Author Archives: Jeanne

I am terrible at blogging | Japan in Black and White (October 2016)

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I will be first to admit that I am terrible at updating my blog.  I used to have plenty of time to write and rant about my life, and, indeed, I had several blogs that I kept up starting in high school.

Recently, I’ve taken to ranting more than writing, and, I’ll admit, it makes me feel petty and small.

So what have I been up to since my last post in February?  From a travel perspective, I went to Hong Kong once, Colombia once, Maryland twice, New York once, and I have generally been running nonstop with work.  When you are at work for 12 hours a day, come home to eat, and start working as soon as the dishes hit the sink, there’s not much time for…

… pretty much anything else.

(More about Colombia later.)

From a photography perspective, I met a couple of Instagram friends in real life, and we wandered San Francisco together, shooting and posing.  It was super fun to meet them!  I purchased an Epson Perfection v600 Scanner and began attempting to scan things into my computer; I have remained committed to black and white photography (with the exception of 10 days in Colombia, but more on that some other time).  And, every chance I get, I try to pull out my trusty Canon AE-1 to capture some shots.

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Life has been fun.  Life has been busy.

And, if I’m frank with myself, it’s been hard to stop and breathe.

But it’s the little things that are supposed to count, right?  So let’s take it one step at a time, and, when I get enough sleep, that’s not too difficult.  It’s when I don’t sleep enough that things get dark, and the malaise settles in.

Last night, I got six full hours of sleep.  Success!  And it’s a holiday weekend!  I may be fielding many emails from my Asia Pacific colleagues, but, goshdarnit, I’m gonna keep going!

So let’s talk about Japan, shall we?

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These images are from my last trip to Japan in October 2016, primarily focused around Shinjuku, a district within Tokyo, Japan.

I always try to find time (mornings, evenings, etc.) to wander on my own and take photos.  My boss was traveling with me, but unless we have something planned, he tends to stay in his room and do his own thing when we have larger chunks of free time.

I, for one, like to wander.

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As you can see, before the masses wake up, the streets of Japan are quiet.

As the world wakes up in the land of the rising sun, people begin to populate the streets of Tokyo.

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Japan is a unique town.  Fabulous sushi.  Karaoke in strange, downstairs bars that are filled with smoke and look like a snapshot of an 80s living room.  A nation-wide uniform (black pants, white shirt, everyone; think Mormons).  Interesting architecture.

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And little alleyway udon shops.

Maybe next time I’ll stop and have a bite.

Looking forward to going back to Japan later this year.

// 35mm film photos all taken with a Canon AE-1 on Ilford HP5 400 black and white film. All shots captured in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan in October 2016.

New York, New York (in BW)

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There are some books that are written out of order– they start somewhere in the middle and piece together the various strands of the story into a woven tapestry of scenes, pictures, and images.  Not every moment is recorded, and not every scene is explained, but it all becomes one cohesive whole at the end (or beginning) (or middle).

My blog is much the same way.  It’s mostly linear, but I jump around like a nervous flea, unsure where the next juicy tidbit will be, but sure that it will be delicious when I get there.

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Thus so, too, are my images from New York City.  We had three days to wander this massive city, and everything in memory became jumbled.  Some of it comes back in a rush, focusing on the lightspeoplesoundssmells– the hum of a massive life form that is the city itself.  The crush of people was incredible!

Other memories come back in snippets: of hot steam with a faint stink rising up under my skirt, of aching feet, of glimpses of people who stand out in this town where anything goes.

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And yet, somehow, typical me, I find the pockets of quiet in between the people.  My camera lens is drawn to peace, even when there are actually hordes of people around.

Chris, observing me, once said, “Many people, when they need alone time, they go to the quiet of their homes and spend time by themselves.  You– when you need alone time, you seek out people and spend time with them.  Alone, but not alone.

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He’s right.  I become wrapped in the quiet envelope of space that is all my own. I can be surrounded by people and yet hidden in my own pocket of peace.

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I’ll be back in this City That Never Sleeps for a few days starting this weekend.  Hoping to capture a few more shots of this fabulous city!

