Pacific New Media has been holding its annual Contemporary Photography in Hawaii exhibition for the last 10 years. It's certainly the best exhibit in Hawaii that's solely dedicated to photography. This year there were over 300 entries and 45 were chosen. One of my five photos was included, the second time in three years I've had something in the show. Funny though, I thought it was my weakest entry. The opening reception was August 3 at Marks Garage in Chinatown and the show will be up through August 31. For more information about location and hours of the exhibit, see the previous blog. You can also see a slideshow of all 45 entries at this address: https://pnmlab.com/2018/08/08/contemporary-photography-in-hawaii-2018-gallery/ I helped to install the exhibit which gave me an opportunity to meet some of the photographers and that's been the best part of this whole thing. I was especially glad to meet James Knudsen whose work I was just introduced to and which I like alot. You can find his website here: www.jamesknudsenphotography.com Below are photos I took at opening night.
Pacific New Media Foundation is starting its 10th annual photography exhibit this coming Friday, August 3, at 6pm at the ARTS at Marks Garage in Chinatown. After the opening reception, the exhibit will be open from 12 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday, until August 31. In my opinion, this is the best photography exhibit in Hawai'i. PNM had over 100 photographers submit over 400 photos and 45 photos were chosen. I was lucky to get one photo in the exhibit this year. Two years ago I had two photos in the exhibit, the first time I'd submitted anything, and last year I wasn't able to get anything in. I helped a bit with the set up yesterday and I can tell you the quality of the photos is excellent. I also enjoyed getting to know several photographers and finding out more about their work. I'll do another blog next week that highlights some of my favorite photos. Below is a PDF about the exhibit.
In the days of film, it was a disaster to run out of film. In the digital age, it's a disaster to run out of batteries. It might be prudent to carry an extra memory card with you as well. They're inexpensive and take up no room at all. But if you don't have an extra memory card and run out of room, you can always delete photos that are obviously rejects or send some via wifi and keep shooting. If you run out of energy, however, you're in hot water, your goose is cooked, you're shot. As a general rule, you'll need an extra battery only when the conditions for shooting are ideal. If the conditions aren't that great, you'll take a few shots, maybe 50 or 100 and then pack it up and go home. Not much happening today. The next day opportunities are all around you and you come home with 400 or 500 shots, maybe more. If your battery is good for 250 shots or so, you better have an extra somewhere on your person or you'll be missing lots of shots.
If you're like me, there have been plenty of times when you've run out of energy and were frustrated you didn't have an extra battery. The worst was when I first started getting into photography while visiting Chicago in 2013. I had only one battery which would always conk out about 11 in the morning. That left a whole afternoon and evening without a camera. If you know anything about Chicago, you know it's a great place to take photos, especially in the summer when everyone is out on the streets and opportunities are all around you. I started carrying my charger with me and would slip into a coffee shop for two or three hours to charge up my battery. That would give me half a charge, maybe not even that much. As soon as I got back home to Hawaii, I ordered a second battery and have carried an extra ever since.
My experience has been that good photos come in clusters. The situation is interesting, the light is just right, you're seeing photos all around you. Those are the moments we have to be most opportunistic. I wish every day was as splendid as this, but they're not. Even in Hawaii there are plenty of days when it rains or when it's hazy, when the streets are pretty empty (except for Waikiki), and you're not feeling it. Take full advantage of those ideal days by making sure you have all the energy you need to power your digital camera.
For the last few years, I've been leaving the camera on the whole time I'm hunting for shots. Since most street photography isn't posed, you have to be ready in an instant to take a shot. If you wait even two seconds to turn on your camera, the moment's over. That's not always true, but it's true often enough for me to keep my camera on all of the time now. All I do is lift the camera up and start shooting. Now I just need a camera with faster auto focus!
Spare batteries can be expensive, but I've had good success buying them used from places like Amazon, Adorama or B&H. The cost is only a fraction of a new battery. I just bought a battery from Amazon, for instance, that was almost $40 new but was $12 used, including postage. Sure, you always have to be careful when buying used, but places like Adorama and B&H will rate the battery to give you a better idea what you're buying. I always buy batteries from the same company that made the original battery. Maybe generic brands are just as good, but I don't want to take a chance. And if you buy batteries used (or new with damaged packaging), the price can be the same or lower for original batteries. So keep at least one extra battery on you when you go out shooting. If you don't, you'll be sorry.
It may seem strange to write about the timid doing street photography. If someone's timid, street photography's about the last thing they want to do, right up there with speaking in front of large crowds. But I've met plenty of people who both want to experience the serendipity of street photography and yet are afraid to go out on the street. If you're like this, you may feel timid because you lack the confidence that comes from experience. This is a bit of a dilemma because you don't have the confidence to get the experience you need and you don't have the experience to feel confident to go out in public with your camera. Since confidence isn't something you can just conjure up, maybe it's better to start with experience and see if you can find confidence along the way. And one piece of advice: street photography is less about taking photographs and more about getting to know a place and its people by slowly exploring it. If you start walking around an area with your eyes open, you'll see things you never noticed before even if it's your hometown. The more you revisit a place, the more you'll meet its people. The better you get to know them, the more intimate your photos will become. People like Monroe, Jed, Eddie, Pinky and Bruce will all become at least acquaintances if not friends. So find those places where life's lived in public and start exploring.
Following are suggestions for easing your way into street photography, slowly picking up experience that will help you gain more confidence so you can photograph in more challenging situations.
