Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Taj Mumbai in 3-D

More photography related: I have been fooling around lately with a program for converting 2-D to 3-D images(anaglyphs) while awaiting arrival of a beam splitter for making true stereoscopic image pairs with my digital SLR. Here is a photo of a portion of the Taj Mumbai that I took in 2006. I converted it to 3-D using the program, which created a file of nearly 12 MB that I then resampled in Photoshop. It's not truly eye-popping, but I think it's not bad either. If you have a pair of 3-D glasses preferably red-blue (rather than red-cyan and definitely not red-green) you will get a nice effect with nearly true rendering of colors. If you don't have any glasses, even the cardboard kind, try putting an R60 infrared filter over your left eye and an 80A blue filter over your right eye --- it will work!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Israel-Arab Peaceful Coexistence

Another food and globalization post. I recently read of attempts by people to encourage a mass boycott of food products from Israel. Of course, boycotting Israel and boundless hatred for it is old-hat. I won't start on comparing/contrasting/weighing the rights and wrongs of Israel/Palestine versus the sum total of atrocities commmitted between 1937 and 1945, the Soviet Union pre-Kruschev, Mao's China in the late 50's and 60's-early 70's, genocidal conflicts in Africa and southeastern Europe, the Partition of the Punjab in 1947, Saddam's Iraq, the current imploding of Zimbabwe, and so on and so on. Such "weighing" is itself irrational and unjust. But I don't mind at all seeing the Israeli food products right next to products from Lebanon, Syria, and even first quality "Mecca Dates" from Saudi Arabia on the shelves of the ethnic grocery store. On the other hand, I do hate to think that this is the only place where their producers will ever peacefully coexist. What a shame, selfish hatreds. Can't stand it, can't stand the people who perpetuate them. Does that make me a hater too?

Outsourcing / Insourcing? What the IT Bachelors Eat

OK, so when the issue is one of a big company importing hundreds of IT workers from India on short-term visas, and undoubtedly paying them less than what their American college-graduate counterparts would require, I don't know which term to use. But since I am devoting so much of this blogspace to food ethnography, I might as well inform anyone who is interested as to just WHY we see --- in upscale Whole Foods and Trader Joe's as well as the humble Indo-Pak grocery stores and even more humble Job Lot/Salvage stores --- thousands of boxes of MREs made for the Indian Ministry of Defense. Must be for all those vegetarian South Asian college and graduate students who didn't grow up in the States, right? Well, sure. Or perhaps also: let's market authentic tasting (and that they are) Indian veg dishes to Americans who are interested in that sort of thing. Yeah, that too. But really, I suspect that they are mainly for the bachelors. The uncountable number of young Indian graduates who are employed by an uncountable number of companies here in the U.S. What self-respecting Indian housewife or Auntie or whoever other female is going to spend even $1.00 for a few ounces of something they could whip up a whole pot of for the same money? I am told on good authority that there are entire apartment buildings downtown inhabited by FOB bachelors, here just for a while. They show up, sans traditional clothing, at Navaratri celebrations and stick by the walls of the gym, adoring and jealous. I suppose that as long as India and Pakistan do not go to war, the surplus MREs will end up here. Which reminds me of the cornflakes made in Egypt that I found in a beach-town Dollar Store several years ago. Complete with red barn and rooster. Yes, that's right: surplus corn, a New World cereal grain, is being made into cornflakes in Egypt, where the average household income is about $700 per year, and they are being shipped for sale to North America. I'll have to find the box and write a post about it. Bottled sauces and other condiments from anywhere else in the world are one thing; there are unique recipes for limepickle and rooster sauce and whatnot. But those are from the pre-microwave age! This is a whole new era...

