Street photography. Assignment: Chennai, India

Posted in Travel at 6:18 by RjZ

Working in India, a photo essay

I’ve almost always taken pictures of things and not people. Things stay put. You might get a better picture if you can wait for the right light or for the distracting tourists to move out of the way, but if you can get yourself to a beautiful or interesting place, it’s not so hard to take a good picture. That’s been a very effective strategy for me and I am pretty happy with quite a few shots. I’ve often said that one of the most important parts of taking a nice photo is simply going to lovely places.

People are much more difficult. They move around. They’re busy doing something else. They might hit you if they don’t want their picture taken. Or worse, they might try to break your camera! Still, as much as I’ve tried to make sure no extraneous people ever made it into my carefully framed shot of the scenery, the few that worm their way into the shots are just the thing that everyone else looks at. The pyramids are a big pile of rocks, but that man riding the camel in front of it? That’s something. Angkor Wat might inspire Hollywood movies, but the beaming face of my traveling partner waving at the camera is what people want to see.

Good photos often tell a story and a pile of rocks just doesn’t capture the imagination as much as another person does. We tend to feel we have more in common with another person than with aincient relics. So, new camera in hand, I thought it was time to start learning street-photography, and India, perhaos surprisingly, may be the perfect place.

Where else in the world are unwilling subjects can become quite agitated as soon as a camera is pointed at them, in India, perfect strangers come forward and demand you take their picture as soon as they spot the big camera hanging from your neck. Better still, for most of us not living among the six million people in Chennai, most everyone I point the camera at is pretty interesting.

Over on my flickr site, then is a short photo-essay of people on the streets working one way or another. Clearly there’s more to taking pictures of people than just pointing and clicking! In nearly all of these shots I asked the person if I could take their picture before doing so and so they frequently have a posed look to them. I actually wanted that…I wanted them to engage the camera and hence you, the viewer. Plus I wanted to get used to getting right in someone’s face for a shot and seeing what happens, but I don’t think being rude is necessary.

For all it’s amazing scenery, India is awash in too much to see and so are many of these shots. It’s hard to eliminate all the background details and focus on the subject. As brave as I was, I wasn’t interested in actually disturbing these people, so all of these shots are as fast as I could make them. The result? While it’s fairly interesting to see some different street activities and it was great fun to take the shots, I’ll have to sort out what it takes to make something more than a snapshot.

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Passengers have the right to spend money elsewhere

Posted in Society, Travel at 5:41 by RjZ

Most everyone who has flown has been stuck waiting. Waiting in the airport wondering whether their flight will take off on time, or worse, waiting on the plane itself, trapped in a narrow seat wondering whether they’ll be forced to deplane altogether. Just our luck, one politician is ready to step in and protect us. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) has introduced legislation holding airlines more accountable when passengers are stranded by bad weather.

Recently, Jet Blue trapped people on planes for hours. Passengers were outraged, and felt like prisoners without even access to a toilet. Jet Blue attempted to deflect the bad press that would result by publishing its own “Passenger’s Bill of Rights.” They wanted to assure future passengers that this sort of thing isn’t the way Jet Blue does its business. Good press relations, but angry passengers weren’t satisfied, and obviously, neither was Mr. Thompson.

Airlines are not enthusiastic about canceling flights. A fully booked flight can represent over a half a million dollars in revenue, so if they can leave passengers on a plane and take it off 45 minutes later, that’s quite a bit of cash saved. Mr. Thompson thinks that regulating the way airlines operate their business will help avoid delays due to weather, but it’s the same nanny state attitude that wastes congress’ time over and over again.

The fact is, if you don’t like the regular practice of leaving you stranded on an overbooked airline, then perhaps you should consider another carrier. Southwest, for example, has fantastic statistics on on-time flights and lower cancellations. They do this by booking fewer flights. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to fly a low-cost carrier like Jet Blue, it’s quite possible that you’ll be delayed. I am glad to have the choice since, after all, I’m not always in a rush. If congress agrees with Mike Thompson, then we’ll have less choice since airlines will be forced to behave the same. Jet Blue doesn’t mind this idea; after all, they could blame their business decisions on the government. Southwest president, Colleen Barret, isn’t as enthusiastic. She believes “if other airlines are leaving passengers on the tarmac for six or eight or 10 hours, it will be good for Southwest’s business.” Thompson would likely say that he’s just demanding that airlines do the right thing, but what he’s really doing is eliminating your rights to choose where to spend your money based on performance. I am not sure how he’s planning on regulating the weather though.

I doubt this will pass the house and certainly not the senate so it’s really a huge waste of time, but it constantly amazes me the kinds of things congress will work on. Funny thing is, the European Union already has such a silly law. Given Europe’s propensity toward controlling every facet it shouldn’t surprise me. By the way, theirs doesn’t work much either!

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Absolutely the complete antithesis of a date movie

Posted in Reviews at 14:13 by RjZ

That’s my one line review of Grindhouse.

I was impressed and amazed even as the credits rolled, but it took me a while for the three hour epic/homage to grimy movie theaters and exploitation films to soak in. This morning I decided to read the reviews and see what others thought of its hard to classify format.

Grindhouse is two movies in one, plus some trailers and commercials for good measure. The big question on many of the reviews is which of the two films in the pre-packaged double feature by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino is the better one. Unfortunately, I think this analysis misses the point.

It’s not hard to see that the directors of each of the segments wanted to do something more than package their movies together, although it does make for great bang for your movie going buck. This is not only two movies by Hollywood power-house directors, it’s an immersive theater-going experience about a whole genre of movies.

The reviewers who noticed this like Rodriguez’ film much better than Tarantino’s. After all “Planet Terror” plays affectionate homage to hundreds of b-movie zombie films, at once mocking the plotless action of these films, and yet playing it out with special effects and action that those low budget films could only dream of. Like a b-movie directors wet-dream, you can almost hear them saying: O what I’d do if I had all the money and support of a real studio… this is it.

And while the reviewers who get the whole tribute to grind-house theaters love “Planet Terror”, they feel cheated that Tarantino goes and breaks the very rules the producers have set up by taking the evil car chase film into new territory with (well, I’ll admit it, sub-par) Tarantino dialog and characters. The poor reviewers are angry because they thought they were getting a salute to b-movies and Tarantino’s contribution isn’t really such a film at all. They wonder what the director was thinking..after all, we’re not actually supposed to get to know, let alone, like the characters murdered needlessly in such films.

But what would be the point of simply repeating the exploitation fair that Grindhouse is so affectionately mocking? Instead of arguing which film is better, reviewers would simply suggest grabbing a couple of old movies from the back of the video store and making your own double feature at home.

One genius stroke of this film is that it introduces the genre, exploits it passed it’s own original aspirations and then adds to it in a way that brings it to new heights and depths at the same time. One of Tarantino’s signatures is that he can make an audience laugh at completely inappropriate moments. When a head gets blown off in the back seat during Pulp Fiction (a scene we never actually see, we’re only shown the results) the audience finds itself laughing. What the heck is going on?

In this film get to witness a car crash four times in a row, just to give us enough time to see the gory results for each of the victims. I, for one, was put off by this level of violence, but you can’t but help admire Tarantino for his ability to control the viewers like a puppeteer behind the screen. It’s as if he’s saying: you think you’re desensitized to death from Die Hard I, II, III, CCXIXV? Well, what do you think of yourselves after you’ve thought of laughing at that?

And making you think, even while you’re entertained, is what good film making often achieves. But I still don’t think you should bring a date.

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