Category Archives: Fine Art

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.

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.

Someone Else’s Childhood (in Taiwan)

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There’s something unsettling about nostalgia that doesn’t belong to you.  The bittersweet melancholy of realizing you’re witnessing someone else’s memories is poignant.  Stories others have told have painted hazy images in my mind’s eye, and I can recognize snapshots from their memories as I go about my adult life, but it’s just not the same.

My mother grew up in a town in Taiwan where everyone knew everyone else.  Her father was the principal of their local elementary school, as was his father before him.  Schools were a hub, and my mother’s family lived in tiny Japanese-style homes that were specifically built to house teachers on the school campus.

Why were these teacher-homes Japanese-style?  Because Taiwan was under Japanese occupation from 1894-1945.  My grandparents grew up speaking Japanese in school, and all other languages were banned.  (Fun fact: My grandfather’s earlier books were written in Japanese, and it wasn’t until he taught himself how to write Chinese in his mid-20s that he translated those books into Chinese.)  Later, when the losing government from China took up residence in Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese was mandated, and other languages banned.  My parents, therefore, grew up speaking Mandarin.  What was spoken at home?

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So what’s it like to witness someone else’s childhood?  This is what it’s like.

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These are the semi-abandoned remainders of the teacher housing from fifty years ago.  My mother’s home is this one:

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My mother’s childhood home in Longtan, Taiwan.  Somewhat renovated, this house appears somewhat like it did when my grandfather and his family were still living here when was still a teacher, fifty years ago.  The calligraphy engraved on the wood panel was written by my grandfather.  [Digital photo because I wasn’t able to capture it with my Canon AE-1]

How strange.  How weird.  How funny!

But it’s not just my mother’s childhood that I’m surreptitiously reliving.  It’s also my father’s.  It’s also my fiance’s. My parents grew up in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s, and my fiance grew up in Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s.  And yet, their childhoods are very similar.

This is what an elementary school looks like.

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So different from the elementary schools of my childhood in the U.S.

To them, the outdoor sinks directly outside the classroom, the mops hanging on the wall, the shape, size, and color of the buildings itself . . . These are their childhood memories.  These memories are not mine.  They will never be mine.  I can experience their childhood through trinkets and remaining edifices now, as an adult.  And that is where the bittersweetness floods in.

For good measure, because it was the Taiwan elections when I was in Taiwan in January, I’m including a photo from the Taiwanese elections.  I had to capture the historic, historic day!  The day a female president was elected! Tsai Ing-wen, now the most powerful elected female in the Chinese speaking world.

(So much passion lie behind Taiwanese politics.  I will address it some other day.  Today, I celebrate something that the U.S. hasn’t been able to achieve– the election of a powerful, opinionated woman to the helm of a country with a complicated, convoluted, and confusion past.)

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It wasn’t as crazy or exciting as the TV showed Taipei was, but Longtan’s elections, held at the local elementary school (my mother’s), was fantastic in its own right.  Quietly, people (the majority of the people of Taiwan) voted.

Yet another memory that isn’t quite mine.  I merely bore witness.

// 35mm film photos taken in Longtan, Taiwan, mid-January 2016 by a Canon AE-1.

Taiwan in the Winter

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In those rare opportunities when I get to experience something from a different perspective, I am always pleasantly surprised.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Taiwan during the winter.

A January Taiwan is a very different experience than a July or an August Taiwan.

Some background on Taiwan

Taiwan is my parents’ home.  Neither of my parents grew up in Taipei, and my childhood trips to Taiwan were always to the towns in which they grew up.  I’m a country girl, my mom would say.  She spent her young years playing hide and seek in the rice fields, and Taipei was a big city that warranted an  occasional visit but never was “home.”

Instead, my mother’s home is a town about an hour’s drive from Taipei.  Her home is where I go every time I’m in Taiwan to visit my remaining grandparent.  Her home is where I meet up once every few years with my Taiwanese cousins to eat and drink and catch up on family news.

[That top photo is the Longtan Lake, a few blocks from my grandfather’s house.]

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Winter in Taiwan

For once, I realized, I wasn’t sweating every waking (and sleeping) moment of the day.  The usual oppressive heat and sit-on-your-chest humidity had given way to a brisk coolness that wasn’t quite cold, and it wasn’t quite damp, either.

This was, for me, a new Taiwan.

So I wandered.

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Muted greys dominated, only to be broken by brightly colored temples.

Walls of Taiwan

I want to do a series of photos about the walls of Taiwan.  Taiwan’s tropical air forces walls and other edifices to age prematurely, weeping from the moisture.  Cleaning the walls is almost futile.  Why try, when moss and dirt return immediately like iron filings to a magnet?

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// 35mm film photos taken in Longtan, Taiwan (龍潭) in January 2016 during an afternoon wander near my grandfather’s house.  If, by some odd chance, you find yourself in Longtan, look for the Lupin Flower shop– that’s my aunt’s semi-defunct quilting shop.  That’s where I spend my Taiwan trips with my grandfather, uncle, aunt, and cousins.

Trailing Into Autumn: Sauntering along the Billy Goat Trail

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How does one enjoy a free trip home in late-October courtesy of a work trip to the nation’s capital?  Go for a hike with the parentals and shoot lots of photos of the East Coast in all its fall glory, of course!

And what a glorious day it was. 

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The sky was blue, the waters were bluer, and the film in my camera was eating it all up like candy. 

How is this even real life? 

The Billy Goat Trail is a trail that I’ve been hiking for almost my entire life.  It is part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and located between the C&O Canal and Potomac River near Great Falls in my hometown of Montgomery County, Maryland.  

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While my parents and I were walking along the banks of the C&O Canal and I was reveling in the beauty of the still waters in the early morning, we heard a cacophony above us.  A flock of birds was flying by, and they were also enjoying the crisp, fall morning, singing and calling to one another as they roamed the skies above.

But in addition to the birds’ voices, there is also the roar of the falls.

What’s fantastic about this hike is that people can cut across from the canal-side to the Potomac River side and see the Great Falls.

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It’s like a painting.  The swirls, the eddies, and the roar of water, captured in moving stillness in these photos.

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A walk among the trees and beside the water is perfection.  Absolute perfection.  Especially when I get to do it with my parents. 

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// 35mm film photos taken with my Canon AE-1 one bright, October morning along the Billy Goat Trail in Potomac, Maryland.

 

Sunset Views: Albany Bulb

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Sunsets on the horizon. 

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The weather’s been getting colder, and the winter rains are coming.  Wrapped in a fuzzy blanket next to a pile of sweet smelling, fresh laundry, I find my mind wandering.  Wandering over the last year.  Wandering through the photos, the places, and the people.  Wondering what I’ll do and where I’ll go next. 

I’ve spent the past year soul searching.  This time last year, I was struggling with my career and my direction in life.  I wanted a new job; I wanted to shoot photography; I wanted to be someone and do something. 

It didn’t come easily, though. 

I was so lost. 

And, I realized recently, I’m still not there yet.  It’s kind of like that feeling you get after browsing Facebook or Instagram for a period of time and leave, feeling like everyone else in the world has their life together and are out doing wonderful and beautiful things.  (Yes, I just linked to my Instagram.  I am unabashedly self-promoting my Insta- I can’t help it sometimes.  As for Facebook, I lurk, but I want to detach.) That’s how I feel sometimes. Left out and forgotten. 

So I’m on a journey.  To find myself.  To find what makes me tick.  I’m not satisfied with living a life merely going through the motions.  The circumstances of my departure from my last job left me with bouts of nervousness at my new job, which I’ve used as motivation now to be the best I can be.  I’m still nervous, but I know I won’t feel this way forever.  Is this life?  Waking up early to work out, wading through my work, fighting traffic to get home, ultimately eating dinner and collapsing in bed in order to wake up and do it all over again?  I freaked out the other day because my mind (my traitorous mind) had explored the possibility that I was too old and too far down a path to be able to achieve everything I desired.  Sunsets on the horizon, if you will.

No.  I refuse.  This isn’t it.  I’m too young and too ambitious and too excited to do other things.  I’m going down a good path now, but I refuse to let it be a leisurely path, and I refuse to let it become a dead end.  I’ve been down this road before.  But this time, I have the ability to make my own life and make my own time for things that I want.  I’m looking into art classes; photography classes; reigniting my artistic spark and flexing my creative muscles.

I just need a reminder every now and then.  Let’s go.  Let’s be!

// 35mm film photo taken with my Canon AE-1 a Albany Bulb in Albany, CA, just east of San Francisco.  On clear days, you can see all three bridges (Golden Gate, Bay, and Richmond) from this vantage point.  A quiet place for quiet reflection.