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Graphical Abstract Photography

I enjoy taking very graphical photographs. These pictures deliberately lack realism, so a viewer is forced to focus on the shapes, textures, and mood of the picture. These are some examples that I took last weekend at Punggol Park. (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Above: This flower was taken against a clear cloudless sky, and I just changed the colors from blue to pink- I think it suits the color scheme of this post better. I like how everything is so clean. Apart from changing the color of the sky, almost nothing was done to the shot. I love the gentle transition from red to pink to white- that comes from the different intensities of colour in the sky that day.

Above: You can see every texture on the beams of concrete in this picture, and they’re so evenly spaced out that there is a real rhythm to the picture as the eye moves from up to down across the scene. If the picture looks a bit 3D, that’s ’cause it is. This was not a flat scene. It is the underside of a set of pillars at the park, taken from an angle. There is a gap between each pillar, but the scene has been carefully composed so you can’t see the gap. I also applied a purple cast to everything to take out the realism, and focus the eye on the strong lines and beautiful textures here.

Above: I took this picture of children playing in the water fountain at Punggol Park last weekend. I used a slower shutter speed to convey the flurry of activity and movement in the scene. It was getting dark, and the darkness of this scene provides some ambience- as does the soft yellow light of the street lamps. I love how this looks very hand-drawn- the shapes of the children are so smooth that they look more like a hand-drawn cartoon, than a high-resolution photograph.

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Tower Heist review: More Eddie Murphy please

Kudos to the marketing folks at Universal Pictures for creating a trailer that far outperforms the movie.

The trailer for the Tower Heist is wonderful- it is short, succinct, well-paced, and drums up excitement around the movie. Unfortunately, the movie falls far short of these standards. It’s as if somebody took the trailer and expanded it into a movie, adding plot-fillers around all the wonderful highlights that were summarised in the ad. Heck, they even screwed up the best joke in the movie- a hilarious scene that has a Jamaican woman talking suggestively about ‘using your fingers’ and capping it off with ‘are you married?’ In the trailer, this is the punch-line to a slam-dunk-of-a-joke. In the movie, it was a letdown- there was too much dialogue, and it really seemed like the two were having a serious conversation about marital life.

There were a few saving graces, however. I’ve sometimes thought that Ben Stiller’s movies (eg. Dodgeball) were too over-the-top. This one was a lot more subtle in its humour. There were also a few casting gems. Eddie Murphy displayed his comic genius in practically every scene he was in, and Gabourey Sidibe (last seen starring in “Precious”) continues to show that she has serious acting chops- even for comedy. Unfortunately the two’s screen time was very limited, and instead we get Matthew Broderick trying to make us laugh by cutting the security tag out of a Gap sweatshirt in an attempt to steal it. I don’t even remotely see how that could be funny.

After seeing the trailer, I was really looking forward to Tower Heist. Too bad the movie was this disappointing. Among the numerous plot “huh?” issues, there was a love story that went nowhere; a heist without any suspense; a comedy without many jokes; and b-listers trying to act stylish ala Ocean’s Eleven.

Too many marketing folks with their focus groups results trying to write the script: and so we get a movie that tries to please everyone, but ends up satisfying no one.

In case the movie-makers at Universal Pictures are reading this blog (they’re not), here’s a tip: all we needed was more Eddie Murphy. And maybe more Gabourey Sidibe too.

People at the Park

This weekend I went to Punggol Park. This being a park, there were lots of people around. Runners, kids, you name it. In general, these don’t make interesting subjects to me. Sweaty people aren’t fun to photography, and I wasn’t gonna try to nail the focus on kids- not with my manual focus lens, at least. But I did run across a couple taking their wedding pictures. These are always interesting to me. They’re recreating a beautiful photographic record that is basically entirely fake. This is kinda the magic of photography, I guess.

Above: Here the couple head up the hill for a shot of them framed against the beautiful blue sky. This picture really sums up what I feel about wedding photography. It’s like a beautiful couple taking pictures in very ‘bleah’ surroundings. I mean, look at the apartments in the background- this is a shot the official photography certainly won’t be excited about. But, after the magic of photography is applied, nobody’d know that these photographs were produced in such commonplace settings.

