Adelaide Instagram

Last week I came back from Adelaide and have been meaning to share some of the photos I took on the trip, especially some of my iPhone images. I love taking photos in Adelaide and because I tend to walk and cycle a lot while I’m there, I’m always taking iPhone snapshots and sharing them on Instagram (yes, I never did delete my account).

Below are some of my favourites from the six weeks I spent down under.

My Cookbook Confessions

I have 127 cookbooks. I was tempted to count them today, when two new cookbooks arrived from Amazon (The Banh Mi Handbook and Asian Pickles).

For those who don’t cook this might sound like a crazy number of books to have on the same topic. But, fans of cooking will probably not be surprised to see so many cookbooks on my shelf. Quite a few folk I know have a lot more than I do and even a quick visit to many bookstores today will show that cookbooks are one of the largest sectors in the modern book publishing business.

I like to say all those cookbooks, which I’ve collected over about 20 years, represent a research library of sorts. That all these books allow me to study, in depth the recipes and techniques for any of the dishes I make, or might want to make.

This is party true. It is also partly bullshit.

The far more honest I could, but seldom do give, is that all these books are a manifestation of the insecurities I have about cooking. Despite all the compliments I get, either in person, or from the relentless parade of pictures I post on social media, I’m not very sure of myself in the kitchen.

It’s not a childhood thing. My mother often jokes that she never set out to teach me to cook. Yet, I learnt so much from her. She was always patient with me in the kitchen as a kid, always answered my questions and shared stories. My childhood memories of trying to cook are all good ones.

But, once I started to cook for myself, I had many spectacular failures. I also encountered more than a few people who loved to parade their knowledge, limited as it now seems to me, in bossy and bully-ish ways. Funnily enough, none of those experiences, or the people who drove them, represent the life I have in the kitchen today.

I found solace, as I often have, in books. Carefully following recipes and studiously understanding the origins of recipes became a way to navigate what I often felt was a lack of natural ability in the kitchen.

Yet, what is natural ability anyway? These days I cook a lot of fairly difficult, or at least difficult-looking dishes from memory. I know it often looks natural, easy even, but it didn’t come easy.

And, I keep buying cookbooks, even though I don’t need them. The honest truth is I lost all my cookbooks, I would probably only need 4-5 of them to get back to cooking every dish I regularly make in a year.

Cookbooks are not bad, of course, but like so much else, they can be something we bring into our lives to make up for a limitation we feel, or to cover over a bad experience we had. There’s always an element of emotional need in the way we shop and we owe it to ourselves to honest about that – deeply and truly honest.

First Draft

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Yesterday morning I flew back home to Tokyo, after six weeks In Adelaide. It’s good to be home and the break did me the world of good; travelling to Adelaide always seems to have a positive effect on my soul.

I ended almost every day of those six weeks the same way, seated in a red leather couch, tucked into a corner of my (quaint little) holiday house, typing away. Now, back in Tokyo, I have a full first draft of a book here on the desk next to me.

My Kind Of Terrible Book Idea

I had an idea, some time ago, to try and turn a few of the articles from this blog into a book. So, I gathered together the best 50 or so blogposts, going back to 2004, into a Scrivener project and soon realised this idea kind of sucked. OK, maybe it wasn’t a bad idea, but I could do better.

There were common themes to be found. And, some of the posts were fine as they were, or at least contained good thoughts. But, I needed to dedicate a block of time to do some a lot of fresh writing, connecting the themes and thoughts if I was to turn this assorted jumble of reflections into something more substantial and helpful.

Thankfully, six cold, wintery weeks, with no TV, limited internet and few social obligations was just what this project needed.

Next Steps

So, now I have 29,127 words, which loosely fit into 8 chapters and an appendix, all organised in Scrivener. The next step is to go through every chapter and section, editing and rewriting until I have a strong second draft.

Scrivener lets me easily see an overview of which sections have not been recently updated, so I’m starting with the sections that haven’t been touched since mid July and working forward. The project is organised in such a way that no section is longer than about 500 words (roughly a page and a half to two pages), so editing any section doesn’t feel like a huge commitment.

I’ll post some more details about the book (and maybe even share the title and what it’s about), once I get to the second draft stage. If you want to know more, you can always sign up to my mailing list, where I will be sharing some more details about the book, including how to get a pre-release e-copy.

Until then, I just want to say a big thank you for reading my blog. Going through all those old posts made me realise how far I’ve travelled in the last ten years and how many wonderful people like yourself have stopped by to say hello, offer some encouragement, support or other helpful input. Thank you!

