Monday, March 16, 2009

dreams of Zombie plagues... in my dreams.

I had a dream last night in which I was traveling across canada in order to escape an onrushing zombie plague. Then, I dreamed that I woke up and gave my friends a blow by blow of said zombie-plague dream, making revisions and embellishments as I went along.
Weird. Even in my dreams I can't resist a good old exaggeration. In fact, I felt so odd about the in-dream dream revising, that when describing the zombie portion of the dream in actual, wakeful reality, I down-played the hell out of it. But trust me, the zombie evading was crazy intense.
Oh, and at the very end of the exposition portion of the dream, curtains pulled back and I realized that I was sitting in the audience of a giant theatre while my friends were sitting on the stage. When I finished telling them the souped-up tales of zombie fleeing, they all got up and did a bizarre celebratory dance/tumbling routine to convey their remarkably excessive adulation.
Any ideas what this might mean? Other than that I'm a pathologically embellishing narcissist?

Friday, March 06, 2009


No one walks here. I find that very odd. Everyone rides small motorcycles around town.
The only ones that walk are foreigners and little kids, though some of the little kids have their own motorcycles too. I was strolling back from the store yesterday and I was passed by a kid who couldn't have been more than eight, cruising down the street on his little honda.
And the bikes here all have cruise-y names lke: 'dream'. and 'viva'. and 'wave'. except one. There's actually a model of moto here called a 'smash'. A suzuki smash. Not the best name for motorized transport now is it?

sunsets and rainbows (and puppy dogs and cotton candy)

I'm currently staying on the top floor of a kindergarten in Battambang, Cambodia, and from my room I can hear the children laughing and playing in the classrooms below.
The door at the back of my little flat leads out to the roof, the best place to catch a nice breeze at the end of a hot, dry afternoon. A few of us were up there a couple of nights ago, waiting for the sun to set so we could break our fast with fresh mangos or dragon fruit or guavas or oranges (it's currently the Baha'i fast).
It had rained that afternoon, but the sky was clearing, the sun dipping low in the sky and ringing the clouds with gold. To the east, a double rainbow stood out against dark clouds in the distance.
I hear it's still winter in Canada.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mongkul Borei

I was in a small village in the district of Mongkul Borei in western Cambodia a few days ago, working on a little photo/video piece about how the Baha'i community here is slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) transforming community life in a number of villages across the country by providing moral and spiritual education to children and youth. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it really is having a profound effect in some of these places. In this one village, over one hundred people were already involved and the demand for the classes was far exceeding the ability of the organizers to provide them.
Anyway the second day that I was there, we were waiting for a class that was supposed to start but the students were missing and the teacher had gone to find them. I was sitting with my friend Kuoy who was there to help with the classes and to help me with the translating. He was sitting under the tree, flipping though a book and would periodically break into song. I was pacing around, watching gusts of wind kick up little dust storms on the dry rice fields, pushing them into stands of bamboo that would rattle and dance and then fall silent again.
A few boys wandered into the scene, glanced over at us, and then walked over to the school building, disappearing inside. I wandered over to see what they were up to and as I approached, could hear them laughing and joking. I stood in the door for a moment, camera in hand, and watched them push desks around and write what only could be naughty khmer phrases on the blackboard and then rubbing them out. They didn't seem to notice me at all. While they played, I slowly raised my camera, eith the intention of checking light, fixing focus. Just as I was bringing the camera to my eye, one of the boys grabbed a small cushion that was lying in the corner to hurled it across the room. The cushion, which had clearly seen better days, began to leak its feathers the moment it left the boy's hand. Upon impact with his friend, the cushion exploded, filling the air with them.
The boys froze when my shutter clicked. All of them turning to face me. We just looked at each other for a moment, feathers hanging in the air, light slanting in from the door across from me. They stared. I stared. feathers drifted.
I shot a couple more frames in the moments before the feathers all settled back on the floor. The sound of the shutter seemed to release them and they all began to laugh, kicking the feathers up again and racing outside. As the last boy left, he turned and flashed me a smile, pulling his fingers up to his eye and clicking an imaginary camera before disappearing out the door.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The kite

It started with a kite.
I grew up on a farm outside of town and, other than my sister, there weren't many kids around to play with which meant lots of hours of entertaining myself.
And so it was, one suitably windy sunday afternoon, that I was flying my sister's kite out over the fields. It was fall, october probably, because I remember broken corn stalks poking up through plowed earth and the air was crisp and cool in a way it never was in the early spring.
The wind was coming in from the direction of town, pushing smoothly over the house and out over the broken corn, out over the empty fields. Lifting my kite up into the air, pulling the string smoothly off the spool.
I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea, though I'm even more surprised that I had never tried it before, but this afternoon, alone with my kite at the edge of the field, the wind holding it strongly in the sky, effortless, motionless... boring.
So I let more string out, slowly at first, cautiously. But soon letting the spool spin freely in my hands, the kite climbing higher, shrinking away to a tiny dot.
So intently was I watching the kite that I didn't notice the string reaching the end of the spool. Even if I had have realized it was nearing the end, I doubt I would have been able to tell that it wasn't actually attached. And even if I had have realized it wasn't attached, I don't think I could have caught the string before it spun itself free and took off after the kite, lifting lazily over the field.
Luckily, when the string pulled free, it caused the kite to dip, and the string fell lower and began to drag along the ground. I took off after it running out into the field, over the rough ground and the broken stalks. As the string dragged along, it would catch on the corn stalks, tugging and pulling the kite slowly out of the sky. It crashed not far into the field, and I was able to grab the end of the string and start to pull it in. But the wind kept pushing the kite, and it rolled and tumbled over the ground. Being a 10 cent cellophane special, I knew it wasn't going to last long that way, so, in a panic, I began to gather up the string as fast as I could, winding it around and around my hand.
So with the kite safely in one hand and the string wrapped firmly around the other, I went back to fetch the spool, which I had dropped when I went chasing after the runaway kite. As I walked, I let the kite go and it immediately jumped back into the sky behind me, following along as I marched across the field and back into the yard. I knelt down to pick up the spool and began to let the kite pull the string off my arm, concentrating intently on the end of the string grasped firmly in my fist.
But it was october. and my fingers were cold. and the string had been wrapped around my hand for a while at this point and by the time I got to the end of the string, my fingers were completely numb and the string slipped from my grasp and sailed away a second time.
This time I just sat in the yard while the untethered kite lifted higher and higher, fading slowly away, obscured by distance and the tears of a boy who had just lost his sister's kite.
I walked into the house, climbed the stairs to my room and buried my face in my pillow. I cried both for the loss of the kite and for the legendary beating I was sure to get at the hands of my sister whose kite was now probably halfway to the sea.
But my father heard my crying and offered to come with me to find the kite. He was sure that it couldn't have wandered too far.
So my father and I put on our coats and our boots and set off across the field. I had never been to the far end of the field before. It was, it seemed, farther than I'd ever walked in my life. But together we walked, strolling and talking and enjoying an autumn afternoon. We walked to the very end of the field, and then across the field after that, and began to walk across the next one after that. It seemed like we had been walking for days, but I was afraid to turn back, afraid of what my sister might do.
And then halfway across that third field, a miracle appeared in the sky. It started as a little red speck in the sky. A bird perhaps, or a plane, or a cruel, cruel trick of the eyes.
But we kept walking, and the dot stayed. and grew. it bobbed and dipped and fluttered in the breeze.
It was only when we reached the fence that I realized what it was. A tiny knot at the end of the kite string had hooked itself on a tiny barb at the top of the fence and hung on. Hung on with the most precarious hanging.
We stood for a moment, watching the fence fly the kite. And then my father asked, "well? Aren't you going to grab it?"
I grabbed the end of the string, expecting it to jump out of my fingers again. My father helped me tie the end to the spool and I reeled it in slowly as we walked back to the house, back across three fields, three times farther, it seemed, than I had ever been in my life.
It was heroic really. and miraculous. and all of those other superflous words that don't actually apply to anything that happens in our daily lives. In my mind I can see us, ten feet tall and swaggering like cowboys, kicking up bits of dirt that glowed in the setting sun. And swelling music and rolling credits. I swear it happened just like that.

My father got sick a year ago, and by the time I got home from Israel to see him he was shriveled and weak, cancerous. Almost the first thing I did when I walked in the door was ask him about that day that neither of us had mentioned in 25 years.
"Dad, did you remember that day that we went to look for the kite?"
"I think about that day all the time."
"All the way across the field, and then all the way across the next one too."
"I couldn't believe that your little legs made it that far."
"And was it really stuck to the fence like I remember?"
"It was amazing."
He had to rest after that. The cancer in his lungs had taken his breath.
He lived two more weeks.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shooting Photos.

Cameras and guns seem to be inextricably linked in many people's minds. Consider common photo terminology: 'shooting' photos, people that go out 'hunting' with their cameras, 'firing off' a few frames. The use of cameras and guns is seen as analogous. (A few months ago, while I was 'shooting' in Cambodia someone remarked that they could tell I would be a good sharp-shooter, based merely on the way I always had my camera within easy reach 'ready for action'.)

But it's never a comparison that I've been particularly comfortable with. I've shot guns before (I've even shot competitively, though I was never any good.) and I would never, ever even begin to think of pointing a gun at a person. At the same time, most of my friends can attest to the annoying presence of my cameras in their faces at the most inopportune moments.

And then, while I was in Panama, I was introduced to a whole new way of looking at it. In spanish the verb often used to describe the act of photographing is 'tomar' (to drink). To drink photos. Drink, both in its sustaining, refreshing, nourishing sense and in the sense of 'drinking in the beauty' implying time taken to pause and appreciate something on a deeper level. The idea that photography allows one to experience something more fully. Drinking it all in... through your camera. And sometimes you go out with your little point and shoot, taking a sip now and then and other days it's a head thrown back, light splashing down your shirt, guzzling of photos until finally, gasping and choking, you have to stop and catch your breath.

Drinking is also our most basic of needs, prevented from eating, drinking or sleeping, you'll die of dehydration long before hunger (interestingly, lack of sleep will also kill you before hunger). Of course, this just makes the metaphor that much more appropriate, because if I couldn't take photos I'd probably die.

And one last thing that makes this analogy so appealing to me is that now, when I sit with my camera held lightly in my hand (as I often do), I no longer have to think of gripping the cold metal of a gun, but of a warm (and comforting) cup of tea. Though lately my camera has been more of a 1,000 frames-a-day Super Big Gulp.

Consider also that when it comes to sharing your photos, would you rather share something that lets your audience taste what you tasted? Or would you like to give them something that shows what you saw, or rather what you saw right before you shot (and killed) it? For me, photos are about conveying feeling, not about displaying trophies.

The gear so far

Five and a half months ago, before I started this trip, I did a little gearing up. I bought a new camera, a lens and some other odds and ends to add to my already considerable camera-harem (the collection can be seen here). The trip, which has so far taken me through 13 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, North and Central America and the middle of the Pacific has been a little rough on both me and my kit and I thought now would be a good time for a little update on how everything is going:

Cameras: I bought a 1D for the trip, planning to use my much-loved 20D as a second camera, shooting with both bodies most of the time. Alas, most days, my 20D sits unused, waiting until disaster strikes. And after years of shooting aperture priority on my canons, I've started shooting manual much of the time. A combination of harsh sun, dark skin and even-changing conditions that my aperture priority just couldn't keep up with. I find myself often setting my camera for the light conditions and then tweaking slightly for shadow or highlight detail. I'm getting much more control and much more consistent results... except when I step out from a dark hut into the bright sun and shoot a few frames of something that catches my eye before realizing that I've just over-exposed everything by 12 stops. But that's only happened a couple of times, I swear. Oh, and I noticed the other day that whenever I change cards in my camera, I instinctively shield the open CF slot from the sun. Anyone else do this? Or is it just me?

Lenses: I'm using a 17-40 f4, a 135 f2 and a 50 f1.4 (all Canon lenses). I expected to use the 17-40 the most (it's just the perfect lens for the kind of work that I'm doing) and, sure enough, I'm shooting almost 80% of my photos with it. It's been holding up fine, but I'm beginning to think the 16-35 f2.8 would have been worth the extra money. Also the 50 f1.4 (which I've been using less than I thought, but is still indispensable in low-light) was damaged in turkey (my first country!) and replaced in london a couple of weeks later. It's most likely repairable, I just don't have the time right now to get it fixed.

Cards: I'm shooting 2GB cards. I know I can get bigger ones, but it just seems like a good balance between not having to change them too often and not losing too many shots if I damage a card. I'm also backing things up to a battery powered 80 GB drive while I'm in the field, meaning that I can leave my laptop safely behind and go out shooting for a few days at a time. While the batteries on the drive will die long before I fill it up, I've discovered that, when things are busy, I can shoot 80GB of photos (about 10,000 shots) in 2 weeks.

Flashes: I packed a portable studio made up of a pair of light stands, umbrellas and vivitar 285s triggered by light slaves because I knew I'd be shooting in a lot of dark interiors. Well, one of the triggers died a few days into the trip (luckily I had a spare) and one of the 285s blew up a couple of months ago. Still not quite sure what happened, but it smelt like burning. I've also been having a tough time with the light slaves, they're just not as reliable as I need. So I just bought a pair of pocket wizard radio slaves. So now I can tuck a flash just about anywhere and trigger it from really far away. Like the moon. I also picked up a Bogen super-clamp before I left. I wasn't really sure what I'd do with it when I bought it, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, it really proved it;s worth in Zambia and Malawi when I was able to clamp a flash to just about anything to light up dark hut interiors without having to worry about my light stands showing up in the shot. The only down side was that I only had one of them, but that was rectified a couple of months ago.

Computer and Hard drives: computer has held up like a champ, but the hard drives are waaaaay too small. Sadly, I can't buy a 5TB, 2.5 inch, bus powered fire-wire drive, so I'll have to make do with what I've got and just keep burning DVDs like a madman. Oh, and I ditched Aperture after the first few countries. Once you dump 10,000 images into it, it really starts to drag. I'm using lightroom now, and even with over 50,000 images in my current library, it's still running pretty smoothly.

Audio gear: the mic and recorder are performing great, though I haven't been capturing as much audio as I hoped. I'm trying to make more of an effort, but it the shooting is definitely the priority.

And the piece of kit that I'm using the least? my ipod. go figure.

It's Wednesday. Where am I?

This trip that I'm currently on, this 20 country sojourn to all corners of the world has been a great test to my last minute, slackadasical, planning-is-for-wusses travel style (which, thanks to the magical inter-web isn't the million-dollar-last-minute-booking-penalty nightmare that it used to be. In fact, in some cases, my complete lack of organizational skills has saved me a penny or two).
While things have been pretty smooth so far, I'm starting to notice the cracks. I arrived in Fiji a couple of weeks ago only to be informed that I would need an onward visa to Kiribati before they would let me on the plane, despite the assurances of the Canadian travelers website. So I was trapped in Fiji for a couple of days (many have pointed out that there are far worse places to be stranded). However, true to form, after a 4 hour bus ride to Suva I sorted out my visa in 15 minutes and secured a warm bed and hot shower at a stranger's house for my first unplanned night, caught up with an old room-mate, and then went and crashed with another friend before finally flying out for Kiribati two days late. All this despite never having been to Fiji before.
Or take my recent departure from Australia. I was in Brisbane as part of a 4 day/ 6 flight journey from Tarawa, Kiribati to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia (I'm sitting in Beijing, waiting to board the final flight to Ulan).
Anyway, my quest for the cheapest tickets meant that the whole trip was cobbled together from internet e-tickets, a travel agent in Brisbane and another agent in Kuala Lumpur, so when i arrived at the airport in Brisbane, ready to fly to KL and pick up my ticket to Ulan, I was told that, while I had a ticket out of Kuala Lumpur, travelers to Malaysia need proof of an onward ticket and unless I had physical proof of that ticket, they weren't going to let me on the plane.
I've long since learned that arguing this stuff, no matter how mistaken they may be (ok, technically they were right but in practice the onward ticket thing is a non-issue in Malaysia) is far more trouble than it's worth. So here I was, 90 minutes before my flight, with two eager baggage toting, form filling friends (who were beginning to show sleep-deprivation giddiness with one of them referring to them both as my 'minions') as my airport escorts, asking the Malaysian Airlines reps what I needed to do to get on the plane.