Above: I guess this is closer to what the wedding photographer had in mind. You see them doing their poses- again, more artificiality. I don’t mean that in a bad way- it’s just all so surreal to me. Anyway, the results are often fantastic, and I can definitely see why people do it.

Above: My dad was very excited to be at the park, and he wanted me to take a bunch of pictures of him. He made sure that I included the background so, as he puts it, he can ‘use it on Facebook’. Hooray for technology! On a sidenote, I’ve discovered how to make the yellow-green sickly colour of grass more palatable. Apply the same vintage-look to everything, and it actually looks okay! To my eyes at least.

Above: I’ve noticed this for a while already. There are a LOT of fellow photographers in Singapore, and you see them at all the usual places- museums, events, parks… Photography is really taking off as a hobby in Singapore. I guess it’s because there are only so many places to visit, and ironically, the best way to revisit a place is to look at it again through a camera lens. PS, the only part of this photo I really find interesting is the strong lines of the pavilion the photographer is standing on. Ha. I guess at heart, I’m really not a people photographer.

Abstracts of a Bridge at Punggol Park

I got to the newly built Punggol Park this last weekend and really enjoyed taking pictures that day. Among all the fantastic shots I got, one particular bridge- on the flyover above the park- really captivated me.

Above: This is the first picture of the bridge that I took as I got to Punggol Park. I love the strong curvature in the structure, and the single lamp-post balances out the emptiness of the landscape. I was lucky- the drama in the clouds made the background look exciting. In fact, the clouds at the bottom of the picture make the whole structure look like it’s at a very high altitude- which it’s not. And leading the viewer down exciting, ‘impossible’ paths is something I always enjoy.

Above: One thing I always try to do is to get different angles of a subject. This involves more legwork, but there are times when the subject is just worth it. In this case, the bridge had a vertical arc extending upwards, but also a horizontal one where people could stand and look out at the park. You can see the shadow of a rail on the left hand side of the picture- this adds a bit of drama to the monotony of the shot, so I left it in. This rail is part of the flyover above the park.

Above: This is a view of the horizontal arc where you can see what it was meant for- sight-seeing. It was a beautiful day out, and there were lots of people walking about enjoying the view. Ironically, I spent so much time walking around and taking photos of the bridge that I never actually went on it. But that’s what you gotta do when you only have a short window of time to take pictures with (I got there late afternoon, and the light was starting to fade).

Above: One good thing of getting there in the late afternoon is that if you’re lucky, you get to take a picture of the sunset. I took several pictures of the bridge at this time- some with people, and some without. Ultimately, I chose this one. I think the Punggol Park is a place of community, for families and friends to gather, and having people in the shot emphasises this more. I was lucky with this shot: a boy on the right can be distinctly seen pointing towards the sun. This adds dynamism and motion to the picture, and also (together with the two lamp-posts in the centre-right) provides a leading visual line into the center of the frame.

Restaurant Review: Wild about Wings

A while back I took a trip to East Coast for wings. I ALWAYS love wings. It was my roommate in college who got me converted to these. I didn’t use to like them (they are way more trouble than drumsticks), but as he put it, it’s all skin, what’s there not to like?

Yup. So anyway this place was offering a deal a while back. The deal validity ended 13 Sep, but when we visited recently there were zero people there at dinner time. Zero. So much for Groupon-type deals driving repeat business, huh? Sure, we got there a bit earlier (6pm), but it was a Saturday night, the carpark was full, and by the time we had finished eating, there was a queue forming to eat the Korean BBQ buffet opposite this restaurant. Our choice for dinner? Still empty. Yikes. Doesn’t bode well.

But anyway we didn’t know all this when we got there. There were two guys about my age there running the place, so I assumed they were young, enterprising guys with a fantastic product (why else would they open such a shop? It’s not like this will earn them millions). So just go in and try, lor.

The wings themselves are ok, quite well priced. $1.59 per wing- not winglet. $0.99 if you go during happy hour (we missed it). Although really, given their traffic… maybe every hour should be happy hour. Haha. Anyway, shan’t be so mean.

You can choose some interesting flavours, including cajun jerk, wasabi, and so on. We tried cajun, since I’ve always loved jerk chicken (you had to tear me away from them in college… Yum…) That slightly sweet and tangy sauce, blackened and smokey flavour.. mmmm!

This is what we got:

"jerk" chicken

Erm, this is just deep fried chicken with chili powder. It is not blackened in anyway whatsoever, and it is certainly not cajun. The Wasabi chicken was no better:

"wasabi" chicken

As you can see, it’s a (very similar) deep fried chicken with wasabi mayo. Honestly, it’s like something you expect from a cheap-KFC, not from true aficionados of chicken wings. Tip 1: not everything has to be fried. Tip 2: go for authenticity with your sauces please.

Anyway, it was disappointing. Also, minimum order per flavour is five huge wings. Even though I eat a lot, I still couldn’t finish. Again, considering the lack of clients, maybe these guys should have some ‘sampler’ type dishes so we can try more flavours instead. These two weren’t up to mark.

If you come expecting KFC-type chicken, though, they’re okay. Plus gotta admire their passion for food, starting a cafe at such a young age. Anyway, afterwards took a nice walk around East Coast Park. A pasar malam was going on: very happening! Maybe next time I’ll try the Korean BBQ Buffet 🙂

carnival

Above: This carousel was part of a carnival/pasar malam (night market) that was going on. You know, those make-shift ones you pay a few dollars for.

flea market

Above: This being a flea market, there was lots of stuff to buy. It’s a bit early for Christmas, but well, why not, eh?

Above: There was also a McDonald’s in the vicinity. For some reason, I was most interested in Ronald McDonald’s feet. hmm…

Wild About Wings

#A-10 Marine Cove@East Coast Park

1000 East Coast Parkway

(near McDonalds)

Halloween at Community Service

So this week I went to the place I volunteer at, and they had a Halloween party all planned. It was very nicely done! The whole place was very scary- really gets one in the mood. These guys are definitely more artistically inclined than I am. Anyway, we’re not allowed to take pictures of people (privacy concerns), but here are some pictures of the decorations. Most of it was hand-made, too! The pictures are in black and white for more effect.

Above: This macabre doll reminded me a bit of a game I used to play as a kid: Grim Fandango. The game itself was modeled after the Mexican festival, “Day of the Dead”.

Above: This mix of a Spider & Crab looked really strange. More cute than scary. The dry ice makes it look like it is emerging from a swamp, misty effect and all. PS, that ‘dry ice’ is really cotton wool.

 

Above: This hand was REALLY life-like. They had a wound painted in, too, to make it look like the hand had been cut from some dead corpse. Good stuff.

Above: Another sin-city style shot of a scary idol doll. I really like how the fresh red blood contrasts against the grey and black doll.


Above: What is Halloween without a pumpkin? This Jack O’Lantern had a spider crawling all over it, for added effect.

Above: This red lamp was like the genie in the bottle. I guess you just gotta rub her the right way? Yuck, count me out.

Golden pictures

Apart from black and white, I’ve started to explore single-color photography in, well, other colours. They’re all similar in that they’re primarily explorations of tone, texture and line, but the tone sometimes gives a very different feeling. Black and white can be calming but sometimes aloof and a tad intellectual. My second choice is typically sepia. The yellow, golden colour makes everything feel warm. Kinda like summer.

door

Above: This first picture has a beautiful golden tinge. I love the layered shadows, and how contrasts against the golden light. I can almost feel the warm metallic texture of this car door. Notice how the picture has leading lines from the bottom left to the top right of the frame. This adds some motion and dynamism to the shot.

spotlight

Above: Here there is a warmer, more orange, spotlight shining on the colourful balls of light in the background. It’s as if a powerful spot of light suddenly illuminated this scene, not unlike a spotlight on a stage. Actually, the image that comes to my mind is an alien ship shining a light down in search of someone to abduct. On a technical note, I like the lens flare through the glass.

butts

Above: I took this picture of a statue at a restaurant. I think the old, washed-out look fits the roman-ancient subject, and I framed the image such that we see only the middle portion of their torso- easily the most interesting part, IMO. *wink*

gold

Above: This gold panel was taken at the same restaurant as above. I preserved its more shiny look- makes it look like it’s really made out of gold. PS, it’s just wood.

moon scenery

Above: This picture of the full-moon was framed against some trees and leaves swaying gently in the wind. Some leaves are blurred as a result. The sky was also quite ominous that night- eerie dark clouds scattered across the sky. I like the strong lines of the branches. If I had a chance to do this shot again, I would take a longer exposure to get rid of the black fringes. Or even use a HDR shot. As it stands, the center looks okay, the rest- not as much.

bowl

Above: This is my take of the myraid pictures of landscapes being reflected off of water- here is a reflection from a table. This bowl was taken in Chinatown, with a red cloth as background. I used the table as a prop to explore the reflection of the red cloth, then filtered everything with a pale red-orange color for effect. The picture is taken in a style very unlike my norm- I normally go very dark, or very saturated. Seldom do I come up with pictures that are very pale. This fits both the subject matter (old bowl in an old hawker center) and the colors (red, white, orange, yellow), though.

Movie Review: Footloose is still a great song

Of all the classic dancing movies that I remember, Footloose is probably the best candidate for a remake. Can you imagine anyone trying to say “nobody puts baby in a corner” in a remake? Or any other movie trying to recreate the magic that was the Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive being played to a smooth John Travolta’s strut down the street?

No, those movies could only be done once. Footloose is different, however. Its themes of “city meets country” are evergreen, and whether city meets country (as in this movie), or whether country meets city (Coyote Ugly, for example), the result is always the same. Both sides discover they’re more alike than different, and America lives happily ever after. And if America living happily ever after doesn’t lend itself well to a remake, then I don’t know what does.

Relevant themes aside, the movie also has one other key ingredient that endears it to a remake. Its biggest stars are still translatable today. The Footloose theme song continues to be extremely catchy, and I couldn’t help but bob along when the movie opened with this classic. The movie’s other big star (as the name suggests) are the feet, and thankfully, feet look quite similar today as when they first made the movie. We’re reminded of this again immediately, in the opening scene’s homage to the original.

But while this modern movie is supposed to be a remake, it also pokes fun cheekily at the original. In the opening scene, for instance, we see feet. Lots and lots of feet. While the original did this to wow audiences (“what loose feet!”), this one adopts an angle that will be painfully familiar to any photographer who has ever taken a picture and realised that something critical had been cut off from the shot. When I saw the original I never felt this, but here I found myself thinking- where are the dancers’ bodies?

The humor of this scene is a little subtle, but in my favourite scene of the movie the laughs come thick and fast. We watch as Miles Teller clumsily ‘learns’ to dance to a song that was on the original soundtrack- “Let’s hear it for the boys”. The key difference? Rather than being used as a heart-wrencher, the song is now relegated to status of ‘oldie’, and is sung, tongue-in-cheek, by 7-year old girls belting classics from a ‘barbie’ karaoke set.

One thing is clear: humor is this movie’s strongest point, and Miles Teller in particular steals the show time and again with his brilliant comic acting. In his first scene, for instance, he bumps into the lead. They square off, trade insults, and look like they’re about to come to blows (oh no, not another teenage angst dealing with high-school movie…). But then at the perfect moment, Miles smiles and introduces himself: he’d been joking all along. The actor also has an effortless talent for physical comedy, and one scene in particular is practically worth the price of admission. As he listens to a story about a Russian menage a trois, Miles displays an array of priceless facial experiences and breathless anticipation. It sounds ordinary in the retelling, but trust me, it’s good.