Evoking The Moment

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Henri Cartier-Bresson is famous for the phrase, The Decisive Moment, now one of the most commonly used expressions in photography. The term was used as the English title for Cartier-Bresson’s 1952 collection, Images à la sauvette. In the essay that opened the book, Cartier-Bresson wrote,

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

Photography, according to Cartier-Bresson is unlike painting, the creative moment for the photographer is tiny, maybe a fraction of a second, in which to recognise what needs to be photographed, frame it and manipulate the camera to record an image of it.

How To Be A Photographic Blowhard

Spend time among photographers, in person or online and pretty soon “the decisive moment” will come up. Often it’s used to describe images that are nearly good, nearly in focus, or just nearly interesting.

You can, of course, become a fantastic blowhard, or armchair critic if you will, by spraying the term around yourself. It also helps to keep a copy of Cartier-Bresson’s famous image of a man jumping a puddle (1932) in order to school the uninitiated into the cult of the decisive moment. This is “almost the decisive moment” is a great line to throw out when you can’t actually think of something worthwhile to say.

The solution many photographers resort to, when they’ve been decisive momentised is to start photographing every moment, in the hope one of them will be decisive. This is, ironically enough, far from what Cartier-Bresson suggested.

Memories And Madeleines

Let’s consider another famous Frenchman, novelist Marcel Proust, famous for his seven volume novel, In Search of Lost Time. Proust often wrote about involuntary memory, most famously in the “episode of the madeleine.” The narrator recounts how the taste of a madeleine (a small French teacake), evoked sudden and strong memories.

“And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. “

Earlier this week I put on an old cotton sweater I bought on Martha’s Vineyard in 2001. It’s a tired gray thing I don’t often wear. Putting it on instantly reminded me of being on the New England coast that late summer, walking along those Atlantic beaches and eating lobster by the water’s edge near Aquinnah. It was every bit as evocative as any photo, or Proust’s madeleine.

The Decisive Sign

Another way of thinking about Proust’s madeleine is to suggest it isn’t just about memory, but it’s also about significance. The madeleine is a sign, it represents something.

In a similar way Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment isn’t just about the moment we click the shutter, or the moment frozen in film (or in our digital file). The decisive moment is the photographer’s sense there is something significant here that needs to be photographed, an image that needs to be made.

When I look at an image, it feels like a decisive moment if the reason why someone would want to photograph this thing is clear and obvious. Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over a puddle is a decisive moment not because he hit the shutter at the precise moment, but because of the idea of using a camera to freeze someone feels so decisive, so right.

The image at the top of this post was made on the Heysen Trail in South Australia. It was the end of a long day of walking and I felt like that sliver of light said something about the close of a wonderful day and also the vast scale of the land.

It might help all of us we were less obsessed with nervously capturing the exact moment and more concerned with decisively creating that will remind of the moment we were experiencing, or evoke in others a smilier memory or feeling.

Make Music For Adults

Five Lessons the Faltering Music Industry Could Learn From TV, has been bouncing from share, to like to retweet, all over the internet this week. As the name suggests, this article suggests a set of ways the current, successful and profitable cable TV shows could inspire change in the music business. Summarised this list is,

1. Target adults, not kids.
2. Embrace complexity.
3. Improve the technology.
4. Resist tired formulas.
5. Invest in talent and quality.

The harsh truth is that in the last ten years, I’ve probably only met a handful of people in the music business who agree with all five; just a handful, out of the hundreds and hundreds of hands I’ve shaken at gigs, dinners, events, coffee meetings, lunches, breakfasts and conferences.

I hate to say it, it feels like betrayal to say it, but when I think about the music business, it doesn’t feel like an industry that deserves to be successful right now, not in the way TV has been recently, or film, software, and sports have been in recent years.

The music industry found a ready scapegoat in illegal downloads and piracy. A villain which allowed the business enough excuses to avoid the limitations of the product it was offering. As music offered an increasingly unchallenging palette of choices, with degraded sound quality, little variety, familiar themes and relentless nostalgia, television blossomed with a broad and rich array of deep, often complex stories, increasing higher quality formats, inventive new programming and a willingness to subvert viewer expectations.

There’s no shortage of musical talent and the resources for learning how to make music are better and cheaper now than at any time in human history. But, so much of the new music being released is so safe, so simplistic, so formulaic and quite frankly, so unchallenging.

And, sorry, but Miley Cyrus twerking is not dangerous – it’s safe, predictable and mundane.

