then went back down again, this time taking a different, more circuitous route. Eventually we found ourselves back to the main road behind the station. We crossed over the old blue pedestrian bridge that’s been there forever, and walked towards the Miaokou market, where vendors were hauling their stalls out into the rainy streets. It’s always difficult to lead these photowalks because I remain a firm believer in the benefits of solitary ventures. “I’m just showing you this place and some of the possibilities,” I often find myself saying. “You can come back on your own sometime and really see it!” It might seem odd for me to be telling this to native Taiwanese people, but they almost always have never really been to the places I take them, or, even if they have, they never really noticed what was there. I think it works; several of them have come a really long way in their photography, which makes me happy. And after this rather fucked-up year, I appreciate such things more than ever.

posted by Poagao at 9:39 pm  
Nov 02 2016

A Day in Girona

I wasn’t in the best of moods when we left the hotel this morning. Oh, the weather was fine, and Beatriz and hubby had picked out a place for us to visit for the day, but something was just off, and I was irritable and moody…at least more than I usually am. Which is saying  something.

We got onto the big double-decker train that would end up in Paris in six hours, and got off at Girona, north of Barcelona and near the French border. The pleasant square in front of the station cheered me up a bit, and my mood improved more when we came across an entire construction wall covered with the characters from my namesake and favorite childhood cartoon, Top Cat. I took a selfie with the original TC and kept walking.

I was making a silly video on a bridge when I spotted someone who almost certainly another street photographer, from the way he held his small Olympus EM-10 on its wrist strap. He came over and asked me if I was me, which, it turns out, I was. He turned out to be one of my Facebook photographer friends, Jordi Simon. He had somehow recognized me, and we chatted a bit, mostly with me speaking in Chinese to Beatriz, who translated to Spanish for Jordi, and vice versa. It was a nice coincidence.

We proceeded into town and I spotted more street photographers. One guy had stationed himself at the foot of the red bridge with a long lens, which I thought strange. Another was taking mirror-in-windowshop-reflection shots a la Friedlander, and yet another was stalking a tall clown downtown.

What is going on? I thought to myself. Am I about to see a bunch of Girona shots in the HCSP queue? Sure, the light was nice, but nice light is found in many places, and is often a trap in any case.

We kept walking, and I turned a corner to find none other than Gueorgui Pinkhassov sitting outside a cafe, in the midst of ordering a creme brûlée. He and I have had conversations on Facebook before, but we’d never met in person, so this was an extraordinary coincidence. It also explained the plethora of SP activity in the town that day. We chatted for a bit about various things before I let him get back to the workshop he was teaching; at least some of his students were also seated around the table. I told him that I’d originally planned to take his workshop in Tokyo a while ago, but had submitted too late. He invited me to sit in on this one, but I thanked him and declined, feeling that it wouldn’t be fair to the students who actually got their submissions in on time and paid a great deal of time and effort to be there.

img_1967We continued walking up the hill to the obligatory cathedral, and then back down some more alleys to find a restaurant with extremely slow service, so slow that we had to rush back to the station to catch our train back to Barcelona. We could have taken our time as the train was very late, and this being Spain I had to piss like a racehorse once on the train due to the lack of public facilities.

The reason we had to be back in town was that we had tickets at the Palau de la Música Catalana, a lovely old concert hall, to see an organ concert played to the 1926 silent film Faust. The screen was a bit small, but the magnificence of the theater’s interior and the wonderful organ performance made up for it. After the show, we tried to take a look at the third floor balcony, but appparently it’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

After the show we walked over to the 4cats restaurant, where Picasso hung out as a moody teen, for a delicious dinner that was a bit more expensive than we could really afford. The servers were very good, and there was a mediocre live band that consisted of piano, double bass and a singer. Carlos and I both guessed that they were moonlighting students.

posted by Poagao at 8:16 am  
Sep 26 2016

Afternoon at Losheng

I took my photography students to Xinzhuang yesterday, exiting the new-to-me Huilong MRT station and walking up to the Losheng leprosarium. I hadn’t been up there in a couple of years, and it seemed an interesting and suitable place to take a look at. The skies had been cloudy when I set out from Bitan, but the sun was shining as we crossed the footbridge over to the old complex.

Or at least what was left of it. Much as the disease chipped away at the bodies of its residents, various parties have chipped away at the community over the years, destroying invaluable old buildings to make way for an MRT facility. There were large-scale protests a dozen or so years ago, and most of the patients were transferred, some against their will, to a rather soulless new hospital building adjacent to the site.

I told the students a bit about the history and the importance of respecting the residents, and then went back across the bridge to use the bathroom. There I got a call from our class leader, who said that some authorities had shown up insisting that photography in the area was prohibited. I sent Chenbl over to deal with it, and when I finally got back to the community, everyone was walking around, taking photos as normal. “What happened?” I asked Chenbl, but he just shrugged and said whoever it was had gone away.

We walked up to visit some residents we knew from previous visits, old men who live in the old wooden buildings. The baby rabbits we’d seen on our last visit had all been raised and eaten, and we talked about how things had been there recently. Some other students went up to visit the old lady who has a particularly good relationship with the local cats.

As we were talking, mostly in Taiwanese mixed in with some Mandarin, a security guard came over and said we couldn’t photograph. “We’re just visiting friends,” Chenbl replied.

“Ok, but don’t take any photos,” the guard said.

“Why not?”

The guard had no answer. He glared and said, “I’ll tell our leader.” Chenbl shrugged.

“Tell your leader to look me up any time,” he said, showing him our college teacher IDs. The guard grimaced and stalked away.

As it turns out, we found after talking with the residents, that the area has recently become not only a big deal in Pokemon-catching circles, but some young men have apparently been telling their girlfriends that it’s “haunted” and showing them around at night, no doubt arm in arm, “protecting them” from the “ghosts”. I’ve seen the same phenomenon at Bitan, with these vaporous little gollums taking girls up the mountain to the “haunted amusement park” for the same purposes. As a result, the security people have gotten pretty tense about visitors. But it should have been plain to them that we were seeking neither ghosts nor Pokemon.

Our conversation turned to the history of the place. “If those students hadn’t told everyone what was going on,” one of the older men who had lived there for over half a century, said, “they would have torn this entire place down.” They talked about the old days there, including the local band. One of the men had played the trumpet.

“Me too! Do you still have it?” I asked. He said he had two, and went to fetch them. The valves of the first one were frozen from lack of oil, but the second one worked fine. Neither had any kind of branding of any kind. Were they hand-made? The man declined to play the horn himself, telling me to give it a go, so I took it and played “Wang Chun Feng” for them. They loved it, most of them singing along. I wondered how long it had been since they’d had any live music up there. I then played “Dance Age”, which they’d never heard, despite it being a similarly old tune. The horn was actually well-made, with a sweet tone.

We took group pictures and listened to another fellow who had constructed scale replicas of the complex’s buildings in wood. Chenbl is going to make prints, and we’ll take the photos back up there to give them. I was thinking we might even bring some instruments and play a little for them.

We’re looking down the maw of the third major typhoon this summer, which, unlike the previous two storms, is arriving mid-week instead of ruining yet another weekend. Every weekend is chock full these days, between Muddy Basin Rambler shows and photo class activities, without having typhoons throwing a monkey wrench into the works as well.

posted by Poagao at 11:37 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF5

Saturday, June 11th

It is so dry here! I prefer a bit of humidity, and this dryness has me drinking gallons of water all day.

I woke up before sunrise, for some reason, and watched from my window in Ken’s apartment as the city came to light. We’re on a light rail line, so every so often a streetcar will whoosh by. Ken says he’s used to it, but I’d quickly get tired of having to pause movies every time it happened.

Ken was going to Jack’s workshop, so I tagged along, and probably pissed off some people with my various interjections as Jack spoke calmly and deliberately about his subject. When the group left the classroom to go out shooting, I kept my distance, looking at where they went, what they shot, etc. It was interesting, and not unlike my experiences teaching in Taipei.

I’d wanted to join at least one of the StreetFoto photo walks, so I left the group at 11:30 and headed towards Chinatown. My stomach then took the opportunity to remind me that I had only eaten one slick of toast so far that day, so I had a bite before heading over to the meeting point. Unfortunately, I was late; the group had already left. So I wandered around the area on my own instead, eventually bumping into JC, a photographer who wanted my advice on his photography. We arranged to meet later near the Cuppola building, and I continued down towards the harbor, approaching it though the second floor of an empty mall. I could only imagine how bustling and alive the area had been in the past.

I caught a ride with JC, his wife and his daughter over to Joe Goode, which is fortunate as I wasn’t looking forward to that long walk just then. We got some food at a nearby market, which of course was far too much for one person to eat, and I looked through JC’s book and gave him my thoughts.

They were making a video about the event, and so I missed most of Vineet’s talk, unfortunately, but I was able to enjoy Ken Light’s stories about his career, as well as Richard’s talk about his background and his work. After they announced the winners of the contest, we wrapped it up and headed over to a nearby place for dinner and conversation. There was a snag when we found you had to show picture ID to get in, and my Taiwanese ID apparently wasn’t cutting it (It ain’t my fault the bouncer couldn’t read Chinese). I managed to get in with my passport, but some of the other attendees weren’t able to enter, which was unfortunate.

We ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company well into the wee hours; it had the atmosphere of conclusion as people said good-bye and left through the chain-link gate, back out into streets.

I’m sitting at Ken’s table writing this; it’s the morning after, and he’s gone to help Jack with the second and final day of his workshop. Don and Gene have continued on their 40th anniversary tour of the area, though they might go back to the Rayko Center before they leave. There’s one more photo walk today, staring at the Deyoung Museum in the park, where they have a Bruce Davidson exhibit, apparently, so I will try and make that. I’m leaving tomorrow night…well, technically in the early hours of the 14th, but I have to be at the airport on Monday night.

It’s another beautiful day. God it’s dry though.

posted by Poagao at 1:33 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF4

Friday, June 10th
I woke early to a clear sky outside, the sun forcing its way into my room around 7 a.m. Still no wifi, and I was checking out that morning. Downstairs at the donut breakfast, the manager lamented that they were losing all kinds of reservations due to the lack of Internet. What a disaster.

I packed up my one piece of luggage and headed down Market towards the waterfront, checking for wifi along the way. There was one point in between two Starbucks I could manage a short Line conversation with Chenbl, which mostly consisted of “I can’t hear you” and “What?” But I couldn’t linger, as I was heading to Pier 24 again, this time with Don, Gene, Blake, Joe and others.

It’s a nice exhibition, but I was all about that Eggleston…just lovely. Afterwards some of us walked along the waterfront and back up Market; Joe knew of a good Vietnamese place; we were in the mood for pho. Don and Gene graciously stored my luggage in their rental car.

We met Tyler and Skyid on the way up Market; they were making their way down, but as the street was so fabulously lit, there were having trouble justifying their usual flash.

Everyone met up at Turtle Tower, a restaurant where they apparently cannot separate their cilantro from their green onions, resulting my raw beef pho being just meat and broth because I told them no cilantro. It was still good. The Thai-style tea caused a small sensation at our table.

After lunch, we caught a bus out to the inner Richmond to take a look at the Green Apple’s photobook offerings, which were very nice. I could have stayed longer, but Blake was itching to return to the streets, so Joe and I caught an uber to the place he’s staying, which is near the Joe Goode annex. I got the opportunity to meet Icarus, Joe’s famous cat, who was friendly and laid-back, as well as Matt Gomes, whom I’ve known for a while online but had never met in person. This trip is full of that kind of thing, and I love it. I wish I could do more of it.

We headed over to Joe Goode in the evening; they were having some trouble with video, so Don gave his talk on his background first, and then I gave my talk on my Sunflower experiences, and then we did the BME panel, unfortunately lacking Andy and Simon, who had thought they could come but couldn’t because of various extenuating circumstances. Still, I thought it went pretty well. A lot of people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation, which was extremely gratifying.

After another presentation on the drought in California by a very talented young photojournalist, we headed out to the Mexican place again. I had an enormous burrito. I’m not kidding, and neither were they; it was huge. You could knock a man unconscious with that thing. I really don’t know what the hell is up with American portions these days.

Ken Walton, the hard-working organizer of the event, was gracious enough to let me stay at his lovely place near Golden Gate park for the remainder of my stay here, so I left with him instead of going out with the others. It’s just as well; I was exhausted.

posted by Poagao at 1:04 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF 3

Thursday, June 9th
The maid hadn’t set foot in my room the day before, so I was working with previous-day towels and bedsheets, but I managed. I’d actually met the maid, who is from Guangdong, the day before, but apparently she only sweeps by once a day, and if you miss her, too bad.

Being without wifi, I was cut off from everyone’s plans. After my donut breakfast, I walked down to the nearest Starbucks, a small, gritty edition on Market, where I sat eating a salad and croissant while checking my messages. Next to me, a woman chatted on her phone about some meeting, and after she stopped, I heard her say, “I guess you must hate all the noise I’ve been making.”

I assumed she was still on the phone, and ignored her, but when I looked up, I saw she was looking at me. I started and stammered, “Uh…what? No! Why would I? This is a Starbucks!” I left the FFS unspoken. Was she coming on to me? Why else would she say something like that? This is a strange city, I concluded as I walked up to Union Square, where I’d lay out on the lawn in the sun a quarter century ago while visiting. They’ve redone it so that there’s no lawn to lay on; instead it’s now all concrete and awful street paintings. I then walked over to the Apple Store, which impressive; the Top Security People standing ominously by the door and the green-shirted Geniuses bustling around. Classes were being held on iTune on the second-floor mezzanine.
I walked up the street past more crazy homeless people to the restaurant were Joe works. On the way I spotted a large older fellow with an iPhone on a tripod, which he moved lazily around a street corner taking shots. He wasn’t looking at anyone. I approached him, questions on my mind, but he radiated fear. I retreated.

Up the street, I found Joe bustling around, chatting up customers and getting drinks, a little tattooed ball of energy with an on-point coif. I don’t know how he does it. I sat and chatted with Chris, a fellow from the UK who is a DJ and record collected, about the sad state of the music industry, and how iTunes sucks. Joe gave me a white-chocolate/caramel cookie that should be illegal to go with my ice coffee.

It was SFMOMA day in the StreetFoto schedule, so I bade Joe and Chris farewell and walked back through a new set of crazy homeless people back to Market and Third, and on to the museum. Inside I found Richard and Jared and some other folks I knew. They’d been there a while, so I took off on my own to see the photographs, some of which were worth looking at. An original Stephen Shore, recently printed, made me realize what he meant when he said the “vintage” feel people attach to him is really inappropriate, only a product of old prints aging naturally. The real scenes from the 70s look far more like what I remember being true in the day, though I was just a kid then. I also saw some Winogrand, and there was an Arbus show upstairs. I took a shot of a woman whose hair matched one of the paintings almost exactly. One of the museum guard told me in a confidential fashion that the “black hole” on the 5th floor would “blow my mind.” It didn’t. In fact, much of the exhibit seemed overly precious, and some of the descriptions had small errors such as misquotes of Henri Cartier-Bresson. But the architecture of the place was impressive, drawing me up staircase after tilted staircase. I wondered if they chose the guards based on their interesting appearance. They are part of the design, aren’t they? Either way, it works.

I got so caught up in the whole thing, standing on the upper balcony looking out of the city, which was magnificently lit by the afternoon sun, that I was late in setting out for the Joe Goode Annex, which was the site of the evening’s activities. I walked through a park and up Market back to my hotel, which was still without wifi, and then continued on. And on. And on, eventually arriving at the venue just as the photo talks were kicking off with a talk by the laconic Ben Molina. I loved it because Ben gave concise answers to many bullshit questions, and I knew exactly what he meant.

Most of the talks were interesting, particularly the one by Koci Hernandez about his photographic search for a man in a hat representing his absent father. Joe was particularly active in asking questions, but I wondered if perhaps they should have let the speaker decide the pace of the slides. I’m talking there on the 10th, along with Don, Joe and the rest of the BME people in attendance. I guess we’ll see.

After the show winded down, Blake Andrews and Tyler Simpson joined Joe and me and a few others to a nearby taqueria, which was delicious. Then we went to a bar where they played magnificent 70s music, and chatted while Joe printed out shots from his Instax. We caught an Uber with a driver named Lorenzo back to our neighborhood (Blake is staying at the Goode Hotel, just around the corner) around 2 a.m. I walked the rest of the way back to my still wifi-less hotel, took a shower and slept. Another good day.

posted by Poagao at 12:36 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF 2

Wednesday, June 8th
I spent most of the morning after waking up in my hotel room figuring out over Facebook what everyone else was doing. The Aida’s Hotel Breakfast consists mainly of a big box of donuts from the place across the street, but it’s hard to argue against a big box of donuts from just about anywhere. Fortunately my old-fashioned room has a nice view of the rooftops next door, though the sunrise was hidden by cloud cover. In typical San Francisco fashion, though, the sun had come out by the time I made it out onto Market Street to navigate the crazy homeless people on my way to meet Joe Aguirre down by the cable cars. As I waited, I took photos of a guy hanging colored lanterns in the trees to the monotone tunes of a man playing harmonica.

After Joe arrived, we walked over to a burger joint near the overpass and met Jared Iorio, whom I’ve known online for years but had never met in person. It turns out that this would be kind of a theme with this trip, as it was in London and Paris. Jared had dragged one of his friends and co-workers on a long drive out from LA, and we talked over lunch while workmen jumped up and down from a truck parked outside.

We met up with Jack Simon to go to the Pier 24 show, which had a few interesting pieces. Jared and I gossiped about the Hardcore Street Photography group that he is also an administer of (though he rarely visits these days), and other things.

The Rayko Center, where our BME show was opening, is an old warehouse and apparently a well-known venue in SF. Our show was bigger in scale than I’d imagined, the images almost too numerous. People started trickling in through the afternoon as jet lag began to fog my brain. I nearly fell asleep on the sofa, not exactly the thing you want to see upon entering any venue, but was rescued by a large cup of Pepsi.

All kinds of people showed up, including some I knew, like Richard Bram, and some I hadn’t met before, such as Stephen McLaren. We talked and looked and milled and mingled until late in the evening; it was a great time, and great seeing old friends like Don and Jack, both of whom were accompanied by their wives.

It was after 10 p.m. When we left the Rayko and walked over to a bustling bar. The group got strung out between the traffic lights, but I could tell they were ahead by all the distant flashes from their cameras as photographers dueled with each other. At the bar I ordered a Cuban sandwich that I knew would be good because the menu demanded no changes to the recipe, and I was right. Then it was back to the Aida, only to find that the wifi had gone out. The staff claimed it wasn’t their fault, but a hotel without wifi these days is like a hotel without running water.

