Stuff I think about

Back to the roots

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on October 13, 2015

The challenge today again is to produce images, without the use of cameras; now that cameras are so easy to have, so easy to capture, let’s try not using any devices and see if you can function anymore.


Digital spells death of many mediums.

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on June 4, 2014

Digital starts with D, D is for death for anything that is physical. The spirits live to make appearances. What we’re seeing or hearing today are the ghosts of our imaginations.

Townhall meeting of the sticker lady incident.

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on June 12, 2012

So the community has to agree that the sticker lady had done very good work, so good that it brushes with the law.

Just to state my own thoughts on this.

1. I did not find the need to sign the petition. There is not any need for her to be sentenced at all. This petition is a knee jerk reaction from the community. It shows how deep the disorganization is within the community itself. The petition should be to lobby for the vandalism act to be reviewed or repealed, not for a light sentence on sklo. For the sake of sklo’s good, please don’t petition unless the petition is not about her transgressions, as it is now the law transgressing the integrity of art.

2. The mainstream media had over sensationalized the whole issue. If the authorities really slapped her with a 3 year jail sentence, she’d be outdoing banksy, hence the value of her work would skyrocket. I’m very curious to know whether sklo had been fingered out by a mole of the police force or not. That is a really good job done if there was a mole. It just made her famous, probably more than she could ask for. While her work is very good, I see no political worth in her work for the authorities to react in such a manner, unless it’s the case of “anything that isn’t the PAP is considered leftist”

3. Just to sidetrack a little. This land doesn’t just belong to the politicians’ interest only. In fact, the politicians also make up the numbers of the general public. So does all the uniformed services and civil services. It is only wise to question motives.

4. The psychological aspect of our total defence is severely undernourished. Arts, culture, traditions and identities have their roles in that form of contribution. If it is something money can’t buy, that’ll be culture, tradition and identity, and art is a response to all that. If it’s gone, it’s gone, what’s left for the soldiers to defend? Families can always migrate, it’s not as if our ancestors hadn’t migrated. Talking about defending our land, it is really not good to defend anymore. Cost of living is high, wages are average, cost of running a business is high (I wonder why), making a living is really quite difficult. If anything bad should happen here, I won’t be surprised if 60.2% of the population flees to Thailand to seek refuge. There’s a very good reason why arts and humanities is called arts and humanities. Arts comes before humanities, as humanities is the result of art.

Too tired to think or write anymore. Till another time.

I’ve a feeling that this will be a long post

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on March 20, 2010

I’ve very interesting responses from the talk at NAFA on 19th March. A student asked me if a good retoucher could be a good photographer as well. Fundamentally speaking a good retoucher would be the equivalent of a good painter in the good old days before photography existed. Though as photography started its existence, paintings and drawings have since lost their placings in imaging as photography provided a faster means of producing an image. That being said the fundamentals of seeing and perceiving light, shadows and perspectives for composition for painters and photographers still remain the same.

It is important that the retoucher/photoshop wizards have a correct grasp of fundamentals before breaking any rules, as the fundamentals are the rules and they provide the avenue for solving the issues that may present themselves in the picture making process.

Hence the answer to that question would be yes and no together for a good retoucher/photoshop wizard to be a good photographer. Photography itself is fundamentally the click of the shutter; a culmination of decision making and aesthetic skills in composition and lighting. Only with constant exercise will you be able to decide how the shot will be made, and only with constant practice will you know how to make the exposure on film. Once the light and shadows are captured, there is only a little way to alter the character of image; though perspectives now may be tweaked, the technology for changing lighting directions on photographs (not the kind in 3d softwares) hasn’t exactly been developed. This has been observed in the tonally flat and even lighting that’s present in many commercially produced images, so that it is easy to make the images into comps.

Why retouch? It feels like the human quest for perfection have driven the media to create the impossible. It may not be totally positive for that to happen, (take for example, fashion imagery, stick thin models, health implications that arose from the desires stirred up from that kind of images, people desiring to have that kind of physique turning bulimic and/or anorexic.) on a brighter side of that, the technologies have provided a solution to get a lot of work done in a shorter time, correct errors or imperfections not seen when making the shot, and I can only say, exercise your decisions as image makers carefully, as implications may not arise from a short term; be responsible with your images.