Globalization and the Potato Chip

Had a bit of free time last week to poke around nearby Indo-Pak groceries, but not just for buying. I am always on the lookout for material for my blog, which is really just the online expression of my interests including eating and photography, and anything related to the "hidden in plain sight" connections between the local and the global. So my little bit of fieldwork in food ethnography has yielded the following. World history teaches us that the humble potato made its way out of Peru about 500 years ago. We now find it virtually everywhere, and just as the image of Colonel Sanders has taken over that of Mao in China, when in India one could easily get the impression that the Frito-Lay logo is a national icon. Ma nahi samjha, I mean, like, one doesn't merely see bags of chips here and there, one sees them in every humble steet-side stall next to every other street-side stall providing internet service and other telecommunications (STDs!) and chewing gum. They are hanging splendiforously in multi-coloured rows, everywhere, like the fluttering sarees and dupattas in the mustard fields of a dozen or more Bollywood movies, each bag attached to the next and awaiting perforation by a buyer eager to taste "Rajasthani" or "Hyderabadi" flavors. Well, I already knew that I could buy the cheaper Indian version of Coca-Cola ("Thumbs Up") here in the States, and wondered why anyone would want to, including my son whose brief obsession for it abruptly ended when we discovered rot beneath the bottle cap. When we were in India, our group unanimously decided that the local no-brand and cheaper version of potato chips were much better than anything that Frito-Lay could muster, despite the efforts of Pepsico and Indra Nooryi. Don't get me started on water for Coca-Cola and what Monsanto has been up to in the subcontinent. Well, to get to the point, I was used to seeing the bags of New Jersey-made snacks (bhujia, etc.) also chaat like the Haldiram's brand made in the land of Horn OK Please / Mera Bharat Mahan, but I was completely unprepared for the latest arrival: FRITO-LAYS AMERICAN STYLE CREAM AND ONION, 2.8 0z. for 20 Rupees (less than 50 cents) in India and $1.39 here!!! Yeah, it costs a lot to get all those bags onto container ships and distributed to stores 10,000 miles away!!! For radicals who think it's bad enough that Frito-Lay is even in India or KFC in China this must surely be the tipping point! Let slip the dogs of war! Well, yes, of course I bought a bag. I had to taste and see, especially since they were labelled "Snack Smart" with 0 transfats (so we're globalizing fitness as well, I guess). What's next? Cream-free dal dishes and artificial substitutes for ghee? For the unbelievers, I attach a photo. There they were, right next to the Israeli pretzels and the Indian-made fried chickpeas (I guess the pretzels are justifiable because of the laws of Kashrut; if Manischewitz made them here I am sure they would taste awful and have to say something on the label like "Made in a plant that also processes carp, shmaltz, and horseradish"). More food for thought, from the smorgasbord of my mind.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai & the Taj Mahal Hotel

In the summer of '06, in the company of 14 other American educators I was privileged to travel for six weeks throughout India. Of course, in Mumbai we visited India Gate, on the Arabian Sea, standing for a while across from the architecturally magnificent Taj hotel. I had a Taj hotel story to tell, involving my mother-in-law and her family, Jews who fled Vienna when it came under Nazi rule in March 1938. They went first to Paris, where her father re-opened his business as an agent who booked entertainment for venues all over the world (much later, as a refugee in New York, he arranged for all of those European jugglers and acrobats who appeared on the Ed Sullivan show that I watched as a kid, unaware of course that I would eventually marry his granddaughter). Needless to say, in Paris they needed to rebuild their lives and resources. Before I went to India, my mother-in-law ("Oma" to my children), told me about a "Mr. Bannerjee" who was a Manager at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. He played a key role in money transfers to her father, avoiding the Austrian banks that were now "Aryanized" by Nazis who,led by the infamous Eichmann, immediately began to terrorize and incarcerate Jews (My father-in-law and his brother were sent to Dauchau; he survived, but my wife's uncle was eventually transferred to Buchenwald and murdered by his captors). So, as I stood before the Taj, I couldn't help but marvel not only at the site but also ponder my personal connection to its past. And now, we hear of the victimization of Jews in Mumbai as well. As a survivor of terrorism myself, I would hope that readers of this post understand that just as the Holocaust was no "mystery", as some would have it, neither is the source of the violence that has been plaguing India, Israel, and other parts of the world for years if not decades. Whatever the injustices of the past and present, there is nothing that justifies these atrocities committed in the name of religion. And what will it bring? Further atrocities and a cycle of revenge? What, I ask, is "the first cause" of this cycle? The answer lies in insane ideologies, especially religious but also nationalist. To be sure, we may all, for justifiable reasons, be driven to madness. But now I also wonder: what will the apologists for those who have committed this violence in Mumbai write in the coming days? That it is "senseless" and has nothing to do with "a real and true" religion? That it is the "natural reaction" of disaffected and victimized youth? That it is a conspiracy hatched by you know who you know who and you know who? Everyone but the guilty are guilty, it seems. Enough already. Of course, I don't have an answer. But it seems now that the Indian Government must, in a unified way, act hard on two fronts: one, against the sources of this violence, no matter where it leads; and two, to prevent its own citizens from rising up against one another in communal violence. This is a new chapter, a new phase, and it demands action.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bollywood Perfection

You must watch, by whatever means you can, the "Krishna's Birthday" scene from Laagan (2001), which was India's Oscar entry for best foreign film that year. The lead male dances as if he were Sri Krsna the cowherder and beloved of all the cowherdesses (gopis) simultaneously. Hence the flute playing gestures which replicate paintings of Krishna, and the jealousy of Radha, his divine consort. The religious theme is transposed to a 19th century village setting in which a village girl finds that she must compete for the attention of the male lead (Aamir Khan, not insignificantly an actor of Muslim heritage dancing as Krishna) upon whom the eyes of a British white lady have also fallen. Many Bollywood films are cheesy, many are worthwhile. This, by the director of the also magnificent Swades (2004), is one of the best.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Two More VERY MODEST examples of "decisive moments" in Photography

Both of these pictures were taken in London, in February. The first is a composition that presented itself to me as dusk was approaching, in Trafalgar Square. It is of interest only because it has eight people in it all caught at an instant when they were "doing something," however trivial. Of course, we are all always "doing something." But in this case, although the photograph is admittedly mediocre, I think that both the composition and timing were just right. Of course, if most of the subjects were doing even more interesting things, besides just trying to relax or get into a good pose for taking pictures of their own, then it would be a better shot. The second photo is of my son playing a hand-held video game while we were on the Bakerloo line of the Underground. The older man seated next to him is most likely unfamiliar with the Nintendo DS, and was wondering what on earth my son was doing. In this shot, it is the cast of the gentleman's eyes and the expression on his face that makes it (almost) a fine "people pic". I DO have better examples but I will need more time to use a film scanner and get some older material digitized. My aim, at this moment, is simply to elaborate on my ideas about what makes one photograph better than another. And, to reiterate, I make no claims of greatness here! Both of these were taken with the Leica M8. If you are using any kind of advanced digital camera, and the controls allow it, some good rules of thumb would include: (1) GET THE "WHITE BALANCE" OFF OF THE "AUTOMATIC" SETTING and adjust it for the type of light conditions. And (2) set the camera to produce two images of simultaneously, BOTH a JPEG Fine at the best possible resolution and a "RAW" of NEF or DNG image. You are going to need larger capacity and higher speed memory cards for this!

