Category Archives: Photography

About 10kms north of Skora on road 15, Norway. 2011

It’s hard to take a photo in Norway, that doesn’t look like it belongs on a box of soft centred chocolates. Not that I’m complaining but I do feel such images could have been taken at just about any time in the last couple of centuries (the colour of the buildings do give a clue).

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When I look at, and think about such images I’m reminded of the romantic landscape painters of the early 19th century.  All “beauty” but no real information other than the mindset of the painter.

The Post Modernists have said for quite a while now that photographs aren’t “documents” in an objective sense, because they are the subjective framing of small parts of reality that have been given significance and therefore changed into an artefact by the photographer’s choice of where to point their camera and click the button.

For me such arguments don’t ring true because I think the Post Modernists have gotten too hung up on “titles”.  Just as we once thought that the sun revolved around the earth because we assumed man was the centre of the universe. In short I’m saying all material things have a nature of their own that is completely separate from what we think of them.

We’ve all seen Post Modernists playing with notions of  “reality”, by staging photos to look “real” (such as fake murder scenes) when in fact they are still recording phenomena that has a reality of its own, independent to the intention of the “artist”. Sure you can stage a photo and call it anything you like (much like the surrealists) but the photographic apparatus has recorded a simulacrum of what we perceive with our eyes (because that’s what cameras are designed to do). The camera makes no intelligent decisions it merely records in a mechanical fashion what it was pointed at. Photographs are products of machines and have a “reality” of their own and are “documents” as much as a crushed rock that has been hit by a hammer. To give a scene a title to change its meaning doesn’t really matter one bit, because to quote Shakespeare, “a rose by any other name is still a rose”.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2011

Whilst wandering around Copenhagen last week we came across this very picturesque part of town that looked as if it had been lifted from the lid of a box of assorted chocolates. The canal was spannned by a small bridge that had a little alcove poking out from the sidewalk where people were almost lining up to take photos from. One after the other we took our shots from exactly the same spot, to produce almost the same image in a Hockney-esque meditation into how time can divided up into little slices like a speciman being prepared for a microscope slide.

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As I took in the scene I found myself thinking how we as humans like to congregate with other humans. Nyhavn’s picturesque nature attracts many visitors, and I noticed there were quite a few restaurants along the base of the colourful buildings that were full of people eating and drinking. I found it ironic that people wanted to eat in the middle of a “view” because so many people were milling around it, but the diners couldn’t take in the view because they were in the middle of it. Strangely enough, the other side of the canal, where the buildings weren’t so colourful wasn’t crowded at all although it offered a much better veiw of the part of Nyhavn (New Harbour) that was attracting the crowds. Surely it would be better to have the restaurants on the second floor of the buildings on the less crowded street so one could take in the full unobstructed scene.

Copenhagen is quite a small city and it’s mercifully flat which makes it an ideal place to go cycling. Fortunately the civilised and sensible Danes have built cycle lanes on most of the roads, so cycling around town is a real joy. The fact that cycling is encouraged in Copenhagen is lost on many of the tourists who choose to go on guided bus and canal boat tours to places that can be easily reached by bicycle or on foot. They can’t have all been infirm, could they?

One of the problems with traveling is that it is very easy to get into the well worn rut that has is used to help separate people from their money and to keep them unfit in the name of comfort and convenience.

Our comfort zones are a death trap.

The Aurlandvegen snow road, Norway. 2011

Into every life a little rain must fall and in Norway they get more than their fair share. From an Australian point of view, Norway seems so green and of course the greeness is a consequence of rain. From a photographic pespective, there’s nothing more boring than a landscape that has either a hazy or a totally blue sky.

For the last two days it’s been raining but we knew that interesting scenes were waiting to be experienced. This might sound perverse but I love alpine areas in less than ideal weather. There’s nothing like freezing temperatures and a stiff breeze with horizontal rain to give you the feeling that you’re “out there”.

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To hell with fine weather and the sort of scenes that belong on boxes of assorted soft centred chocolates!

Watching humans develop. Seven Hills, NSW, Australia. 2010

A little while back, my friend Paul was talking to me about the latest drama he was having with one of his teenage sons. I thoughtlessly commented that I thought he was having so much trouble because he had spoilt his kids by trying to be their peer, rather than their parent. Paul smiled and replied to me, “that’s right, tell about how to raise kids now, when you don’t have any of your own, but know everything about it. Because if you have kids all that certainty and knowledge will disappear and you’ll realise that you haven’t got a clue”.

