New Garden Lens

Back in 2008 I posted about how, enamoured by the distortions and light leaks of Holga and Lomo cameras, I was on a path of digital processing and manipulatiing photos to emulate this elevation of mundane pictorial record to something that 'felt' more like a memory. Here's some of the many images I've worked on since then under the theme of 'botanic nostalgia.

I also said that although the process was labor intensive, working in photoshop with many layers - I preferred it to the scripts or software that allowed holga and lomoesque effects at a touch of a button. As of a week ago, this is no longer true since I discovered the iphone app  Hipstamatic (which emulates the look of photos taken by the original Hipstamatic) which does, truly, a brilliant job of randomizing the colors and exposures to create quite beautiful versions of mundane subjects - see above. I have actually taken the exact same photos on my regular camera and tried to do the same with less successful results.

There's another app made by the same company called Swankolab which takes photos taken on your iphone (or ipod in my case) puts them through a digital retro darkroom lab to achieve similar results. You can also take one of your Hipstamatic prints and process them further in Swankolab. This means you have a variety of 'film' and lens' choices and then a variety of processes where each combination and the order in which you combine affect the outcome.

I am now officially a fan and they are legion. This past week the NYTimes published a series of War Photographs  taken on an iphone using Hipstamatic on its front page which electrified the digital community who cheered the recognition of the medium as front page cover worthy. There's an interesting piece in the Atlantic about the artfulness about the medium referencing the Pictorialism movement at the turn of the century and the current iphone as art exhibition currently touring the country.

How 'good' the images are, are only half the story. The other half lies in the equipment itself, the iphone/ipod. I started a twitter account in spring last year with the idea that I could send out images that didn't require a narrative like they would in a blog post. I also thought it could be more documentary or chronological. That didn't really play out well as it required me to actually have my camera with me at all times and then I still had to select, edit (reduce the size, crop etc) before posting to twitter. I always on the other hand have my ultra slim ipod in my pocket and as this article about the new age of the connected camera explains, the 'processing' is entirely different- you take the image- if you like it you email it. In my case I email it directly into my flickr account where I then immediately blog it to my twitter account. This is game changing in this new age of micro publishing, blogging call it what you will especially for me as my main trade here is more visual narrative.

So add up portability, immediacy and artfulness and you see the potential of my new garden lens. Will it replace the tedious post processing that I've been doing? Absolutely not, because I just enjoy it in fact I've started experimenting with a combination of Hipstamatic, Swankolab and Photoshop. I also don't always process images, sometimes it's the old school decisive moment driven by opportunity and being in the right place at the right time.  I am however loathe to get any more 'technical' with my equipment - I still use a Pentax Optio 750, now minus the protective shutter- it got stuck so I removed it as in ripped it out. Upgrading to a DSLR is crazy  expensive and not a priority and I'll admit shallow as it is- I really don't like the look of those clunky things. At the grand price of $3.98 for both those apps I feel newly equipped and looking forward to energizing my twitter stream- which incidentally, the new version is integrated with flickr and  allows instant views of photos if you click the photo icon on the right of the post.

ipod got stolen- no more hipstamatic until they make an app for the android which is what I have now

upgraded my camera to a Olympus EP1

Modern Garden Aesthetics

Despite having read, posted about and looked at a lot of photos of Patrick Blanc esque vertical gardens, have I actually seen one? Not in New york City, but last weekend in Singapore I spied my first one, pictured left, wrapped around the side of a shopping center on Orchard road. It was aesthetically beautiful and something registered at a cognitive level - a garden experience that somehow conveyed 'familiarity'- more about that below, and 'newness' maybe even a tad 'futuristic' but in sum total - it looked 'right' in a really cool way.

I've been noticing on my trips to to Singapore an interesting vernacular of garden design, botanic elements + ultra modern architecture, as a recurring motif in this city. It isn't necessarily just green city spaces, and those are well represented, but more about commercial buildings incorporating inventive garden elements as an intrinsic parts of the architecture. I'll do another post at some point when I have better photos to show - but here's one of a large building with substantial space allocation to balcony gardens- it was the scale that was surprising- those trees up there were pretty big.

Orchid Batik

I recently had the opportunity to do a batik painting, my first, and by 'do' I really only mean half the process which is the coloring in. The much more skilled part of actually drawing in the lines of wax, was done by the owner of the batik studio, Rashid. This part requires using a tool called the tjanting or canting which has a small container that holds hot wax and a spout. Controlling the flow of wax and actually drawing something at the same time is no mean feat.

Rashid's studio is in his garden, an open space without walls, a concrete floor and a tin roof, filled with long tables spiked with nails to position the fabrics. At the far end there is an assortment of dyestuffs and aluminum tubs for the pre and post preparative work. All along the side, between the studio and his house are pots of orchids, lots of them. When he showed me the two possible pre drawn fabrics that I could color in, an orchid and a hibiscus, it was an easy choice. The orchid looked roughly like the pale Phaelonopses that caught my eye walking in and I immediately thought, I could use that for reference for color. This wasn't so easy in its execution.

What colors do you want to use? he asked. A pale yellow/lime I said thinking about the color of the unopened bud. He went away to mix the colors, then came back to show me how to apply them. He used an electric lime to start the flowers and a bright emerald green for the leaves and a very deliberate use of water to produce a strong gradient effect with the bright colors. Not really what I had in mind and so began a lot more to-ing and fro-ing as he mixed new colors and I kept washing out and applying different ones to get a softer more complex color feel. He smiled politely, bemused by my preference for old aged colors and my disinclination for the vibrant ones but adjusted accordingly and by the time we got to the background, he got the pale purple I asked for pretty quickly.

Batik has deep roots in this part of the world. One reason might be that a key ingredient, damar resin, which is still used today, that raises the melting point and hardens the wax is from trees indigenous to this area. Sadly what might also have been a reason a plentiful source of plant based dyes, indigo, madder, turmeric to name a few have been displaced by the better performance of synthetic dyes. In Indonesia, although synthetic dyes are also prevalent, there is more adherence to traditional palettes and motifs and there is still plenty of the painstaking multiple resist and dye bath methods that create more complex batiks. Here in Malaysia the technique has morphed rather pervasively into this new batik shorthand of traced lines and one application of bright colors.

When I did get my batik in the mail, I really liked how the colors softened even more after the processing and I like how the colors resonate on silk. I thought I had made some fatal errors where some parts bled into others but the medium is quite forgiving, the mistakes much less apparent than expected. I'll have to pay Rashid's garden studio another visit, except this time, I will bring my my own drawing, a few different fabric choices, and a computer print of how I would like the colors to turn out. Now that should have an interesting result.

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