TV is doing well because it isn’t speaking down to its audience. Rather, in it’s best (and often most successful iterations) TV carries them along to new and exciting places. People are being challenged and inspired through the stories TV offers them, as well as being entertained along the way

Music once did that. Music led culture. Music will lead culture again one day. It’s just a question of when.

I Wish I Had Been Funnier

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The blog you are reading now was launched nearly ten years ago (I started blogging a few years before that). Recently, I’ve been re-reading a lot of old posts, for a project I’m working on. Along the way I’ve been asking myself if there is anything I regret. The answer is yes, there is one thing.

I wish I had been funnier.

Not Sure Why I Forgot To Laugh

It’s always fascinating to meet people in person that we know through some online activity, like blogging or social media. People who meet me are first of all struck by my (bizarre) Australian accent and then by my relentless desire to make jokes.

But, like a lot of people, I’ve been prone to being too serious online. Maybe we are all so keen to make a good impression with our “content” (apologies for using the word), that we forget the things about us that actually make a good impression, which includes of course, our sense of humour and fun.

The tales I tell, over dinner, coffee and drinks, of these past ten years living, working and raising a child in India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan are often often, frequently bizarre and not a little incongruous. From my comically unscrupulous cable-wallah in Delhi to the Kafka-esque invasiveness that is Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower the stories I would be most likely to include in a biography are ones I often haven’t shared on the blog. They are personal, revealing and often comical.

Keep It Short And Don’t Forget To Smile

My father-in-law had a great sense of humour. He passed away some years ago now but I recall talking with him once about young church preachers. Although he was never ordained, or trained for ministry, he devoted great chunks of his life to church and charitable service.

His advice for young preachers was simple; keep it short and don’t forget to smile. Young preachers, fresh from theological study are often keen to impress, full of new found knowledge. Their sermons can drag on, be overly serious and fail to make the warm human connection that’s needed to convey great truths.

I’m not about to suggest rules for fellow bloggers. But, I do believe “remembering to smile,” to keep things warm, friendly and helpful, is something we could do more often in this age of social media and self-promotion.

Finding Time For Social Media

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I love podcasts. Back when I lived in India, podcasts kept me sane, as I perpetually found myself stuck in traffic and local radio had a limited appeal. I listened to shows (often repackaged radio broadcasts and even to this day I make time to listen podcasts like This American Life, RadioLab and Sound Opinions.

But, increasingly I have to admit, I don’t have time to keep up. This prompted me to ask on Twitter how we will find time to listen to all the new podcasts being launched every week. As it always happens, I soon had a great question in response.

What Is Living?

At the risk of getting all philosophical, my response to any question like this is to ask what is being assumed, in this case, what we mean by living.

To me living includes socialising, including sustaining existing relationships and fostering new ones. Social media is woven into the way many of us do this today. Also, living includes working, sustaining, supporting and promoting our work. And, again, social media is woven into this as well.

I guess the real question is how much time do we invest in social media and to what extent does social media get in the way of other more important aspects of life.

A Little Instagram Example

A photographer friend was asking me recently about Instagram. I admitted that I’ve never really grown my following there and always struggled to get my photos to make the “explore” section. While my photos get likes, they don’t get enough, as a percentage of my following, to fit the algorithm.

But, then it occurred to me; how many of my followers are active anymore? After all, I do seem to get a lot of likes from the people I see posting regularly. A quick check revealed that an awful lot of my followers are not longer active. But, flushing those dormant accounts out is a laborious, time consuming process.

Is it worth it for sharing photos on what is, essentially, a dying platform? Social Media these days throws up so many of these kinds of situations.

Some Ideas To Consider

There are so many questions to consider when it comes to how social media. I know my desire these days is spend less time with social media but enjoy the time I do spend there more. With that in mind here’s a few ideas that reflect my current practices.

Be In Or Out

– There’s a temptation to be on every platform. But, unless you want to make social media your full time job it is impossible. I’m not on Facebook and to be honest, I’m more likely to leave a social media platform these days than join one.

Narrow The Scope

– On Twitter, I recently deleted my lists, which means less to read every time I log in and less maintenance as well. Defining what you want from social media can help.

Own Your Curation

– Relying on Twitter and Facebook to feed you links and interesting content is random. You can own your inputs by curating them yourself. Maybe go back to using an RSS reader and subscribing to blogs and newsfeeds? It’s an old school solution, but it can be incredibly effective.

Automate (A Little)

– I’m not a fan of heavily automating social media; it defeats the purpose. But, you can get offline a little more often if you use tools like Hootsuite to schedule some updates and also set up your blog to share out links to social media platforms when you post updates.

Have Unshared Moments

– I love the scene in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty when Sean Penn’s character, the elusive photographer Sean O’Connell, decides not to photograph a rare Snow Leopard. His reason is that some moments are just for experiencing and don’t need to be photographed. We don’t have to photograph every meal, sunset or moment. Some experiences can be richer, more precious, for not being shared.

Have Social Media Time

– sometimes the answer to spending less time doing something is actually to make time for it. Give yourself express permission to check & update your social media at certain times of the day (e.g., morning commute, afternoon tea, etc) then you may feel less like checking in at other random times.

Get Off The Grid

– Nothing beats social media over reliance like getting off the grid. Last week I spent four days off the grid. Not internet and no mobile reception. Nothing beats the feeling you are spending too much time online quite like not being able to get online at all.

Are You An Inspiration Junkie?

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Not a day seems to go by that I don’t see a picture, usually on social media, of some artist/writer/creative’s workplace. I decided to ask on Twitter what the trend was about & one friend replied,

The Obsession With Creative Workplaces

Being curious about where the creators we admire toiled makes sense. Our lived spaces, where we work, where we eat, where we socialise are a kind of architectural biography, reflecting many choices we make over time.

I remember visiting Robert Frost’s cabin (Homer Noble Farm) in Ripton Vermont. It was a very basic wooden house, not much more than a shed really. I stood for quite some time and looked at the armchair where Frost used to sit & write his poems. It was challenging experience. I remember thinking “really, is this it?”

Yes, sometimes that’s all it is. Just sit down and write the damn poem!

Inspiration Or Procrastination?

Was visiting Frost’s cabin inspirational? I’m not sure. I didn’t suddenly start writing more often or more effectively as a result. I knew more about the poet and maybe more about how little a poet really needs in order to do their work. But, that is information, not inspiration.

Accumulating information and insights is useful and important, but it isn’t enough to trigger the thing inside us that makes us get to work. Acquiring more information is not the same as finding inspiration.

Or, to put it another way, it’s a great, potentially addictive tool, for procrastination.

My Office

I made the photo at the top of this article a few days ago in the Australian outback. I could have made a photo of my tripod, sitting in a field, on a freezing cold night. But, I’m not really sure how inspiring or helpful that would be.

What drove me to visit Frost’s cabin wasn’t the architecture, or a curiosity about famous arm chairs, it was his poetry. It was the work that inspired me.

I didn’t take up guitar because of the studios or lounge rooms where Hendrix, Prince & Van Halen recorded or wrote – it was because of the songs. I didn’t take up photography because of the darkrooms or Adams, Newton or Beaton, it was because of the photos.

“Inspiration comes of working every day.”
Charles Baudelaire

Where we work is not as important as the work we make. Unless we create some bizarre architectural folly, we are unlikely to be remembered for the space where we worked.

Next time you find yourself staring craving inspiration and feeding that hunger by staring at a picture of someone else’s workspace it might well be time to ask yourself whether you really should be spending more time in your own workspace.

Cameras Are Not Machines – They Are Artistic Instruments

Having come to photography after a lifetime of making music, I’m always fascinated by the way photographers think about their main creative tool – the camera.

Reading reviews, scanning forums, checking tweets and talking with photographers, I’ve always been struck by the obsession with technical minutiae; from megapixel counts, to perceived sharpness, distortions and aberrations and even the texture of the “bokeh.”

The camera’s technology does matter. But, when I compare the way photographers approach buying a camera with the way musicians approach buying an instrument, the differences are stark, mystifying and quite possibly revealing.

On Buying A Musical Instrument

When I shop for guitars things always start with looking the instrument over and observing any limitations. Notice I said observing. It’s good if an instrument plays in tune, doesn’t buzz, or have any damage. But, it’s not essential.

What really matters is the music you can make. Buying a guitar is a little like dating; you are trying to figure out if you can have a relationship with the instrument. Actually, you are trying to figure out what sort of music you can make with this particular guitar.

If the guitar has sufficient character and you are receptive enough as a musician, then the instrument will suggest to you what music to play. Some guitars just beg you to play blues, or rock, or jazz.

And, sometimes this character is connected directly to the guitar’s limitations and maybe even its faults!

It’s not about buying the best guitar on the market, it’s about buying the guitar that’s best suited to the music you make. Same is true for every other piece of kit, from amplifiers, to cables to effects. It is about creating your tone.

In fact, guitarists are often fond of saying “tone is in the fingers,” which really means your musical character will always come through. Even if you use someone else’s guitar, the sound of that guitar, in your hands, will not be the same as the sound of that guitar in someone else’s hands.

My Classical Guitar

I started out playing nylon stringed classical guitars and I have one in my studio today. If I compared this instrument to the best classical guitars I’d be forced to admit mine is, maybe not a piece of junk, but certainly not something any real classical guitarist would want to find themselves holding on stage.

But, my classical guitar doesn’t fill that role. I need it to fill a certain role in my recordings. It’s a background instrument and I don’t need it to have a big concert sound – I need it to have a crisp, light sound as a background instrument. That’s its musical purpose for me.

And, when I scan my rack of guitars (13 at present in my studio) each one has a different personality, suggests its own set of musical possibilities and feels perfectly adept to functioning in a unique way in musical compositions.

Buying Cameras As If They Were Instruments

The way photographers buy cameras often looks more like the way web designers buy computers than the way musicians buy instruments. Some might say that accurately reflects the way technology frames what is possible photographically. But, I don’t see photography that way at all.

To me photography is a lot more than just pointing a computer at the world.

That’s why I was fascinated by Zack Arias’ post today on camera technology. Zack laid out the technical issues involved in comparing camera formats in a very thought-provoking way.

On Lugging Two Very Different Cameras

On my recent trips, especially Rajasthan and Outback Australia, I’ve been carrying a FujiFilm x100s and a Nikon D800e. These two cameras look and feel different and I find myself making slightly different images with each.

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They beckon me in different directions. They make me look at the same thing in different ways (all three images in this post are of the same mountain range, on the same morning).

The x100s calls me toward making B&W and Infra-Red images, it pushes me to compositional extremes, between the dense and the starkly open and if anything, it encourages me to express my sense of humour.

The D800e asks me to make HDR images, explore subtler shades of colour, look towards the light in a more thoughtful way and whispers that I should look a little longer into the eyes of the people whose portraits I make.

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Am I exaggerating for effect? OK, a little. But, taking these two cameras as a pair does seem to create complementary images that I’m not sure I would make with the same models of camera and just using different lenses.

Another Example – iPhoneography

A lot of my favourite images from the past few years have been made with an iPhone. I love how direct the experience of making an image is – the point and shoot-y-ness of it. But, I also love how quickly things move from making the image to processing it.

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It’s one creative flow – from seeing a possible image to shipping a created image (to Instagram or whatever).

At no point am I making any conscious technical decisions. It’s the closest I’ve come, photographically, to the feeling of recording a great guitar part to tape, the wonderful feeling of capturing something artistic that is ready to share.

Buying Photographic Instruments

So, I’d ask you, the next time you are looking to buy a camera, maybe put down the magazines and switch off the internet for a while. Instead, think about how your favourite cameras make you feel when you use them. Imagine yourself photographing with creative freedom, imagine the camera in your hands the way a guitar, saxophone or violin rests and works in the hands of a master musician.

Yes, you are buying a piece of technology and yes, the technology matters. But, more than technology, you are buying an instrument for artistic and creative expression, a tool for speaking to the world through your images.

Postcard From Wilpena

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For four days last week I was off the grid, far away from the internet and any mobile phone reception, exploring the outback of Australia. My travels took me to Arkaba Station, on the edge of Wilpena Pound, just over 400km north of Adelaide.

This wasn’t a photographic workshop. It was a pure walking and nature experience.

Exploring the countryside by foot, covering about 14km a day (with two camera bodies, lenses, filters, water & supplies) over a mix of terrain, from flat scrub, to creek beds, mossy slopes, forests and rocky hilltops, sleeping under the stars (literally, with the temperatures dipping under 5C), showering in the open and waking with the dawn, was wonderfully challenging break from routine.

And, it was a fantastically inspiring few days (helped in no small part by Arkaba’s brilliant guides, great food, excellent camps and support staff). I left with three sets of studies I’ll be turning into prints once I return to Tokyo and burning desire to return soon to create more images!

Of course, I’ll have a few more articles to share with you, both on the wonderful accommodation, and also the photographic experiences including more fun with the FujiFilm x100s camera, some Black & White and HDR processes and some of the impression walking this land left in me.

But, for now I hope you enjoy today’s Black & White image, which represents the stark, ravaging contrasts of the Wilpena/Arkaba region.