On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I was trapped in a lift for the first
time in my life.
For the first five minutes, I was confident that the doors would
open and I could go on with my life. That did not happen.
It took another 15 minutes of frantic ringing of the alarm and banging
on the door before a human voice came over the intercom. Help was
on the way, he assured me.
I sat down to rest and wait. Suddenly, I remembered that the deadline
for this column was due in two days.
My thoughts were interrupted when a voice came from behind the doors
wanting to know which floor I was at. How was I supposed to know?
I was trapped in the lift, remember?
Surely there must be technologies that could alert the lift maintenance
company when a unit has broken down, or just when it is about to
break down? Or there must be some way in which the security guard
could determine on which floor the lift has stopped, without having
to ask me. And with advances in telecommunications, why couldn’t
my cellphone work in the lift?
Was my one-hour ordeal justified?
I think it is time we talk about a technology update.
I have, for the most part of my professional career, been careful
about not becoming a gear-head. When most of my peers were embracing
digital, I stood by film, swearing only to jump on the bandwagon
when the terms were right. My conditions included a true one-to-one
image ratio plus standard professional features, at current SLR
A wise friend, Tan Kah Heng, who heard about my daydream, told me
quite bluntly that I could dream forever. “It is not going
to happen, buddy,” he said.
I guessed he couldn’t be wrong, since he has been consulting
for a major camera brand.
I would be lying to say that I understood all the technical information
he tried to load onto my limited brain, but I was convinced enough
by his knowledge.
To cut the story short, I have since begun a digital collaboration
John Cosgrove, another good friend, had a field day poking fun at
me when he heard about my change of heart. “I thought you
said digital doesn’t work!”
Well John, seeing is believing. Blame yourself for not spending
more time educating me ;)
The truth is I am probably a techno-snob and a techno-phobic at
the same time.
In junior college, I had sworn never to touch a computer. I am now
into my sixth Apple. I have been scanning and making digital prints
for more than 10 years, but I just resisted going fully digital.
While I have crafted one of the most comprehensive conventional-to-digital
conversion plans for my former employer, I have never really tried
to learn how to use a digital SLR.
But after seeing one of my first digital images, enlarged to a stunning
30 x 20 inches, I was completely sold.
To this day, I thank my lucky stars that there were good friends
along the way who helped to make my transition as painless as possible.
One of them formatted the compact flash card for me so that I could
start using the camera. Others explained the differences between
RAW and TIFF formats.
My brainwashing was finally completed when my long time associate,
Chris Yap, whom I first met at Fotohub, patiently gave me a few
precious lessons on digital file management.
One thing I have learnt for sure: though I have long subscribed
to the belief that technology does not kill creativity, I have not
always taken this belief a step further, which is to use technology
Mobile phones were invented so that we can be contactable at all
places (except in my lift of course) and at all times, but does
that mean we should be driving and talking at the same time? Even
with hands-free sets, I strongly advise against it.
Fortunately for me, my supporters at Olympus have taken an enlightened
position with regards to our collaboration. Apart from obvious conflicts
of interest, I am free to use any other camera brands or formats,
as long as the choice is good for my photography.
When women are upset, they go shopping. Men, fortunately, don’t
need that excuse. We just have to convince ourselves that we need
to spend, and then convince ourselves that we can convince the women.
In a related round of upgrading, I finally installed wireless Internet
access at home and moved up to a G4 PowerBook.
Now, having spent the money, I just had to wait for the right opportunity
to justify the spending frenzy. And thanks to JP Pappis of Polaris
Images, I didn’t have to wait too long.
A few days ago, near the close of midnight, I received a call from
Pappis, president & founder of one of the world’s premier
photo agencies, based in New York City.
He wanted to know if I was available to do a magazine assignment
in Singapore the next evening and have the images transmitted to
the agency by the following morning.
I had worked with Pappis before on several other occasions but each
time, it was a nightmare simply because I didn't have the right
But this time, I confidently accepted the job.
Armed with my new digital gear, I met up with my subject, veteran
bodybuilder Ching Teng Soon. We shot for a while at his gym, before
proceeding to make some outdoor environmental portraits on a small
hill nearby. After that, we went to his flat, where I recopied a
few of his old pictures.
Two hours later, I was back in the western side of the island, sitting
comfortably at home in an armchair and editing my images.
Another two hours later, I had finished transmitting 22 high-res
images to Polaris, complete with captions. That was at about 8 am
in New York City, and I was almost 12 hours ahead of deadline.
In my pre-digital days, I would probably still be scanning my images
at midnight. As a result, I lost quite a few jobs and opportunities.
Sometimes, we have to be grateful to the Singapore Government. It
is always coming up with great campaigns and slogans.
I don’t think I would qualify for any of the Lifelong Learning
Awards, but it sure feels like the tagline at the Singapore Learning
Festival 2003 website, “A year of challenges and learning
to adapt to change”, was written exactly for people like me.
Since we are still new in the year, I should set some 2004 learning
Top of the list is to learn how to make mobile phones work in my
column first appeared in Grain Magazine.