Monday, May 5, 2008

"The Decisive Moment" in People Photography: A Modest Example

OK, back to tips, FWIW, about people pictures. Please do not misunderstand, I cannot and do not produce images like those made by Henri Cartier-Bresson or some of the other great people / street photographers whom I admire tremendously, such as Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, Garry Winogrand, Ruth Orkin, and Margaret Bourke-White. Another disclaimer is that I am no expert when it comes to technical matters about cameras per se. I got a Brownie when I was about 11 and was instantly hooked. It is easy to forget that the photographer takes the picture, not the camera. If I came off like a Leica snob in my last post, I am sorry. But let's be realistic, you are probably NOT going to go out an get a fine old used film camera, a bunch of used lenses of different focal lengths, and have everything professionally cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted, even though it would be REALLY REALLY SMART of you to do so! It's hard carrying all that heavy equipment around. But, please, don't follow the crowd, and definitely listen "with a grain of salt" to the salesperson in the camera store (especially if its a national chain store and not an independent dealer) because they have inventory they gotta move to make room for the new stuff that is coming in all the time! And, as for most (young) people with their tiny digital cameras, please try to remember that most of their pictures are (a) poorly composed and exposed, (b) vanity shots of their friends being BFFs, pretending to be hot models, or sticking their tongues out, (c) produced by cameras they they think of as fashion accessories rather than as image-making tools, and (d) less important than the convenience and instant gratification that the digital medium provides. YOU, on the other hand, are much smarter than they are! You have a worldview and wish to document it photographically. My last post stressed the merits of the Leica or other rangefinder type of camera for street photography because they are quiet and have a shutter that operates more in "real time," with virtually no lag or waiting between the instant that you see the image that you want to capture, and the instant of exposure. Whether the exposure you are making is on ye olde film or on a digital sensor both does and does not matter, but let's be realistic. You're going to get a digital SLR: there are a gazillion of them out there and they are improving all the time (and hence. nota bene, also becoming relatively obsolete more quickly). But even with all their merits, DSLRs are still relatively noisy and, for the purposes of streeet / people photography, inconveniently conspicuous beasts, particularly when fitted with long lenses. OK, enough about that. Have a look at this picture of the two guys that I took in the "Old City" of Jerusalem about 40 years ago. My camera was a Kodak Retina rangefinder, probably set to f5.6 or f8, loaded with ASA 400 Tri-X, and focused at the "hyperfocal distance." I had to be very surreptitious for this one. Their expressions were great. It was A DECISIVE MOMENT! I got a good shot, but as soon as they realized that I had just taken their picture, they got really angry about it! Nothing bad ensued, they didn't come running after me. My point is simply that you have to act fast, and you need equipment that facilitates it. A propos, after tens of thousands of shutter clicks, I am certain that my BEST photos ever were taken: on low ASA speed black and white or color film, low ASA speed slide film, Kodachrome or Ektachrome, without automatic metering,and on clunky slow equipment like the rangefinders or various Rolleiflex or other TLRs. 'Nuff said, for now, more later.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

