Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you happy holidays
& a year full of blessings.

Off to Bali!

Jessie and James

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Conference Paper on John Thomson

The Humanities Initiative at New York University invited me to present a paper on my photographic research and practice as part of their "Ambience in the Humanities" conference the weekend before Thanksgiving. The discussion, entitled "Cinematic Vistas," posed these questions:

At what point do images tell us we are out of place? What landscapes of imagination open up when we enter new imagistic territories? How do unknown and unexpected masses of ambient imagery affect the making of pictures? How, then, does ambience frame the vision of photographers and movie-makers before they themselves attempt to bring the world into frame? What happens when sudden shifts in culture, place, and external stimuli make these ways of seeing apparent? Where are our imaginations located?
For my presentation, I chose to tackle these questions in two parts: first, by introducing a 19th century travel photographer and essayist I am currently researching, and second, by considering about how our photographic practice has changed since we moved to Singapore 15 months ago. For both parts of my presentation, I chose to focus on the subjects of the photographs, as residents of these new "imagistic territories."

You can click through the presentation here:

Excerpts from the script of my talk, from Part 1:

Scottish photographer John Thomson's career has been celebrated by a series of “firsts:” photo-historians claim that he published “the first book ever devoted exclusively to street photography,” he created the first photographic documentary, he was the "first photographer to have a whole society as his subject,” his four volume book on China is considered “a classic of sociological photography and reformist sympathy,” and an “innovative use of photomechanical technology.” On the other hand, Susan Sontag scorned Thomson's later work in London, calling him a class tourist, and "Street Life in London" as “perhaps the earliest model of the sustained look downward.” Likewise, in Nancy Armstrong’s Fiction in the Age of Photography, Thomson’s photographs serve to demonstrate how the picturesque aesthetic informed slum photography, which in turn, she argues, distances the subject from the possibility of reform and rendered him or her into an object of fascination for Thomson’s middle class public.

These scholars are concerned with the problematic appropriation of the photographic subject for use and observation, a disquiet heightened by the very fact of Thomson’s status in this important strain of photographic use, the documentary.

That said, it is time to restore agency to the subjects of the photographs, those that people the "ambient" landscapes captured in the document, co-create the photograph, and who are engaged in the creation of the image. Subjects resist being captured in a frame in a way that contemporary criticism does not always account for. Prevailing criticism brings to light sets of ideas that trace power and influence from photographer to audience, but do not adequately address the relationship between subject, photographer, and audience in the moment of photographing. This paper will revolve around these three nodes of exchange -- photographer, subject, and audience -- but I hope ultimately to leave you with the subject, the men and women who are in focus in this frame and every frame, though somehow, of whom we can have only glimpses.

From the discussion on the King of Siam:

The photograph and the essay share the same author; nonetheless, interpretative details about the subject resist and append the information provided by the essay text. Photographs radiate meaning in variegated patterns, and our responsibility is to chart the vast differences in what we see, inside the photographic frame, and what we assume, or read about, occurring beyond the frame. The photographic detail exhorts against the division between the indexical moment of photographing and the material photograph. This contingent detail, the King's uniform, is a flaw or an opportunity that, to rephrase Benjamin, will never consent to be wholly absorbed in text.
And from part two, on Morgan & Owens in Asia:

In the first photograph, we have just "parachuted" into this Khamu girl's life - our boat landing at the beach near her village in Northern Laos only moments before. To me this photograph is unsatisfactory, for its prevalent emotion is trespass. This image is brought to you by Dolce and Gabbana.

In the video, the children pose for a group shot. The punctum in this sequence, for me, is the couple looking on -- tourists -- and our future audience.

In our move to photograph Asia, we have found a new use for an old technology, Polaroid transcends language barriers, invites collaboration. When people see what they look like, what sort of image we intend, they adjust, they direct, and they get something in return.

The photographs that bring us the most joy, I believe, were those made in collaboration with the subjects. They are records of an encounter, the willingness to engage strangers, an hour spent together. I made this photograph after we had gotten to know each other, and we had photographed several children in her village. She has changed her skirt from her school uniform to a favorite, and posed herself at home with a friend. She doesn't know why we are there, or what audience these photographs will have, but like the King of Siam, she knows how she wants to look.

Thanks for watching!


Friday, November 12, 2010

ONE Photography Convention in ION Gallery

Early in the summer, we were invited to produce "personal" images around the theme of ONE, along with 28 other photographers based here in Singapore. Our result was five images made on ONE street in Georgetown, Penang ONE hour in the morning. The images will follow, but first: a video of the show, for those of you who can't get here in person.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Shanghai mornings

In Fuxing Park in Shanghai, early in the morning, the older folks get together to do Tai Chi and play badminton, and DANCE! What a way to start the day!

We took the opportunity to make portraits of some seriously happy people, and burned through a packet of Polaroid in exchange. It's always fun to give something back, especially when you don't speak the language!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

T+L launches ipad version featuring our Shanghai story

We haven't seen the final product, but from this video it looks pretty cool. If you have an ipad, check it out and look for an extended version of our November Shanghai feature!

PS. Our good friend Cedric Angeles did the photography and video for the New Orleans video.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shanghai Rising: T+L Nov. '10

Out now: Shanghai feature in the November Travel + Leisure. We'll post more on Shanghai soon, promise. It's such an interesting, artsy, nostalgic old town! Beautiful like Paris or New York.

(There's also a little bit about us in the contributors page.)

This last page is from an ipad app for Travel + Leisure that may not have launched yet - supposed come out in November. We haven't seen it yet.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

At Prambanan, Yogyakarta

A left-over picture, found on a roll that got stuck in the fridge, then processed 8 months later. Handsome smiles from the past.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So near... So AFAR

Last May, AFAR magazine sent us up the Straits of Malacca from Singapore to a sleeping-beauty of a city: Old Georgetown on the little island of Penang. A quick one-hour flight up into Malaysia, there we found the princely Joe Sidek, a businessman/cultural curator who seems to know just about every artist and performer in town.

Getting in late on Friday night, he strolled up to meet us at The Straights Collection Cafe just near midnight after some business dinner, apparent by his pin-stripe shirt and sleek shoes. The hotel owner swoops in and comments on his classy digs. Joe shrugs it off with something like, "Always working, my dear, always working." He then goes on about last years Prada, how he grew up here in Georgetown, spent a bit of the 70's in London, the early eighties in Chelsea, and by the late nineties had returned to Penang to handle the family business. Ten years later, it appears he's been doing things we love to see people do -- connecting people, artists, cultures, and looking for everything good in his hometown. In 2008, Georgetown was brought on by UNESCO as a world heritage site. And now we're here.

By Saturday morning, Joe (above) was in his casual best and ready to show us the town like he had built the place--though he would never claim it as such being as unassuming as he is generous. Meeting the likes is one true perk of this job. By the end of the shoot, as is often the case, we were hooked on Penang... and loving AFAR's idea of a travel narrative.

The good people of AFAR included us in their contrib's page, which clearly has us looking forward to the next great journey they send us on.

SIDE NOTE: On the Editor's Page for this one-year anniversary issue, he talks person-ably of the magazine's first 75,000 subscribers and speaks of the next 25-thousand readers he hopes to see in the coming months. So look for the logo on the newsstands. We see it here in Singapore, so it should be a breeze!
Happy reading.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Civic Life" in Tiong Bahru

In local news - there's been a local heritage/cultural/art project going on around Tiong Bahru this summer called CIVIC LIFE:
"A major project exploring identity, architecture, memory, community, a sense of place and civic space."
There's a film, a film competition, a writing workshop, sketch walks, talks, an exhibit at the National Museum, and a blog with contributions by local artists, historians, intellectuals. From what I can tell, there's involved support from the arts community and locals, the British Council, the National Museum of Singapore, all those types of institutions. We sat and watched filming for the movie, "Civic Life" back on our first day back from NYC. Drinking sugar cane juice in the Tiong Bahru Market while two filmmakers led at team through several takes of an interview shot. I love watching films get made. Such persistence and team-work! It's a wonder we have anything to watch at all.

I'm enjoying the stories and memories captured on the blog - it's a great read, and a welcome place to explore, learn, and see the neighborhood from a local point of view. One of my favorite essays at the blog on Tiong Bahru was posted by Tay Kay Chin, a photojournalist, teacher and artist we had the pleasure of meeting for lunch a long while ago. This part slices life here nicely:
In fact, I think I know quite a bit about Tiong Bahru, to the extent that Mickey, my friend who alternates between his apartment at Blk 56 and another one in London, always wonders what I do for a living.

Like I know that the unit next to him is occupied by women only, including an ex-stewardess who is rather beautiful, and that her mom is the accounts clerk for the egg store downstairs, and that her uncle runs the coffee shop at the street corner.

I also know that further up the road lives an American photographer couple who does work for travel magazines.

Or that the Chinese restaurant a few car parks away serves the best coffee ribs.
[Read the rest of his essay, with pictures here. I hear the coffee ribs are delicious.]
Hold up, wait a minute! That's us!

So we contributed our photographs of the Taoist ceremony from April, which ran on this blog in the spring. I hope that by sharing the flip-book with CIVIC LIFE, a few more of the subjects can have a look. We shared some prints with the congregation that evening, but we couldn't share with everybody then - I hope this does the trick.

That, and we just signed another year's lease, so I guess that makes us almost like locals. Better start acting like it!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Big in shanghai

James made the newspaper, the Shanghai Weekly, when two photographers, well, make that three, converged during coverage of a new al fresco bar called Flair on the 58th floor of the Ritz. 58 stories wasn't tall enough, so James stood on a table. (I took a few shots from up there too, but I was wearing a skirt, and it's windy up there!) Reposting from facebook.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Update: New website coming... Soon 'ish

Slight delay on publishing the website due to an upcoming shoot and, well, writer's block. Does anyone want to write our About Us page for us?

Aiming for mid-August!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New website coming soon!

A screenshot of James's monitor as he works on our website redesign at Wow.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hello Canada!

Since we've been back in Singapore, I have been the laziest blogger, but keeping super busy in nearly every other aspect of our lives, so I hope you'll forgive me!

On the newsstands: This month our Canadian fans (hi Kathy!) should look for The Globe and Mail July/August for a quick shoot in Kuala Lumpur, above. For this one, since it was the second shoot in Malaysia in two weeks, James went exploring, and found exactly the right substitution for a shoot-list dud. Look out for another fun weekend shoot in Penang Malaysia in next month's AFAR magazine.

The World Cup was a marathon here, with 10:30pm & 2:30am games. James missed only a handful, and both us maintained Eastern Standard Time a little longer than we should've. Those last games were a treat, but my favorite overall was still the game James and Anita got me out to Brewerkz to see, moments after stepping off the plane from Paris: USA!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Newstand Double Header: T+L & Budget Travel

Hello from South End, Boston!

James and I have been traveling this month in the states, soaking up the Springtime style and the love.

Dad Owens called day before yesterday from the Dallas airport newsstand to see what issues we were in, and we had to go and check. (Now that's a sign of a good vacation!) Turns out street food ran in Budget Travel, a nice graphic roundup featuring Maxwell Food Center in Singapore, and our long awaited story on Epiros, Greece ran this month in the opening pages of Travel + Leisure. Will post when we get home to our scanners late this month.

Next up on our grand tour:
Later on today, a jaunt up to Concord for the Hawthorne Society conference, and some quality time with Walden Pond. Then it's off to Vassar College to see Sara and James get married (and USA beat England). We'll take the scenic route back into NYC, stopping by Beacon to see our dear Sam, Sarah, Greta, and Beck grow up. Then it's a few days in NYC to finish catching up with everyone. I hope to see you there.

On June 17th, Jessie heads to Paris and James heads to Chicago. In both places we will be doing the same thing: watching the World Cup.

Last time we followed the wins (inadvertently), in Germany, France, and then Italy for the win! I can't believe it's been four years, but I can't wait til it starts.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On newsstand now: Travel + Leisure

In the May issue of Travel + Leisure: Our shots from Culebra for the round-up of "30 Secret Islands." Just off the coast of Puerto Rico, a 25 minute flight from downtown San Juan, Culebra is hardly a "secret" - it has one of the Caribbean's most glorious beaches, Flamenco beach, pictured here.

We were secretly jazzed to share the spread with one of our friends and photo-heroes, Frederic Lagrange.

A flip book of more of our shoot on delightful little Culebra coming soon.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another day in the (Taoist) neighborhood

We knew something was up when we saw the dragon resting outside our front door.

This Taoist ceremony, which lasted two days, was to honor the birthday of a god, Xuan Tian Shang Di. As it happens, the third day of the third lunar month also falls on my birthday this year, which also lasted through two days of feasting.

We've arranged the images more or less in chronological order.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Now in HD!

Tired of flip books yet? Hope not, because Wonderful Machine has posted our portfolio on their Youtube channel. An entire book, for your viewing pleasure. Click through to see in hi-def full screen.
Thanks Neil, Amanda, Bill, and hand model!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Story Book: Java Indonesia--Prambanan and Borobudur

In February, my brother Joe came to Singapore for a two week vacation. We looked for a side trip, something off the beaten track with history. We jumped a short flight to Java to check out two 9th century monuments: Borobudur, a huge Buddhist temple, and Prambanan, the area's largest Hindu temple. Both were built during the same period, across the valley from one another. Both under the violent gaze of an active volcano, Mt. Merapi (last erupted in 2006). Below is a story book of our trip.

We stayed at a great boutique hotel--Rumah Mertua--and spent some of the finest afternoons hanging out watching the rainy-season deluge, sent forth from Mt. Merapi daily like clockwork. A fantastic trip. Cheers Joe!

...and there's even video from Borobudur!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Laos revisited

As promised, here's another look at our Laos feature shot for T+L last October. And, we're trying out a new storybook platform to view the images, so let us know how it treats you.

I broke up the images into four major sections: temple life, the locals, street life, and the river. At the end, you get a glimpse of two premier hotels in the area.

[story books are no longer available. For a peek at more from the story, go to:

As we travel around the region, it's clear that Luang Prabang is a unique experience, hugely recommended. The combination of mountain village setting, mild-mannered tourism, Buddhist vibe, and the mighty Mekong makes the town hum all its own, indifferent to the rest of the world.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wonderful Machine is Wonderful

I stopped by to meet the folks at Wonderful Machine last month while I was in Philadelphia for the MLA. Turns out Neil Binkley, the voice of WM and all around great guy, was taking notes for their blog. I also had the pleasure of getting to know their innovative founder Bill Cramer and producer Amanda Hanley over a lunch that went so pleasurably long into the afternoon I missed two trains before I checked the time!

Read the story at:

Then go check out some hotshots at

Laos feature now on newsstands

The feature we shot in Laos last October for Travel +Leisure has hit newsstands! You'll find it in American editions of the February 2010 issue or here.

Also, our images from shoots in Vieques and Hotel Casablanca in San Juan Puerto Rico ran in the November 2009 issue of Travel +Leisure as part of their "Affordable Caribbean Hotels" feature.

We'll be posting OUR favorite shots in coming days!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What we ate when we got back to Singapore

Here's a menu of what we ate during our first 48 hours back in Singapore, with Kristine and Esme's visit as our excuse.

  • lunch: phad thai and tom yam soup
  • dinner: James's pizza, with kang kong and golden mushrooms
  • breakfast: pork, fish, and vegetarian porridge at Ah Chang
  • snack: dragon fruit and dark chocolate
  • lunch: katong laksa, rojak and lime juice at 328 Katong Laksa (see above)
  • snack: nutella tart and pear tart at Everything but Fries
  • dinner: chilli crab, buns, sauteed kailan with garlic, tiger beer, and fried, stuffed tofu at Jumbo

  • breakfast: Set 1 (kaya toast, eggs, iced kopi) at Toast Box
  • lunch: popiah rolls, roast pork with rice, chwee kueh, carrot cake (savory), pork and red bean buns, and sugar cane juice at Tiong Bahru hawker center (see above)
  • dinner: carrot ginger soup and salad, chez James

See how repentant we were by last night?