Monday, December 31, 2007
No blog could ever be popular without people who read it regularly and comment on it every day, just as no book would be a bestseller if people didn't buy it. So it is with great gratitude that I say to all of you that this blog probably wouldn't exist without your support. A few hours ago, I received my 50,000 hit - an appropriate milestone on the last day of the year. My very humble thanks to all of you for your support. I'm also on the verge of my 85,000th page view, and my Technorati authority is 252 and climbing. It's all thanks to you ....
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
As I said a few weeks ago, today is The Great Aussie Christmas Bash. It's all explained in the post You're All Invited. Everyone's invited and you don't need to travel anywhere. It's an e-party and it's happening here. It starts now, because it's the morning of 27 December here in Melbourne - and it continues for almost two days, until it clicks over to midnight on 27-28 December in the US and Canada. Drop in, leave a comment and enjoy!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
For the myriad cricket fans out there, here are some random observations from the first day of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Do let me know if you agree - irrespective of the fact that when I was in my twenties, I was fortunate enough to be an international cricket writer.
* This India-Australia series is the most important battle of the year.
* Bravo, India, for taking five top-order wickets for just 106 runs (Jaques, Hayde, Ponting, Hussey and Clarke) to reduce the home side from 135-1 to 241-5.
* Any Test side would be fairly comfortable at 276-5, but when Australia loses its top order for less than 300, it is big news.
When our kids were little, we took great care to remind them that despite the hoopla of Christmas and gift-giving (hey, who doesn't love a Christmas gift!!) the real celebration is of a humble birth in a stable, where the first-time mother was surrounded by hay and animals. This Christmas tableau commemorating those scenes was on Orchard Road, Singapore. The real achievement here was in hitting the shutter when there was not a single person walking in front of the tableau, simply gazing at it or even photographing it. Believe me, that is some feat! From my family to yours, I hope you have a great Christmas with people who matter.
Monday, December 24, 2007
The second shot (above) was also taken from the sweeping semi-circular driveway and gives you some idea of the size of the bow. The arched windows are about fifteen to eighteen feet tall (between five and six metres) from the topmost point of the arch to the bottom of the window. When you think about it, the weight of those decorations would be considerable. I guess they would need specialists to put them up, with considerable skill and great dexterity.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The second shot (above) was taken about three minutes later and it's a much tighter frame of the same scene. Can you see anything unusual? There is just the slightest hint of something, if you look really carefully!
Friday, December 21, 2007
Here I am at Changi airport in Singapore, waiting for my flight back to Melbourne. The past week has been a whirlwind across three countries and now I'm finally on my way home for Christmas. I'm writing this post at an airport cafe and even though it's 6.30 in the morning, the airport is buzzing. At my feet is my cabin bag, containing my laptop, SD memory cards and camera.
I've been backing up my photographs throughout the trip and if my maths is as good as it used to be, I've shot about 2000 images since I left home. I have many sights to share and many tales to tell, so I guess this blog is going to be quite busy after I get home. Stay tuned and I hope you all have a great time leading up to Christmas. Meanwhile, I have a window seat for my connecting flight to Melbourne, so I'll be looking out for Santa's sleigh all the way home.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Like George Washington telling his father about the cherry tree, I simply have to confess to you, my gentle readers, that I flunked the ultimate test yesterday. I almost failed to cross an Indian road. It's a veritable art form, as I know so well. It can be a foxtrot without a partner, because you have to be fleet of foot, you have to be nimble and you have to occasionally sidestep and pirouette. Like dancing, you can sometimes fall flat on your backside.
Yesterday I airily tried to cross a narrow street here in Dehra Dun - and almost landed in ungainly fashion on my butt. I negotiated the first side of the street, with traffic coming from my right. Then I was almost ninety per cent across the second side of the street, with traffic coming from my left. And at that precise point of time, a motorcyclist roared past me, forcing me to retreat like a quickstep from Torvill and Dean.
