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

 

Jan 122012
 

Nepal Kodachrome Adventure by Andrew Kirkby

It has taken me a year of thinking and reviewing my images before i could get this together for your readers. I think that Kodachrome enabled me to take pictures reminiscent of the National Geographic magazines which inspired me to pick up a camera as a teenager (my father has every single one since 1967). I shot so many rolls of film during my trip to Nepal – it was very difficult to select images which I feel I should show others. So here they are, and a little about them is included where necessary.

Upon arrival in Nepal i went about shooting straight away. What struck me straight away is the amount of dogs everywhere. In every street, alley, alcove or shop. They don’t belong to anyone other than the city.

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A dog scavenging for food near the highly polluted Kopan River (Kathmandu). The smell was terrible.
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This particular scene is something i will never forget. The shop in the picture is that of a butcher, and the dog in the street has run in, grabbed a piece of meat off the counter and run away. The shop keeper’s dog doesn’t bad an eyelid and the woman just carries on as if nothing had happen.
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While driving along in a taxi, a boy came up to the window and demanded money. I had the F5 in my right hand and quickly took the shot. The kid instantly went mental and my friend Tashi needed to get out of the taxi and sort the kid out to avoid further trouble. Tashi later told me that he knew this boy and he told me that he was severely burnt while inhaling glue fumes.

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As I walked further and further away from the tourist district (Thamel) into Chhetrapati and surrounding areas, I found the real Kathmandu. People going about their normal lives and no hustlers trying to sell dope/underage girls/mountain tours!
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By night Kathmandu is an interesting place. A lot of shops are still open well after sunset. They are often lit by candles or rechargeable lamps as there is a scheduled blackout scheme in place. This butcher shop is one of my favorite images of the whole trip. In front of this table there was a stack of cages full of chickens awaiting their end. Sadly there was not enough light for a picture of those.

 

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Walking back in to Thamel at night is an interesting experience. There are countless children on the streets who are often sniffing glue or smoking cigarettes – courtesy of tourist donations. Here they are sniffing glue – which can be purchased for 5 Rupees at almost any store. The kid standing up (on the left side) has just had a huge amount of glue and is about to fall over. I had to leave immediately after taking this photo to avoid a dangerous situation.

 

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Walking back in to Thamel at night is an interesting experience. There are countless children on the streets who are often sniffing glue or smoking cigarettes – courtesy of tourist donations. Here they are sniffing glue – which can be purchased for 5 Rupees at almost any store. The kid standing up (on the left side) has just had a huge amount of glue and is about to fall over. I had to leave immediately after taking this photo to avoid a dangerous situation.

 

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The rubbish which can not be sold is simply burnt in little piles all around the city at night. That would explain the huge amount of thick smog.

 

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After a week in Kathmandu I flew into Lukla; one of the world’s most dangerous airports, and began a 3 week trek to Gokyo Ri and back via the Everest region. The airline that i was flying had a serious accident in August of 2010 – a flight destined for Lukla but forced to turn back in poor weather, and subsequently crashed just outside of Kathmandu. I was scared, to say the least.

 

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It is interesting to note the completely different complexion of the people in the mountains. In the Khumbu region, the people are mostly Sherpa – very similar to Tibetans or Mongolians. Typically very kind, warm and hospitable people.

I guess this is what i came to Nepal to see – the mountains and the people who inhabit them.

One thing that was refreshing for me, is that children are outside playing with sticks and other such objects. There is no Xbox, Playstation, TV or computer. Kids are just kids.

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A young boy playing with firecrackers. Something not seen here in Australia for a long while (before my time!)

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After a few days walking we arrived in Namche, the largest town in the area. Lots of tourists and yaks.
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This picture was taken just above Namche Bazaar late in the afternoon. The Sherpa people are very hard workers.
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I noticed that the altitude had a profound effect on my thinking. I saw the dark side of things, and at times i felt rather belittled by the enormous mountains. These next few images were shot while descending from Gokyo Ri, feeling rather ill from the altitude.
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This is one of my favorite mountain shots. The moon and snow blown off the mountain was really quite spectacular. It was one of those moments that only lasts for a short time.
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Ama Dablam at sunset
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A few days later, a bit further away.
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At the top of the Cho-La Pass. These black birds were everywhere
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Near Everest Base Camp… I had to take a picture of at least one Kodachrome box on the trip.
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Back in Kathmandu for about a week before returning home, I got up every day at the crack of dawn and went out shooting until I couldn’t do anything more. The way the light is recorded with this film is simply beautiful. It has just the right amount of contrast.
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I still don’t know what this woman was pointing at.
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Best Regards,

Andrew

Apr 282010
 

Max is Back! Yes, the stevehuffphoto.com “film guru” as I now call him is here again with a great little article on a film that many of you know and love, Kodachrome! It’s no longer made but you can get a little taste of what it is all about right here. Thanks Max!

Kodacrome: the way it was…and still is.

By Max Marinucci

You may say, “Max has gone nuts! Why waste time writing and reading about a now defunct film stock?” Well, this is not a memorial of sort or simply a trip down memory lane. The story behind it, and the implications related to how we photograph and think today are indeed far reaching, if you care about photography, of course.

Kodachrome was around for 75 years and so many of us grew up with it. Our parents and grandparents used it with the simplest of cameras and some of the images still around today will amaze us with their beauty, bright colors and distinct look that only Kodachrome can give. As far as color accuracy, I have yet to see a film that comes close to it. Those reds, orange, yellows, golden browns, when properly exposed can be just breathtaking. I am sure Kodachrome detractors will forever argue that Velvia 50 is a better film and, as always, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. Having said that, the reality is that Kodachrome was a unique film giving a very distinct look and comparisons are unfair.

Invented in the early 1930s by God and Man  (two professional musicians, named Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes) it was available in a variety of formats, and from ASA 8 to 200. The popular versions of 25 and 64 ASA were the 35mm staples of every photographer, including the likes of Steve McCurry, whose portrait of the “Afgan Girl” is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of EVERY mere mortal.

This was no ordinary film, as it is essentially a black & white emulsion, with dye couplers added at processing time. For this reason, it is a difficult and very expensive, laborious film to process but also one to give a very sharp, and unique, almost 3D look that is unachievable by any of the E6 emulsions. Unfortunately, K14 processing requires a very specific and technical knowledge of the film and complex, large machinery. Today there is only ONE lab in the world, and appointed by Kodak, to process any remaining stock of Kodachrome until December 31st 2010: Dwayne’s Lab in KS. After that date, anyone holding a roll of Kodachrome will simply be stuck with unrealized memories and a worthless roll of film.

Kodachrome 25- My mother – picture taken by my father in 1964 (one year before I was born) with his Zeiss Ikon camera.


Kodak came to the decision of stopping production and announced it in June 2009, due to a decline in sales that had been going on since the 1980s and 1990s, caused by the advent of E6 emulsions and processing, Fuji Velvia in particular, and finally Digital, which was the last nail in the coffin. Unfortunately, even though film in general is making a comeback with a younger generation that has been spoon-fed nothing but digital files and bringing forth once again an appreciation for it as a timeless medium, with superior archival qualities and unique looks, it is too late for good old Kodachrome.

Recently I have been scanning old slides shot by my father in the early 60s and, aside from some dust, they just look breathtaking. I immediately came to the sad realization that I have failed to record my own children younger years on film. Today, very sadly, I would not even know where to look for those 10 years old  (and probably VERY crappy looking) digital files that are likely stuck on some old computer, hard drive or unusable floppy disk, or simply lost forever. The truth is that we live in a society that “consumes”, chews up, spits out and quickly moves on to the next thing. Digital cameras are not built to be used or last for a generation but only to perpetually exploit our weaknesses and longing for some sort of perfection that never comes, simply because we don’t know where to look. For anyone who is not a professional photographer (and some of them still shoot plenty of film) the digital nightmare will eventually rear its ugly head. Will my children, in 40 years, look in old, useless hard drives or computers to find their childhood memories or will they simply take out a box with thousands of slides that look as good as new and they can still make beautiful prints from? This is what it comes down to, for me: archivability, storage solutions, and the uncertainty of what the future will bring, is enough for me to stop using digital to record my life, what I see with my eyes and want to keep a memory of. It is as simple as that. Besides the fact that I will be saving thousands of dollars on useless, obsolete digital gear, my time will be better spent by using what I already have and making sure that I leave something behind that can actually be enjoyed and appreciated one day in the future.

Kodachrome 25 – My father – Picture taken by my mother in Athens, Greece, 1964. He’s holding a Zeiss Ikon “Ikophot” Light Meter, which I now have. Still working fine!

Let’s face it, we are not all professional photographers who need to shoot rapid fire and can’t digest what would be an enormous processing bill if we were to shoot film for every paying gig. For me, it has stopped being about the quality of digital versus film. I prefer film because TO ME it looks better than anything digital, it is more economical when I factor TIME (which is my most important asset) and because it allows me to MAKE a picture instead of simply just taking one and then go blind in Photoshop hoping for some magic. More importantly though, it gives me a tangible product which I know my children and grand children will have a much better chance at enjoying decades down the road. Who knows, maybe they will even be able to make money off some beautiful prints after I’m gone :)

Kodachrome 25 – The new generation – My daughter on a beautiful late afternoon spring day – Nikon FM3A with Nikkor 60mm Micro, 81A Warming Filter

The demise of Kodachrome is not about the loss of a breathtaking, uniquely beautiful film stock, but something that simply brought forth the realization that pictures taken 50-60 years ago retain the same magic as the day they were taken and I can still hold them in my hands today. I can project them, admire them in full glory on a light table, scan them, post them on the web, and print them. My future may not include Kodachrome but, the past recorded on it, has made me realize how important it is for me to record my life on film, whether being Velvia, Elitchrome, Portra, Tri-X and the many other great stocks still available today.

Long live film!

Kodachrome 25 – Kodachrome in all its sunset glory! The last few rays captured with a Leica M7 and a 35mm Summilux Aspherical.


Kodachrome 25- Taken a few minutes earlier and once again displaying those beautiful pastel warm colors. When the light is right and with proper exposure, Kodachrome can make still make you gasp in awe. Leica M7 with a 35mm Summilux Aspherical.


For more Kodachrome examples, visit my Kodachrome Tribute Page on Flickr..http://www.flickr.com/photos/leicaman/sets/72157623426141341/
I will keep on posting some of my takes until December 31st 2010.

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