28 Feb 2013

Muay Thai training in low light: double challenge

Two weeks ago, while I was walking in the park near Ramkhamhaeng University (covered in this post) I met a very friendly Thai guy named Bun. He was one of the numerous people jogging in the red lanes, tireless lap after lap, but he happened to make a short break to regain some breath next to where I was sitting, and conversation started just like that. He is, as I guessed, a student from the near university, coming all the way from the South of Thailand to study law at the capital. Happy to practice his English with a westerner, he said he loved jogging in this new park every evening he had free time, as his room was in the vicinity, but he confessed to me that he had another favorite sport that he loved to practice every time he had the chance to. Guess which one?

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
The sufferer, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Warriors, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Muay Thai is Thailand's national sport and, even though it is quite present in TV and around the city, I never really paid much attention to it. Until today, that is. This morning I received a call from Bun inviting me to join him and his friends in the evening to practice Muay Thai at the gym of the university. I asked him if I could bring along my camera and he had no objections, so I prepared my bag and went to the gym after my last class, as we had agreed. The sports hall is near my faculty, but, even so, it was hard to find the exact spot, as the boxing ground happened to be a spacious, isolated area above the big, noisy basketball court. Located in a false second floor, immediately below the roof, there was none else in there except Bun. And then me.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Bun warming up I, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Bun warming up II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

He was already warming up when I arrived. And then, without giving me a minute to unpack my camera and get ready to take some stills of the dim, interesting setting, I realized he was expecting me to sit down on the floor, and start working my muscles out, just like he was doing. After a few seconds of shock, I burst out laughing: I hadn't imagined that I was supposed to practice Muay Thai myself, nor I was wearing appropriate clothes, but, nevertheless, he was really eager to show me some moves, and I just thought it could be fun, so finally I tried. Fortunately, there are no pictures whatsoever of my miserable attempts! After a few efforts, I asked for a bit of rest, and then I grabbed my camera and started firing at him as he continued his training.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Ready, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Power kick, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Back kick, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Evening was fast approaching and the gym was getting darker by the minute; the only source of light was a round window in one of the walls, so I turned around Bun and decided to try some silhouettes of him against the bright window. I hadn't tried this before, therefore it was a test for me, so while he continued hitting and kicking the punch bag relentlessly, I crouched down and shot.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Silhouette I, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Silhouette II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

After punching non stop for well above half an hour, Bun decided to call it a day, so he sat down in the floor and started stretching his muscles. He is a formidable athlete, and I couldn't help but continue taking more pics of his every imposible posture. At this point I wished I could use a wider lens, as I was shooting with my Olympus 45mm (90mm equivalent in FF terms) and I didn't have space enough to step back and cover his whole body while fully stretched; but the ambient was very dim and that is my fastest lens, so I sacrificed a bit of field of view instead. He didn't feel bothered at all by the camera, and he just continued his routines, very concentrated, from horizontal to vertical through a few intermediate steps.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Step 1, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Step 2, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Step 3, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Step 4, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

And just when he was almost done and ready to go out to get a well deserved dinner, his friends, the ones that were supposed to be there from the beginning, arrived. So Bun, obviously, stood up in a second, and welcomed his friends, ready for the second round. For the next half an hour, he practiced again with a girl colleague, but he was obviously getting exhausted and, not long after that, he decided to quit, at last.

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Motion and calm I, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm
Motion and calm II, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

It has been a truly interesting experience for me, so I wanna thank Bun for his patience, understanding and tolerance with me and my camera. I will try my best to be a better contender next time!

26 Feb 2013

Benches, bridges & branches: Seri Thai Park

Today a friend of mine and I planned to visit a rather secluded and mysterious place, but luck was not on our side, as we only found locked doors blocking our way. Therefore, while we wait for a future opportunity to try and enter that world again (of which I will not talk more yet, to preserve the surprise), we decided to just stroll at a nearby park and grab some pictures there. The weather was just perfect for a walk and we both had our cameras ready, so we took a taxi and a mere minuets later we entered Seri Thai Park, or should I call it BBB Park, for all we could see at first were benches, branches and bridges. Lets begin with the first B.

A seat with views, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

It was still a bit early and the sun was merciless and fierce, so most of the park remained quiet and empty, only the occasional bird or fountain bringing some movement and sound to the ambient. We walked along the shadowy lanes meeting none, the lonely benches bathed in light and silence.

Stonerest, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Every time we passed one of the stranded benches I couldn't help but imagine how the park would become at a later hour, once the sun would recede and people would go out of their shells and gather around. It surely would be much more lively and busy, but I kind of enjoyed the lethargy the afternoon hour was offering us.

Warmth, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The same iron filigrees in different colors, either brown or green, matching those of the tree trunks or the leaves and the grass, a mimetic game between architecture and nature. But not only the tones resembled one another, for even the shapes and figures looked alike as if made by the same hands, thus bringing us to the second leitmotif and B of the day.

Mimesis, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Twisted and stretched, thin and thick, countless roots and branches spread all over the park, impossible to define the place where one lead to another, intricate tangle of living arteries covering every inch of land, above our heads and beneath our feet.

Roots, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Like a parade of uniformed, organized soldiers, the big trees stood by the lake, one after another, proud of themselves, masters of the park, shaking their limbs with the faintest breeze, letting their leaves drop in an unhurried, almost invisible dance.

Under protection, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

And the third B of the day soon became apparent to us: the park is not that big, but we were enjoying our walk and didn't want to leave that early, so we decided to walk around its perimeter a few more times and, in order to do so, we had to cross multiple bridges, big and small, solid and precarious, always unique and different.

Robust bridge, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Dubious bridge, GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Sunset was getting closer, and so was the flow of people; the weather was more benevolent now, and the stream of legs and wheels started to increase. What an hour earlier were only deserted walkways and vacant spaces were turning by the minute into animated lanes and spirited groups of people walking, talking, practicing sports.

Amusement, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The focus of our attention shifted naturally, and after an hour long spent looking at the scenery, we centered our cameras on the people who were increasingly occupying all the park in their different activities. Young and old, on their own or with some company, quiet or in high spirits, the atmosphere gradually became human.

The eldest steps first, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The game, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Today was Monday, yet the modest park swiftly grew more and more populated, and faces of all kinds appeared in every corner, granting the sunset a scent of humanity. In these last beats of daylight, I decided to slow down my walk and observe carefully the eyes and expressions of the people around me. My last captures were, therefore, the spontaneous glances and smiles of a few people who totally grabbed my interest.

The curious, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The shawl, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

 The hat, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

The smile, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

With a warm feeling we left the park, each one ready to follow its own path back home, but just outside the fence, next door, the sight of the abandoned hut struck me as an omen. Nature always finds its way, but humans must carve out our presence day by day, or the smallest laziness ends up in immediate oblivion and extinction.

Unshelter, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

18 Feb 2013

Sunday is just another day of work

On last Monday's entry I quietly hid something: I got lost. My plan was to walk along the canal all the way back home, passing a few neighborhoods that I hadn't visited before, and, while I enjoyed the walk, I couldn't accomplish what I intended due to one main factor: at one point in my walk, the alleyway literally disappeared under my feet, crumbled into the waters. It was not a long gap, I could perfectly see the continuation of the pavement a few meters ahead, but it was more than I could cover by a risky jump, so I had no choice but to retrace until I found a small soi leading back to town. My idea was to advance inside the narrow street and return to the canal as soon as I could. But I just couldn't find a way back, and the winding back alleys forced me to go deeper and deeper, so the rest of my walk was done in inner lands. That's why today, determined to finish what I had planned last time, I went back there and started my walk right in the spot where the alleyway on the bank of the canal resumed after the gap.

Imprisoned garbage, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Every bridge is like a coin: it has invariably 2 sides. The upper part is exposed and bright, populated by pedestrians, vehicles, and asphalt, while underneath is hidden, silent and dark. But not deserted, as the promise of unexpected things always lurks in those low passages, always so near, yet so invisible and unknown for most of us. They are something like the magical threshold into a fantasy world from the fairytales, the entrance to a mysterious realm, where the rules of life and survival are different.

Threshold, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Trying to escape from the chaos of the city, I entered a space where it doesn't matter what day of the week the calendar indicates, for the flow of life goes on, uninterrupted, following a daily routine that spins without end. The underworld is full of workers with barely time to rest, that is for sure, taking short breaks to resume their labour as soon as they can, tireless laborers that erect the city yet have no place in it to stay.

Short break, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Water and fire, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Covered with clothes from top to bottom, working in small groups on the edge of precarious platforms with the only safety of their own skill, the dwellers of the canal banks have dark skin and deep black eyes, they come from distant lands yet rarely have the chance to go back. They work hard. But they also smile, and they will always pause for a second, to let the people pass.

Never too young, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Rootless, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

But they are not the only residents, as other people populate these lanes as well, here and there, busy with their own particular businesses. Nobody idle, nobody unoccupied, Sundays are just another day of work here, and as such, everyone is working. Perhaps the word work has a different meaning in a place like this. Or perhaps we have distorted it, in the first place.

The painter, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

As I went on wandering around for a couple of kilometers, I reached a secondary canal that discharged its waters in the one I was exploring. I was supposed to continue straight ahead, according to my original plan, but the smaller canal seemed to lead to a quieter, more secluded neighborhood, and the opportunity of discovering something new was too strong to resist. I sidetracked, then, and entered that little community.

Open house, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The waters were so thick that seldom moved, but people had got used to live on its sides, and the whole settlement rested on both banks, as close to the liquid as can be imagined, with very limited space to grow, yet full of life, present and past: nothing is a waste here, everything has its purpose and its function, the concept of rubbish is unconceivable, every single tool and object, no matter how deteriorated it might be, will eventually be needed. Therefore its imperative to keep it.