All around me, people I know are raising children, and when ever I visit them I feel like some sort of a low rent David Attenborough. Sitting aloof and feeling emotionally detached, watching their children as though they were animals on the Serengeti. Often when I see children around the two years old mark, I think about how they are at the point in their lives where they are on the cusp of superseding adult chimpanzees in intelligence.

When I look at very young children I sort of see them as little unreasoning animals that have immediate wants that have to be met without regard of anyone but themselves. For that reason, I never feel angry at them as they are screaming for something like food or attention. Such young children don’t have the developed intellect to reason or be reasoned with, therefore, it’s not like they’ve made a choice to “misbehave”, they’re just trying to communicate the only way they know how.

I always find it fascinating watching parents cope with crying children. There’s not many parents that aren’t immediately galvanised into some kind of action when their child cries. Every attempt is usually made to placate their little screamer. Food, attention, pleading, threats, distraction and just about anything that will quieten and pacify is tried. All the while, the parents are conscious of the fact that other people are watching them and judging their parenting skills.

Last week, my cousin Andrew (who I haven’t seen for twenty years) with his wife Midori (Green in Japanese), and child Sakura (which means Cherry Blossom) came to stay with Engogirl and I for a fortnight after fifteen months in Japan with Midori’s parents. Andrew is the brother I never had, and it was a real pleasure to catch up with him after so long, but that’s not what this post is about.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to observe a twenty month old child at close quarters. It’s been very interesting to watch the clash of cultures as different approaches to child rearing are applied. Midori, being Japanese is a very indulgent mother. It’s just the way the Japanese are. Japanese kids, from my (ignorant) western viewpoint,  are spoilt rotten until they are teenagers. The slightest little squeak they make is attended to, immediately.

Andrew on the other hand was the product of a very harsh, neglectful and abusive childhood and as such is very mindful about his duties as a father. Andrew has read fairly widely about child rearing and wants his daughter to have all the love and every opportunity that he never had, but Andrew also has a western attitude to discipline. Children will be made to understand their place in the world, which isn’t in the centre of it.

Both Midori and Andrew obviously love their child so much and each of them does what they think is best for Sakura. Midori caters to every need in an instant whereas Andrew tries to guide and educate. It’s like watching a struggle between the id and the super ego. On one hand there is the emotional response of Midori and the more rational approach of Andrew.

What I found interesting is that at twenty months old, Sakura is in transition from non-rational little animal into rational human. The animal part of Sakura is catered to by Midori and the developing rational part is appealed to by Andrew.

To paraphrase my friend Paul, I don’t have kids, so what do I know? In truth, when it comes to children, not much. I do find parents and young children absolutely marvellous to watch and think about though.

Everyone who met Sakura instantly loved her. Sakura is a total delight, so bright and lovely. A real little angel if there ever was one. Sure, she had her tantrums but they were few and far between and they were over fairly quickly, thanks to Midori’s Japanese placating mothering skills.

It was amazing to watch how quickly Sakura was starting to learn English and how well she responded to instructions. In short, it looked to me that Sakura was receiving the benefits of two cultures and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. A sort of cultural hybrid vigour, if you will.

Andrew and his family left for their home in Cairns in Queensland last Tuesday. Both Engogirl and I were surprised at how much we enjoyed their visit and how much we enjoyed having little Sakura around. Having said that, let me state the bleeding obvious, such young children sure do need a lot of attention and care.

On Friday night, Engogirl and I went to some friend’s house for dinner. Our friends also have very young children and both my wife and I found it quite interesting to watch undiluted cultural parenting skills. At first we both thought that the stricter western approach seemed right, but as the night wore on we both felt that Midori’s more indulgent responses coupled with Andrew’s rational instructions were more effective in getting the results they wanted.

Scenes from the top of Mount Wellington. Tasmania, Australia. 2010

Years ago I bought a book called, “The Royal Tour 1901, or the Cruise of H.M.S. Ophir; Being a Lower Deck Account of their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York’s Voyage Around the British Empire”, at a garage sale. It was a fascinating reproduction of a British seaman’s illustrated journal of his time as a sailor on the 1901 royal tour that visited Australia.

Unfortunately I gave it away a few years later.

The book was interesting to me because it was full of descriptions of Australia and Australian life from over a hundred years ago. Although the author Harry Price, didn’t have much good to say about Sydney (probably one of the more dangerous ports in the world at the time and who could blame him), where I live, his book is full of little glimpses of the naive and excited mindset of an ordinary person who felt they were part of a great empire. Like I said before, fascinating stuff.

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Harry decided to use his day of shore leave to walk from Hobart (Tasmania) to the top of Mount Wellington which looms over the town. 

