My second day in Chicago was also my last.
Since I packed light, I had to look for a laundromat.
The walk there was fine, but once I turned the corner, I saw the real Wicker Park.
No hipsters, just ran down shops, drunk overweight men, single Mexican mums.
Perhaps closer to the Ukrainian village it used to be.
I walked around during the wash cycle and waited in the cafe as the clothes were in the dryer.
Lunch was Mexican again. It was so huge, I had to pack the other half away.
My Uber ride to Navy Pier was a Hummer with a Mexican voice navigation.
It was the first day of Chicago Expo – a large-scale exhibition of modern art from all over America.
When artists and galleries were presented in such context, it almost felt like a parody.
Towards the end, I was observing the people more than the work being exhibited.
The plan was to go back to Wicker Park and chill, but the weather was so amazing compared to the day before I decided to join the architecture boat tour.
Towards the end I was pretty done with skyscrapers.
Although I have to say the tour shone a brighter light at the Trump Tower. The architects factored in a lot of the city’s history into the design.
I walked back into the city to buy some Victoria Secret Pink pajamas for Chika like I did the last time I visited America.
Had a hot dog at Portillo’s and regretted it instantly.
On my way back, my Uber driver was a black grandma.
Her first reaction was ” Victoria Secret, for me?? ”
She proceeded to tell me about her daughter, her sons, her sons’ daughter, and how proud she was to finally buy a new car.
As I walked into the house I met a girl.
She booked the other room but decided to crash with another friend instead.
She came from Philadelphia to finish her tattoo.
She’s also a PA in medicine. She recommended I take some melatonin for my jet lag.
We had a long chat, and then suddenly she received a phone call, passed me the keys and left.
That was the last person I spoke to in Chicago.
I don’t know, life seemed harder in America.
But everyone was positive, optimistic and warm.
It’s like instead of whining they’d rather be confident.
That’s why they’re so cool.
Harvard decided to write in the third person for his first day in Chicago.
It reflects his feeling of disconnection.
He’s not used to the currency system (his strategy so far is to round everything to a full dollar).
He’s not used to quart or pounds or miles.
Definitely has not gotten the hang of checking the left side of the road before crossing.
To him, it’s like he’s in a movie.
A real life GTA. The car honks. The trains, so loud. So Hollywood.
He thought a couple was having a conversation, only to see them split off, chatting on their hands-free headset.
People swearing to themselves startled him.
The amount of Apple wireless earbuds surprised him.
But he wasn’t annoyed.
His brain was being entertained. Like a reality TV show.
They filmed Batman here for crying out loud.
The air in America smells like opportunity.
Like what dreams are made of.
When was the last time he photographed the streets?
Harvard couldn’t remember.
But he felt free, liberated.
Like what he always wanted to do.
When he was young, he dreamed to study in America.
To live and breathe the cultural influence of his childhood.
The projected mental image of happiness. The mainstream.
Then at the peak of that euphoria, he semi broke down at Millenium Park when he realized there’s a Frank Gehry Pavillion next to the Anish Kapoor sculpture, but no one cared.
Fact is, he didn’t study in America.
Fact is, that was a dream another life ago.
He missed his family.
They say people never change. But they also say change is the only constant in life.
It’s never too late, but time also waits for no one.
Was he shooting for himself now, or was he documenting to show his family?
He’s not sure.
His first day in Chicago, Harvard realized life isn’t a race to reach the end.
It is to dream and to accept the limitation.
To be free, and be grounded.
To know when to grow old gracefully, and learn how to not limit yourself to a corner.
Leica cameras are for idiots.
There I said it.
Because most idiots are romantic.
We think the process is more important than the product.
And we’re willing to pay for that principle.
That’s all there is to Leica owners.
I don’t think there’s a special ‘Leica look’, or some super bokeh rendering, or some special coating or star dust on the cameras.
It’s a tool to remind us that photography used to be black and white.
It used to be about the decisive moments.
About old Paris. About thinking before pressing the shutter.
When we didn’t have 30 frames per second or dual card slot or 20 stops dynamic range so we had to rely on instinct, luck and real skills.
I blew most of my savings for a Leica M6 when I was ‘younger’.
When we were shooting film out of necessity.
It was so expensive, I could only afford one body and one lens.
And I shot that way for a very long time.
Because a 3 megapixel digital SLR then cost $5000.
Oh the irony.
By the time I started to look for a digital camera, I chose the M9 as it was slightly cheaper than buying a new system for me.
Also, it was what I was used to.
It wasn’t until it suffered from memory card failure and water damage then I realized, ok, perhaps I need to inject some practicality into my business. Maybe I need something I can easily replace when shit happens.
Not only for myself; but for the clients.
Enter the DSLR.
The Canon 5D Mark 3 has since been my work horse.
But once in a while, for pre-wedding shoots, or when I just felt like it, I’ll rock the M out.
I’ve since received an M-E as an insurance replacement.
The M-E then had a corrosive sensor which Leica offered half price to upgrade to the M240.
Writing the last paragraph reminded me of an old man complaining about the upkeep of his mid-life crisis sports car and the appalling service.
You gave an arm to own it, and a leg to maintain it.
For pride. For nostalgia.
For a false sense of superiority.
And that doesn’t bind well with the internet.
See, everyone searching for (or giving) camera advice on the internet has two things in common:
1. They are highly involved in the purchase decision. They think the price of a camera should directly reflect its functions.
2. They have trouble accepting not everyone is like them.
So if you go online, all Leica owners are idiots.
We have no idea about photography. We only care about the red dot.
Just like film shooters, we’re simply a bunch of millennial hipsters (or baby boomers who caused the crash) who has too much bloody money to not care about the starving kids in Africa.
If we have X amount of money, we should have bought brand Y because Z camera has N more functions.
One is about ideal; the other, practicality.
As long as such conflict exists, Leica will always find its market.
Let me end this post with a question:
Have you ever spend your youth dreaming of someday owning a Fuji or Olympus?
When I first met Joanna, she probably just hit puberty.
So like a grumpy dad, I’m in denial that she’s married now, all grown up.
Her plan was to have a surprise wedding.
But since she and Matt are such a low-key couple, I’m not sure if any of the guests fell for their ‘engagement’ party to start with.
I wanted to share this wedding because it had the elements of a wedding that create beautiful photographs.
The couple had breakfast. (Very important.)
They picked up their cake personally from a pop-up shop.
They went home to get ready.
Then they went to the venue to have their ceremony.
(Ok, the last part they took lessons.)
And special guest dog/family Chief Justice Oliver.
Most of all they didn’t stress at all.
And in true Fitzroy style, it’s this exact stress-free vibe that made this day so cool.
I spent maybe 5 hours in total shooting this day.
But I feel that I captured everything.
Everything that was them.
And I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t change a thing either.
Yesterday I shot my first-ever Henna night.
They had to announce my arrival as the ceremony is strictly for women.
A ceremony to receive blessings from the mothers, sisters, nieces, cousins.
As I wandered around, I could sense tension as many tightened up their hijabs.
And then the bride entered, and everything changed.
I can’t describe the tempo, the rhythm, the dancing.
The bride left for a dress change, and suddenly everyone was asking me if I had eaten.
If I wanted their food, drinks, sweets.
Sit down, there’s nothing to photograph now, she’s getting ready, they said.
A 4-year-old asked me to take a photo of her, ran away half way as she realised she shouldn’t be so vain, but then changed her mind again and posed.
She then asked if she could take a photo using my camera.
She later bossed me around.
It’s been a strange week.
There was a (tiki) fire torch protest about race.
There’s been a violent attack in Spain.
An Australian politician pulled a stunt using a Burqa.
All these actions are chisels of a line.
A line that says ‘we’re here, and you’re there’.
As I walked out Sydney Road under the rain yesterday, I’ve never been more proud of what I do for a living.
I don’t have to consider where I stand.
My job itself is a statement.
The joy of celebration is universal.
As I’m writing this in the year 2017, I realised $2500 is the tipping point for a camera’s image quality to become irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony – once you pay more than that amount for a camera body, it’s not about quality anymore; it’s all up to personal taste.
After that threshold, we’re paying extra for the equivalent of dual climate zone control air conditioning.
It’s the equivalent of sun roofs, bigger alloy wheels, touch screen panels, phone connectivity, spoilers, auto parking.
Is it nice to have? Sure.
Is it a necessity to create great photos? Absolutely not.
A $2500 camera has as much camera as a $5000 camera.
If you can’t take a decent photograph with a $2500 camera, a $5000 camera won’t help much.
The Canon 5D Mark 4 is such a camera.
I had the chance to use one over last Easter weekend shooting a pre-wedding session and a restaurant.
The touch screen is great, the dual pixel thingy is great, the extra megapixels is also great.
If this is your first ever full frame DSLR (and if a DSLR is what you need), don’t think about it.
Get one – don’t look back.
It’s worth every single penny for the next five years to come.
I envy you.
I’m just not sure if it’s good enough to completely overthrow the Mark 3.
I have friends who are still hanging on to their Mark 2 because the sensor is considered unique now.
It produces a certain look that stands out from the new mainstream look with infinite amount shadow and highlight recovery.
My conclusion is that the 5D Mark 4 will make my photos look up to date, like an operating system.
But it will not make me a better photographer at this point in time.
And having images that look like everyone else’s is not a top priority for me.
Eventually, I’ll get it.
I’m just not in a rush.
The topic of childcare is inevitable when you have a baby, or when you have friends with babies.
Recently a friend shared his experience.
Before sending his kid to a place full of strangers, he was worried.
The environment at childcare centres will never be as cosy as home.
Will they love his child as much as himself?
Will the child be given enough attention?
Turns out, the kid did not miss home at all.
She was engrossed in all the activities she never experienced at home.
She was more sociable, more switched on, and more responsive.
My friend said, sure, the caretakers might be operating on auto-pilot mode.
But they have been trained. They have experience.
They have seen so many other kids, so many different scenarios, that they don’t have to love your kids to educate them.
Their 50% is better than his 100%.
I relate that experience to being a professional wedding photographer.
We do not need to love our job to do a good job.
We do not have to love your wedding, your family, share all your aesthetic value, the same spirit animal to do a good a job.
Our job is to show up and document what we see.
Find the best lighting, find good composition, know when to click the shutter and make sure important things are in focus.
In fact, I’d argue we’d work better if we do not care.
For example, I treat my cameras like I hate them.
Because when I make a dash for that moment, when I need to get to a higher or lower ground, I do not have the capacity to care about my camera, my lens.
If I break my camera, I have another in my bag.
That’s why we have insurance.
To not care about the trivial stuff and focus on getting the best possible outcome.
I’d argue being a professional means we deliver under ANY circumstances.
When the bridal car is running late.
When we don’t have natural lighting.
When we have to change location.
We don’t need to get along with the bridal party to capture a great portrait or moment.
(Although, it would help a great deal if they don’t spit in my face.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to hire sloppy assholes.
But perhaps next time when you consider hiring a person who’s never shot a wedding but has a passion for photography, bear in mind ‘passion’ might not be enough to carry the weight of a wedding.
I’m a good cook, but never in a thousand years I’d volunteer to cater for a party.
Here’s a question:
Would you entrust your newborn baby with an inexperienced babysitter?
Then why would you entrust the memory of your wedding day – a VERY important day, to an inexperienced photographer?
End of lesson.
I like last minute jobs.
While last minute usually means ‘disorganised’, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about the ‘organised’ last minute jobs.
The client has X budget, needs to be delivered by Y day, no questions asked.
They get me excited.
Not because of the adrenaline, but because of the lack of time and crystal clear requirement.
Because there’s no time to ponder, to go back and forth, to reconfirm ‘stuff’.
They have to trust the person to make all the decision one was supposed to make anyway.
I feel like that’s when real jobs actually get done.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a design agency to photograph Templestowe for a development project.
I was briefed on a Wednesday, shot everything on a Friday, shots delivered Monday.
And perhaps this is my past advertising self-talking, but you really feel like a professional when you manage to deliver unexpected results under stress.
Wedding photography or not.
Diamonds, after all, are made under pressure.
So here’s the thing.
As a full frame rangefinder / DLSR shooter, I was not impressed with the cropped sensor X100F.
I was losing depth of field, the shutter wasn’t as responsive, I have to be aware of the ND filter constantly, and the electronic viewfinder was, well, electronic.
Its saving grace is the size. So compact. Super compact. Have I told you how compact it was?
Then again, I do have a phone that has a camera.
Oh, but the sensor. Good sensor, not full frame, but almost. Like a rocket.
In your pocket.
I guess this was how the medium format users felt in the 90s when the Olympus mju came out.
When the Contax T2 was announced.
So the couple above? I did not, and still, don’t know them.
I have finished shooting Handmade – a wine and food event held at the Builders Arms Hotel, and was ready to leave.
I would not have noticed them if they weren’t sitting next to my bag.
The shot was taken as I was walking towards the door.
In fact, I did not know what I was taking as I pressed the shutter without looking.
What I saw on my computer screen this morning gave me goosebumps.
Such intimacy from two complete strangers.
The way she held out her pinky? Even my normal wedding clients don’t often reveal that much.
I felt like I did something wrong. Yet at the same time, so right.
If I didn’t have the X100 with me, I would not have taken this photo.
That’s a fact.
A DSLR would’ve ruined the moment completely.
A phone camera would’ve given me blown highlights or grainy shadows.
I guess camera reviews nowadays are simply missing the point.
It’s never about what’s under the hood.
It is all about intent.
You simply need to ask yourself what are you going to do with the images.
Are you going to print it out? Are you simply going to share on social media?
Are you shooting for personal work? Are you shooting for clients?
Are you going to be moving around a lot? Will you be clamping the camera to a tripod held down by sandbags?
I think in terms of getting people to open up, capturing the fleeting and unexpected moments, the X100F is better than a DSLR.
Now you have to decide if that’s important to the way you work, and if you’re willing to spend money for that.
” I’m a morning person. I enjoy long walks at the park, reading, and cooking at home. ”
Whenever I read profile descriptions like that, I would scoff.
Like, unless you’re 104 years old, no one in real life is like that.
Every morning, my daughter would wake up at 6 am.
We know because she’s learned to crawl next to us, and she’s howling right into our faces.
Once I ‘snoozed’ myself long enough, I’d take her out to the closest coffee shop. (They know me and my order by heart now.)
That way, at least mum gets to sleep.
On my way back Hana would fall asleep for 30 minutes.
I sit at the park with a book, most likely borrowed from the library.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays we go to the market.
Victoria Markets is vastly different in the early mornings. I get ‘thank you’s and a full view of the fishes without being elbowed.
After 10 years, I can finally say that I know a ‘guy’ at a ‘shop’ who sells the best strawberries. Like, strawberry flavoured meat.
We started making pizza from scratch, we made tofu from scratch.
When I talk to my couples, I ask what they are cooking on their days off.
I have a digital folder of recipes now.
If I’m not out shooting, I’d be editing furiously for a couple of hours during the day.
Then I’d prep and cook dinner while mum bathes baby and get her to sleep.
And because we were up since 6 am, we’d hit the sack roughly by 9 pm.
I have become a morning person who enjoys taking long walks at the park, who reads and cooks at home.
Being a dad means my life has been distilled to a dating profile.
My past life is probably scoffing at me now.
Weirdly, I’m completely ok with that.