Last month, I was able to visit the city of Ubud, Bali, in search for stories to cover. What I found was an interesting dichotomy between art preservation and means of living. I wished I had more time to work on the story, instead I had to return before long. I visited one of the performance space, Ubud Palace, to see if I could get access to the behind the scene of one of Bali's most famous dances; tari Barong. The show was on almost every day in the Ubud Palace; that night was Sadha Budaya Dance studio's turn, who kindly allowed me access to behind the backstage.
Following a couple of hours of plane ride was three days of marriage ceremonies - my sister's of course; not mine. Having been married already in the states, my parents longed to see her married in our hometown Makassar, in front of our grandmothers, and inside the church we had been going to for long. That time arrived yesterday. The procession was complex as it was long, with one formalities followed by another, long hours in the humid air of the typical townhouse, and sometimes inexplicable activities, and yet the couple marched through. With all the camera around, almost dictating every single move, it was hard to get a glimpse of truth in the whole situation, but perhaps, just perhaps, I managed to obtain some - a small window in which nothing matters but love.
At the end, perhaps there's more to marriage than the photos, and that photographers should strive to capture real moments instead of creating them. Also perhaps, is that I know nothing about weddings, and am just being a bitter old man. All those bitterness dissolved down the sink when I then realize that regardless of what the people put them through, it was their moment, as a couple, in a home where she lived in. Moments of truth will arise when it felt the need to, wherever they are, whenever it is. Love needed made, and so it was.
Another three cheers for a sweet marriage. Huzzah, Huzzah, Huzzah.
I crept my way on the wooden floors towards the room, stopping silently by the door. Beyond the wooden frames, lit by the morning sunlight filtering through the window were the sounds of chanting. Earlier in the day, a woman came to give offering to Buddha through the monks. Other than the sounds of the chants, the room was completely silent as the sunlight shifted and gave way to rain clouds - soon water started to trickle down the temple roofs.
"Within the walls of the Prayer" is an ongoing work, stemming from the interest in the confined space upon which faith and culture blooms. In the big cities like london, where culture and religion are largely a private matter, it found itself confined in the physical walls of stones and steel. It is in those space, however, another wall was erected, a wall of prayers. Growing within the walls of the prayers were faith and culture, bloomed, and flowered into a microcosm of its own - a completely different universe from those outside of the walls. This work attempts to take a peek into those microcosms, and make sense of its place in the largely cold city of London.
I managed to visit three different places of worship; a Hare Krishna (ISKCON) temple, Buddhapadipa Temple, and the East London Mosque - all of which contained not only the most pleasant people I had met in London, but also a solemn air unlike those outside. Teachings were told, some in english, others in their own native language, or both, and prayers were said to their own faith and for some reason, the warmth provided by each institution had always contrasted the cold rainy weather of London streets.
I long to continue working with the people in each institutions, and perhaps along with others to continue this work. Having always been interested in faith and culture, I long to understand more of each faith.
The morning sun crept slowly, coloring the cold blue morning a trace of yellow. I made my way towards the spot indicated by my Google maps, a red pointy dot pointing towards a Goulton road in the Hackney borough of London. Looking around for signs, I noticed the residential area surrounding me - no signs of a shop, much less a workshop. My map led me to a cast iron fence guarding a compound of a couple apartment units; a little search revealed a buzzer on top of a red brick wall, marked 'unit 2, Kennedy city bikes'. Within minutes, I was walking inside an apartment, revealing a workshop with giant windows by the side; tires and tools by the walls; and a bicycle in the middle of the room - much like a trophy. James, a tall, gruff man wearing a work apron, greeted me, offered some tea, and started working on the unfinished bicycle chassis.
Started as a hobby, James had been making bicycles for a couple of years. "I wanted to travel cheaper, so I decided to make a bicycle," He said, stopping for a while to drink his tea; "It ended up not being that much cheaper," he said before continuing his work. Soon after, he quit his job to open Kennedy City bicycles, and started hand building bicycles for sale. James worked almost two hours straight, almost never once moved his eyes from the bicycle - except for a couple sips of tea.
The Bicycle he was working on was a teal chassis with a honey leather seats; simple, classic, and lovely. At the end of the two hour long process, he declared the bicycle to be done, stood back, and marvel at his work. The sunlight poured through the windows giving the bicycle a yellowish tint, and for once, I have never wanted to ride a bicycle as much as I did then. James shook my hand, and informed me that they are moving to a new - better - workshop. As I walked outside the workshop towards the cast iron gates, I wondered if James, the work that he does, and the kinds similar to his, are the rising modern counter-attack towards industrialization. Young artisans, producing hand crafted, high quality masterpieces; if it truly is the way of the future, I am behind it all the way.
"You are lucky to be able to see a Leica being dismantled," the man said as we descended a flight of stair into a dark workshop. Scattered around the room was shelves of Nikon SLRs, Leica boxes, and pieces of Leica bodies. Ever since I picked up my M3, I had always been a big fan of the camera (I care not about the battles between brands - I love Nikon, I use Canon, and adore Leica, Mamiya, Zeiss, and everything else), so when I was allowed to peek - and document - the process of repairing a classic Leica M2, I was filled with glee. "Come here and take a look," the man said as he sat down and put his assignment - an M2 - on the desk; he had shifted some boxes around him just enough to make space for me to stand. "Now let's see here...," He mumbled a little as he lowered his magnifying visor; after which, he began to work. What followed was almost two hours of concentration as he slowly, carefully, and tactfully disassembled the camera. Screw by screw, part by part, the Leica began to look less like the famed sleek minimalist body that it had been known for, and more like a piece of random machinery.
The work was not fast - one does not go fast when dealing with a camera older than I am - but it was thorough. Along with the repairs, the man also changed the leather ("Vulcanite - I don't know why Leica used this trash; it's very poisonous," as he put it), and did some maintenance with the lens, a 50mm collapsible Summicron.
"Done! Another happy customer," The man said as he marveled upon the finished camera; it looked brand new by then. As he walked us upstairs back into the shop, I wondered how many Leitz Cameras and lenses had this man worked on? how many times had he thought to himself, "another happy customer"? and as he walked outside, and tried to shoot with the leica, feel the tiny whisper of a click from the fabric leaf shutter, how many times had he tested a camera by shooting it outside the shop? The number, however many it is, will grow, perhaps past the hundreds. It was an otherworldly experience, seeing a man fixing a piece of wonderful mechanical engineering like a Leica, with such finesse, and such pride.
The plastic bag rustled as I put it on top of the wooden table; I reached inside,grabbing some sandwich and a bottled water. I had just arrived early at the campus, we were supposed to meet at 10; it was 9.50. Eating the first couple of bites, I noticed a man running towards the large campus glass windows, and looked inside before smiling a large smile at me - he soon joined me at the table. The man was Andrea, one of the many who joined the group of people pursuing the path of photojournalism in my college. Later that day, we spent close to six hours huddling in the darkness for our first portfolio presentation - it was then when I truly realized how high the bar is for the class. 32 people in the class presented, all of which had wonderful works, many of which were very well thought and organized. "Full manual," paul, the magnum photographer - course director said, giving us our first assignment. "35 mm lens, 400 iso, full manual, and pay attention to everything in your frame," he continued. So i did.
The next couple of images were all in full manual (except for one picture - I was holding a giant book, and could not use my hand to focus, so I set to autofocus) iso 400, manual exposure. The only difference is that I was using a 50mm instead of 35, since it's the only prime I have.
"L.A. is all about food!" my friend Alex told me as we slurp our ramen noodle, and about food, L.A. indeed is. I promised a good ol' friend of mine to visit him in the states when he arrived in L.A. A year later, there I was eating everything L.A. has to offer. When my fabulous guide, Alex, said that L.A. is about food, I scoffed at him in disbelief; I later gained unmentionable amount of pounds added to my weight after visiting for a mere 3 days - I was proven wrong. Before getting into all the street/people photography, I have to make a tribute to (what i believe to be) L.A.'s most delicious offering: Crispy pork gra pow, deep fried pork belly with basil sauced topped with egg and duck meat upon request. Around an hour before midnight, Alex and I arrived at a small restaurant in a small thai complex, also filled with other thai restaurants. Our restaurant itself is a particularly small one, holding only seven to ten tables, fitting perhaps only as much as thirty. "You had to try the crispy pork," Alex told me, "it's the A1," he continued, pointing to the menu. When the steaming pile of rice, pork, and egg arrived, he looked at me with a glimmer in his eyes, waiting for me to take a bite - I can now truly understand why. My eyebrows were raised in surprise and slight disbelief. It was glorious.
In the days to come, I came to figure out that L.A., other than its delicious morsels, also provides a potential for people photography. In between Universal studios, and Santa Monica beach, I had my canon on my shoulder all throughout the days, and kept shooting until I couldn't anymore. Below are the select few of my pictures.
All in all, photo wise, it was a very rewarding experience, much less so for my health, but the crispy pork was well worth it. I had to eat it once again before I left L.A. So thank you, Alex for being my guide and great host for three days straight, I will have the crispy pork again if I was to return to L.A. Untill then, here's another picture of you:
I heard of the riot in Libya late on tuesday, earlier this week. A group of Libyans, rioted over an offensive movie made in the American Soil, which led to the death of four Americans, including one Ambassador - and a passionate one, at that. The story is filled with sadness and anger on multiple sides, but that is not why I am writing about it. Wednesday, 12/9/12, a certain Ohioan group held a candlelight vigil for the souls of those lost in the riot; they are the Libyan Americans of Ohio. Nearly twenty of them stood near the Wexner center fot the arts, next by the High street, holding candles and signs and flowers - passing letters to passerby. The letters were filled with condemnation of the attack, and perhaps, more importantly, How the Libyans felt towards one of the lost souls, Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Many of the attendees that I talked to were disqusted by the attack, one remarked that it was non-Islamic. All of them, however, were praying for the souls of the lost, and the families they left behind. For Ambassador Stevens, "He will be missed dearly," the letter said.
