One Year in Asia.....

One Year in Asia.


One year in Asia and what a huge change in my life. Taiwan certainly is, different to the UK but I have grown to love it here very quickly. My life has changed so much in one year, it is actually quite dizzying writing this and thinking about where I was a year ago compared to where I am now.

The wooden panel closing on the box crate with all our stuff in it and being towed away not to be seen again for three months. Saying farewell to friends and family, getting on the plane, nervous and excited about what the future held and if I could make it as a photographer in Taiwan, seems both like yesterday and a million miles away.

Arriving in Taiwan, I found the realisation this is home now, settled quite easily. I set about putting feelers out to find the lay of the land and discovered one of Taiwan's greatest assets, how friendly the people are, this friendliness continues to impress me. What a beautiful place filled with, in the majority of my experience so far, really lovely people. Making contact with the photographic community here was a breath of fresh air after the often hostile London experience. Unsurprisingly some of my best friends are photographers in the UK, but these guys I have known for years. A lot of the newer photographers I met (new to me anyway) in London, held a certain degree of animosity toward other photographers, I will honestly hold my hands up to being guilty of this from time to time, here though it seems to be somewhat different. Perhaps some of the animosity in London is because 37% of all UK based photographers are there gunning for the work. From what I have learned this year, I know if I were to return to the UK and apply my new knowledge, life would be very different. This year really has been a great experience, not only culturally but vocationally also, as you will see by the end of this blog, I have learned a lot and come along way. There is still along way to go, but with all the support I have received from all of you, even if this is the first time you have looked at my blog (I hope it won't be the last), I am so grateful, it really is appreciated. I get very excited if I get 100 page views, if you guys all shared my blogs, and it started to really grow I think I may burst. Don't let that put you off though ok, get sharing, make comments, ask questions and engage with me. I make my photographs and write these blogs to reach out and engage with all of you, so a little return is very welcome.

After a couple of months in Taiwan I had met a few people and got my first shoot. It was for Travel in Taiwan (click to see issue), I had made a meeting and shown what work I had. When I got the call to ask if I wanted to shoot I was very pleased, better still, they wanted me to shoot for two features. The first was of an organic Kumquat farmer on his plantation in Yilan. and the second was a portrait of an Indigenous artist named Demedeman.






Around the same time, I found myself getting involved with a project called Tap Root. The project was bringing together Maori people from New Zealand, and Indigenous Taiwanese people, as they share a common history. Happily I found myself enjoying my first train journey in Taiwan as I headed down to Taichung . Here I was to meet up with the group and hang with them to document their visit for a couple of days. What a great bunch the Maori's were, it took a minute for me to ingratiate myself with them, but by the time we got off the bus to the night market they clocked I was very relaxed, positive about Taiwan and all about joining in the fun with them. I am happy and proud to call these warm-hearted people I met and photographed friends. Although we only spent a couple of days together it was a great experience, and one I found at times very moving, especially being there when they performed the Haka infront of the Indigenous Taiwanese. Thanks to links such as Facebook we stay in touch, and continue to joke with each other. I received a new nickname, "Duncle". I am told that uncle is a term of endearment, however I am not totally convinced that they're not making a little joke at my expense. If they are, I think it's cool they are relaxed enough with me to do so, what a compliment. 






English is most certainly not the first language in Taiwan, it is Mandarin, there is also definite distinction between the way Chinese speak Mandarin and Taiwanese speak Mandarin. Of course there are older dialects spoken in Taiwan, one thing at a time though, alright? I had started school to learn the language fairly quickly after I got here, other than the couple of days shooting the above projects I was making the journey on a daily basis to school. I was being taught BoPoMoFo, a phonic learning system here in Taiwan to begin the process of learning Mandarin. I want to learn enough of the language to communicate, ideally I will be able to converse properly in a few years. For now though a basic level as a foundation is better than nothing at all. I enjoyed the first month of classes, the teachers were lovely and the class was fun, it seemed I was moving forward. After the month in class it was time to head back to the UK for a couple of weeks visit, school was on hold so I would just have to practice on my own for a bit.

Prior to leaving Taiwan for the UK, I had designed a 7 inch promo book from my on going portrait series. I had had it printed and mailed it out to editors with a plan to contact them once back in the UK to follow up. Hitting the phone I managed to make arrangements to head down to London and meet some editors. It was a very positive experience, boosted my confidence and reassured me that I was moving in the right direction. I am a big fan of actual printed work, I take great pride in my portfolio. Given the choice between being handed an iPad (other devices are available), or a leather bound book, with beautifully printed images on high quality paper, which would you prefer and be more impressed with? I want my book to reflect that I appreciate quality, I aspire to create quality photographs consistently and want to show this to the best of my ability. Judging from the reactions I got this is what I had begun to achieve. The phone wasn't suddenly ringing off the hook, but the meetings had boosted my confidence and that was just what I needed.

The trip to the UK was short but sweet and soon enough I was back in Taiwan, deciding I should concentrate on school again I booked myself on to the next level course. Having enjoyed the teaching styles of the two teachers my class had for the first month I had hoped for the same teachers again for this months course. Sadly this did not happen, the course was split into spoken language and written characters. I was very happy to discover on of my previous teachers would be taking the character class, but the language teacher was new. Honestly, I struggled. I could not really understand my new teacher at all.  I was the only person in the class coming from a western country with a Germanic based language, the rest were all from Asian countries. I am not suggesting that all Asian languages are the same, of course they aren't. I know that they are not all tonal languages also, however some of the structure is similar and also some of the sounds and rhythm. My ears had tuned in to my previous teachers, but I could not for the life of me tune in to the new one or understand a word of what she was saying. It was depressing, I found myself stressed about going to school, we do not learn well in a stressed environment. What I should have done was get a refund and looked elsewhere, but I pressed on, it wasn't to last. The final straw came when the one teacher that I could understand from my previous class was replaced by a lady whose voice just sounded like a squeaky door. To the surprise of my predominantly female, and mostly Japanese classmates, I stood up, put my books in my bag, apologised, and walked out of the class. Have I given up on the language, of course not, I am learning by myself, my listening comprehension has improved, my vocabulary is growing and I am doing ok. I can't have a conversation just yet, it is going to take a while but I can manage to get about and do what I need to. I even managed to open a bank account all on my own the other day, check me out. My goal is three years, I think that is realistic if I continue to practice. My Taiwanese friends and family are helping me too, like I said they are very friendly, nice and above all patient with me.

Freed up from the three hour commute and two hours in class it was back to concentrating on work. My wife's old boss got in touch, two of her daughters wanted to know if I would teach them photography. I wasn't sure if I could but I thought why not give it ago, and so began a month of lessons. Amanda and Alisha were good students, they were keen and I think would have been with me everyday given the chance. I tried to keep some structure, starting with camera basics, exposure, depth of field, different types of lenses etc... I wanted to make it fun too, I know I learn better from practical lessons and so we would set up lights, make product shots, portraits, balance and overpower sunlight. I would set them projects, they would mostly fail to do them, but it didn't really matter as long as it gave them something to think about. The feedback was good, I hope they learned something and will put that into practice in the future. Actually, having recently spoken with Amanda, I am sure that they will. 

I organised a photoshoot for my students so they could put into practice what they had learned and really experience what it was like on set for real. As a result of the annual tomb sweeping ceremony here in Taiwan the girls had to pull out of the shoot which was a real shame. Not wanting to cancel and let down the model and make-up artist (mua), I quickly found an assistant and continued with the shoot. The shoot itself was ok, I learned a lesson about how fast we can loose the light in Taipei, and also that common sense and logic is not something everyone is blessed with. I came away from the shoot not one, but two umbrellas lighter than when it started. On a very positive note though, I met Crystal for the first time. She was our hair and mua, this was a meeting that has gone on to prove rather fortuitous. Crystal is not only a hair and mua, she is a stylist with a fantastic eye. If that is not enough, she is a talented musician and one half of Dronetonics. Dronetonics are a band based here in Taipei, they have just recently released their first album, and are well worth checking out. A month or so later we made a shoot together and not long after this I was making promo photographs Dronetonics. We are working on making a couple of fashion concept shoots which I am buzzing about, these will be shot before I leave in a few weeks to spend Christmas in the UK.



I guess we are about 6 months in now and as you can gather I'd been getting along ok, I had had a couple of magazine shoots, a project which raised my profile, a few good meetings in the UK a month of teaching photography and found someone who is great to work with. It was at about this time I got a call from Marcus. I had met Marcus to get tickets for a Grandmaster Flash gig, which was excellent by the way. Marcus is a DJ, promoter and creates events in Taiwan with two other guys, together they make up Frog in a Sock. Each summer they hold weekly pool parties, I was approached and asked if I was interested in shooting the parties for them. It sounded like fun, there was a tickle in it, although not huge, it would also provide a good opportunity to build my reputation. The pool parties gave me a chance to meet a lot of people and get my work seen and also give people the chance to see how I go about my business. The first party was a challenge to say the least, the whole six hours I was at the pool it rained torrentially. I worked hard that day and no messing, not to mention the efforts in post. These efforts paid off, the guys were pleased and the feedback from the girls at the party was good, I was booked again, not just for one, but for every party I could make it to. Thankfully the weather for the rest of the summer was glorious, the reputation for the party grew, in no small part as a result of my photographs. My ethos for the party is to get into the scene, I shoot on a wide angle for the party so I can get close to create a sense of involvement for the viewer, I want them to feel part of it. My shots clearly reflected the fun people are having and by engaging with my subject and having fun while I was making the shots I soon became known around the pool. The people knew I would make them look good in my shots, my reputation was definitely growing, as was my friend base. The numbers grew at the pool, the last party I could do was attended by over eight hundred, and the poolside was full up by 15:00. I have to say that I felt proud of that, obviously it wasn't all down to me, but I felt part of something, it felt good and was fun too. As a result of the pool parties growing reputation and success the season was extended by two weeks, the grand finale saw the pool side heaving with over one thousand revelers enjoying the last throngs of the Taipei summer. 






Along with everything else I have continued shooting my portrait series, having made a couple more by the second third of the year. Joe Henley a writer I met whilst shooting for Travel in Tawian was the first, he is also a musician, singing in several bands, one of which is Revilement. I spoke about Joe in my last blog as he commissioned me to make his portrait for the jacket of his novel. The second portrait was of a Peruvian DJ, living in Taichung who was/is studying vinyl art, as in record sleeve design I think this is part of what he does, I wasn't quite sure to be honest, it had been a rushed morning getting down to see him for this portrait. One thing I can tell you for sure is that he was a Red Bull freestyle finalist in Taiwan this year, has started producing his own tunes, and is also a polyglot, very impressive. His name is Zynko.



I can hear you all wondering why I didn't stay and shoot the last few parties at the pool, after all it sounds like so much fun right? It is simple, something very exciting happened. It was the most exciting thing all year so far, and very exciting for my career too. I got a shout from National Geographic Traveller UK (NGTUK) with an assignment for me. They wanted me to go to Japan for them to make photographs to illustrate an article. I was to go to Tokyo to photograph street food and the Tsukiji Fish Market, then off to document Hakone and Ryoken (traditional inns and hot spring spas). I wrote about this a couple of blogs back, so go and check that for a full story. The article appeared in the October edition of the magazine, both in print and on the digital version. As a result of this work and connection with National Geographic I have been interviewed by the WPO (World Photography Organisation) and featured on their site (click the link to see this), I have also recently been interviewed by NGTUK, I'm to be featured in the January/February issue. To top all that of I have had the great honor of being selected as a judge for the NGTUK photography competition. These interviews have only happened in the last few weeks, along with being asked to judge such a prestigious competition I am buzzed from it for sure and it feels great.




I covered the nightmare I came back from Japan previously too. The nightmare of hard drive faliure and the massive re-organisation of all my files. I am doing my best to stay up to date with it now, so far so good, and Backblaze seems to be running well and doing it's job, it was a hard lesson learned, and I was lucky to have already backed up the originals. The only thing really lost was hours of post processing work, it could have been so much worse. 

During one of my visits to Hong Kong I had made some contacts and shown my work, from these I received a commission to shoot a portrait. The portrait was of a very successful Taiwanese artist and the man behind Franz Porcelain. I went along to the location and scouted out where I wanted to make the shots, I was going to be pressured for time so the more preparation I could do the better. The morning of the shoot arrived, the shot list was fairly straight forward. The aim was to make three portraits in different locations in the building, we had been told we had an hour for this. After that the client wanted some product shots. Finally, if we could, I wanted to get into the design room to photograph the craftsmen and women at work. It was lucky I had gone along to scout the location, as soon as we got into the building and up to where we needed to start setting up, we were informed that our shoot time had been cut dramatically. It would seem that we were feeling the fallout from a previous photography crew taking all day, and too much of Mr. Chen's time a week earlier. So now we had 30 minutes to set up the lights in three locations and make the portraits. The rest of the shots needed to be done and in the bag by lunchtime before the staff went out to eat.. We were up against it for sure, so without further a do it was all hands on deck. Needless to say we got it done, it wasn't perfect but we made it, Mr Chen's comment was that we were very efficient, sometimes there is just no time for faffing. A few months later I received the copy, it turned out looking pretty good. I would like to say thank you to Michael Geier for stepping up to assist on this shoot, he will say he didn't do anything, but this was not true, it was a difficult shoot and he proved himself invaluable. 



Shortly after this shoot for Silkroad, I was back in Hong Kong again. It was a longer visit this time, three weeks in Hong Kong followed by three weeks in the UK. Knowing I was going to be visiting for a while it seemed prudent to make sure I wasn't idle. Arrangements had been made to shoot several portraits for "The Collectors" while I was there. In total I managed to shoot six, I could post them here, but I am planning a new gallery on my website for all the fresh portraits I have made this year for the series. They are a whole different blog anyway which will appear in the future. Making all the new friends and contacts in Hong Kong was really cool, in keeping with all the other people this project has lead me to meet, they were all lovely, warm and friendly. I very much am looking for to my future trips to Hong Kong, no longer will they be predominantly solitary affairs, but a great opportunity to catch up with people, hang out and experience more of  Hong Kong. I did end up on a nightbus adventure after having a drink with one of the people that I photographed. I went on a three hour excursion to the New Territories, it wasn't that I got on the wrong bus, it just happened to be going the wrong way!

Of course I made other photographs in Hong Kong/Kowloon it is an interesting place to photograph as you will have seen from my work previously. I even started playing around with some time-lapse experiments, I have bit to learn but it is fun to play around with and will get around to finishing them up at somepoint. For now though I will post a couple of shots of our view from the apartment in Kowloon.