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//35mm black and white film photos taken with my Canon AE-1 on Ilford HP5 400 film.  Images were taken in SoHo, Central Park, and the Upper East Side (I think that’s what they’re called).  Captured a few in color, so I may throw those in for good measure in another post.

Embarking on a Black and White Journey

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For those of you who follow me on Instagram in addition to this blog, you already know that, starting January 1 of this year, I started on a new project.

Yes, my friends– I am now shooting in all black and white.

And I am not talking about just converting select color photos to black and white, but actually shooting black and white film.  When all 36 frames in the camera refuse to accept any tint or hue.  Only shades of black, white, and grey.  So many greys.  My current films of choice are Ilford HP5 400 and Kodak Tri-X 400TX.

Why?

To be perfectly frank, I decided to plunge into all black and white because I am hoping to develop (ha, that pun) my photography skills.  I don’t have formal photography training, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve my skills.  And improving, to me, means developing my eyes.

I want my eyes to think as much as they see.  

When I started shooting film, I noticed that I was putting a lot more thought into my images– into the composition, the why and the what of a shot.  Questions I began asking dealt with the ultimate, future image that was hidden within the case of my Canon AE-1. Thinking.  And I saw myself gradually improving, frame by frame.

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Black and white strips away all the distractions.  The colors, however striking to my naked eye, are gone in the final image.  What’s left behind are the bones of my photo: the subject matter that my eye managed to see.  Was it worth it?  Why did I take this in this fashion?  Was it the texture?  Was it the composition and/or placement of the subject?

Why is such a difficult question to ask.

I’m still looking for what I consider to be “my” style.  I am also looking to explore and expand past the inane, generic photos that flood Instagram in millions every second.  Why should others care about what I’ve chosen to spend time, effort, and money on?  (Truth is, I don’t know why they should care; I certainly don’t care sometimes.)

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It’s a path I walk down, slowly and somewhat uncertainly.

I’m excited, as well, to see what happens.  I recently looked at photos from my very first roll of film, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was rather terrible with film (washed out, unfocused, etc.).  But I’ve improved, and I am hoping that someday I will look back on my first rolls of black and white film and chuckle at my inexperience as I chase something else that will make me even better.

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35mm film photos taken in Shanghai, China, during my trip out to Shanghai; January 21 and 23, 2017.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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These are my brothers.

We hang out.  We have a good time.  We look alike.  Our favorite pastime is sending awkwardly close-up selfies to each other in group texts.

The one on the left is older.  The one on the right is younger.  I’m the oldest.  The youngest just turned 21.  So they came to visit me, and we explored San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Here is what we did.

Lands End with the Brothers.  A Photo Essay.

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Traveling with my brothers, while exhausting, is a rare pleasure.  They both live in Maryland still, where our parents are, and I don’t see them often.  Even though technology allows us to communicate easily and frequently, it isn’t the same as seeing them in person.  They’re both still in school (graduate and undergraduate), so traveling out to California to see me is difficult.

But when they’re in town, I love being able to show them all my favorite places– from my favorite photo opportunities to the best cafes and bars.

And it’s also good to get to know my brothers better.  I’ve known them both their entire lives, but little things that occur in day-to-day living are missed when you only see each other once in a blue moon or through the lens of a text, snapchat, or post on Instagram.  So when we’re face to face, especially after it’s been a long time, it’s like I’m hanging out with a completely new set of people.

Plus, being the older sister, I am still sometimes astonished that these younger brothers of mine, long thought of as babies, are actually thoughtful, deliberate human beings with ideas, beliefs, and opinions of their own.  It’s like they’re adults.  Or something.

We have a good time.

This is the first of a couple posts I have in mind for documenting their visit to see me in August 2016 and celebrate Baby Brother’s birthday.  We spent part of the trip in San Francisco just eating and wandering and enjoying the life of a San Francisco tourist.  This part of the trip included wandering the cold edge of San Francisco: Lands End and Sutro Baths.

For those of you who have never been to Lands End and Sutro Baths in San Francisco, you need to do it.  It’s a beautiful park, with paths to walk and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.  Where ocean waves create lace on the grey sands of Ocean Beach.

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// All photos taken with my Canon AE-1 on 35mm film (Portra 400, if I recall correctly).