This is not a story about how brave Ambassador Stevens was, nor on the actual riot and the ensuing politics - much have been written on that, and I know that I am not qualified enough to talk on the subject. This, however, is a story about compassion, sanity and friendship. One of the signs held in the vigil was "USA, thank you for all you've done." Not all Libyans raised their pichforks to attack the embassy on that day, some, if not majority of them, condemned the attack, and speak for sanity, friendship, and thankfulness. Let there be no mistakes, it was not the work of religion, nor culture, nor countries; it was the work of people with their clouded minds. Never forget, that for every hand that was raised to attack that day, there exist many others that hold hands alongside the victims; especially among Libyans. This is a story on those Libyans lighting their candles to remind all of us: we're still here, and we still remember.
It has been a long time, and i have not yet updated my portrait (I did not have a lot of portraits,see, being the one who takes photos and all.). I was lucky enough to get a portrait snapped by my sister in Cleve, and that will be my new portrait (and facebook profile picture) for a couple more years.
Where will my curiosity take me, if not the unknowns? and what better way do I have find out than to walk? With that in mind, I called a good friend of mine living in Wooster, OH. "Andika, what say you I go to Wooster this weekend?" I said. An okay away and there I was, 12 AM in the morning, driving towards Wooster, a little over an hour away from Columbus, OH. I went to Wooster to meet an old friend, and to get fresh with my head; my old friend also helps with the second one. I brought with me my Camera, a wide angle lens, a tripod, a cable release, and left Columbus. I arrived at Andika's house at a little over 1 AM; it took a little over half an hour for him to recover from his sleep before we can start our journey.
The night was dark, the moon red; it was a night unlike others I've had in Columbus - I suppose it was normal in Wooster. We went to some fields where I would stood my tripod to take pictures. "I swear those fireflies have some kind of firing pattern in their glow", he would say; we would continue to chat non-stop as I kept taking pictures. One of the fields we went to, a soccer field behind a church, was full with fog. The skies were starry, and the grounds cold, wet with morningdew. We stayed there for almost an hour, if not a little more, and chat throughout the night.
The time was close to 4 AM when we finally decided to leave the soccer fields. Andika was aware of a swamp that he found interesting, and we were going to go there to check things out. As we drive through the city of Wooster, we passed through an interesting spectacle by the side; I noticed a mechanical monstrosity hid behind the thick fog. I yanked Andika and asked him what that was. "A train weighting station, and a junkyard" he said, "wanna go there?". Now both of us have a gleam on our eyes that says "yes" - so we stopped there. We walked around the junkyard, behind the thick fog, a skeletal-dome like structure looked sinister, especially when the surroundings are bathed in red and green glow.
A little more walking around and we noticed three trucks were left to dust in the junkyard, next to a couple more vehicles.
As dusk approached, we decided that we wanted to take some pictures of the sunrise, so we headed to a lake in Wooster. Unfortunately, the sun was faster than us, rushing towards the horizon in the speed of, well. a sun. We stopped next to a soybean fields to take some pictures of the sunrise. As i snapped a couple picts, Andika managed to identity the stage of growth of the soybean plants, along with their health conditions. It is as good of a time as any to explain that Andika is a soybean researcher focusing in mycologic diseases.
Seeing as we were close to the lake, we decided to pay a visit. We visited the lake's marina, and walked around.
Close to 8 AM in the morning we decided to go home and get some quick rest - it turned out to be a 4 hour rest. At 12PM, we went out again to visit the city of Wooster. We came across a gemshop, filled with stones and gems. The owner was nice enough to answer all of our questions, which took him almost an hour. By the end of the day, we had grown to like the guy and the shop, we decided that we're gonna go stone searching and return there with any results for him to shape.
As we exited the store, Andika received a phone call from his friend. I barely heard words like "goat, beer, drinks, this afternoon?". He hung up, turned to me, and say "do you wanna eat some goat?" A friend of his just finished slaughtering a whole goat, and asked if we wanted to come over and enjoy the spoils - So I said "yes!" with all my might.
Andika's friend, Godwill, is one heck of a guy, he hunts, prepares, and cook one hell of a goat too. Along with his cousin and families, Godwill helped brighten the rest of the day with barrage of delicious dishes of goat - Goat leg, goat liver, and goat soup. Goat, beer, and company, there's no way the day could get any better - oh and a lot of dancing with the newest African music. It was an unbelievable lunch, Godwill and his family couldn't be more hospitable.
The trip ended at 4 PM; I was pleased, Andika was pleased and promised to tell me when he'd visit Columbus. It was such a great time. He left off with a gem of words: "Wooster, is a small city, but what makes it worthwile, is the people in it" - I couldn't agree more; Godwill and his family is a testament to that. I will visit wooster again, and if you have a friend there, don't be afraid to visit. Wooster is a gem within a gem.