Malaysian Airlines Rep: Well, you just need to show us physical proof of an onward flight from Malaysia.
Me: Any flight?
MAR: Yes, any flight.
Me: Is there any internet access around here?

Brisbane international airport has no wifi (or none that I could find) but it does have a series of over-priced internet kiosks with broken mice and sticky keyboards strewn about the departures floor to steal your coins and mock your attempts to type. The catch of course is that once a ticket is booked on one of the infernal machines, how to show them? Drag the kiosk over to the ticket counter? Have them all come over and huddle around the machine? Brains were stormed, I toyed with the idea of shooting a photo of the confirmation screen and show it to them on my camera, but as luck would have it, one of the coin-stealing kiosks, tucked in a corner way at the back of the airport, has a printer plugged into it.
But time was quickly running out, so coins were inserted, keys were pounded, temperamental mouse buttons were sworn at, and I managed to book myself an Airasia ticket to Bangkok (I needed the ticket anyway, for my return from Mongolia, I just hadn't planned on booking it yet). Once I reached the confirmation screen, I pushed print, looked expectantly at the printer and... nothing.
cables were wiggled, little doors were opened and closed, more buttons were pushed and printers were even knocked about. still nothing.
It was at this point that airport escort #1 (and self-declared minion) stepped in and managed, in an effort to kick start the printer, to shut the whole kiosk down. The screen went blank, the computer rebooted and the printer remained silent.
Time was disastrously short and didn't really have much of a back-up plan. I was just beginning to accept that I may, in fact, be stuck in Brisbane for another day when the printer, no doubt pleased with its dramatic pause, sprang to life and began spewing forth printed pages of confirmed bookings of onward flights. Unfortunately, they weren't MY onward flights. Oh, and did I mention there were only 4 sheets of paper in the printer? right.
Of course, since I'm not typing this post from Brisbane, you all know that when that last piece of paper shot out of the printer, it had a reservation for an Air Asia flight from KL to Bangkok with my name on it. I grabbed my bags and ran back to the ticket counter to collect my boarding pass, minions in tow, with mere minutes to spare.

(footnote: I'm finally getting this post up after having sit on my computer for a couple of weeks. I'm currently stranded in Miami, having spent the past 24 hours here waiting for a flight to La Paz. I left Tel Aviv yesterday morning, flew to Madrid, missed my connection to Miami, was rerouted to New York where the connecting flight to Miami was delayed and by the time I arrived here I had missed my flight to La Paz by less than 30 minutes. After spending the night in an airport hotel (where I had to wash my unmentionables in the bathroom sink as my checked bag is still in airline custody) I'm back at the airport, ready to go.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hating Heathrow: It's not just me.

Well it's nice to know that someone reads this blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

morning diversion for the photo nerd.

I normally hate these things, but my inner photo geek just couldn't help itself this time. And it's hard to be un-satisfied with the result:

Which famous photographer are you?

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Known for street photography and photojournalism

"We are passive onlookers in a world that moves perpetually. Our only moment of creation is that 1/125th of a second when the shutter clicks, the signal is given, and motion is stopped..."

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.