As a parting note to this, I end off with this quote:

A knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike. —  Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, in 1923

Enslaved: A short reflection of consumerism, ethical consumption, and fair-trading (2007)

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on January 19, 2010

With the global economy being strongly driven by consumerism, human beings ceaselessly consume in order to survive, sometimes even to just pass time. We have to buy goods and foods in order to sustain ourselves, but ultimately consumers do not make a purchase because a product is earth friendly or because it is fair-trade, but more that the product is worth its value for the money paid, and often it generates more and more waste and by-products.

Consumerism has found its way into many aspects of our daily living and has lent its existence in capitalism. Unconsciously it has become a catalyst for media, marketing, advertising, and lending itself into social consumption. Soon in the early 20th century, consumerism had found itself widespread as a driving force behind numerous businesses and corporations. It has also found itself to be a force behind technological development, for the need to improve and outwit each other, to be the reason of why a product must be purchased. It is because the product claims to be superior over another. Consumers soon get affected by the claims of each individual product. It even has resulted in the creation of doubtful products of questionable purposes. All because to sell, and whoever buys the product will gain a certain form of comfort from it. Whilst having the “best” product, use and possession of such “best” products has made various products a status symbol of wealth and prestige. The cycle is such, and to this day most of our perceptions are still being skewed by these social factors.

As a result of improving technology, photography had much taken over in painting and painted portraiture as a popular medium of expression. Cameras, chemicals and glass plates have found its way where the oils, brushes and canvases were. Soon celluloid films have replaced glass plates, and in less than a century after the birth of celluloid films, they are getting taken over by imaging devices, and it bothers me to what will be taking the place of imaging devices in the future to come.

While the future is always uncertain, I would just leave that to nature, for nature creates the best paths. Being a photographer, I have always been aware of the vulnerability and fragility of an image, it is but a two dimensional representation on a media. As quoted by photographer Richard Avedon, “There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” A picture is worth a thousand words, and hence is a good storytelling tool. How I have chosen to present my work tells literally of how vulnerable an image is and how an image is only an image. Yet taken into consideration is how most people would decipher an image looking at the content, what the image is expressing; a pseudo-paradox.

We are always in a need to buy more products, and better products, and cannot be freed from the habit of consumption. Have we also considered buying earth friendly and fair-trading products? I cannot answer yes or no, because there are instances for which choices made are being influenced by my own ability over preferences. Perhaps someday all political bodies in the world must completely come to recognizing the importance of ethical consumption and be highly supportive of its cause, as we have to come to terms with the costs of ethical and fair-trade dealing, as processing the materials is not cheap and therefore result in a higher cost. Whilst all that, even ethical consumerism is still the driving force behind the developments of recycling technology. We just got to have more, and better more.

Photography from the perspective of music

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on September 23, 2009

One way of looking at the role of a photographer as a creator is that from the role of a musician. A musician, naturally, performs music. Likewise, a photographer produces images.

What a musician can make out of his performance relies on his skills on his instrument as well as the material/work that he’s going to perform. Similarly, what images a photographer can produce shows the depth of his mastery over his craft, as how a musician shows the depth of his knowledge of the music he is performing.

Take for example,  JS Bach’s well known Prelude in C Major BWV 846; any musician is able to perform it, as any photographer is able to use his camera to produce an image of an object, for example, a transparent glass bottle.

The late pianist, Glenn Gould, plays it with marked semiquavers in the right hand, rather quirky-ly.

Pianist Konstantin Lifschitz plays the repeated motif of every bar of this Prelude with a softer and lighter touch to create a dynamic contrast. The phrasing is also different.

In the equivalent of photography, a subject equivalent could be looked at in a different manner with the manipulation of light and exposure to bring out different details of his subject.

(pardon me for this part of compare and contrast, I am still in the process of creating the images to illustrate the point photographically)

However, composer Charles Gounod wrote another theme, which we know as his Ave Maria on top of Bach’s Prelude BWV 846, effectively making a new work of art from the already existing work.

Shown here is an arrangement of the work for flute and piano.

In a photographic equivalent, a new piece of work is being produced from the subject, adorned with new elements. Take for instance, the glass bottle, was then being photographed in the hands of a beautiful woman of that particular cultural period. In today’s technology, you can simply montage an existing image of a glass bottle into the hands of a beautiful woman of this cultural period.

In the context of producing an image, the glass bottle could be shot as it is, with existing light, as a piece of music could be performed as it is running through the notes, phrases and dynamic expressions, everything on paper, and the rest is up to the mood of the musician when he is performing the music. On days with good available/natural light, a nice and decent image of the glass bottle may be produced with good tone without much consideration. On days with a fine mood, a musician finds performing music much a breeze, the music performed sounds good rather effortlessly.

When a musician examines his music, he not only learns the notes, along with that he finds places to examine the shape and form as well as the harmonics hidden in it. Through the understanding of the qualities of his subject, here the piece of music that he is performing– gives him the authorship to make the performance uniquely his.

In popular music, bands and musicians have performed countless covers of certain songs, all with a different feel and sound to it, similar to the performances and recordings of classical music, giving them their authorship over the performance.

Similarly when a photographer examines his subject, in this case, a transparent glass bottle, he studies the qualities of the form as well as the optical qualities of the glass bottle, how it reflects and refracts light, only then he could determine how to manipulate the light to change the shape and color of the reflections and refractions and so on. With the mastery they have over their media and understanding of their subjects would they be able to create a performance or image with a lasting impression.

Words from a true visionaire

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on June 29, 2009

A knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike. — quote from Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, in 1923

Of Climate Change, Global Warming and Possibly The End of Humankind and Civilisation.

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on April 18, 2009

All these hype and data that researches produce have a tendency to push the new “eco” commodity into the new business. I have no idea how long the earth will sustain, but I think earth will far outlast any civilisation present. Hey humans, don’t worry about earth, worry about yourselves!

Cost of Photography as a Business in Today’s Context

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on April 5, 2009

While we may all know that the photography industry is fueled from the pockets of hopeful amateurs eager to have their pictures published, how many of us know what the actual cost of photography is now? Before the dawn of the digital era, camera equipment could be used for 30 years or more if well maintained. Lenses can be used over a large range of compatible bodies, as long as it fits the mount, and you’re pretty well ready to shoot with the technical quality that the lenses have to offer. The film and the lenses used were the essence of making the image with optimal results. The camera does not need replacement unless its broken. The cost of a good kit with purpose-specific lenses could be about SGD$24k for a medium format system that could be used for 30 years or more. Running costs as and when needed for film/processing/expendables. Equipment cost per year could be SGD$800 or less, and it could well last more than 30 years with proper care and maintenance. People could actually make money back then. It was production work to be done–setting up, shooting, processing and selection. There was a film cost involved and a computer would be an additional or a bonus piece of equipment.

Cameras of the digital era have a lifespan of a maximum of 5 years before they’re obsolete and needs replacing. The lenses used are different too, each batch has its own qualities for the range of cameras it was produced for. Though mounts and other stuff may be the same, the images produced may not be optimal. The lenses now work for the image sensor, a higher resolution sensor would need a lens with a stronger resolving power. The cost of a 24mp digital kit with purpose-specific lenses would be somewhere around SGD$25k, but all that would be obsolete in 5 years, that’s an equipment cost of $5k a year for camera and lenses only. The computer used would cost about SGD$4k at purchase price, that would be gone in 5 years too, and image editing softwares cost about SGD$1055 to buy and about SGD$300 to upgrade.

Aside from the shooting and production work, there’s also an additional number of hours to be put into the back end of the work (post production), which are also costs to be considered in producing quality work. On the plus side is that more visual effects and creative input could be achieved than before. On the down side more work has to be done to break even the capital put in for the equipment while maintaining a fee for the photographer’s work. Every hour of work behind the camera would tie the photographer with computer work for anywhere between two to four hours unless a DI artist (also another cost to consider) does the back end of the work.

That being said, photographers now often give their own products (their photographs) away for free, literally (without additional licensing), and are only paid for their presence in creating the shots.

Image Licensing and Copyright Issues

Posted in Uncategorized by Billy Soh on March 27, 2009

When a photographer is hired to shoot, he is hired for the services and physical presence at the site. The images that he produces on the shoot immediately becomes his property and are automatically copyrighted to him. No matter what the content of the images are, be it his client’s products or services, the image belongs to the photographer. When the photographer hands over the images to his clients, the rights of the images still belongs to him. At such a point, the clients may have paid for the photographer’s services, the images used have not been paid for. The photographer will have given the images away to the clients for free if licensing or sale of copyrights are not enforced. 

While many photographers may not be very much aware, it is licensing images that will keep their business going.

Licensing may not be what the client likes to hear, enforcement of licensing is a form of commitment between the client and the photographer to produce good work. Good work goes a long way, and it is mutually beneficial. It could take place between photographers and clients as some forms of special arrangements too, whichever works better. Putting it down on paper is always best.