Ooh de lally (Thoughts on Solo International Travel for Work)

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I often pass this fella on my way to my company’s Hong Kong office from my hotel.  Undistracted by passing traffic and immune to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, he looks like he’s listening to a storyteller weave a fascinating story.  // 35mm film photo, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, August 2016.

I travel a lot for my job.  I am largely responsible for my department’s function in the Asia Pacific region, which means if I’m not visiting our Hong Kong or Japan offices, I’m attending conferences in Singapore, Malaysia, and other places around the region.  This year alone, I’ve been to Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.  This doesn’t include local travel within the continental U.S. that I’ve also had to do.

The travel affords me the opportunity to shoot in a variety of locations, and, between my love of exploration and my love of photography, I am pushed to leave the confines of my hotel room to explore my surroundings and seek beauty in a new city and country.  (I have a growing backlog of photos documenting my travels that I have queued up for blog posts.  One of these days, I promise, I’ll get around to sharing them with the world.)

The perks of work travel are great.  But, today, I’m focusing on the not-so-wonderful aspects of traveling for work.

Solo International Travel for Work

The majority of my Asia trips are solo.  The reason for this is because my team is lean, our budgets are tightly controlled, and we usually can’t spare extra people to travel without good reason.  Plus, Asia was the reason I was hired.  So to Asia I go.  Alone.

Due to the frequency and length of my travel, my fiancé can’t accompany me either.

So I go it alone.

And, despite the perquisites of travel to a new and exciting place, it still kind of sucks sometimes.

The Californian and Asian time zones are as diametrically opposed as time zones can be.  It’s better when I am staying through a weekend and can plot out an entire day of true explorations.  But when it’s work travel, the majority of the days are spent in meetings or talks/discussions, when “home” is still awake.  By the time I have freedom in the evenings, everyone back home is asleep.  This means that there is a rare sliver of time in which folks back home are awake and can talk.  The rest of the time– especially that time right around dinner and before bedtime– it’s radio silence.

When I don’t know a soul in a new city, and I’m faced with only a few hours each evening to spend on my own, it’s a bleak look I have on life.  The loneliness can ache.

People have different takes on this: Some stay in their hotel rooms and eat club sandwiches and watch on-demand movies.  Others, like myself, try to explore to the best of their abilities.  Many meals have been eaten alone while wondering about how friends and family are sleeping back home.  I’ve become much more introspective.  Perhaps I’ll begin writing again.

It’s during this travel that my Kindle and I have become best friends.

I wrote about this on Instagram a couple months back:

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(Quote from my Instagram post in October 2016)

International travel by yourself can be lonesome, even if the cities you are visiting are exciting and packed with millions of people. Literally.
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But I don’t know these strangers, and they don’t know me. We scurry about in our tiny lives, oblivious to one another’s presence. I’m a random face passing them by momentarily on the streets of their life. They, the same, for me.
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Even my local colleagues, though friendly and willing to devote time to me, have their own lives and families. I try not to infringe on their time.
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It’s especially difficult when it feels like everyone I know in the world is asleep. The witching hour at home is hustling and bustling here in Hong Kong.
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I’m still here. Alone. Watching people flow through their lives while mine feels like it’s standing still.
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It’s not so bad, most of the time. I’ve been devouring books like I haven’t done since grade school. So something good is coming of this. And I’m exploring a lot, so the strange is becoming familiar. So there’s that.
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One more week.
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Bird’s eye view of tiny, tiny human beings in The Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

I have a couple months of respite to recover from the travel and the jetlag.  I’m off to Shanghai in January, and I’m looking forward to it.

But for now, I’m resting.

 

James Turrell: “we are dwellers at the bottom of the ocean of air.”

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James Turrell is a master of light.

We went to the de Young in San Francisco to check out the Ed Ruscha exhibit a couple months ago.  We had tickets to see the museum, too, and we were excited to explore properly.  A friend of mine was married at the de Young years ago, but we weren’t able to fully explore the museum then.  Plus, I wasn’t too interested in photography yet.

Thus, years later, we devoted a day to exploring art.  In addition to the Ed Ruscha exhibit, a main push to visit the museum was my desire to visit the James Turrell exhibit just outside of the de Young: Three Gems, 2005.  (For those of you in San Francisco this fall, the exhibit will be open on Friday nights with a light show.)

