Tuesday, December 08, 2009

monkey forest & surfing competition

When I first came to Bali about two months ago, I was unable to shoot photos. I was dragging my camera around and clicking randomly, but it didn't feel like I was really taking photos. The resulting pictures were not created by me. They were not composed well, they did not tell a story. More importantly they lacked soul. I felt my photos could easily be traded by photos taken by the point and shoot camera of your average eager tourist. I felt really bad but I just couldn't do it, something was missing. Looking back, I see that “inability” was a very direct reflection of losing my photo partner. We were good partners, supporting, complementing and when necessary criticizing each other's work. The breakup of that partnership impacted me and my work much deeper than I realized at that time, so that I became photographically-paralyzed.

I was however still pissed at the fact that I couldn't shoot so I dropped my camera completely, letting the heavy bag collect dust in the depths of a cabinet in my room for a very long period. One day I had enough, apparently a passive wait for a comeback wasn't the solution. I packed 3 lenses and a polarizer and aimed for the Monkey Forest (more info here) . I've been there once before and wanted to challenge myself with harsh patches of sunlight and very intense shadow areas under the trees. (Probably due to our proximity to the Equator line, the sunlight remains very direct for most of the day, it's very difficult to avoid overexposure or blotches of reflections with or without a polarizer) This time, finally I felt at ease with my camera, I walked around shooting photos with a very familiar “yes, I've done that before and it felt good” feeling. It was like a curse broken, the paralysis gone, me and the camera reuniting... Everyone would have their own views on what a good photo is, but I was happy with what I shoot. Moreover I enjoyed that feeling of contentment.

So while I walked around shooting photos in the Monkey forest, a Balienese guy approached me and started talking about lenses and the typical Canon vs Nikon chitchat. He turned out to be a pro photog living near Seminyak. He looked at what I've shot so far and said that he really liked them. Then he invited me to join him on a wedding photo shoot on 12th of December if I still happen to be around the island. Would I ever miss that? Not that I am very keen on shooting couples sheepishly smiling at each other under strong artifical light but the invitation and the way it came was very flattering. I noted down his name, number, the date of 12th December and kept shooting around with even a bigger smile on my face.

What is a bigger sign of “what you give is what you receive?” There I am confident for the fist time in weeks that I can shoot good photos again and less than an hour later a pro comes and says he wants to shoot with me.

Next day in the Yoga barn one of the instructors asked me “hey how are you?” casually and I blurt out the whole thing as thunderstorm. She looked at me as if was manic and mumbled “wow, thanks so much for sharing your positive energy with me”. I definitely admire how yoga instructors always have something constructive to say regardless of how absurd the situation is :)

A few weeks after that, I woke up to the beep of an sms at 6am in the morning. It was from Ino, my photog friend, informing me that there will be a surfing competition on the Kuta beach that night and there would also be a photography contest for the best shoot. My mind starts racing, the event is sometime in the evening, which means the shuttles will not be an option and I need to take a taxi both ways. It will cost me a small fortune and I don't even know where, when and how yet at the same time I don't want to miss the opportunity. I told Ino that I will somehow come, and then started a mean negotiation over text messages with the taxi drivers. It took about 4 hours, 3 different drivers and countless text messages but I finally got a price I can afford. Meanwhile I also managed to squeeze in 3 different yoga classes to that hectic day so feeling super flexible, ecstatic and victorious, I head out to Kuta at 4:30pm with all my camera equipment.

The beach was livelier than usual, with a lot of preparations for the competition. Somehow, I was under the impression that it was meant to be a sunset event, but upon registration for the photo contest I learn that the surfing competition is a celebration of the full moon. Damn, I rented the taxi for sunset hours only! I managed to negotiate with the driver for an additional hour and while waiting for the event to start, I shot some photos of the famous Kuta sunset.

I've been to Kuta many times before, but never during the sunset hours. Partially because the latest shuttle to Ubud leaves at 4:30 and partially because Kuta turns into one horrible, loud, drunk bar scene in the evenings. 
Like everything else in Bali, the competition started with a blessing ceremony.

After it got dark and the full moon rose in the sky, the competition kicked off. By that time, the beach was really crowded by surfers, There were different categories, male/female surf teachers followed by male/female surfers in groups of approximately 10. The photo competition was also going full on; although the best photo will be judged by the organizers days later, there was an unspoken “who has the best and the biggest equipment” comparison going on among most of us who were wearing a contestant badge. All I know is that I've never seen so many Canon L series (official site here) super telephoto lenses in one place before. At the verge of jealousy, I tried to find a good spot where I can hopefully compensate for the lack of such gigantic lenses.

Initially, the waves were not good enough for surfing and the event was at the verge of being boring. Then the sea started rising and the unexpected high waves soaked most of the audience. I got wet all the way until my waist but managed to lift my camera above my head to avoid the salt water spray. As disappointing as it was, I can say that splash was the highlight of the event, during the 1 hour I watched and tried to photograph the surfing; things were not just as exciting as I expected.


Photographically, it was a challenge too, despite the full moon, it was a dark night and the organizers used strong spotlights on surfers whenever they caught a wave. So the sudden contrast between dark and spotlight bright made the motion shoots a bit challenging for me (especially because I always shoot in manual mode, as opposed to most other photogs who prefer aperture-priority) Still it was a new experience and a new photography challenge for me, I was glad to be invited.

Just as I was leaving, Ino introduced me to the editor of some big magazine based in Kuta. We agreed that if any photo works come up in Ubud, he'll forward these to me. Highly unlikely though; when I got back to Ubud I looked at his business card in detail only to see that the theme of his magazine is surf :)

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