Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The war photographer, My soul will never be the same again.

Sometimes I wonder what drives man to do horrible things to others in the most despicable manners one can imagine. Is it pure hatred? Blind zealotry? Or maybe just for the kicks? There have always been conflicts throughout the world. Wars are no longer waged between nation against nation, but people against people. Religion wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing and ancient feuds are more common these days than you can imagine. Angry mobs with machete and pointy sticks hacking a helpless man to death, fathers executed right in front of their kids and the list goes on. These are only a few. War journalism is as dangerous as being in the front lines of war. Only a few who are brave enough to risk their life just to capture the madness and share it with the world.

Being in the midst of the chaos, armed with determination, bravery, a camera, and perhaps luck, is not an easy way to make a living. James Natchwey, is a living legend. The greatest war photographer ever, claimed by many. The documentary film war photographer pretty much describes the journey of this great photographer trough some of the most hostile countries with his colleagues and documents the dark side of the human civilizations. The 90 minutes documentary consists of footages, which some I admit are very disturbing, still images, and interviews. It came out in 2001, and ten years later, I discovered this gem through the movie “The bang bang club” which is a re-enactment movie about a group of young war photographers in Africa.

The most interesting point of this documentary is the interview footage, especially from James’ closest colleagues and friends’ point of view. According to Christiane Breustedt, James’ ex lover and the editor in chief of GEO SAISON magazine, the man is a tough bloke and knows no boundaries in his career. There are no limits. Another colleague, the chief international correspondent of CNN, Christiane Amanpour, stated that James is mystery man. She never could understand what makes him tick to the extent that he takes and a loner.

Some of the footages are real life experiences of James and his team facing life threatening situations. The most intense scene for me probably the clash between Palestine civilians and the Israeli armed forces. The brave legend was sitting right in the middle of the chaos, capturing the hellish battle with his camera. There’s one segment of the documentary, which covers the poverty in Jakarta. He focused on one particular family, living nearby a railroad, with cardboards boxes as mattresses. The head of the family is a crippled father with only one arm and one leg, married to a woman with four children.

I was watching this segment with watery eyes. It was the most depressing video footage I ever watched. It changed me. I’ve been complaining my whole life about the imperfections and how it’s not going as I expected. But after watching this, the strength of this crippled man who manages to hold his family together, having some quality time with his family, being able to laugh and play and how they move on despite the lack of proper home and education for their children. Uplifting example of the adversity the human soul can face while still maintaining hope.

This amazing documentary movie shouldn’t be missed. It pretty much changed my life and how I look at human society and civilization. There’s so much to change.

WARNING: some of the footage and still images are very disturbing. Watch them at your own risk.

Friday, November 18, 2011

cameras, cameras, cameras!

I still remember the overwhelming joy and excitement when I got my first SLR camera a few years back. It was a Yashica, but I couldn’t recall whether it was from the FX series or the FR. All I could remember is that it had a layer of purple rubber over its body. Unfortunately, it was fairly short-lived. I was in my second semester in a local university, struggling for my art and design diploma and not many who owns an analogue camera. I was one of the few. As a concerned friend, I tend to finish all my assignments early, so that my close friends could borrow my camera. Of course I didn’t want people to think me as a stingy bastard. My big mistake was letting my camera being passed around among friends without my knowledge. I even joked once that my camera was a whore. Finally, it vanished without a trace. And the worst part of it was everyone didn’t have any clue who’s the last person using it, the usual scenario. Strange as it was, I wasn’t that mad. I kind of, just let it go.

Then after a few years, I was on board with the analogue craziness, which seems to take on the local photography culture by storm. It’s the rebirth of analogue photography they said. Out of nowhere, I started to enjoy and appreciate the analogue photography, more than ever. That is when regret and frustration kicked in, to think of my neglecting behavior over my old analogue camera. The market was aware of the uprising, thus, to find an analogue camera with a reasonable price was almost impossible, even the used ones at the flea market. Then after a quite number of persuasions and sweet talks from my friends, I bought a Lomo camera, which was cheaper. So I was on board with Lomo hype. It was a HOLGA 135BC, the “BC” stands for black corners, which the corners of the image will be darkened creating vignettes.


It was fairly easy to use, despite the lens was not aligned with the viewfinder, which I had difficulty to adapt. The first few rolls of films were a bunch of shot that were poorly composed. Then one day, God answered my prayers, I knew He did. I was just accompanying my friend to the second hand store, with no intention to purchase anything, just looking. Both of us were just looking. It was a new store. Destiny put me there; it was the historic day of my life. My eyes caught something in the camera section. On top of the shelves, a Nikon FM10 analogue camera sat there by itself, gazing at me, begging to be picked up. There was another surprise, the price tag showed “RM128” (USD40), way too cheap. Not to mention the favorite model for most of the analogue enthusiasts.

Nikon FM10

The shop assistant told me it was broken. I almost screamed in frustration. But my heart didn’t give up. I picked it off the shelf. She panicked when popped open the back of the camera to inspect the film chamber. Then she was puzzled and asked me, “owh, is that how you open it?” At that moment I knew she and her colleagues had no knowledge whatsoever about analogue cameras. I tested every shutter speed, aperture, played around the film rewind knob and crank, even took off the lens and replaced it back. I looked at her and said “Yup. She’s broken. But I’ll buy it anyway. I like to collect antiques.” I walked out of the store smiling like a kid walking out of a toy store. There was a quite outcry from my friends who were already visited the store but walked away as soon as the shop assistant told them it was broken. Lucky for me they didn’t check the camera. Like I said, destiny wanted me to find that camera.

From that point, my passion for analogue photography grew stronger as ever. I started to visit the local flea markets if I ever had the chance. After that, I bought two more analogue cameras. They were compact 35mm film cameras. One is manual and the other motorized. Looking forward to get more cameras, and experiment with more films.

Kodak KB12