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The sculpture is a calm dome of space, and one could sit there indefinitely, watching the atmosphere flow by overhead, contemplating peace and quiet.

In fact, I was almost embarrassed at the loud clack of my camera as I pulled light in to rest on film.  A silent agreement to observe in silence was made.

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We were in a vase of air, the frogs at the bottom of the well, believing, even for a moment, that the sky was merely a changing disk of light at the top of the upturned bowl.  The soft curves of the walls drew me in, held and cradled me like a babe.

Nothing could find me here, I felt.  A breath of a moment.  A slice of peace in our tumultuous world.

It was literally poetry for my eyes.  For my soul.

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Things I think about when I’m left to the whims of my brain:

  • How do I get the same feeling of peace on my own, when I’m not surrounded by a structure that was carefully crafted to force upon someone a feeling of gentle surrender?
  • How did James Turrell decide on the angle of these curves?  What inspired him?  What inspires me?
  • Why don’t I go to art museums more often? Why don’t I seek out art more often, when it makes me so happy?
  • Then, darker . . . What am I doing with my life?  Why did I choose my career path? Why didn’t I choose art?  Wouldn’t sculpture or photography be better?  Where was I going?   Was it the right place to be, at the right time?

Perhaps I should spend more time on my own, thinking, browsing, feeling.  Soul seeking is always a good idea, I think.  I haven’t done enough of it, recently.  Instead, I hide behind a curtain of work and the fog of daily minutiae, never confronting what my teenage self once relished– the art of picking myself apart to find my weaknesses.  But then picking myself up to face the next day all over again.

How long could I have sat there, pondering?

I didn’t want to leave.

But I kind of did, too.

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So off we went.  Sculptures awaited outside, and we walked those green gardens for a while.

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The entire De Young is a work of art, from the artwork hanging within its halls to the surfaces that form the building, and, with an entire afternoon to meander quietly, we did so.

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For those of you who wonder what I look like.  Hello.  I need to cut my hair.

Sidebar: Tomorrow is our election day.  Let’s see what happens.  May there be plenty of James Turrell to go around if the results go awry.

//35mm film photos taken with my Canon AE-1 at the De Young in San Francisco, CA in September 2016.

Last Summer Hurrah (in Napa, CA)

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From a technical, Western standpoint, summer is still here.  The autumn equinox isn’t occurring for another seven days.  A week.

Yet it already feels like fall.  The days are crisp, and the everything feels fragile and delicate.  I grow melancholy in the evenings as the shadows grow long too soon.  Long days shorten.  Nights grow long and cold, and spicy scents fill my nostrils as I go about my day.  For those of us who celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, the full moon watches over us and declares that it is fall.

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However, today I am not talking about the fall.  No, sir!  Today, I’m talking about the summer!  About how I’m still trying to grasp the last wisps of summer before they escape and give way to the chill of the winter.

I think I cherish summer more so than the other seasons because I’ve been without one for so many years.  Summers in San Francisco are chilly affairs, filled with fog and cold and no-sun.  So any day when the sun emerges or I’ve left the San Francisco bubble and entered the sunny, hot days of summer, I am excited.

Napa, California is one of these places.

California wine country is a hop, skip, and a jump from our home.  In fact, it’s probably faster to get to the fringes of Napa or Sonoma than it is to get into San Francisco proper.

So we frolic.

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The strands of full berries greet us from vineyard to vineyard.  Winery to winery.

We aren’t tourists.  So we don’t try to cram as many wineries into one day as possible.  One, maybe two, at most.  Otherwise, by tasting flight three or four, the wines all the same, tannins puckering our lips and taste buds.

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Instead, we take our time, joy ride in the sun, and stumble upon random wineries in Napa.

As a last hurrah for the summer before our friends and we went back to teaching, working longer hours, etc., we went for a joy ride to Napa.  We found this gem, a quiet winery in the lazy wine country with outdoor seating, wood fired pizzas made to order, and bocce.

I am spoiled.

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//35mm film photo, taken with my Canon AE-1 with Kodak Portra 400 film.  Sonoma, California, August 2016.