Store room, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes beauty shows up in the most unexpected of places, unclouded and transparent, counteracting debris and ruins, decay and unhealthiness: in a kid's creative hands, a rotten cart becomes a carriage.

Locked, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

The village was very small, so soon I returned to the main canal. Not long after that, I past under the massive highway that flew over my head casting large shadows over the ground below. And again I learned one more lesson on how different the meaning of everything is in this parallel world, for the vast shadow area below the road was not the dangerous, ominous place one would have expected, but quite the opposite: the perfect place for a playground, safe from the burning, tropical sun.

Playground, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Undergrounds, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

But, as it always happens in the fantasy realm, it comes the time to wake up from the dream, and go back to reality. In my case, that return had the shape of a flight of grey stairs: I climbed them to overcome a momentary absence of lane, and suddenly I was beaten by the roar of loud traffic around me. There was not turning back; as much as I wanted, the gate had been closed behind me and I was there, standing in the middle of a hectic bridge, facing a common facade, trying to assume the change.

Urban welcome, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

I hastened: now that I was back on this side of the bridge, I wanted to hurry back home; suddenly I felt tired, exhausted, as if I had been walking far longer than I even remembered, and the noise and smoke surrounding me irritated my ears tremendously. But as I was heading home, I was forced to stop one last time: the barrier was lowering, and a rattling train was approaching, making fun of me.

Train approaching, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

Train passing, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

As soon as the barrier was lifted, I continued my fast walk, unconcerned about the environment. But just then, when I was about to turn the last corner to abandon the main road and approach my home, something caught my attention. It was just a second, but it struck me sharply, leaving me in awe: some of the dwellers of the underworld, masked under their hoods, had crossed the threshold and entered our world, going somewhere I'm still struggling to find out.

The journey, Lumix GH3 + Lumix G Vario 12-35mm

12 Feb 2013

Street photography with a telephoto lens

I only have one prime lens, the Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm, a medium telephoto, mostly used for portraits due to its focal length and beautiful bokeh. I have been using it mostly in the evenings and in low light conditions, as it's the fastest of my 2 lenses, but I didn't use it in bright daylight yet, so today I decided to change my routine and do some street exploring with it as my only lens, under the harsh afternoon light. I took the bus, and went downtown for the challenge.

Departure, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

I was used to see the city through the wider Lumix G Vario 12-35mm, so it took me a while to adjust to the narrower field of view. At the beginning, I tried to step back to catch more scene in frame, but this was not a very successful method, as I was walking one of my favorite and regular spots, the canal (in a neighborhood I had never visited before), and this meant quite narrow walkways and limited space to move around.

Vertical painter, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Therefore, I decided to concentrate on smaller scale subjects, focusing my view on details or reduced subjects, rather than trying to shoot broader architecture that I just couldn't catch. Occasionally, however,  I wanted to shoot one of Bangkok's usual high buildings, and due to the impossibility of fitting it all in frame, I had to take advantage of reflections to achieve what I wanted.

Fallen leaves, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Big and small, modern and traditional, Asian and Western, those are the 2 opposite words in which Bangkok lives; at times fast and noisy, at times slow and silent, you cannot walk a few meters without encountering samples of one and the other, sometimes side by side, as there are no boundaries or delimitations in this city: all coexists and shares the same spaces, contradictions walk hand in hand, impossible matches happen.

Golden shrine, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

One of the predominant colors in Thailand is gold: you will see it in shrines, roof tiles, lanterns, clothes... However, another color that rivals it is red: tropical weather is terribly humid, and all metal surfaces tend to rust over time, specially those that remain outdoors. No matter what is the object and its original color, they will gradually turn maroon under the fiery monsoon rains.

Mimesis, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Out of business, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Wherever abandonment establishes its campsite, rust will be one of the usual denizens, spreading its tint all around; but it never comes along, for it has a loyal companion that accompanies him most of the times, traveling anywhere he goes, shadow and friend: garbage.

Overflow, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

Bangkok is a fascinating city, full of charms, but it's also overpopulated by litter. No matter what part of the city, uptown or in the suburbs, it's never difficult to find deserted spots full of debris, ruined buildings brimming with residues, streams of water infected by waste. Sometimes they are only a handful of meters away from luxurious hotels or expensive shopping centers. There is no discrimination here: rubbish reaches everywhere.

The king of the dump, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm

But, in all honesty, nothing is a waste here, as there is always someone (be it animals, or people) that will take advantage of rubbish and survive on it. The waste of some is the supply for others. That's the way this city, this world works. But there is something else that shocks me the most here: it's not only about survival, as there will always be someone who will find such an environment the perfect place to just sit down, enjoy, and rest.

Home, GH3 + Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm