Oct 012013
 

Japan 1979

by John Shingleton

In the last couple of years Steve has kindly published a number of my contributions on his blog the most recent two were on the XVario Leica and most recently an opinion piece on the curse of digital photography. Sadly that last story although it was intended to provoke serious thought and reflection generated many what I consider very unfair comments and a level of unnecessary personal abuse and although I pride myself on having a reasonably thick skin the overall experience left me proclaiming that it would be the last time that I ever put my head above the trench with an opinion piece or indeed any other story on Steve’s blog! And yet here I am again.Well this time hopefully noses will not be put out of joint. I originally posted these pics on my personal blog but a number of friends have urged me to give them wider exposure as they are a unique glimpse into another era so here’s the story and the photos.

Back in 1979 I went to Japan on a business trip. Japan was an exotic and mysterious destination then. In Tokyo only the main central metro stations had the station names in western script so navigating the metro unaided was a challenge. Westerners were still very much an oddity outside the main centres. Very few people even in Tokyo spoke any English at all. Taxi drivers spoke none. They could not read western script so unless you had your destination written down in Japanese you could not travel by taxi.

Since 1979 I have visited Japan many times most recently a couple of years ago and it has always been an extraordinary experience. In 1985 I even drove my family without a guide and of course without GPS in a big left hand drive car (Japan is a RHD country) extensively on the north island over the Christmas/New Year period when it was snowing. I must have been very brave or just crazy.

I had my Olympus OM2 SLR with me on that first trip all those years ago. The yen was very weak then against the Aussie dollar so camera gear was a real bargain in Tokyo and I bought a 28mm Zuiko lens for the Olympus. I took photographs in the Kawasaki small motor and motorcycle factories and Tohatsu outboard motor factory I visited. As the light was very poor I used a very fast film, Ilford HPS-which was harsh and grainy . I developed it at home in a very fine grain developer. The photographs were taken on the run as I was on business factory visits -not sightseeing.Focussing was very difficult in the low light and even with the fast film the shutter speeds were slow. Camera shake ruined quite a few of them.

The factories were very noisy, hot, dirty and very crowded. They smelt of hot oil and hot metal. As you can see the working conditions were harsh. OH&S was not a consideration -note the lack of ear and eye protection. It would be so different today.I am sure much of the small engine production is now highly automated or has moved offshore most likely to China and other asian countries.

Today they would be much less willing to allow you to take photographs on security grounds and just imagine trying to focus manually if I had been wearing plastic lenses safety glasses. I was fortunate to record quite literally another time.

Only a couple of these photos were printed at the time. I was too busy with work and a young family to spend hours in the darkroom and in any case they needed printing skills which were beyond me. I found them last weekend in a big box full of thousands of negatives in my garage. With a scanner and Lightroom I have been able to give them their first visibility.

I hope that you appreciate this record of an extraordinary place.

John
http://therollingroad.blogspot.com/be

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Jan 132013
 

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Myanmar-with a Leica X1 and “Kodachrome”

By John Shingleton

I have just returned from two weeks in Myanmar over Christmas and the New Year.

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the land that time has passed by.Once a jewel in the British Empire it gained independence from Britain in 1948.A military coup in 1988 led to estrangement from the West and the imposition of economic sanctions. Since 2010 Myanmar has moved back towards democracy. Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton visited late last year and sanctions are being lifted.

The sleeping beauty is waking up and re engaging with the world .

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And what a beauty it is .The years of sanctions have had a wonderful side effect leaving a beautiful country suspended in a less frantic time .No obsession with brands,no KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks ,Coca Cola or even a mobile phone system connected to the outside world and a beautiful, friendly, modest and highly religious people.They are very poor but seemingly content and their culture remains intact .On the other hand the infrastructure is very poor and the education and health systems are even worse and large sections of the country are still closed to tourists as the government fights separatist and insurgency movements in the north and west.

Myanmar has a basic mobile( cell) phone system but it is not connected to the outside world and anyway it uses old 2G and CDMA technology which is not compatible with western phones .There is internet/wi fi access in the main population centers but it is slow apparently.It is not a place for tourists who want 24/7 connectivity. I left all my mobile devices at home.It was so liberating and so much easier at airline security.I’ll do it more often.

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Since the sanctions were lifted tourism is expanding very rapidly but it needs a big investment to handle the projected numbers.Sadly the portents are not good for this growth being tasteful with massive, crass overdevelopment of tourist facilities in nearby Thailand,Bali,China and particularly Vietnam showing how easily beautiful places can be wrecked.The Myanmar I saw may have been a once ever opportunity.All the precedents suggest that in 5 to 10 years it will be gone .I count myself very lucky to have seen it now.

If you are considering visiting go now but only visit if you are prepared for an extraordinary experience involving third world conditions.Don’t even think about going if you want “home away from home”or you don’t like dust and the smoke from cooking fires in the morning and evening.

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I flew into Yangon( formerly Rangoon) then upto Mandalay and then sailed slowly down the Ayeyarwady ( formerly the Irrawaddy) River on a traditional river boat for 8 days stopping at towns and villages on the river banks which are not usually accessed by tourists.It was an extraordinary trip.

For this trip of a lifetime I took my Leica X1 compact camera with a Voigtlander optical viewfinder,one spare battery ,battery charger and just one SD card .I also ,wisely ,took a Kiwi filter tube,lens hood ( $40 off eBay) fitted with a B&W clear filter.I used this the whole time and it protected the camera and the lens from the all-pervasive dust.I had my Canon G9 in my bag as a reserve for any mishaps..

For readers who are not familiar with the X1 it is a Leica made compact camera with a fixed 24mm (equivalent to 35mm on a full frame 35mm) F2.8 lens and an APSC sized sensor.It is a much maligned camera and as I described in an earlier post on this site see http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/02/13/from-leica-3a-to-x1-a-51-year-journey-by-john-shingleton/ I struggled with mine in its early days but now I love it although I sometimes feel that Steve Huff,myself and one of my friends are its only fans! At the end of the day I don’t care what all the forum “experts” think of it because it takes beautiful images and it has simple controls and easy to access menus.It does not have IS,GPS,WI FI or take movies.It just takes superb still pictures which suits me .Having just a fixed lens does involve compromises but in so many ways it makes things easier as I do not have to make any decisions on which lens to use and it is so light to carry -a critical factor after years of carrying bags of gear around.Been there done that-had a sore back to prove it.

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Not having a long lens means that I really have to be in a subject’s face when taking people shots and so I developed a technique for doing this without ,hopefully, causing any offense .In fact it invariably generated smiles all round as well as some great images.

I took about 320 photos over the 14 days of the trip .Pretty restrained by most people’s standards equivalent to 9 rolls of 35mm film but I am trying to adopt a more deliberate and considered film photography like approach to taking digital photos.I deleted about 100 of these on the trip and then culled them down to 110 when I put them onto the computer back home .I ended up with 110 images which I am really pleased with including perhaps some of the best photos I have ever taken in the past 50 years.I am a great believer in being a very tough editor .It’s easy to take bad photos so why keep them? They just use up hard dive capacity .So I am brutal and discard everything which is not “very good” or at least “very good” by my criteria.

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I have always been a big fan of the photography of Steve McCurry who has shot many great photos in the Middle and Far East including the iconic Afghan girl photo which graced the cover of National Geographic magazine and has since been published thousands of times .McCurry was the master of Kodachrome slide film with its big,sharp ,supersaturated images.In fact Kodak selected him to shoot the last roll of Kodachrome manufactured in 2010.

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I loved Kodachrome and if we were still all using film I am sure that I would have used it on my Myanmar trip to try to emulate Steve McCurry.Anyway I did the next best thing I emulated Kodachrome as far as possible by shooting all my pictures as both RAW and JPEG files.I shot the JPEGS on the Leica’s vivid setting and they are the big surprise .They really are vivid and they remind of Kodachrome.They may not be natural but to me they say very loudly “this is Myanmar” and that’s what I wanted.I hope that you appreciate my personal take on a very unique place.

