Archive for July, 2014

Heavy rain, Bangkok afternoon, July 7, 2009

Heavy rain, Bangkok afternoon, July 7, 2009

The sky has often been described as leaden, yet there is something more leaden about the way rain falls in the tropics – it seems to live out the lie that heavier things fall faster. When the pressure drops in the mid afternoon and the rain switches on, it is as though the atmosphere has liquefied and entered a state of collapse. Tropical downpours have a lush gratuitousness about them, a gentle ferocity, like being patted on the head by a giant uncle. For the most part, the rain is benevolent – a source of life and refreshment, fresh air and clean water, a time of abundance – yet all too often the weather is dreadfully heavy-handed.

This shot was taken in Bangkok, from a hotel window, during the regulation afternoon downpour. After the restless preamble of electric air, smothering oppression and a tell-tale cool gust, down it came, nozzle opened full, spilling most of its guts in the first five minutes. I’ve written elsewhere what a fan of rain I am – a fan of all weather, really – and watching these tropical downpours was a special treat.

The wall of drops adds a sketchiness to the shapes huddled behind it, as though the city were rendered in charcoal. This picture reminds me of such a sketch, but with a palpable sense of dampness – the ubiquitous moist fecundity of the tropics.

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Venice of Mykonos, Greece, September 25, 2013

Venice of Mykonos, Greece, September 25, 2013

I love taking other people’s photographs. By that I mean photographing people who are posing for someone other than myself. What seems so appealing about such shots is the way people present themselves as they want to be seen, or as best befits the moment, but with all their self-consciousness directed elsewhere, towards another lens. The posed moment thus becomes candid – like a still from a movie set.  There is also a certain electricity in the fact that this is an exciting moment for them –  a proof of concept; this was my dream, now here I am! Perhaps it’s a little nefarious, like a form of theft, but I counter that thought by reminding myself that I should only show them in a flattering or positive light – I’m certainly not interested in humiliating anyone.

This shot was taken just before the so-called Venice of Mykonos. V and I spent a wonderful three or so hours before sunset, drinking take-away beers and people-watching. As the afternoon wore on, countless tourists posed before this backdrop and had their photo taken. What was most noticeable was how seriously many of them took the whole process. Indeed, much of the time it was more photo-shoot than holiday snap, with people vogueing before the camera for numerous takes. In one case we were approached by a young south American couple (not the couple in the photo) who asked us to take their photo. They were perfectly nice when speaking to us, yet just prior to their approach we had watched them being shirty with each other as she posed while he took photographs. After the young man had taken a number of photos and had them checked, he was berated for not getting them right and it was at that point that they decided to seek outside help for a couple shot. I guess the need to drive everyone on Facebook wild with lust and jealousy was just too great to pass up, and nothing less than the most flattering shot would do.

One thing that really stood out during this whole trip was a seismic shift in how un-ironic people have become about their own vanity. No doubt this is an inevitable consequence of the spread of social media, but the fact is that what once might have been considered vain and pretentious is now par for the course. All through Greece and then later in Rome we witnessed this process – the long photo shoot with some of the most laughably un-ironic beauty poses. It was, I have to admit, mostly women being photographed, and the sincerity with which they approached the whole thing was unsettling. The constant checking and re-checking of the photos and then posing for more suggested a kind of desperation – a need for validation and status by showing off how attractive and fortunate they were to be, for example, posing in front of the Trevi Fountain. Perhaps there’s nothing to it – that it’s merely a shift in habit rather than in sense of self-importance – but if it is the latter, then heaven help us!

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Young Man with Baby, Jaipur, March 21, 2010

Young Man with Baby, Jaipur, March 21, 2010

This shot was a gift. The young man in the photo, taken just outside the entrance to the Galwar Bagh Monkey Temple in Jaipur, where I was also fortunate enough to shoot a lovely goat, was eager to have his photo taken. After initially taking a rather off-the-cuff portrait standing before the gate, he seemed keen to do a couple more; running over to the family car, opening the door and taking the baby from the man seated behind the wheel. Without saying another word, he adopted this pose and presented the baby to me. I don’t know exactly whose baby it was – the driver’s I suspect – though I got the impression this was not his own son. How lucky I was that his younger brother should duck in behind and add himself to the frame. It was one of those rare and beautiful moments when something unexpected offers me a chance to go straight for gold. The moment I pressed the button, I knew I had just been handed a classic portrait – the likes of which I’ve dreamed of having the balls to ask for more often.

Technically I’d say that the main subject is a little underlit, but the calm togetherness of his face, the alert, quizzical expression of the baby, and the yearning excitement of the younger brother through the window all add up to a touching family portrait. Great clothes, great haircuts, great poise. I only wish I could find the young man holding the baby and send him a copy. As it was, I was there with two other travellers and a local rickshaw driver we’d recruited as a guide and had to hurry off. All I could do was show them the pictures in the camera, which they seemed to really appreciate.

I have often wondered why it is that people want their photo taken. Is it simply a chance to see themselves in a shot, or a means of connecting with others? Perhaps a combination of the two. Sometimes I go further and imagine that they like the idea of being somehow immortalised somewhere. Maybe that’s just the historian in me, expecting that others also long for a place in history, however brief. If that’s the case then it’s my privilege to add this memory to the sea of vignettes, episodes and anecdotes past and present. All this took place in less than a minute and, moments later, we were climbing the hill to the monkey temple. Yet here he is, a young man proud of his family, asking me to remember him.

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Blue Skies Ahoy

3005 Bronte Beach 2

3547 Viaduct

2248 Water texture

3433 Tyre, Camperdown Lunar oval

2821 Bronte pool 3

2857 Bronte morning B & W

3172 Hanging Gardens of Broadway

2435 stripes

3631 Tree climbers

3076 Man and monolith

2648 Paulie crop

3110 Chutes

3889 Reader, Bronte Beach

3890 Reader, Bronte Beach

2369 War memorial

2788 Bronte morning 2

3514 Sunlight

3865 Feet 2

2249 Happy tourists

3905 Central station

2846 Concrete wall, Bronte 2

3541 Viaduct

3477 Stormwater

3634 Picnickers

2869 Bronte beach 2

Winter is now in full swing in Sydney, which means lots of dry, sunny days and cool, crisp winds. If that sounds anomalous to your idea of winter, then it’s worth considering Sydney’s location climatically – nestled in the stretching neck of a temperate zone, just below and often influenced by the tropical zone to its north.

Australia Climate

Sydney sits northeast of the ACT, in the eastern arm of the blue crescent

The benevolent influence of the warm Pacific ocean counters the chill winds coming off the Snowy Mountains and Southern Highlands, resulting in daily temperatures which, on average, range between 8 and 16 degrees.

Temperatures etc

In the strong, bright sunlight, the cold night air often warms rapidly and daytime temperatures regularly approach 18-20 degrees. This, combined with the low winter rainfall and lack of humidity, results in many beautifully crisp days with impossibly blue skies and mild temperatures.

Sydney rainfail annual average

Rainfall in Sydney has declined in recent decades, though for now it appears to have plateaued. This decline has been mirrored in other Australian capitals in the south and west – Mebourne, Adelaide and Perth. This is due to increasing amounts of rain falling at sea, rather than on land. How this will all track in future is uncertain, though the trajectory is clearly towards a considerably hotter climate. Indeed, between April 2012 and April 2014, Australia experienced the hottest 24-month period ever recorded, on the back of a decade of increasingly above average temperatures. In May this year – mid autumn – Sydney experienced 19 consecutive days of 22 degrees or hotter – one of a whole sequence of “warm-waves” across Australia through autumn.

Autumn warms

Politicians and industry might be in denial about global warming’s very real effects in Australia, but the climate doesn’t care a rat’s flap for their opinions. It might seem deceptively calm and beautiful just now, and we might enjoy the warmer weather in Autumn, but Australia’s climate is in rapid transition, becoming more dangerous and less predictable every year. The feedbacks driving this mechanism are now firmly in place, and turning things around will take decades – like changing course on a supertanker. While Australia can stop directly harming its environment, in truth our fate depends on the rest of the world curbing its emissions. We could certainly set a better example than our present, shameful recalcitrance.

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