Archive for August, 2009
A shade over seven days since I arrived home from India, I am off to the post office to courier six sets of two DVDs. Spent most of yesterday burning, designing and printing discs, and then decided that each of the disc boxes should have a different cover, to feature each of the major sponsors. Looked cool, took time.
So, nearly two weeks of Indian rally related stuff, but now life returns to normality for a while, so how about spicing up the day by installing Snow Leopard? Two copies arrived this morning, one for me and one for Nik upstairs. Nik calls me after an hour or so to tell me that he can’t upgrade, his machine just shuts down after a few minutes in a display of digital spite. As we have almost identical machines, this is a cause for some concern. But I embark on the exercise anyway and sit and scowl at the monitor for 45 minutes just in case there are signs it might betray me. It doesn’t, so now I am upgraded and things feel marginally snappier. Nik removes his somewhat obscure mouse and tablet combination and Snow Leopard finally, grudgingly agrees to install on his machine also. Sighs of relief all round. Spend an hour trying to find some exciting new features to justify the 1,200 baht price, and fail. I mutter “foundation for the future” to myself in an unconvincing manner.
In a orgasm of upgrade fever I embark on an update of our Acer Aspire One netbook and manage to totally screw it up, to the extent that nothing much happens when I turn it on, just a blank screen with a mouse cursor. Much googling indicates a BIOS refresh via a memory stick might be in order. It isn’t, because afterwards I am not even blessed with a mouse cursor. Some sort of memory stick based complete restore may be the next step; after which I suspect even the power light will fail to function. Anyone want to buy an Acer Aspire, “needs some work”?
Nearly a week after returning from India, I have finally finished working through 3,500 photos and have around 1,300 images which are deemed acceptable for a wider audience. Web galleries are being loaded and discs burned for despatch next week. Don’t want to see another rally car photo for a while. Next stop Calcutta, if they want me back.
Off to see the latest offering from Mr. Tarantino, the spellchecker wrecking Inglourious Basterds. More than two and half hours of extended chatting, ultra-violence, assorted weirdness and flashes of genius cinematography; and the best offering of Bowie’s Cat People ever.
It was akin to drinking several margaritas; quite a pleasant experience, but it wasn’t till much later that you feel the impact. Unlike drinking several margaritas, it was an experience I was eager to repeat immediately.
Most surprising was the reaction of she who must be obeyed. I suspected that she would find it over-ponderous and lacking in action, romance, humour and all the other stuff that is normally a prerequisite for her viewing entertainment. But she enjoyed it immensely and this morning we had a difficult (for me, because I am crap at history) conversation about why Hitler hated the Jews, what the word “Nazi” meant and how the second world war was conducted. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.
Oscar for Christoph Waltz please.
August 28th, and a minor milestone day for Apple customers in Thailand. Along with the rest of the world, we can buy the latest iteration of the operating system, Snow Leopard. And today is the day when the iPhone 3GS becomes available. Or not.
True is the company responsible for the world’s worst cable TV service; they also have the contract for bringing the iPhone into Thailand. I ordered mine three weeks ago, and the order contained strict instructions that I had to collect my phone on the 28th or else I would forfeit my deposit. Sadly there was nothing in the contract that said that all employees of True would commit ritual suicide should they fail to deliver the phone on that date. Because, of course, they have failed.
The idea of the pre-order was so they could order sufficient phones from Apple. They received orders for 10,000 phones, Apple sent them 3,500. Someone cocked up. True are blaming Apple; but then what else would they do? But I would be OK because I ordered on the first day so would get one of the first phones. Nope. Applying a “first come, first served” approach was a logistical challenge too far; so all the phones are going to Bangkok and the rest of us have to wait for “sometime in September”. A very nice man from True called me up yesterday evening to tell me the news I already knew. In an earlier life I would have melted the phone to his ear; last night I just said it was OK and I would wait. I have been here too long.
Never mind, we can have the minor buzz associated with the launch of a new Apple product. Apple store decked out with special displays, free T-shirts, that sort of thing. Just to be sure I popped into iStudio to confirm they would be selling Snow Leopard on the 28th, along with the rest of the world. The young man I spoke to was initially too occupied investigating his nose with his finger and wiping the findings against a 17″ unibody aluminium Macbook Pro 2.8 GHz (not that he would have known the specification). Finally he turned to me and languidly explained that they had to wait for it to come from Singapore and it might take a week or more, so he really didn’t know when it would be available, and why was I bothering asking (I inferred that last bit). Then he turned away and his finger headed for his other nostril.
If you are an Apple dealer you have a competitor, the Apple on-line store; where the same products can be bought for the same price and with free shipping. So you have to work a little harder to make your customers feel they are welcome in your shop and it is worth their effort to come and buy from you. Just like iStudio doesn’t. So I ordered from the Apple on-line store on Wednesday, Snow Leopard shipped by courier yesterday, and it should arrive today. A shame I can’t buy an iPhone the same way.
No he bloody didn’t.
Sunday, the last day of the rally, and we head for a stadium on the outskirts of Bangalore where a makeshift track had been created. There is a watersplash and a jump. I opt for the jump while Kishen takes the watersplash. The cars are to make two and half circuits of the track, which gives ample time for shooting from a variety of angles. It’s a couple of hours of non-stop action and I love it; as does the crowd who become increasingly energised.
As you can see from a couple of the above shots, the red and white tape was a real nuisance, and of zero value in keeping the cars on the track. Some Photoshop will be required. Having photographed the jump, I could turn round and catch the car again as it progressed round the track. The only way of avoiding the tape was to stand next to the track, with the car heading generally in your direction. This next shot was taken at 65mm, meaning the car was almost close enough to touch. In retrospect, very foolish, but it makes for a dramatic shot (I think).
Once the runs were completed, it was time for the prizegiving, and it was at this point that the crowd went completely nuts. The guest was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian cricket team and, as several people told me, he close to being a god in India. There were a couple of ugly moments as the police wielded batons to push back the crowd; but I managed to retain my spot near the front and get some shots.
So that was the end, time for a sit and a cup of tea? No, there was the prizegiving for the several thousand other entrants that had won a prize, and I had to snap them all. Some thought it was really amusing to spray my camera. It wasn’t.
With a dusty and sticky camera we headed for home. At some traffic lights I took my last shot of the trip:
Yes, a pair of not very convincing lady boys. Felt like I was half way back to Pattaya already!
Send off some shots to the media, backup, pack, eat and off to the airport. A few sleepless hours later and home to she who must be obeyed and the cats.
Regrets: no time to do anything other than work, eat and sleep; must go back and be a tourist. Many thanks to Anna for accommodating me, Kishen for taking me around, Abdulla for recommending me; and to all the people who introduced themselves to me and made me feel welcome. Particular thanks to Dinesh who befriended me on the first day on the stages and proved to be a good shooting companion.
Thank you India.
Second day on the stages, with the cars coming in the opposite direction to the previous day, and heavy overnight rain dampening the dust (which is a bad thing in terms of photography ‘cos the dust clouds are gone and the cars get covered in orange sludge). Talking more with Anna and Kishan, I begin to realise that they don’t just want photos of rally cars, they want photos of rally cars next to sponsor’s signboards. The video teams know this and spend some time moving the signboards around to maximise exposure. I do my best to include some signage as I snap away. Sometimes it was subtle:
Sometimes it was too damn obvious:
The day was not as successful as the first. The reverse route seemed to provide less action and the lack of dust and mucky cars did not help.
Anna wanted me to take some shots in a small forest section, which turned out to be quite a walk. On the way I descended into a ditch to catch a couple of cars, and could see some farmers waving at me to join them in the field opposite. I assumed they wanted to admonish me for occupying their ditch; but what they actually wanted was for me to take their photograph. So I did.
Finally arrived in the forest section, to discover I was not alone.
I dropped my camera bag; but soon had to pick it up again as the monkey came out of the tree and seemed determined to check it out. He probably wanted to add to his Canon lens collection, which was strange because he looked like a Nikon user to me.
It was pleasantly shady under the trees, although the sun bouncing off the cars gave some problems.
At the end of the day there was another rush to send off photos to David the media man, another fine meal courtesy of Anna’s cook, and another early night. One more day to go and it was going to be another busy one.
Regular visitors will be used to seeing graphical displays showing where visitors to this site are located. Enough of that I say. We are one world, we share the same planet, we are brothers and sisters and our nationalities are of no importance (apart from the French). I refuse to highlight our geographic differences, dear children of the world. More importantly perhaps, I am too mean to renew the subscription for the service.
Unfortunately, WordPress refused to allow me to edit the sidebars. So I had no choice but to undertake a long overdue update to WordPress, from 2.6 to 2.8.4. Many are the horror stories of these upgrades, especially from Billy who is too lazy to do it himself and employs third-world artisans to do the job for a pittance. This takes weeks and is rarely successful, even now his banner is missing from the last attempted upgrade. I am therefore rather smugly pleased to announce that it took me less than half an hour; or rather it took rather less than half an hour for Smart Scripts to do it for me while I very cleverly clicked on the “upgrade now” button when prompted. I rule.