If you would like to see many more images from the trip go to therollingroad.blogspot.com

 

Aug 032012
 

Tri-X: The Real Deal by John Shingleton

I cracked a wry smile as I read Anand Asar’s post -“How to get that film look“( 30th July) and the torrent of not always polite comments which followed. I felt for Anand but found myself asking “But why try to digitally emulate film when you can still have the real thing”?

Regular readers of Steve’s blog may have read my story of my personal photographic journey back in February HERE. In this I set out my philosophy of minimizing my camera gear and travelling light .

Since writing that post my photographic journey has taken an unexpected turn .For some time I had felt that I was taking too many photos and I was in danger of becoming a “snapper” as opposed to a photographer .The tipping point came whilst I was travelling in Europe a couple of months ago . Everywhere I travelled there were hordes of tourists touting big DSLRs and they were just “snapping”, often unthinkingly raising their cameras to their eyes and shooting away without making any effort to compose the photo yet alone think about or even observe what they were taking .I could see myself going the same way. To avoid this horrible fate I decided that I needed to get back to my photographic roots and to embrace “slow”photography in the form of film or analogue photography. I had done the Leica thing for over 40 years so there was no point in going there again. Ever since I had been interested in photography (52 years ) I have lusted after a Hasselblad (Blad) medium format SLR although in the last 10 years I had forgotten about this enthusiasm in my rush to embrace digital. For those not familiar with iconic camera brands Hasselblad was the king of cameras before the digital era and was embraced by both top line professional photographers and wealthy collectors. The Apollo astronauts took Blads to the moon with them–I understand that they even left one there –probably to save weight on the flight back to earth.

Spurred on by a friend in the UK I looked at the prices of ‘Blads and was really surprised by how affordable they have become . To cut the story short I picked up a beautiful vintage Hasselblad outfit/camera body/magazine and three lenses for $1000. Now the Hasselblad is a beautiful piece of kit with superb precision,  Swedish engineering made of steel, aluminium and glass with not a piece of plastic in sight and just handling it is a tactile experience. Not something you can say about many digital cameras apart from the Leica M9.

At this point I can almost hear the gear heads saying “is this guy crazy”? $1000 for a vintage clockwork film camera? For that money I could buy a super new Panikocany XZS 100-DM with 24mp ,auto focus faster than the speed of light, 128 very confusing menus , loads of little buttons , a touch screen but no viewfinder.”That would be totally missing the point.

This wonderful device called a Hasselblad has already given me enormous pleasure and I have only shot four 120 films -48 exposures so far. It is certainly slow and difficult to use . Even loading the film is a slow, tricky operation and the viewfinder is very dim and reversed which can be very confusing. If I tried using it after a few beers I would probably fall over. But setting the camera up, taking the photos ( it makes a wonderful noise as the mirror flips and the two shutters fire) and then waiting for the film to be processed to see the results is a completely different experience to digital photography. Yes, black and white film photos have a totally unique look and I have really embraced the black arts and purchased a developing tank and chemicals so I process the films as well. I did have all this gear once but gave it away thinking that I would never use it again.

But enough from me . I’ll let some of my first photos from the Blad do the talking. These are like the first beer made by a home brewer, I am sure I will improve with practice. These were taken on either Ilford FP4 or Kodak Tri-X film. Yes ,Tri-X the real deal. No digital emulation here.  In case you are wondering I won’t be taking my Hasselblad travelling with me. It is far too heavy and cumbersome for that. If I took the Blad outfit on a plane it would use all my luggage allowance. That’s no way to travel! A Blad outfit and one pair of underpants! No, the Leica X1 is safe .

If you want to see how my slow photography develops watch my eclectic blog on www.therollingroad.blogspot.com and please don’t comment that I am crazy as I already know.

 

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