My First "How to Take Better People Photos" Tip

Unless you are very lucky, I believe it that is very difficult, if not impossible, to get good candid street photos of people with a simple "point and shoot" digital camera. You want to learn how to take better pictures because you feel that you are a good observer of the world around you, especially of the human element, and would like to document your worldview through images of your own making. However, it is highly unrealistic to expect your "perfect subject doing the perfect thing at the perfect moment" to wait for you while you hold your pocket-sized silver electronic whirring gizmo up in the air and move it around while looking at the viewing screen! You may get lucky and get a great "grab shot" with a digital point and shoot, but if you are serious about street photography, what you really want to do is to increase the odds in your favor of getting a great result every time you push the shutter button. The good news is that this can be done with a digital camera, but YOU WILL HAVE TO TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN HOW TO USE AND ACQUIRE A DSLR --- i.e., a "digital single-lens reflex" camera with an optical "see through the lens" viewfinder (screen viewing is still there, but it's how you see your results, not how you take your picture!) Your attention (eye) should never move away from your subject! Classically, the finest or most famous pictures of this "street" or people type were taken with rangefinder film cameras, with aperture (size of lens opening) and shutter speeds (amount of light let in to expose the film) generally preset for the type of film and lighting conditions. The most famous street photogapher of all, Henri Cartier-Bresson, is reputed to have used only a Leica brand camera and the Leica/Leitz 50mm ("normal") lens, probably also preset at what is known as "hyperfocal" distance so that he wouldn't have to worry about taking too much time to focus. Think of it as kind of a "shooting from the hip" manoeuver, done very quickly and, in the hands of a great artist, surreptitiously. Cartier-Bresson's pictures were all shot on black and white film at what he called "the decisive moment," and he didn't want to waste time fadoodling with his equipment! Of course, he also needed luck and had to take at least two or three shots of the same subject in order to get one final picture that was good or even better. The Leica and other brands of rangefinder film cameras are far from obsolete. While newer model Leicas (and there is a digital version of the classic "M", not to be confused with any of their "Digilux" cameras) are obscenely expensive, there are older models and lenses and other brands of rangefinders available on the used market at very reasonable prices, considering the mechanical and optical quality of the equipment. Why do I recommend the Leica or other type of rangefinder film camera most of all? First big reason number one is BECAUSE THE SHUTTER IS VIRTUALLY SILENT! In plain English, this means that when you "click" the button, the camera makes no noise. Unlike SLR (single-lens reflex) film cameras with prisms and mirrors, the rangefinder has no internal parts that have to move out of the (film's) way when you shoot. When you are traveling and want to take candid photos of people, you certainly don't want their attention called to you taking their picture by a camera that makes a lot of noise, right? Of course not! Big reason number two for using a Leica or other brand of rangefinder camera (Zeiss, Contax, Konica; many like the vintage Kodak Retinas and a host of others can be had almost for "a song" nowadays) is BECAUSE THE PICTURE IS TAKEN EXACTLY WHEN YOU CLICK THE SHUTTER, IN "REAL TIME!" Therefore, even though the amount of time involved is minute, with a rangefinder there is more of a chance that you can catch your perfect subject doing the perfect thing at the perfect moment. NOW LET'S GET REALISTIC. You probably don't want to use film. OK, but you will have to take the time to explore the optical and image-stablization qualities of the many DSLRs that are on the market, as well as the size of the prints (enlargements) that will eventually be making of your best work. Yes, film is obsolete as much to the professional wedding photographer as it is to the average consumer, but it still takes about 20 million megapixels using a full frame digital sensor to get the quality (amount of "recorded information") that we used to get using SLR cameras loaded with rolls of ye olde print or slide film. Don't worry about what that means. Just keep in mind that the pros have the cashflow in order to acquire the highest-end digital Canons and Nikons, which they also have to replace more often. THE BOTTOM LINE: at the very least, start learning about digital SLR's, which will only improve as time goes by. Even better, in my opinion, is to check out rangefinder options. Google some photo forums and check out used equipment inventories of major dealers (like B&H Photo in New York). Even finding an old SLR film camera that hasn't been used in years and getting it cleaned and adjusted is better than using a digital point and shoot! You don't have to print out all your film photos, just develop the negatives and have a "contact sheet" made! Then can custom print and enlarge the really great one(s)!!! Enough for now. More later, with illustrated examples. Oh, and if you can afford the digital Leica M8, the company is working on an upgrade to make the shutter more silent because it isn't as quiet as the film models were...this is a big deal to certain people.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Travel Photos & People Photos

Because I am an avid amateur photographer, and fortunate to have visited and lived in many places throughout the world, I have decided to add album pages of some of my best travel photos and people photos to this site. These will include pictures from India, Israel, China, Morocco, Egypt and many others taken over the years in the U.S. (the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Taos, Alaska, Navaratri celebrations of Indian NRI Gujarati community) and Europe (London, Oxford, Scotland, Paris...). I may even try to get some of my American Southwest 3D Stereo Views uploaded, for visitor who know how to make their eyes cross in order to "freeview" pueblos and desert panoramas! I also anticipate adding photography tips and "how to take better travel picture" tips in general. The cameras I use are either my old standby Nikon F, Leica M7 rangefinder, twin-lens Rolleiflex, or the new Leica digital M8. But the tips will be relevant to anyone who simply wants better results with their camera, especially when taking street shots of people. Visitors may link to album pages that I have uploaded to date by clicking on the link above, "My Travel & People Photos." As time permits, I will add many more album pages. Visitors who wish to order copies and / or custom framed enlargements of my work for decorating their home or workplace / office spaces may e-mail me at any time to make arrangements for doing so.