And if that was not enough excitement for one day, I dropped a bit of php code into the comments section to enable gravatars. Prompted by Billy, mine is a toilet seat because apparently I write about the flushing side of life more than I should.
And what does all this mean for you? Almost nothing. Except you do now get a rather wonderful error message when you display a single post. Please treat that as a feature rather than a bug. Thank you.
First day on the stages, which are ninety minutes out of Bangalore; and there wasn’t a single minute on the journey when I didn’t want the driver to stop and let me take some photographs, this is a very photogenic country. And there were the occasional moments when I was convinced we were all about to die, the approach to driving is somewhat random; like Thailand but with less directional stability and more use of horns.
After our recce on the first day, I was meant to sit down with Kishen and agree who would photograph where. But that never happened and instead I found myself dropped on the road next to the first stage and left to get on with it. Within five minutes I had regretted bringing my monster 300mm lens. My backpack weighed in at 12 kilos, which is 11 kilos more than I normally like to carry up a dusty hill in the sunshine.
There were three stages, and the cars would cover each stage twice on the first day, and twice on the second day, driving in the reverse direction. With 60+ cars in the event, there would be almost continuous action for the next 4-5 hours; so off I went.
Rallying is not that easy to photograph. As well as forward movement, the car is bouncing up and down, so shutter speeds cannot be too low. This is at 1/125th second:
The front of the car is nice and sharp, the rear is a blurry mess. Looks cool, but most shots taken at that speed just offer the blurry mess option, so usually I shot a little faster.
Standing next to the road and shooting gives a fairly standard, and not very interesting view.
So I tried standing in ditch so the road was closer to eye level. This made things more interesting, both photographically, and olfactorily due to the rather unusual smells in the ditch. I tried not imagine what was decomposing under my feet.
There were also ditches to be found on the outside of corners. This was a little more dangerous given that the forces of gravity and a mistake by the driver could result in the thing decomposing in the ditch being me. She who must be obeyed would not have approved.
The best way of conveying speed was to photograph the car off the ground, and there were plenty of places where they were catching air.
Best jumpers by far were the Suzuki jeeps which would take off from the smallest of bumps.
Eventually made it out of the stage and back to the service park; hot, dusty and tired, and looking forward to getting back to Bangalore for a hot shower and some food. But Anna wanted to tour all the stages to make sure that the product signs were in the right place for the reverse runs the following day; so off we went for about thirty kilometres of rough driving before finally heading home.
Prepared from the previous day, I was sorting through my photos on my laptop on the journey and waiting for us to get close enough to Bangalore so I could obtain an internet connection and send them to David the media man. Then we had a huge storm. Then we had a puncture. Eventually we arrived home and I cleaned myself and the camera, backed up my photos and ate yet another delicious meal courtesy of Anna’s cook. Then I fell into bed and slept, tomorrow was to be more of the same.
Second day in Bangalore and it is the official start of the rally. The cars have to be checked out by the scrutineers before the start, so I head for the scrutineering bay. I am wearing my media pass and so walk past the two guards at the entrance.
A voice rings out, “Sir, please wait a moment”. I stop. “OK sir, you can go now”. In the fraction of the second between the two sentences, the guard who has stopped me has looked at the other guard who has given a nod of approval. So we have a clear hierarchy here. One guard to do all the stopping and the other to take the decisions. I will leave it you to decide which one is the boss (hint: facial hair is power):
Inside the tent, the scrutineers were checking that the cars were road legal and had all the necessary safety bits, so that if anything happened, the crew had a chance of survival. Like this, where the occupants walked away from the crash:
Key bolts were marked with paint so teams couldn’t start swapping out engines just for the fun of it.
Then it was off to the start, which took place outside a very fine palace. More traditional forms of transport had to be moved out of the way before the ceremony could begin.
The rally was flagged off by the Chief Minister, after which the cars did nothing, because the rally proper didn’t start until the next day.
As the event was ending, I was introduced to the media coordinator for the rally. He explained that he would need a selection of shots to send out to the newspapers. I told him that would be no problem. I would go back to Anna’s house, download the shots onto my laptop, have a look through, and then send him a selection. Maybe have a bit of dinner while I was at it. Anyway, should be able to send him something within the next four hours. “I need something in the next sixty minutes” was his response.
Shit. Fortunately I had my laptop in the car. So while we struggled through the Bangalore rush hour traffic, I download my photos, did some selecting and editing and, with the aid of a plug-in internet stick, mailed off some photos to the media man. 53 minutes, with the last shot being mailed as we rolled into Anna’s driveway. They were used by various newspapers the next day. This makes me a photojournalist and I will adopt a certain swagger in future.