After Hong Kong it was back to the UK, I didn't do too much other than pop in to Conde Nast Traveller which was cool. I had had a meeting in Hong Kong which was great, in this meeting I received advice about who to approach with my portrait work once back in Taiwan, to some degree this was repeated during my meeting at Conde Nast. It is very satisfying that my portrait work is rated by some top editors around the world, my favorite subject to photograph is people, and above all their portraits. On this trip to London I didn't have time to organise a meeting with the Conde Nast suggestion, I am back next month and into the new year so will try then. However as soon as I got back to Taiwan I was on the phone and the next day in for a meeting. It was one of the best meetings I have ever had. My work really impressed, a week later I was getting a commission for my first shoot for my latest client. The client is GQ Taiwan, prior to the actual shoot we met up a couple of times to discuss and scout locations. I got in touch with Choncy, she had wanted to assist on my Silkroad shoot and I'd said I would be in touch for the next one and so I was. We met and went through the lights and what was going to happen, I got an immediate good feeling about Choncy, she knows lighting having worked in film making for a while, but she isn't experienced with flash. She is attentive, keen and fun, so I knew I needn't worry about her during the shoot. The day of the shoot arrived and we all met up. Our model for the day was Taiwanese artist Huang Po-Chih, we were introduced and then all jumped in the van to hit the first spot. I don't think there is anything nicer for a photographer to hear from his/her client than "I love it" from the very first frame. The day continued at pace, not all the shots were so easy, by the end we were all tired, we made some really beautiful photographs and everyone was happy. The feature is in the current issue of GQ Taiwan and looks great. I am really looking forward to a continued and growing relationship with GQ as well as lots more shoots. Last week I popped in to pick up a couple of copies of the magazine and say hi, I was delighted to received an invite to attend this years GQ Taiwan Men of the Year Award, it will be great fun, and a chance to make new contacts, can't wait.




 Prior to the GQ shoot I had photographed an event, it was a good job and the clients were very happy with my work. I am never really more happy than when a client tells me I have done a good job and says thank you, oh and when the cheques come in ofcourse. They where so impressed with my work that I have been invited to go to a British Chamber of Commerce Taiwan (BCCT) meeting where I will get a chance to meet a good amount of possible new clients, this is a great opportunity, one I am looking forward to very much. Next week is set to be busy, interesting and good fun, with the GQ awards at the start and the BCCT meeting at then end, it is all good.

The weekend approaching I am away with the family to Sun Moon Lake and Alishan, two of Taiwan's most famous and beautiful locations. It will be lovely to get out and into the countryside for a couple of days, I have been to Sun Moon Lake a few times, as far as I know though, Alishan will be a new experience. I have looked at it before on line and know it is very beautiful, I just hope the weather is doing something that helps me make a good photograph.

I shot a few rolls of film (Fujifilm Provia 120) last week making Crystal's portrait and spent all day yesterday scanning the shots. There is something really satisfying about shooting on film, the feel still can't be replicated fully on digital cameras I think, perhaps I am just a romantic, but I will not apologise for that. The shots look gorgeous, I will definitely be running  rolls through my Mamiya RZ more regularly.

So as things continue to tick along nicely it has been great to look back over this, my first year in Asia. It has been a fantastic year. I feel like I have come quite a long way since packing that crate and stepping on the plane. I am extremely proud to count National Geographic, GQ, Bauer Media, plus a few others among my client list now. Being interviewed and featured by the WPO, and the upcoming feature in NGTUK is wonderful, all my hard work is getting recognised and is paying off, it feels great. I will try to keep my feet firmly on the ground, Mrs. L and my friends will no doubt give me a slap back to reality if I don't stay in check. I will continue to push myself as hard as I can and keep working to make the best photographs I can and be the best I can be for my clients, current and future. When this time comes again next year I hope that I have as many interesting experiences to tell you about, that I continue to shoot the editorial work and also start to build my commercial client base. That sounds like a good plan wouldn't you agree?

Without the appreciation and support I get from all my family, friends and people around the world who so kindly take the time to engage with me about my work, whether that is a "like"/"share" on facebook, a "+1" on Google+, "likes" and "follows" on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter or actually writing to me and having a chat, it always feels wonderful, respect to all of you, thank you.

I will ask as I always do, please share my blog around as much as you can. I love to make photographs, I think the passion I have for my work is obvious to see. I do still need to make it work though so the more who see my work and my passion the better, hit the share buttons at the foot of this page..

If you have any questions or comments, there is a box bellow as are all the links you need to keep up to speed with what I am doing and the photographs I am making.

It goes without saying that I am always very interested in any work you may have for me, if you do have a shoot you want me to make for you don't hesitate to get in touch to discus what you need.

I really hope you all enjoyed this blog, I haven't written so much for a good while, it wasn't boring was it?

Until the next time....

Cheers,

Duncan.


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