Sadly, Miles is the only decent young actor in a show about young people. Julianne Hough is obviously an amazing dancer (though she doesn’t show it much) and extremely pretty, but she’s called upon to carry a very emotional role and she’s found lacking. Her brother dies at the beginning of the show, and her father votes in draconian laws like ‘no drinking, no coming home past 10pm, and… no dancing’ for the city. While all this is happening the camera is transfixed on her, so we know it’s important- but then we spend the rest of the movie trying to find out why. After the rules are set, something is different about Julianne. Early on we learn she used to be a real goody-two-shoes, but now she’s suddenly courting danger, and when pushed to her limits, even gives up her virginity to a nobody. The question is, why?

The pieces start falling together, but more because the plot (and dialogue) throws (not drops, throws) hints at us. Initially she seems thrilled by the high-life. She breaks the rules, and she seeks out the new city-boy, seemingly as a symbol of rebellion. But things are not so simple. When the boy rejects her (“I want to kiss you… someday”), her heart starts to soften. No, it’s not the high-life that attracts her, it’s something else. Eventually everything falls apart in a church as father and daughter confronts each other after she’s been beaten up by her ex-boyfriend. You’ve blamed our brother for everything, she screams at him, so that now nobody can do anything fun anymore- everyone remembers her brother for causing the draconian laws and not his virtues. Finally! We understand. She’s angry at her father for taking away her childhood fun, and for tarnishing her brother’s memory.

Or so we think. Nope, that’s not it. Something’s not right in this scene. After all, nobody else seems to care that there is no dancing (the standard response: a shrug, and ‘it’s the law’). And as for her brother, Julianne does not mention him anywhere else in the movie. There’s not a single scene where she recalls the memory of her brother. No, this was never about him. We finally (this time, well and truly) learn what the matter was when she utters this line, almost as a throwaway, to her dad after they patch things up: “I didn’t want to disappoint you”. So it turns out that it was about her all along. She saw how much her father did to honor her brother’s memory after he’d made a mistake, and in her adolescent jealousy she wanted this too. “Hey, I’m bad too, dad! Change the law for me!” There’s all this festering under the surface, but it never comes out. Julianne’s role is evidently limited to: smile, wear tight jeans, and dazzle.

That she does. Thankfully, the movie stays out of its own way. It knows that it has a crop of dancers masquerading as actors (none of that James Dean or even the original Kevin Bacon coming-of-age stuff here), and so the writers just put in strong dialogue that speak for themselves (they have no choice), and then stay out of the way as the stars do what they do best. They dance. The lead actor is extremely athletic, and he spends a lot of his dance routines in mid-air. We’ve all seen Julianne on Dancing With The Stars; and even the dorky Miles Teller shows himself a smooth operator on the dance-floor.

In the end, this movie still ends up being loads of fun. It’s funny, the dialogue is strong, and the actors aren’t really called upon to act all that much. They focus on doing what they do best- they dance. To the beat of a song that was first released the year I was born, and still holds the magical formula to get audiences off their seats.

Black and White, both day and night

I’ve continued to explore black and white photography more. I’ve always loved washed out, graphical abstract black and whites but I’ve also recently begun to enjoy shooting darker pictures that force one to explore different tones of gray. This picture is like that. Kinda like a grey portrait of cars. I love the spotlight on the cars, and I love how everything is in shades of gray. Really reminds me of a stage. This was taking at night, with the street-lamps masquerading as ‘spotlights’.

cars

This last weekend I also went to botanic gardens. It is really convenient to get there now- the MRT gets you right to the doorstep.

gate to botanic gardens

Botanic gardens is really boring to me. Greens are relaxing, but for me they really don’t make good pictures. Nonetheless, I guess I couldn’t leave the botanic gardens without taking some pictures of greens. But argh, I hate the yellowish-green color of leaves. They look sickly and pale- not inspiring at all. So I took these colours out, and I was left with a ‘sin-city’ style grey and red.

children and flowers

Happy Birthday Dad!

Just celebrated my dad’s 61st birthday at one of his favourite restaurants. Yay! Happy Birthday dad!

getting to the restaurant

lobster bisque starter

foie gras and fillet mignon entre

dad's birthday cake

even greenie pok and his girlfriend were present

everyone except Joleen! awww