My Vesak pictures from 2005 are long overdue.
Yesterday, 12 May, was Vesak 2006 and I had gone, once again, to the Bright Hill Temple to take prayer pictures of the Three Steps One Bow and other vesak rituals and ceremonies.
So it is high time I put up my vesak prayer images from last year, but I have been really busy this past year.
Today, 13 May, I make my debut as an exhibiting phtographic artist. More about that later...
Even though I am not Buddhist, the day has special significance for me as a photographer. Vesak marked my comeback to photography after a break of more than 10 years.
I had fond memories and great pictures from taking Vesak pictures more than 20 years earlier in 1981. So what better way to commemorate my comeback than with my favourite subject of prayer images, or what I call 'Spiritual Photography'. I actually bought a new zoom lens for the event.
That was in 2003. My comeback as a photographic artist has been good and I feel I have made great progress since then.
But if you go to my previous web page on Vesak pictures, you will read that I had not been too "lucky" with Vesak prayer images.
In 2003, the year I made my comeback, Singapore (and most of Asia) was hit by Sars (severe, acute respiratory syndrome) and the Three Steps One Bow ritual was cancelled.
In 2004, I went to the Bright Hill Temple somewhat late and caught only the end part of the ritual. I could not take many Vesak pictures.
Actually, I think what happened is that, nowadays, to avoid the late morning heat, more and more people are doing the Three Steps One Bow in the middle of the night, so that by about 8.30 am, everything is over.
So for Vesak 2005, I was especially kiasu (Singapore slang meaning "afraid to lose"). I got up realy early in the morning and reached the Bright Hill Temple, which is fortunately near my house, before the sun rose!
It was good to be there so early, and I found a spot where the rising sun lit the devotees doing the Three Steps One Bow.
Notice the bit of golden hair? That's sun light, not dyed hair!
Most of the other Vesak pictures taken at sun rise, unfortunately, did not turn out well. The sun was to the back of the devotees and the overall light was still too dim. Incidentally, the picture above needed some Photoshop adjustments, otherwise the image was still too dim.
I had better luck with water reflection photography – as in the main picture above. And I realised that one does not need a pond, lake or river for water reflection photography. All one needs is a wet floor!
The water reflection drew my attention to the feet and my 2005 Vesak pictures included a number of photographs of feet. Also, I had taken some nice pictures of feet at Thaipusam, the Hindu festival, earlier last year, so I was trying to see if I could get more at Vesak 2005. However, the photographs of feet with water reflection did not turn out as well as this one:
But, as always, my main interest in taking Thaipusam and Vesak pictures is to capture photographs of hands.
During Vesak 2004, because I had gone to the Bright Hill temple late and the Three Steps One Bow ceremony had more of less ended, I wandered around the temple grounds in search of other Vesak pictures.
And I came to a big prayer hall filled with people chanting. They included a big group of old ladies dressed in black robes and, along the corridor, one man dressed in red robes.
I have some pictures of them, focusing on their hands, in my earlier page of Vesak pictures. But the lighting was poor, I was using a long lens, and so I ended up with a lot of camera shake.
So for my 2005 Vesak pictures, I was better prepared, with ISO 400 slides pushed to ISO 800. But something went wrong and I don't really know what. Either I set my camera wrongly, or I forgot to tell the developing lab to push process, or the lab forgot to do it.
Most of the pictures were very very dark, some almost totally black! But thanks to Photoshop, I managed to salvage some of them, and they came out not too bad, like this one below:
One of my friends particularly like this picture except that it still had a bit of camera shake.
But at least that shows the picture is genuine. "If everything is perfect, people will say you got someone to pose for you,” my friend commented. I will show more pictures from this series in another page later on.
My most exciting discovery while taking Vesak pictures in 2005 was when I came to another prayer hall, with devotees lighting incense at the entrance.
I had a great time taking Vesak pictures of devotees' hands lighting incense, except that some of the people quickly moved away when they saw me shooting. If only they knew I was just taking photographs of hands, they need not have worried.
One photograph of hands that I like from this series of Vesak pictures is this somewhat abstract photograph, showing an almost direct front view of a hand lighting an incense.
My absolute favourite photograph from Vesak 2005, however, is the picture below.
The original full color photograph was not too great, but my eye was drawn to the shape and texture of the hand.
I felt it looked elegant, yet, at the same time, eerie. It was graceful, yet gnarled.
This was another of those times when I knew exactly what to do. In my mind, I pictured a black and white image with a full color flame. Then, while I was creating this – putting my mental image onto the screen – I thought it would also be a good idea to have the flame dish in partial, desaturated color.
This image took me quite a while to create. But i feel it was absolutely worth the effort.
For a long while, I saw that practically all my best photographs were from my early days, taken more than 20 years ago during the early 1980s. And I worried that I might not be able to ever again come up with anything better.
This photograph of hands, from my series of 2005 Vesak pictures, has given me the reassurance that I have not lost my touch. I am now confident that I will be able to produce yet better pictures.
But for now, this has become my new, all time favourite: