Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Above us only sky

I was wondering around Oxford yesterday and took this optical illusion type picture of Blackwell Publishers. I also took another one of one of the buildings in the science park area, my friends prefer that one but I beg to differ and prefer this.

With its bright blue skies and fluffy clouds you could easily mistake Oxford as a place of clear crisp air. However, just as the Human's Oxford lies in paradox to the scholar's fairy tale city (see previous post), the brightness of the skies here mask an unnerving reality. Oxford is officially the most "weezy" city in the UK, with its city centre inhabitants inhaling an equivilent of 61 cigerettes a day in traffic fumes (nitrogen oxide). In comparisson Marylebone Road, considered London's most polluted area, would only force the equivielnt of 30 ciggies into your lungs. The government's target for Nitrogen Oxide levels is equivalent to smoking 12 ciggarettes a day. 12 cigerettes a day! My mother would kill me! Makes you think doesn't it.

Brown, P. (2004) "Taking the Oxford Air Adds up to 60-a-day Habbit" The Guardian (August 24th, 2004).
Available: http://environment.guardian.co.uk/waste/story/0,,1846007,00.html

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Photography as anthropology

I've always loved traveling. By no means have I been to hoards of places, no where near as many as I would love to go to (India, Nepal, The Galapodos Islands, Morocco, Argentina, Peru ...sigh), but I have been extremely lucky in that I have visited some great countries. The thing I really love about traveling is experiencing the different cultures, seeing the different ways that people live. I think this was fueled by my first out-of-Europe experience when I spent some time traveling and working in Kenya. I went out of my way to work with Maasai people, it was a real culture shock, but incredibly rewarding (for me, I'm not so sure about them, I think they were more bemused by my presence). I like to try to understand people, work out what things are important to them, what makes them angry, what hurts them, what makes them laugh. I think this is where empathy grows, and empathy, I believe, is one of the most important qualities a human being can have. If I can capture any of these moments with a camera it is precious, but I also find it incredibly difficult. There is something invasive about photographing a person, the Maasai believe that a photograph takes away part of the soul, I always try to ask for permission or offer something in return, but then that moment in time is lost. It is a tension that's hard to resolve.

Lye Tuck-Po is a user on flickr. She is an anthropologist who has studied various peoples, and recently the Orang Asli in Malaysia where I recently visited. Her photos are wonderful, full of passion and place people so well in their environments. She wrote a very nice comment on one of my photos so I wanted to reference her work here too. She writes:

[Photos] allow me to capture scenes and sensibilities that I can't put into words. For example, the great silences and the manic movements that I found in Cambodian landscapes recently. Or a look passed between two people who have known each other all their lives. Or a certain colour or image that moves me in ways that I cannot explain.

This goes back to my very first blog posting, a picture is worth a 1000 words. In a discipline like anthropology words and pictures work so well together to paint a picture of what we want to understand.

I am, at best, an amateur at photography. I need to build up my confidence in taking pictures of people and the environments in which they move. I don't just mean people from other cultures, in other cities, in other countries. A moment captured between my friends and the people I love makes a great photo and is something that will be precious to me forever and a gift I can give to them. I'll keep you posted on how I go!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Look at Me

I guess that vanity is the backbone of all art; at its essence, all art says, look at my view of the world, it is better, more accurate, more beautiful, than yours. What message, then, can we infer from an artist who creates a microcosm populated entirely by his/her extraordinarily cute self? No need to look further than a Web site with millions of die-hard, teenage devotees (mySpace, face book). What you'll notice is a culture steeped in the identity of one's self. From this culture surrounded by vanity has emerged a different way of looking and recording the self. The self exists virtually within blogs, in network communities, as real and imaginary identites. Self-portraiture photography as a result is feeding on an unabashed interest in the "me."

Access to cameras is now a lot more democratic. Anyone with a cell phone, webcam, or digital point-and-shoot is now a photographer. Anyone with a personal computer and photo manipulation software owns a darkroom. What have we done with these great new tools? Ironic or not, we've taken photos of ourselves on unprecedented levels. On myspace.com, about 60 million members post photos and personal stats on their own web portal. The centerpiece of these profiles is the self-portrait.

On this note, I've just discovered fd's flickr toys and thought I'd indulge in a bit of vanity myself.

Almost always it is the fear of being ourselves that brings us to the mirror. ~ Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Sunday, August 20, 2006

In the Jungle

There are some things that a picture just can not do justice to. The enormousity and depths of the rainforst is one of these things. Pictures just can not capture the sounds, the smells and visual sensations of the jungle, it is one of those things that one could term sublime, awe inspiring.

Its always been one of my dreams to go to a rainforst. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend 4 days in the heart of the Taman Negara rainforest on mainland Malaysia. Scientists believe that the Taman Negara is the world's oldest rainforst, untouched by the glaciers from ice age, staying the same for almost 130 million years (in comparission the Amazon is said to be 10 million years old). Because of this it exists as one of most diverse habitations in the world with more than 350 species of birds, 14000 species of plants, and 210 species of mammals, and new ones being discovered all the time.

Despite this Malaysia's deforestation rate is accelerating faster than that of any other tropical country in the world, according to data from the United Nations. Analysis of figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that Malaysia's annual deforestation rate jumped almost 86 percent between the 1990-2000 period and 2000-2005. In total, Malaysia lost an average of 140,200 hectares — 0.65 percent of its forest area — per year since 2000. Declining forest cover in Malaysia results primarily from urbanization, agricultural fires, and forest conversion for oil-palm plantations and other forms of agriculture. What's more, to meet Kyoto protocol commitments, governments are trying to palm off (excuse the pun) biomass as fuels (biofuel) as a solution to climate change. Biofuels are mostly carbon neutral, and switching from fossil fuels to biodiesel is promoted as a solution to climate change. Rainforests will be threatened by increased demand for agricultural products to be raised on once forested lands, and by use of forest biomass as a fuel. An unregulated rush to biofuels will lead to more natural rainforest loss and fragmentation, increased pressures upon endangered primary forests, and more monoculture, herbicide laden and genetically modified tree plantations.

The governments of Europe and America need to acknowledge the ways in which they contribute to deforestation and stop them. Firstly There will be no chance to stop impoverishment of people and the destruction of nature in these nations without a solution to the debt crisis. The five countries with the largest rainforest areas are also among the world's most heavily indebted countries, and pressure to cut and clear the rainforests to finance debt repayment has intensified. The conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund often force heavily indebted countries to sell their natural resources far in excess of sustainable exploitation. The Debt Burden is a symptom of the global economic system which enables overdeveloped countries to exploit poor countries and consume the world's resources at an unsustainable rate. Any lasting solution to the problem of tropical deforestation requires an end to the present suicidal overconsumption and obsession with economic growth in the West.

I was sat on the other side of the Tamen Negara looking at this wonderful expanse of rainforest. My guide told me that all of the land on that side of the river had been bought by a palm oil company. Within 5 years there would be no rainforest there at all.

Useful References

Friday, August 18, 2006

That sweet city with her dreaming spires

This is my first attempts at playing with shutter speed and aperture. I wanted to try to capture movement. I'm getting there with the focused foreground and blurry background but having a little trouble vice versa. These photos are a nightmare to take. I wanted a typical Oxford shot - "cyclist in front of the Sheldonian" but Broad Street is so busy at the moment, full of tourists and red buses it's hard to pan with the movement without something else getting in the way.

Passing the Sheldonian

This is one of the first photos for my Oxford Series. The city is such a great place to photograph with its ancient colleges, hidden alleyways and secret gardens. I've heard it described as a "scholars fairy-land", which is certainly one side of the city. The city that the tourists see, the city that the university students holed up in the comfy colleges see, the city that exists in novels and poetry. But there is another much darker side to Oxford. Alan Human puts it perfectly:

At the lowlife end of Oxford there's three basic scenes. There’s the loony scene, there'’s the drugs scene, and there's the ordinary down and out scene, which is the street scene, having no money. They do overlap, but they are distinct scenes. On the loony scene you get snapped up by the loony industry - the mental health industry - and they never let you go once they've got you. They supervise your life at some level or try to. You'’re in a scene where youĂ‚’re always mixing with loonies. The drugs scene does partly overlap, because some loonies turn to drugs to keep their experience within bounds, to block out the bad experience. I don'’t do the drugs scene at all myself. The down and out scene is the kids between 16 and 25 who are homeless and so on. They get a really bad deal because they get an income of about £25 a week I think, and they'’re expected to keep themselves in cigarettes, food and shelter for that.

I am going to attempt to capture all of Oxford, not just its veneer. Its people, its grime, and its real beauty.

Title from Thyrsis a poem by Matthew Arnold.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Paris when it sizzles

It was a very bright hot sunny day and as I climbed the Eiffel tower I noticed the amazing shadows that the structure cast on the ground and the people walking around underneath like ants.

Shadows of the Eiffel Tower 2

I loved the Eiffel tower. I know it's cliche and touristy but I did love it. I danced underneth its lights at night with my boyfriend just like Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire did in Funny Face.

Monday, August 14, 2006


I thought I'd blog this photo first as it is one of the ones that has rated highly on "interestingness" on Flickr. I took this photo in Malaysia when I visited an elephant sanctuary. The sanctuary was about 3 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. Its purpose is to take in elephants that have been rescued from captivity or removed from the rainforest where they were casuing lots of damage to the local plantations and were in threat of being shot by the farmers. Whilst the sanctuary looked after the elephants and aimed to re-release them into the wild (often in Thailand where they had more rainforest to wonder around in), they had to make money. Of course they did this from tourism. This involved tourists paying to come and feed the elephants, ride the elephants and have a bath with the elephants. Elephants were chained to the floor or a keeper to keep them from roaming. It was amazing being able to get so close to these magnificent creatures - they are like big breathing wrinkly rocks, but I couldn't help but feel uneasy by their chains. This photo was taken whilst a baby elephant was lying down being washed by his keeper.

Elephant in chains

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I like pictures. Pictures can stir up all sorts of emotions. Pictures are worth a 1000 words they say (which is what I would have called this blog if someone else hadn't snapped it up!) so the aim of this blog is to talk about pictures, well mostly photos. I take a lot of photographs with love, it's kind of an obsessive hobby. I by no means want to experience life through a camera lens, there is no substitution for experiencing something with the naked eye. But what you capture on film is captured forever, remembered when you have forgotten all the little things about that moment in time. I try to make them art objects for others to enjoy. But I make them for myself first and foremost - that is important.