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Photography

Yes, the day I pulled it off. Twice.

Tooth. Still life on magenta background.

failing health

chewing dried seaweed

my teeth grate on sand

 

Matsuo Basho’s Haiku sums up my feeling of July. What was supposed to be a month where the long planned road trip would take place, became a month full of surprises. As any photographer knows, clients can suddenly change their minds and shooting dates are never really set until the day you actually get to shoot. My shooting days got moved around and suddenly the time set aside for the road trip became working days to the disappointment for my friend James, who had travelled from China and set aside ten days in Vietnam in order to secure at least three to four days on the road.

As goddess Tyche would have it, good fortune came through. First one day was made available and plans were made. We could box the motorbike and take the overnight train to Nha Trang and ride back to Saigon. At least it would be better than nothing and a new route for us. Then more good tidings came our way. Two days. Train idea cancelled. We will ride to Nha Trang the following day and then back.

However, the day before departure was also my day at the dentist. Twenty years ago, back in Norway, I had a bicycle accident. I broke three teeth and got them replaced with crowns. What my dentist did not tell me then, maybe he did not see what my dentist now had seen, that my teeth actually had been damaged at root level by the accident. Similar to building a mansion without proper foundation. Doesn’t matter how good it looks, it will still break sooner or later. Later it was for me, twenty years later and I had to pay the price. The foundation was infected. Of the group of three, two had to leave.

So there I was. At the dentist office. Afternoon. Two teeth to extract and a road trip to undertake the following morning at 5am. The dentist came recommended by a Norwegian friend of mine. He had done a similar procedure and was very pleased with the result. They have a wonderful slogan. On the wall it says: “Nha Khoa Khong Dau” that can loosely be translated into “Dentist office, No pain.”

I have to hand it to them, it was the least painful dentist experience I have had in my entire life. The dentist that did the surgery was hired for the occasion. His day time job is at one of the government run hospitals, dental department and had a lifetime of experience. To him it was routine, he does it everyday, not like the practices back home that has a fraction of the number of patients with similar needs and hence less experience.

I felt at ease. It was all done quickly and I was handed a bag with painkillers and antibiotics. A removable, partial denture was provided so I could at least look normal. Eyebrows were raised when I asked to keep the teeth. Why on earth would I want to, they must have asked themselves. Photographers are seeing the world through a different lens with a different view is all I can say, or rather, I should have told them, as I kept the thought to myself as I left for home and to start packing for the road trip.

“If you have any troubles, please come back immediately”, I was told just before leaving. Great, I thought. This is going to be one very interesting road trip indeed.

Tales from the road are up next. Until then, an exploration of teeth. (Can’t really get myself to say enjoy the view.)

Tooth. Still life on black.

Tooth. Still life on metallic gold.

Tooth. Still life on black velvet.

Tooth. Still life on metallic gold.

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Photography, Typography

Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides. – Lao Tzu

Inspirational quotes series: #005

Another addition to the inspirational poster collection of mine. This time with photography and type, not type alone. Self initiated projects are valuable to keep skill sets alive and force yourself to produce. It is easy to get caught up in all the other aspects of running a photography business that you stop shooting for yourself. I have been there and done that. Hence the projects. It is my second time at running a full-time photography business. First time straight after ending my apprenticeship. 3 years of studying on the job. I had already shot quite a few jobs for the studio and thought I had the drive and skills to set up.

First knock, agencies are vary of any newcomers as they want to know that you can pull it off. They prefer working with established ones as they would hate explaining why a re-shoot is needed.

Second knock, credentials are important even though nobody will ask for your diploma. I was competing as an advertising photographer against others that spent their time studying abroad before setting up back home. Even the ones that had gone through apprenticeships before me.

Needless to say, most of my energy went to seek new work, creating opportunities and working mainly editorial and doing regular go-see’s with new work to the agencies. A few years on my own I packed up my bags, left for England, as I had been accepted first at Surrey and then due to personal reasons changed to KIAD. The course at KIAD was brand new, specialised in advertising photography. The tutors told me that I was a bit unlucky as I should have been placed straight into the second year and not the first, as it was simply too basic.

However, I met some wonderful people that I enjoyed spending time with and solve photography projects. Merlin Hendy, Richard Sainsbury, Daniele Melgiovanni and Peder Songedal. Merlin is a brilliant dance photographer, Richard got represented by Photonica while in school, Daniele is part of one of London’s biggest studios and Peder has become a Canon Master in Norway.

KIAD only taught me two things that I didn’t already know. Split tone printing and the graphic design classes. I loved the latter ones. Something new and creative. I liked it. I wanted to learn more than only the two hours a week we had. Another fellow Norwegian from my home town had studied graphic design in London and had highly recommended his school.

As I normally do when I am about to set out for something new, I research. I asked the graphic design tutor at KIAD what schools she would recommend. I was given a brief list. Then I asked about the school that my friend recommended. “You will never get into that. That’s the best one.”

Determination. You will need it in any business you want to succeed. If you don’t want it, somebody else will. I managed to schedule an interview with the design school. Brought my photography portfolio and my humble attempt at graphic design. I met Andrew. I showed him my work. The graphic work was rubbish, almost thrown away immediately. Photography work hold interest. Then my story. Why I wanted this. Why I was here. Why he should give me a chance. I walked away with the brightest smile ever. I was accepted at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design.

I had to change school midterm. I had to get refund from the other school. I was the first Norwegian student to ever have done a transfer midterm. All the paperwork and money lost in fees as I did not get a full refund. It all didn’t matter. I was where I wanted to be. I was an oddball. That’s why I got accepted. I found out from my tutors later that that was how I were described to them. The oddball from Norway.

I had two options. I could breeze through the design course by solving briefs the photography way or I could pick the hardest challenge and get to understand type and typography. I got my hands dirty in the basement of Southampton Row setting type by hand. Letterpress printing. Same way you will never understand dodging and burning in Photoshop if you haven’t tried it for yourself in the darkroom. Not that I will make you necessarily better, but you will have a better understanding about the craft. I got to understand the logic behind the tools in QuarkXpress. Before everybody changed to InDesign.

Dual background. Design and photography. Need to fuel both passions. Inspirational quotes project helps. Enjoy the series as it develops.

Life’s too short to not be doing what you love doing.

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Photography

“What does your online image say about you?”

Self. Myself. My self image. My image. Image. Click. One click, that was it. One exposure. He checked to see if I blinked or not. Five minutes he said. Five minutes passed, money passed, images passed. I had four, scissor cut, standard passport size, identical images of myself. It was quick, it was cheap and it’s analogue. Printouts in a digital era. I need to make them digital again to upload.

What am I doing? I wanted to see what added value I bring to my customers who come for portraits. Conducting research. I cannot offer the same price, it is unbeatable at 20,000 VND, more or less one US dollar. However, I offer choice and the selected image(s) will be retouched and delivered as a digital file, not as an analogue printout that has to be either scanned or photographed again.

This is it. This is what I got. I had to put on my macro lens and photograph the printout. I would more or less get similar quality if I had it scanned.

Passport portrait done at the local photo studio

Ansel Adams zone system consists of ten zones. From pure black to pure white. Analogue film cannot capture all the levels, hence the expression “Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights.” Let’s be generous and say that film can capture a tonal range of seven zones. Taking the negative and print it would reduce the tonal range to around five zones. Each reproductive step would reduce the quality. Enter digital photography. Every year, the camera sensors improve in quality. Having access to the RAW digital file gives you the best starting point, and after converting and retouching, you have a far more superior image, technically speaking.

If I had access to the digital image file, I could probably adjust the image a bit, but for 20,000 VND you don’t get access to that. You get your four, scissor cut images. That’s it.

Looking at the result, I feel I am looking at a “Wanted” poster. Would I change my current image on my various social networking sites or is the new image not really new and improved?

How about this one?

Portrait done at my own studio

This was taken the same day, a few hours later. For comparison, a similar head shot. Technically superior. It took a bit longer to set up as the studio is never “pre-set” for anything. Studio rule, once your session is done, everything goes back in place. Prevents you from being “lazy” and develop habits. Always think how you can work with your light. Always easier when you have an empty studio.

In my apprentice days, I heard stories from other apprentices working in the portrait business that you could encounter studios where the equipment did not move. Marks on the floor for where you should stand. Marks for where the tripod should be. Flash units already dialled in. Some even said that the aperture and focus ring were taped!

In my case, the studio I went to in my neighbourhood had the flash units already set up and dialled in. Chair in place. All I had to do was to sit down and not move. A very efficient workflow. Only five minutes. Also a very predictable outcome.

Sometimes, predictable can be good, other times not.

How about this headshot?

Portrait sample, No 1

I don’t think it would be achievable on a 20,000 VND budget. It marks a difference. It also says something about the person. About how he wants to be perceived. You can only make a first impression once.

Another sample, still with suit, but a different mood. A different light setup as well.

Portrait sample, No 2

Last sample and again a different light setup, creating another mood.

Portrait sample, No 3

Studio cleared. Ready for next. Will never follow Henry Ford and make a production line and standardise light setups. Otherwise, I will have to charge 18,000 VND and deliver in four minutes in order to compete.

Last, but not least, here’s an online guide on what NOT to do.

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