The House on Rue François Martin

I spent quite a bit of time at the main house yesterday, just sitting around for the most part, but quite enjoying the spectacle of several workmen replacing the front door. The whole place is in a state of disrepair, since the ashram’s power-crazed wallahs won’t sort it out, but the door was particularly knackered after a break-in some time ago. My aunt decided to pay for the new door, and having accepted the job, it only two about five weeks of hassle to get them to start the job. NOTE: Indian workmen rarely do the job they’re supposed to unless watched, constantly, while they do it. If you were to have a house built, you or a member of your family would have to supervise the workplace and the workers every single day to make sure it was done, and done properly. A door is no different. Highlights of the job included the carpenter asking my father to borrow a saw, for he had none, the drill power cable’s bare ends inserted into the power socket, and the chief worker asking whether the house would be ok without the door on overnight. And these were the quality guys. In between watching, I shuffled around the house, quietly taking pictures of it all, taking a really good look at things for the first time ever, noting how it differed from my memories and perhaps seeing things in a new way. In a way, the house is a trap - my eldest aunt has been an unmarried ashramite all her life and even now is being looked after in the ashram nursing home. My other two aunts who now live there don’t often leave the house, have great difficulty walking, and hence the upstairs is now closed up. The pictures reflect that side of the house… perhaps.

Little Girls Shoot

And that’s it for the first project from our new collective - “Little Girls” - coming to a screen near you soon. A bit of art meets fashion, something to get everyone involved and seeing how well we worked together. Pretty good going all round, a little cold down on set, but great work from our six make-up and hair artists, three models and sturdy assistant. Full project launch later in the summer… Sugar and spice...

Canon 5D and 5D II are antiquated

_Warning: Droning, rambling rant ahead.

Low tide on the Thames

Background: So I’ve talked myself into taking the gf’s D300 to India, for I need a zoom telephoto while I’m there, my least-preferred lens, but I either shell out 700 quid for a new Canon lens which isn’t as fast as my old Nikon 80-200 f2.8, or just borrow the damn Nikon. Easy decision. So it’s time to start learning the Nikon, a system I haven’t touched since I chucked the D1X and D70, and so far, it’s been fun. Setting aside the (rather endless) question of image quality, what we have here is a lightning-fast camera. It just responds. The focus is rapid, the drive is twice as fast as the 5s and it all just works. Last night, I was shooting with the 5 in a dark, dark nightclub. 25600 ISO all the way, which, incidentally, I absolutely love. So it was dark, and the 5D was just refusing to lock focus. Not surprising, but the 5D often does that when working at speed. But the D300 isn’t. The focus points are large and easy to catch, there’s 51 of them, and focus tracking, watching the point zip around the viewfinder, works well. I tracked some seagulls flying over on the South Bank and all was good in the hood. Last time I tried it with either of the 5s, it was a complete waste of time. So. What we have here is Canon putting photographers somewhere other than first. We get a camera that barely focuses, but does put out 21 megapixels. A camera with a poky viewfinder, but does shoot video. I have no brand loyalty, by the way, so this isn’t an advert for one company over another. But Nikon seem to realize that it is possible to make a series of high performance professional cameras over a wide range of prices and sizes without disabling them in some way, rather than only two at the top end, like Canon. Some of us, indeed, plenty of us, don’t want a massive heavy body, let alone two of them. But we do want good weather sealing and excellent build, top-notch AF and high-speed motors. And with Canon, there’s this huge patch occupied by the 5D series. A good camera, but I wish it was better.

Think Tank Skin Notes

The modular Think Tank Skin set Goodbye camera bags, hello Think Tank. My new skin set is being used in anger, with a holster bolted onto it for holding the camera (Note to Think Tank: might be good to suggest one with the set).

“I can wear the kit all day without any stress, although the recent weight-training regime helps more.”

I picked up a “Belly Dancer Harness” along with a holster big enough to hold a 5D or D300, plus the bits that come in the standard set. The harness is obviously more fiddly than a belt, but the extra support is worth it - I can wear the kit all day without any stress, although the recent weight-training regime helps more! The harness means that only three to four skin pouches can be worn at a time, unless you feel like bolting things on higher up the chest. It works, but is a little restricting and stuff might fall out. Different accessories required. On location, one bag full of strobes and cables, a few stands and this harness is all we needed to set up and shoot. I still have to work out the best way to juggle lenses when changing, but it’ll soon start falling into place.

Preparing for the major project

Preparing for the major project

Apparently, there’s a lot I don’t know about preparing a major body of work. Over the next few weeks, I’ll have to soak up a lot of guidance from my tutors about how this is different from a simple photo story.

Rather than dig something exciting from my ideas book, I’ve decided to go for something familiar that I know, and pursue more exciting ideas once I graduate.

The subjects are the Denotified Nomadic Tribes of Gujarat, whom I spent some time meeting and photographing last February. I went through the local NGO who briefed me on the history of all the groups, the issues and adversity the tribes face, and how things have begun to change.

This time, I have the luxury of time, and intend to cover more areas in much more depth. I’ve got two months in Gujarat, I speak their language, I have family backup in the state and injustice is a subject I and many others feel strongly about. The original story from 2008: The Usual Suspects

Canon EG-S Focusing Screen: Way better than the standard one

Canon EG-S Focusing Screen: Way better than the standard one

The standard focusing screen with this camera is rubbish. It shows too much in focus and pictures shot wide-open have very different boke and DOF compared to the viewfinder. But this new focusing screen, the Canon EG-S, appears to fix that. It’s designed for manual focus, insomuch as any focusing screen without a split-prism can be used for manual focus, but it’s much snappier than the standard screen. Focus comes in and out quickly and sharply, and the boke/DOF issue is gone. I’m told it’s dimmer. Impossible to really tell. In any case, Canon viewfinders are rubbish compared to my old Nikon F2 and F3. Cinematic viewfinders you could draw a mural on.

Good Friday Filmmaking with the Canon 5D II


It’s the beginning of the long Easter Weekend, and it’s raining. Time to make a short film. I live opposite my friend Alexandra, a director, who’s brimming with ideas and flooded with actors, and with the new Canon 5D, we’ve been putting it through its paces for a while now, getting used to its foibles and working around its flaws. So myself, Alex, Charlie, Andrei and Lennard spent the day between Alex’s place and mine, making a short with a twist in the tale… Watch this space for the excellent edit. The 5D drops frames if you’re not careful. It seems that whenever the light changes and there’s an aperture shift, the camera drops the frames and uses the previous frame. Very very very annoying. Solution? Manual mode and lock the exposure. Oh, and control the light.

Update: Here’s the short. It’s awesome.

Keswick, Lake District

Keswick, Lake District

For the stag of an old and dear college friend, we motored up North, turned left at Yorkshire and headed across the Pennines to Keswick, ready for a few days of walking and a few nights of drinking. The Lakes, suffice to say, are quite beautiful, with morning fog across the still water providing chocolate box pictures with little effort. We headed to Honister, ready to walk down into the mine and hike across and around the hills.

Generating Ideas

I have never had a problem coming up with ideas on what to pursue, shoot or study next, the problem is in taking on too much. I am forever running out of bandwidth, or at least I was until a few years ago when I decided to try and focus on fewer things, start saying no to things that were only marginally interesting and saying no to people more often. You have to, otherwise you’ll get nothing done.

Ideas come from exercising the grey matter, thinking and reading; The London Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Economist all come into the flat and are great online. Tiny bits of local news find their way into my notebooks and emails go flying out - “Can I come and meet you?” and replies wing back, “Yes of course!” People are friendly and helpful, if you show an interest. Right now, I have an awesome lead on a wonderful story, centering around a wonderful character. And it’s time to send him an SMS and set up the first meeting.

A year on from Dharavi

A year on from Dharavi

I was 11 when I first saw the slums, looking out of my plane from Bombay, having been sent to stay with family for six weeks in Pondicherry.

I had been kept reasonably insulated from poverty in India which was harsh at the time, frightening, alien, another world. I remember being shocked and curious that there were houses right next to the runway, surely that was dangerous? Suppose a plane crashed? My dimming memory recalls that the slums were nowhere near as densely packed as they are today, but that could be a ghost, invented, filling a gap…

We ventured into the Muslim and Hindu areas, met saw the new but unfinished apartment buildings that no one wants to live in, had stones thrown at us by a bunch of kids, met some fabulous families who were clearly enthusiastic about being part of India’s economic boom and stood looking onto the airport runway back to where I’d been watching in 1984. And to 2007, Slumdog Millionaire causes a storm at the London Film Festival, I’m dying to see it and finally catch it just before New Year. Great film, great place. Captures the flavour perfectly. And pretty much everyone seems to agree. I hear there are slum tours of Dharavi now. The original story: Welcome to Dharavi coming back soon.