How did I make such a basic error? I didn't. The motorcyclist was ignoring all rule of road decency and going the wrong way, at high speed. It was such a close shave I guess I can put my razor away for tomorrow.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Here is another shot taken out of the window of our four-wheel-drive as it sped up the narrow highway from New Delhi to Dehra Dun on Sunday morning. I had my Pentax around my neck right through the journey and would gladly have stopped at least two hundred times to capture each sight I saw. But we had a long journey to make and this entire series of images was a real test of my skill, resilience and anticipation.
Try framing a shot through the open window of a moving vehicle and you'll understand what I mean. Apart from our speed, there was also the slight juddering across the often uneven surface of the highway (or the road shoulder) when I struggled to keep the camera steady in my right hand, using my left hand as a makeshift tripod.
This was taken just outside New Delhi. The pullovers (jumpers, we call them in Australia) are all hand-knitted and I guess the reason they are displayed in this fashion is to catch the attention of travellers or truck drivers who are slowly succumbing to the bitter cold that grips northern India at this time of year.
You'll never see a display showroom quite like this!
On Monday we were guests at the Indian Military Academy here in Dehra Dun. We were on our way from a splendid DVD presentation about the history and the aims of the academy, to be ushered into the magnificent Chetwood Hall. I stopped as everyone else walked on. My attention had been caught by this sight, a simple hallway lit by the mid-morning sunshine, with reflections rippling across the polished tiles.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
For someone like me, being back in India is like returning to the comforting embrace of an old favourite blanket. It smells familiar. It feels familiar. Its rustle is familiar. I slip into it instantly. I revel in it. This country is where life began for me. This is where I was blessed with an education and an upbringing to cherish as long as I live.
I come here now - as I have several times in the past twenty years - with an Australian passport and a neutral accent that I call a "United Nations accent" because it is hard to place and has inflections that hint of a global upbringing. I come here with an open heart and an open mind. I revel in returning to this wonderful country.
This photograph was taken on Sunday morning, along the narrow two-lane highway from the Indian capital, New Delhi, to the hill town of Dehra Dun in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state. It is a slow procession of bullock carts, impossibly laden but proceeding with stately elegance and steady pace (if you can call it pace) up from the vast historic plains where the three battles of Panipat were fought, centuries ago.
As a child, I was fortunate to make many road trips across this land. But this journey is somehow symbolic. Now I am a novelist and I am a photographer. Now I am in a part of the country where I have never been before. Now it is my pleasure to chronicle the Garhwal hills and to capture the sights that caught my attention as a schoolboy. This slow, creaking convoy is one of thousands, every day, every week, every month. This photograph salutes all the bullock-cart drivers who take their cargo wherever it is required. This image is my salute to them.
You're wondering why I'm on the other side of the world, high in the Garwahl hills of northern India? You reckon I should be back home in Melbourne, getting ready for the gastronomic delights of the Yuletide season? But there is a simple explanation. I'm in India for four days because my nephew is getting married tomorrow. This is a part of India I've never been to before. Last night we were up in the old British hill station of Mussoorie, where the temperature was just one degree and where it had snowed a couple of days earlier. I'm typing this on a recalcitrant keyboard in a cyber cafe in Dehra Dun, where the door is open and all the familiar sights and sounds of this country have embraced me again, like a faithful old friend.
Monday, December 17, 2007
- If you got the chance to go back to your childhood, whom would you like to say thank you to?
- When did you last write or receive a love letter?
Sunday, December 16, 2007
You know my credo about always having a camera with arm's reach? Each flight I've taken on this trip, I've had the camera at my side. This shot was taken about ninety minutes before my Singapore Airlines flight landed in New Delhi a few hours ago. Look carefully at the leading edge of the wing, near past the engine nacelle - and you'll see a delicate reflection of the colours in the sky.
About fifteen minutes before I took this shot, I was gazing out over the wing. I suddenly spotted a little silvery-white object reflected on the surface of the wing, moving from left to right. Realising that the reflection could only be caused by something above us, I looked up. And there, maybe a thousand metres above us and travelling in the opposite direction was a mid-size jet, about the size of a Gulfstream.
You're thinking: did I get the picture? Er, no. Even though I had my camera with me, I had my meal on my tray and I didn't have time to get the camera out of the case, get the lens cover off and fire off a couple of frames. It would have been a really rare shot in wonderful light conditions, because the Gulfstream's silver fuselage was reflecting the light of the setting sun.
But when you figure the nitty-gritty, the combined speed of both flights would have been well in excess of a thousand kilometres an hour, so I had only a couple of seconds to juggle my meal tray, and extricate the camera and switch it on. Maybe I should have taken a circus performer's course in juggling. And perhaps majored in Contortionism 101 as well.
PS: I did chuckle at Terry Fletcher's footnote a few hours ago, saying that I'm like a whirlwind. He's probably right, but this is one whirlwind that gets a lot of fun out of life!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I recently attended a function hosted by the Peruvian Tourism authorities and all of us were given this little memento. It is a brightly coloured box, but when you open the little wooden doors, you see this miniature tableau inside. The bright patterns on both sides of this display are actually the doors after they are swung open. To me, it was a fascinating glimpse of a culture I would love to experience, both as a writer and as a photographer.
Sometimes you get an interesting photograph in a place where you least expect it. This was taken in a shop that sells sewing machines. I was intrigued by the way the cotton reels were displayed with military precision. I could have zoomed in close, but I thought a more open frame was better suited to this shot.
Take a close look. A really close look. Tell me what you see. You've been REALLY observant? Okay, so you noticed the protruding white rods. You noticed the black reels. You noticed the array of colours. Ah, but did you notice the shadows that add such a discreet dimension to the scene? Did you really? Leave me a comment and 'fess up ...
Burnley Football Club in the UK had to call air traffic control after a promotional blimp was cut free during its maiden flight. The blimp, proudly displaying the club crest, was flown above Turf Moor ahead of the match against Queens Park Rangers. But within 90 minutes of it taking off, someone had scaled a wall, climbed on to the container it was attached to and cut through the reinforced steel tether. Experts said the helium-filled balloon could have travelled as far as Scotland. The club alerted air traffic control over the incident and the matter has been reported to the police. Footage from CCTV cameras, which sweep the car park where the balloon was tethered, did not capture the incident.
FOOTNOTE: Up, up and away.
Cap that ...
Here is your personal invitation to my e-bash on 27 December. If you are looking at it, you've received it, and it is impossible to lose. So relax, but make sure you mark the date in your calendar.
Mouse-over the invitation for some visual confusion!
Friday, December 14, 2007
Former US presidents are used to heckling, but from a robot? Bill Clinton was speaking in Iowa City this week when a man dressed in a silver metallic suit demanded that the former White House resident apologise for a comment he made in 1992 about a rapper named Sister Souljah, and then threw coloured cards into the air. As the protester was being escorted out of the room, Clinton told him he needed to find a more environmentally friendly way to protest.
FOOTNOTE: Hi-ho, Silver robot, away.
Michael Schumacher can add the unofficial title of Germany's fastest taxi driver to his other achievements after taking over behind the wheel to get his family to the airport on time. The retired Formula One champion drove the cab back to the airport himself after a trip out to the village of Gehuelz, near Coburg in southern Germany, left the family short of time to make their flight home. "It was crazy having Schumi driving, with me in the passenger seat," the taxi driver was quoted as saying. The seven-time world champion, who stopped racing last year, gave the driver a 100 euro tip on top of the 60 euro fare.
This shot was taken in the city of Ballarat, in central Victoria. I was just fascinated by the sight of this lamp in a brick laneway beside McDonald's on historic Bakery Hill. Take a close look at the wrought iron frame that supports the lamp. It was probably cast in a local forge by some long-forgotten artisan. It's that sort of history that makes me stop and think. This photograph is not simply a chance to capture an unusual combination of ochre and black, but also a salute to the craftsman whose work is still beautiful in the twenty-first century.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Sometimes, assumptions can come completely unstuck. Yep, even assumptions made on the basis of what might seem perfect logic.
Consider this case. It was back in the days when I lived in India and edited a weekly sports magazine for a large media organisation. I was about twenty-four years old. At that stage, I rode a motorbike and wore one of the first locally manufactured full-face helmets. It was a Studds helmet, produced in Madras and after a couple of years, the sliding visor cracked when someone dropped a cricket bat on it.
The only way to replace it was to take the helmet all the way to Madras and have a new visor fitted by the Studds staff. Because I travelled a great deal, it was not long before I found myself booked on a flight for a two-day trip to Madras. I took an overnight bag with me, and carried the helmet in my hand. A very good friend of mine, the late sports journalist Ashok Kamath, met me at Madras airport and we walked out in deep conversation.
At the exit, someone asked me something in Tamil, a language I do not speak. The man was immediately rebuked by someone standing next to him. As we walked past them I asked Ashok what had just transpired. He chuckled and gave me a translation.
The first man had asked me if I wanted a cab or an auto-rickshaw. The second man had chided him for his apparent stupidity. ``Don’t you have eyes? The fellow is carrying a helmet, so he obviously has a motorcycle parked outside.’’
Perfectly logical. But oh, so wrong.
As a little boy, I used to be fascinated by geography and by the sight of a large world globe that used to rotate on its axis. Little did I realise that before I reached the age of 25, my dream career as a sportswriter would take me to many of the exotic and historic places I first encountered on that globe.
This globe can be seen at Southbank in Melbourne. It often rotates and always catches my attention when I walk down the graceful curved staircase to the riverside promenade. Because I always like to explore angles with my photography, this shot is taken with an unusual perspective. Instead of shooting the globe while walking down the stairs, I took this with my back to the promenade, shooting straight up.
It's the only time you'll get this view of the world - unless you join NASA's astronaut programme.
Looks menacing, doesn't it? A giant golden bee looking down over a Melbourne building could spell trouble for everyone. Is it a spelling bee? No. It's one of a giant swarm ....
On the side of the building, it looks as though they have taken over the entire premises. Should we ring for the emergency services? Each bee is about nine feet long. Officer, this could be an eleborate sting.
Naaaah, relax. A couple of days ago, the giant golden bees were hoisted into place above the main entrance to Eureka Towers - by crane, naturally. They are part of an outstanding art installation commissioned by the building's architect, Nonda Katsalidis.
Gotta love it when a photographer solves a mystery. The owners of a trout farm in England were left baffled when fish kept going missing. But then a wildlife photographer caught their extraordinary escape route on camera. Swimming against the current, the trout make their escape from the farm. Photographer Dennis Bright snapped the trout making giant leaps out of their pond straight into the metal feed pipe three feet above the water level. They then fought against the current for 30 feet until they reached the end of the eight inch-wide pipe, which emerges underwater in a tributary of the River Itchen. To see his photograph, go to Telegraph.co.uk.
FOOTNOTE: Current affairs.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Something was not quite right here. I should have been instantly suspicious. But I think when I was born, someone disconnected the be-wary-of-traps circuitry in my brain - or what passes for a brain.
Did the car move for you too? Police in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, have set up a permanent patrol on a hill after a spate of accidents in which young lovers have sent their cars over the edge. In some cases hand brakes have been knocked free. In the latest incident, a couple parked on the hill but their car went over the edge and hurtled 10 metres (about 30 feet) down the slope and into the Miljacka River. The naked lovers were rescued by passers-by.
FOOTNOTE: River dunce (with apologies to Michael Flatley).
Italian investigators have busted a ring of mozzarella-loving cops who demanded bribes from motorists. Officers in the Campagnia region, which is famous for its mozzarella, stopped cheese delivery vans and forced them to hand over produce or face hefty fines. The police are thought to have used the cheese for their own consumption. Italy's Interior Ministry said four officers had been arrested and five more were under investigation.
FOOTNOTE: Mozzarella, fella.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
It's not a political party. It's a post-Christmas recovery party. You don't need to travel, you don't need to leave home, you don't need to help clean up afterwards. All you need is a computer and an internet connection and you can join in the e-party. As I said in my earlier posts Party Politics and Party To The Decision, everyone's invited.
When is the e-party?
On 27 December. That'll give everyone time to recover from Christmas hangovers.
What will it cost?
Nuffin. Zilch. Nada. It's an e-party. Have mouse, will travel. And most of all, have fun.
Why are we having an e-party?
'Cause we can. 'Cause it doesn't cost a cent. And 'cause I genuinely enjoy your company.
Where is the e-party?
Right here on this blog.
Will there be presents?
Yes, there will be presents. Not real presents, of course, but a fellow blogger came up with this wonderful suggestion. Have a think about a "virtual gift" that symbolises your home country or home state or something that sums up your own personality.
How do I accept this invitation?
All you need to do is to leave me a comment here, in this format:
a) the one dish you want on the menu, be it a main course or a dessert
b) the drink/s you want
c) The "virtual gift" that you'd like to bring.
Does everyone get a virtual present?
Yep, you sure do. All will be revealed. Trust me. But remember, they're virtual presents!
Keep watching this blog for updates!
Polish consumers are organising a petition demanding a Christmas loo roll be banned. The festive toilet paper on sale in Lublin by pharmacy chain Rossman has been branded "repulsive and base''. It features pictures of reindeers and stars and little messages in English saying "Merry Christmas''. A spokesman for the Lublin youth chaplaincy that is organising the petition said: ``This could only have been dreamt up by someone exceptionally thoughtless.'
FOOTNOTE: "Ass you like it" (sorry Mister Shakespeare).
Moon haze on a clear night. Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
There's a simple secret to photography. Be instinctive. And be happy with the camera you have. Just as you don't need a $10,000 computer to write great prose, you don't need a $10,000 camera to take great pictures. Yes, we all want a 300 mm lens or a great macro lens or the latest bells-and-whistles digital SLR. But the key to photography is to enjoy using what you have.
So you can imagine how much I enjoyed the feedback to my Photo Hunt post The Long And Blinding Road.
Carver said: "I sometimes wish I had a serious digital camera but I feel like I can't justify it until I learn how to do everything it will do. I had a much better 35 mm with several lenses but when I switched over to digital photography, I've made do with an affordable one. I can add lenses if I get a converter but that will get into a lot more money and I don't feel like I can justify it until I develop more skill. I get decent macro shots but need more work with the landscape ones."
David said: "I totally agree with you about the camera - the most important thing is not the camera, but the time. Keep a camera - any camera - with you at all times, and you should be able to capture some good moments that are far better than any set up shots."
Willard, who used to work for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and uses an "old" Canon 10D with several telephoto lenses, said: "You are right with your comments about the cameras. It is amazing what can be done with low to mid range equipment if it is shot correctly."
Les Becker said: "I have to agree with you about taking pictures with just about any camera, David. The one I'm using now was considered mid-range in retail outlets for amateur photographers when I bought it, but it's a pitiful specimen compared to most affordable cameras. Still, I have managed to get some really great photos out of it. The one I had before (the HP PhotoSmart R607) doesn't even come close to this one, and yet with that little thing, I took photos that I'm very, very proud of. Had I not drowned it in coffee, I would still very happily be using it. Proof positive that there is no such thing as a camera that's not good enough".
Blossom Cottage, who has just posted memories of her recent South Africa trip, said: "I use a Canon EOS300 and a 350D love both of them, but I still like my old film SLRs for black and white."
Kate Isis said: "I'm fortunate enough to have a photographer friend who hands me down his old cameras as he updates. But I started with a small compact camera and learnt to take my time and see the world through the lens and I eventually started producing some decent shots. I think no matter what camera your working with, once you get the hang of composition you could take shots on a Box Brownie and come out with good results."
And finally, Epijunky said: "I was green with envy while checking out a camera I couldn't afford (a good ten years back) when the camera's owner told me these words which stuck with me to this day: It's not the camera or the lenses, it's what's six inches behind them."