First, take a camera that's easy to operate. I take a point-and-shoot that's set to automatic or Program AE (P mode) so I don't have to think much about my camera's settings. I want to concentrate on composition, not technical issues. You may be more comfortable using your smart phone. For most people, their smart phone is the best camera they'll ever own and they'd have to spend a pile of money to get something better. Whatever camera you take out on the streets, make it your goal to master it. You'll take far better photos on a good camera that you've mastered than a great camera you don't understand. Some of that mastery comes from just using the camera, but some also comes from reading the manual and reviewing it periodically. There are plenty of resources on the internet, especially youtube, that will help you better understand your camera and get the best shots possible. I know most of the strengths and weaknesses of my camera and can use either one to make good photos. Like all point-and-shoots, my camera isn't great in low light; things tend to get blurry, especially if they're in motion. Rather than seeing the weakness as wholly negative, I can exploit that tendency to make shots I couldn't get any other way. Some of my favorite photos are of family and friends dancing in low lit rooms because the blurriness of the motion gives the photos great energy.
Second, take a camera that's inconspicuous. The camera I use is small and fits in my pants. When I take it out and start taking photos, other people in the area don't seem wary of it. But if I stalk the streets with a massive Can(n)on, I immediately sense people stiffening up and avoiding me. If I point a six-inch bazooka at them, they start running for cover.
Third, start with situations where there are lots of people outside having fun. I love to photograph at carnivals, amusement parks, farmers markets, and the beach, especially Waikiki. People seem more relaxed at these places and in general are more open to having you photograph them. If I photograph kids at a carnival, their parents smile. If I photograph kids while they're playing in their yard, the parents look like they want to hurt me.
Fourth, start out photographing something besides people. Look for color, pattern, contrast. William Eggleston takes great photos of people, but many of his best shots have no people in them at all, only the suggestion of them. Start out with shots that are taken at a distance. When you feel more comfortable, move in and look for closeups of buildings, signs, anything unusual. Look for different angles and for how two or more things work together. Start thinking about making photos, not just taking photos.
Fifth, when you feel confident enough, start taking photos of people at a distance. Keep moving slowly, studying the situation around you. Be casual in your demeanor so you don't draw attention to yourself. Don't look at the people around you like you're part of the Secret Service. Look for interactions between two or more people. Begin to anticipate what might happen: the rush to get on a ride, the rush to get off, winning a carnival game, biting into cotton candy.
Sixth, as you feel more comfortable, move in closer to people, especially to those who are more expressive. If you want to take a closeup of someone, step up and introduce yourself with a smile: "Hi, I'm a photographer. Would you mind if I take your photo." Almost always people will say yes. I also find it helpful, especially if I'm asking someone who might seem hesitant, to tell them why I want to take their photo. "I love your hat." "Your t-shirt is cool." "You guys look great together." I don't take long, usually one photo. More than that and people get irritated. Take the photo, tell them thanks and move along. Keep moving and keep looking.
In your own time, you'll gain the confidence you need to make more intimate photos under more challenging conditions. No need to hurry. You don't have to be in a war zone or working with a street gang or photographing people starving to death to get great photos. Take your time, get more comfortable with taking photos in public and see where that leads you.
Below are some of the photos I recently took at the Punahou Carnival. At events like this it's much easier to get close to people and to see them interact in interesting ways.
I like taking photos at cemeteries and earlier this year I posted the following video. It's my first photo slide show and is definitely better if seen full screen. The first several photos are pretty blurry. Not sure why they aren't sharper. This is how I introduce the video on YouTube:
In March of 2017 I spent several days taking photos at the Oahu Cemetery and the Manoa Chinese Cemetery. Some of them were of portraits on tombstones. To make these portraits, photos of the deceased were sent to companies that made them into decals (I would guess) which were transferred to porcelain and fired in a kiln. They used an adhesive to attach them and then some type of putty was put around the portrait to keep water out. A few of these portraits have fallen out and some have been chipped or cracked, but most look perfect after almost a century.
While editing these photos, I was listening to a song by Barcelona called Get Up and it seemed to flow with the photos in a way I hadn't anticipated. The song doesn't have anything to do with death or cemeteries, but I was moved in a strange way while going through some of these portraits and listening to their song. That's why I decided to make this video. I hope you'll expand it to fit the page because it will have a much greater impact.
The first photo is not of a porcelain portrait but a marble statue of Maria Kahanamoku, the young sister of Duke Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimmer and surfer. She was engaged to an Italian nobleman but died in 1932 at the age of 25. As the story goes, the broken-hearted nobleman commissioned this statue of Maria, the only life-like statue in Oahu Cemetery.
While looking at these portraits, I was struck by how many had been born in some other part of the world but had come to Hawaii in search of a new life. Many of these portraits are of their children. We can only guess at their sorrow. Some of these portraits are of Native Hawaiians, but many proudly state they were born in Scotland or England or Korea or Japan or China. In time, most of them adopted our language, our names, our style of dress and much of our culture. Many of them became Christians. They made their own contributions to our culture and our culture became richer for it. Although Hawaii was not yet a state when they died, they considered themselves Americans. They worked on our sugar cane fields, they played on our football fields, they fought and died on our battle fields and their descendants are with us still, all Americans. Wherever they were from, they found their final resting place here.
So that's what I wrote on YouTube. Some people might think this is a little morbid but that's not what I felt at all when I was at both cemeteries. Sure, there was a great deal of pain and sorrow and tragedy that you could see through these tombstones, especially those of children. But all of us know we're going to die; we know that one day we'll join those who've gone before us. Hopefully we can learn how to cope with transience, to embrace with joy the days we are given. I came away from both cemeteries with a more intense desire to enjoy my life right now with the family and friends I love. If not now, when? Maybe you'll feel that way too after viewing the video. Remember to watch it full screen. Here's the link: