I bought a giant film camera.
My first ever 6×7.
Just for Hana’s birthday.
I have to admit the motive is very self-serving.
I wanted to create this tangible memory which I think all parents should do, and she probably couldn’t care less.
But this whole experience, shopping on the internet, accidentally exposing the last couple of frames, then looking for a lab in Fukuoka, which led me to Akasaka and an even more charming shop with a cafe attached, is all thanks to fatherhood.
It made me realise film photography is always about the process*.
When I receive my scans and a handwritten thank you note, it made the experience more memorable.
Just like life.
*After I posted this, I found out Hana has destroyed my cute little thank you note.
So another lesson learnt: all beautiful things are shortlived as a dad if you don’t pick up after yourself.
For the last two days, I’ve been to maybe six cafes.
All of them look like a parody of a movie set, except that it isn’t.
People around here really live like a Monocle magazine.
Everyone thinks they’re a good photographer in Tokyo.
What we don’t realise is that the language of the city makes it so.
The chaotic interactions, the contrast between old and new, the typography, the beautiful people, the architecture and spacial design create endless opportunities.
Real photographers know it actually takes a certain special talent to screw up a photo in Tokyo.
An old man yelled at me in Comme Des Garçons, forbidding me to photograph a bunch of broken mannequins on the floor.
He was wearing a skirt.
So I walked out and took the photo from the other side of the display window.
I never had any good retail experience with high-end fashion Tokyo.
Last time in Beams a guy warned me NOT to dirty the clothes when trying them on.
Once a Leica shop guy hinted that their product might be out of my budget.
The thing about fashion is that everything operates around skin-deep appearances.
And it goes against everything I was taught my whole life.
I have developed a relationship with Kamiyama street.
It’s a straight walk all the way from Shibuya station to Yoyogi Park station.
It’s a nice little street, but bear in mind having a quiet alley in Shibuya is no small feat.
Like having a nice little street in the middle of New York.
I might be biased since where I stay is extremely close by, but that’s how a relationship is formed.
I took Aiko to Shin sushi for lunch to thank her for her hospitality.
We had the standard 12-piece nigiri course and everything was on point.
I liked how the chef basically self-learned and didn’t have to go through 25 years of rice washing.
Maybe that’s why the place was English friendly and approachable.
I didn’t have to make a booking six month in advance or ask a hotel concierge or pay $600 or feel like I need to obey some rules from the sushi god.
Food is food.
When you’re excluding customer to dine at your place, you’re no longer a restaurant; just an elitist country club.
Aiko made a booking for me at Nodaiwa because I wanted to have unagi.
Because of that, I got to explore Shimonokitazawa.
I video-called Chika and Hana as I wandered the streets as I really wanted to share the walk with them.
Like an RPG town, it was like a miniature of Shibuya without the tourists and annoying flyer-handlers.
I managed to stumble across Negi Ramen and took no hesitation to buy a ticket.
The style appealed to me because they use anchovies similar to ikan bilis in Malaysia.
This Tokyo trip has been thoroughly low gear.
In the past, as I visited Tokyo, I usually experience a wave of excitement then jealousy which then turns into anger and despair.
Hoping to be more fashionable, more good-looking, more affluent, more creative.
This time I’m kinda proud I walked through most of Tokyo in my sandals and shorts.
You can keep your cool; I’m happy with my daggyness.
A highlight of this trip was having a bento meal with a university friend and her son in a park near Kichijoji.
It was short but sweet and sufficient.
The older I get, the more I cherish small interactions that are hard to come by.
And when I leave later today, I’ll be leaving to see my wife and daughter.
There’s no downside at all.
A great designer once said:
We might think typography is black and white; but it’s actually white.
It’s not even black – it’s the space between the blacks that really makes it.
What he meant was the space between elements are more important to the whole equation of design.
I think a relationship is the same.
Spending time apart from my family recently helped me realise, no, solidify its importance.
I was chatting with my dad this afternoon and he asked how I’m coping with bachelor’s life.
I thought it’s more like a widower’s life.
Since becoming a father I realised days are long, but years are short.
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.