posted by Poagao at 12:35 am  
Mar 01 2016

The Nanjichang Photography Event

The Nanjichang International Photo event Craig Ferguson and I have been managing has been rather successful; our first photo walk was on January 24th, which turned out to be the COLDEST DAY EVAR. I was thinking nobody would show up, but many did. My Canadian friend Darren, in particular, seemed proudly under-dressed considering the fact that real, actual, god-damn SNOWFLAKES were floating down from the skies of downtown Taipei. We took the small group of a dozen-odd photographers around the community, up on the roof of the compact elementary school, where Dilip perched himself on an alarmingly rickety desk to get a shot of the rooftop skylights. We even took the group into the usually-forbidden Third-stage building, something which the residents usually refuse, as they make a sizable income from weddings, movies and TV shows for some reason. Inside, they were, in seeming defiance of the weather, washing the courtyard with soap and water.

Due to the extreme cold and worsening air quality, most people left after noon, but I still count it as a success. nanjichangStill, many people begged off because of the weather, so we decided to do it again, this time on February 20th. The weather was cloudy and threatening to drizzle, but we got a much better turnout. In fact, there were almost too many people; about 50 photographers showed up. We managed to fit everyone in the community center, but the borough chief had an emergency meeting and couldn’t give his normal introduction; his son managed in his place, though the chief is much better at it. I translated as well as I could, but I’m not great at such things.

We then tried to lead the group back to the school, but we lost half the people on the way as, being photographers, they just sort of naturally followed whatever caught their eye. One group seemed to have actually brought a young women with them to act as a model. And then, as school was in session that day to make up for the new year break, we weren’t allowed inside, much less up to the rooftop. By the time we got to the food bank, most everyone had wandered off, which I guess was fine. Later, with the assistance of the borough warden, who had returned from his meeting, I led a much smaller group into the third-stage and second-stage buildings. This was just as well, as I doubt they would have let a larger group in, and certainly not without the warden.

As leading large groups of photographers is not conducive to actually photographing, I didn’t really take any photos myself during the events, so I decided to join two photographer friends, Hubert Kilian and David Thompson, on a leisurely stroll around the community afterwards. Hubert and David often go out shooting together, and know each other’s styles enough to keep out of each other’s way, but I apparently threw a monkey wrench into their carefully coordinated shooting ballet as I always seemed somehow to be in the way of their shots.

It was a lot of fun, though. We had some delicious dumplings at the Xiu-chang restaurant, and then some coffee at a corner cafe, but most of the time was just wandering around and chatting with people and me being in the wrong place at the wrong time just when they wanted to take a shot of something. David is a very thoughtful shooter, taking his time before he shoots as well as when actually shooting, whereas Hubert, who also puts a lot of thought into his shots beforehand, seems more aggressive in pursuing what he wants in the frame. I generally shoot first, instinctively, and ask questions (of myself about the shot) later.

The upper levels of the second-stage building were particularly interesting, though I’d gone inside before with Chenbl, Ewan, Qi-hua and Linda. The designers apparently didn’t want to mar the exterior of their masterpiece with things like exhaust vents, so all the kitchens and bathrooms vent right into the corridors. After decades of this, the hallways are black with soot, the water heaters wrapped in little cages to prevent theft, though the washing machines are left unprotected. We met one old mainlander from Qingdao who told us we should get the hell out of Taiwan now before China bombed us to smithereens. We said we’d look into it.

Submissions from all the photographers have been pouring in over the last week, and there are some very nice shots; I think the exhibition will be quite impressive. Hopefully all of this will raise public awareness of this little-noticed community, the first of its kind in Taipei, before it’s consigned to history by the city government’s urban development plans.

posted by Poagao at 11:02 am  
Feb 02 2016

Things, and a rant

So some things are happening (I really should just stop right there, for all the difference it would make to any readers I have left). BME, the photography collective I’ve belonged to since it was founded in 2011, is preparing for a new show and adding three promising new members. Closer to home, I’ve finally, after eight years, gotten a new computer. It’s an iMac, like my old one, but obviously (I should hope so, at least) bigger, more resolution, more power, etc. I did consider going back to PC world and its maddening error messages and virus updates, but when I looked at what I could get for the money, and calculated in other factors, I still felt that Apple was the way to go. For now, anyway. Of course if I want to get a VR rig in the future, be it either the Rift or the Vive, I’ll be screwed, but I’ll gaze at the empty space where that long-burned bridge used to be when I come to it.

So, now that I have a shiny new computer, now I need a shiny new external hard drive to go with it. This is mostly my fault, because I’ve been using a Sony A7r for over two years now, and damn but those files pile up. I could go with a Thunderbolt drive, but the large SSD drives that could take advantage of the Thunderbolt2 connection are expensive; for a spinning disk system, I might as well go with USB3.0. If I get into 4k video, I might look for a dedicated Thunderbolt2 drive. For now, USB, while still expensive, is doable. As it is, I haven’t really looked at anything I’ve shot in over a year, except for travel stuff and film shots. Kind of turns the whole “digital is instant, film takes time” theory on its head. Film I can scan and get uploaded the next day, while most of the digital shots I’ve taken over the last year I have yet to look at.

While we’re on the onerous subject of gear, I’d like to address some deficiencies of the A7R, because to this day, it’s still the best option for a small full-frame digital camera. The A7RII is too big and heavy, the RX1RII runs out of juice before you can finish reading this sentence, the Leica M is the size and cost of a gold brick, and the Leica Q, while a reasonable size (aka, the size of an M3), Leica just HAD to include a macro function in its otherwise-nice 28mm lens, making it a rather ungainly combination that would be tempting if it weren’t so damn expensive.

So Sony, are you listening? I thought not.

Anyway: Sure, the shutter is loud and sounds like a coin-changing machine, the “VIDEO BUTTON YOU ACCIDENTALLY PRESSED DOESN’T WORK IN THIS MODE WHICH YOU KNEW BUT WE THOUGHT WE’D ANNOY YOU WITH THIS MESSAGE AND MAKE YOU LOSE ANOTHER SHOT BECAUSE WE’RE MORONS AND THINK YOU ARE TOO,” message is furstrating, and it took me a while to figure out just when during the long blackout time the actual photo will be taken.

But the thing that irritates me the most is the awful power management. I know, I know…battery life sucks on almost every small mirrorless camera these days, and that’s because the companies listen to the techie nerds at dpreview.com more than to actual photographers, and subsequently, useful things like battery life are tossed aside in favor of useless things like wifi and endless menus. Yes, I realize that you can turn wifi off, and the camera can sleep and wake up in a second or so. “How could this be a problem?” the techie camera-owners ask. “You used to have to change film every 36 pictures!” 1) Yes I did, and 2) that was the state of the art in 1985. I still shoot film, but honestly, would it be that difficult to make a modern, decently sized digital camera that is responsive and didn’t have you constantly wondering if it was actually working or not? Techie camera owners aren’t worried about this because they tend to “go shoot,” which means they occasionally pack up their camera in a bag, take it to some scenic place with flowers and uniform brick walls for lens tests, shoot video of their kids being obnoxious to various small animals for an hour or two, and then pack up the camera to go home. “What could possibly be the problem? I got 900 shots of Little Xander stomping squirrels in one charge!”

But think about how things used to be: You had a camera on you. You knew how many frames you had left. You could see the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. You could see where your focus was set. None of those were a concern as you went about your day; you could concentrate on seeing and responding to the world around you. all. damn. day.

With most of today’s reasonably sized and priced digital cameras, you have to switch the camera on when you step out the door, check to see if it’s working, and spend the rest of the day wondering if it’s still on, if the battery’s run out yet, and what the shutter speed, aperture or ISO are…Fuck it, use P mode, whatever. Then you see a potential shot, raise the camera, not really sure what the settings are because none are marked on the body (except for some APSC-sensor Fujis and exorbitantly priced Leicas, sure), and find that the battery’s run out, even though it was at 34% only a few minutes ago when you checked it last, missing another shot then as well. Sure, a battery change only takes a few seconds, but it’s the constant nagging that it might not work that keeps you checking it, again and again. It’s like a ticking time bomb, except your fear is that when the moment comes, it won’t go off.

Would it be so hard to have a proper power management system, an instant wake-up time? Fixed-lens, single focal length cameras don’t even really need EVFs. The Fuji X100/s/t would have wonderful battery life if the EVF weren’t always on, even when you’re not using it. If you’re not into dials, a simple passive screen on top of the cameras could show battery levels, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. Shades of Mike Johnston’s DMD, but it never quite happened.

Because people want wifi. They want to chimp. They want to go take macro videos of kittens for half an hour before forgetting again that the world exists, because, by god, those kitten videos have been uploaded with wifi to Facebook and Instagram.

Ok, I should stop ranting. I realize that most photographers don’t shoot the way I do, they’re after things that have been carefully placed and made pretty, and making photos of actual life simply isn’t an issues for them. Fair enough. I also have a perfectly good Leica M6. So I’m good, thanks. Just need to stop and take a breath. And change my battery.

Again.

posted by Poagao at 12:28 pm  
Dec 14 2015

Nanjichang Community

nanjichangOn one of the photo walks I do as part of my class, I recently took my students to the Nanjichang Community, which is slated for demolition so that developers can put up even more useless, soulless empty high-rises. The chief of the community took us around to the various interesting bits of the community, which was the first of its kind in Taipei. It was built on the former site of the south airport used by the Japanese, thus the name Nanjichang, which means “south airport”, and includes rows of multi-storied buildings containing tiny apartments connected by central spiral staircases that never caught on in subsequent designs. Over the years, residents have built out and up, so that once-wide lanes are now narrow alleys. Some of the added balconies themselves have added balconies, and it’s a miracle that one of them hasn’t collapsed by now. There is also a market, a compact elementary school, a surprising number of cats and an unsurprising number of smells. The whole place is a fascinating mix, the residents mostly poor people, the elderly, the handicapped, Southeast Asians, caregivers and orphans. The community chief wants to highlight the existence of the place, even though he is powerless to stop the demolition. I’m thinking of doing another photo walk there with my friend and fellow photographer Craig Ferguson. There are plenty of spaces around that could be used for a small exhibition. Who knows, we might be able to play a part in somehow preserving the history of the place or even helping the people who live there, people whom I doubt will be compensated very well when the place is torn down.

One of the buildings in the community, a triangular building with a courtyard in the center, strictly prohibits random people entering and photographing the place. The reason is that they charge for such things, and actually make a tidy profit from various photography, TV and movie shoots. The community chief took us in and let everyone wander for a period of time. Chenbl and I stayed in the courtyard chatting with the community chief, and at one point one of the residents came storming up to him, cursing up a storm. “One of those photographers came into my home and took my picture!” He spat in Taiwanese. I found this surprising and unlikely as I’ve always told my students that respect for the people they photograph is of the utmost importance.

The community chief was also suspicious, and he volleyed back with his own, even more impressive string of Taiwanese expletives, expressing doubt over the man’s story, and asking for proof. “Which one was it?” he demanded. But the man couldn’t point anyone out or say anything specific. Chenbl and I stood in between the two, listening in frank admiration to these two men shout and gesture at each other.

“Fucking renter,” the chief muttered after the man left, unable to prove his claims of injustice. “He doesn’t even own that place.” Eventually I was able to ascertain that a student had taken a picture of the hallway outside of his apartment, not even shooting the guy himself, and he had construed this as “barging into his home.”

Something tells me that that particular building will be one of the less-missed parts of the community when it’s gone.

posted by Poagao at 11:44 am  
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