Mount Wellington is further away (19kms or nearly 12 miles by road) than it looks from Hobart, and it’s surprisingly high (1,271 metres or 4,170 feet). An ambitious and very steep day-walk that Harry Price was ill prepared for.

Locals in Hobart can tell you that the summit is quite often covered with snow, even in the Summer.

Not only were Harry’s navy shoes totally inadequate for the task, it also snowed as he reached the summit and he wasn’t wearing warm clothing. A sodden and freezing Harry got back to his ship late at night and with bleeding feet. I remember as I read the book how I identified with Mister Price’s optimistic cluelessness. I totally understood the young Harry’s delusion of being 10 feet tall and bullet-proof. I’ve felt the same way in the past and it’s gotten me into what I like to describe as “character building experiences”.

It must be a testosterone thing.

When ever I hear people use the word “adventure”,  I’m always reminded of something I read years ago (I can’t remember who said it and I haven’t been able find out, but I was under the impression it might have been Mallory), that, “adventure is discomfort, remembered in comfort”. Although many people wish they had more adventure in their lives, I can honestly say from personal experience, that adventures are usually very unpleasant when they are happening, but of course they make for great dinner table chat. 

Nowadays I feel that adventures come from bad decisions and are to be avoided.

Street ceremony. Munduk, Bali, Indonesia. 2010

Just about anyone I’ve spoken to, who has been going to Bali over a long period time will comment on how the island has changed so much over the decades but the people are still pretty much the same.

Bali is such a magic place that despite recent terrorist attacks, it attracts more tourists every year. With over half a million visitors a year, Bali is in danger of being loved to death. More tourists, means more development to cater to their every needs. The Balinese seem fairly pragmatic about the huge influx of foreigners. I suspect it’s because the average Balinese only makes about $125 a month and there is a lot of unemployment, so they probably think of tourism as a boon.

In many places around the world that have been overrun by tourists, the locals can get quite jaded and nasty (as I’ve seen in parts of Croatia), but not the Balinese. With the exception of Kuta beach, which has been the stomping ground of drunken tailer trash Aussies, most of the locals in Bali are such nice people.

Actually they a really, really nice people. So warm and friendly.

As a foreigner walking down the street in a small town away from the touristy areas (which are full of hawkers hassling for a sale), you will be greeted with huge genuine smiles and a “hello!” “How are you?” Where do you go?”  The Balinese love to have a chat and it’s not uncommon for people serving you in restaurants etc, to try and strike up a conversation. Just to make a connection, and for no other reason than they friendly people .

A hotel (a very nice one) owner I met in Ubud, told me that most foreigners are reasonably understanding of the chatty locals, but he mentioned a French couple who told one of his waiters, “please don’t talk to us, we don’t talk to staff”. The hotel owner then went on to explain that the Balinese waiter didn’t take offence, but he did think that there was something a bit mentally wrong with the abrupt couple and as such, he felt a bit sorry for them. Whereas the Danish guy who owned the hotel wanted to throw them out for being so rude and “up themselves”. Same situation and such culturally different responses.

In my experience of three visits to Bali (the first in 1976, the second in 2004), the Balinese have retained such a beautiful countenance that it truly astonishes me and it makes me wonder why I’m amazed and why they seem to be so relatively unaffected by the tourist onslaught.

Just like other people in the world, the Balinese would like to live more comfortable lives and even though the average Balinese doesn’t have that much in a material sense in comparison to us in the “west”, they seem to have a very rich community life that is held together with the glue of a multitude of religious obligations they have, and all the Hindu ceremonies that they participate in.

When we were being driven around (about $45 a day and way less stressful than driving Balinese roads yourself) in Munduk by a local, we passed a large gathering of people sitting on the footpath.

Our driver stopped the car and said, “you go take a picture”.

To which I asked, “are you sure, is it all right, will they mind?”

The driver then said, “just stand back, and keep out of the way and it will be O.K.” He seemed to be proud of what was going on and wanted us to record it.

So I took a few shots and we went on our way. As we drove off I asked our driver what it was all about, and he said, “Don’t know, some ceremony for family”. At first I thought this was an odd answer but later on I saw a Balinese religious calendar and I was stunned to see so many religious events all around Bali. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said there is probably some public ceremony going on somewhere in Bali every single day.

Although I haven’t got a religious bone in my body, I find myself thinking, “oh well, what harm does it do?” It keeps them busy and happy. I’d say that Hinduism has had a very positive effect on the Balinese.

As a matter of fact, I’d much rather hang out with a bunch idolatrous Balinese than fundamentalist monotheists back home, any day.