Tuesday, May 29, 2012

iPhoneographie à Paris

World traveler with a Digital SLR and a smart phone” reads my profile text on what may be one of the most famous photo editing/sharing applications, Instagram where the term iPhoneography (pictures shot and processed using iPhone and its apps only) was born.

I have long abandoned point-and-shoot-cameras and upgraded myself to a more challenging Digital SLR camera. As much as I love playing with my lenses to take quality photography, I also enjoy not having to carry my big-mama camera and its various lens sometimes. Thanks to the technology nowadays, I can snap pictures through my iPhone which I carry everywhere and through the use of various photo editing applications (apps in short); I can make my images more interesting and better in quality. During my recent trip in Paris, I have taken a few snapshots with my iPhone 4 and edited using some of my favorite photo apps.

The Eiffel tower is arguably the most photographed monument in Paris and probably in the world too. There has been countless number of images of this tower taken from every possible angle. My goal here is to present it in a slightly unusual manner, if possible. I start out by stripping off all the colors using ColorBlast lite, leaving the image in black and white. Then I give the secondary subject, the sky, more power by bringing back its original color blue. This way, the iconic tower is still taking the centre stage but it is the striking blue sky that is stealing the show here or at least holding its own against the biggest star, Madame Eiffel.

Is your phone taking unflattering photos? Don’t worry! We can make them interesting by turning them retro. Many photo editing apps feature B&W or Sepia effects. Here, I am in the gardens of Versailles. It looks like the rain is just about to heavily pour down and the ambience, cold and gloomy. No clear blue sky and the bright green color of trees and plants won’t not show either. I might as well go with the flow and give this image a somber nostalgic mood, fittingly with the atmosphere. Snapseed, one of my favorite apps, has a tool called ‘Drama’ which highlights the little details (the windows and doors of the palace) while giving the image a dramatic flair. Combined with its Black & White and Framing tools afterwards, this underexposed image is transformed into a somewhat decent B&W shot within a few seconds.

Emperor Napoleon commissioned “Arc de Triomphe” (Triumphal Arch in English) in 1806 to honor those who fought and died in the French revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Here I am the second time around in the city admiring an incredible panoramic view of Paris from this elegant neoclassical arch on the Champs-Elysees avenue, reminiscing the very first time I visited France, the first country I got to experience outside of Asia and thus it holds a special spot in my heart. For this image, I not only use Snapseed’s Drama tool but also collaborate with Pixlomatic’s sepia filter called “Anne” which makes it even more romantic and chic.

I am intrigued by carefully composed images. Clean lines, geometrical shapes and forms inspire me. This picture of the Eiffel tower captured from Arc de triomphe is my kind of photography. I use the iron bars from the building to create strong lines contrasting with  one another and finally exposing the tower which stands parallel with them at the right end. Pop!Cam tool from PhotoForge2 is perfect for cooperating textures and different hues into images. The app is easy to use and has every possible tool you need for photo editing such as cropping, rotating, straightening, resizing and many more.

Back in the day, the café like Les Deux Magots in Paris was the rendezvous of the writers, intellectuals and artists such as Heminway, Sartre and Picasso.  Nowadays, cafés like this are perfect for those of us tourists who would like to take a break and simply soak in the incredible Parisian café culture. Besides, it is an experience itself to watch stylishly dressed Parisians going about their business while enjoying a nice cup of coffee or two. For this picture, as I would like the shelter of the café to be as red as possible, I use Dynamic Light which powerfully enhances the colors, then ColorBlast lite to only highlight the scarlet red while turning the rest B&W. Simple café shop photo now becomes very much alive.

Who says you need big expensive lens to try out macro photography which is somehow a standard technique when photographing cuisines. Here, using Instagram, I present you the most celebrated French dish, the duck confit. I choose my favorite Lo-fi filter of Instagram to give my confit appetizing yet dramatic appeal. Then by adding the centre focus tool which provides the image with a blurred background effect to make as if it has come out of a recipe book. Duck confit is my personal favorite French dish of all time.  Crispy and golden on the outside but moist, tender and juicy inside, my dream is to be able to cook it the way they do it in France which is not an easy feat; preparation alone takes at least 36 hours. (The leg of duck is prepared in a centuries-old process of preservation that consists of salt curing and poached in its own fat until meltingly tender for at least four to ten hours) Paired with either scrumptious sautéed pomme de terre (potatoes) or French fries and green salad, this is my kind of heaven. C'est très délicieux!

Don’t we all love to have our pictures taken in front of famous monuments? We try our best to freeze up our special moments (aka photo proof!) by either striking the classic hands-in-the-pockets pose or the famed Japanese Kawai pose with two pointing fingers demanding world peace. We need a little more originality?  Sure!  Here, I am standing at the top of Napolean’s Arc de triomphe with the backdrop of the darling tower. Here's a thing! I take lovely pictures of others but when others take my pictures, I always get disappointed with results. Maybe I am quite fussy and demanding but some people just don’t know how to take pictures. Period! Luckily, iPhone camera has a self-portrait option. (How narcissist-friendly!)  As I’m striving to achieve “Orginality’, I try not to look straight into the camera. Purposely, of course! I even position myself in the corner not “the usual centre” leaving out more space for the magnificent backdrop. Once again, using my favorite, Pop!Cam from PhotoForge2, I play with the  image supplying paintbrush-like texture, cool purple hues and a neat black frame. Viola! Très sympa, oui?

Coming up with a compilation of your travel adventures or simply telling a story by stitching images in sequence, an app called Diptic makes it possible. Here, the highlights of Paris I have visited such as the Eiffel, Arc de triomphe du Carrousel (the smaller version of Triumphal arch), Basilica Sacré-Cœur in promenade-friendly Montmartre and the pyramid in front of the Louvre museum, home of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, are collaged together to commemorate my petites adventures in Paris.

On this one, I gather three pictures that best describe Paris and have one thing in common, the color gold. First, the renowned French luxury brand, Louis Vuitton. Their big outlet on Champs-Elysees avenue has become a landmark itself, popular with tourists, fashion lovers and obviously those who can afford it. Next, one of the gold-leafed sculptures on the Alexander III Bridge near Les Invalides, the building where Napoleon Bonaparte was buried. These gorgeous sculptures are one good memory that forever sticks in my mind for whatever reason since my first visit. (Maybe I like the way they glow against the grey cloudy sky. Or maybe I get easily distracted by shiny objects. I don’t know) And last but not least, the gold statue of this famous French man, Gustave Eiffel, under the legendary tower that he built.  Apart from the striking gold from these three photos, I want to go a little beyond reality and perhaps fiddle with some colors this time. It is Paris after all, no holding back, let’s go a little wild with my imaginations. (Apps used: Snapseed, PhotoForge 2, Diptic for both pictures)

To be honest, I am amazed how technology today spreads me out to endless creative opportunities and possibilities. "So you photoshoped these pictures?" A disapproving friend argues as if I have committed a crime. These are not natural, I prefer real photos she continues. What’s so exciting about reality? I question silently. Especially when reality is captured by a 5 megapixel camera from a telephone. And who says art is to suggest reality anyway? Imaginations are free. These aforementioned apps come in handy and aid our creative process. They not only help better the condition of images but also in some cases, live out our fantasies. If we can lean on for a little extra technology help, I’d say why not? 

At the end of the day, creativity comes from within. It starts with our eyes and it is about being able to see and appreciate the beauty around us. Also, it is important to keep the balance between enhancing and going overboard. For the price of a packet of chips we pay or many of them, at free of charge, these photo apps can be downloaded from the app store.

Snap, snap, snap away!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Grindr et moi : Thoughts on the biggest & scariest gay club

Profile-based gay dating/social websites have drastically changed the way gay men meet one another. From Gaydar founded in 1999, arguably the most important and the largest of its kind, to Grindr, the most popular gay application for smart phones and tablets, the cruising scene has been conveniently taking place online for quite some time. But of course there are still millions of gay men who are opposed to the idea of hooking up with men online for some casual fun. It seems all too easy for them. Like many things we gay men have to work hard and fight for in life, they perhaps want to do the same in this department as well. Hey, different folks, different strokes! I totally get it.

Starting with a simple “How’s it going?” and a picture or two sent afterwards, you could arrange a meeting with another man nearby within a few minutes using this application, suggestively named “Grindr”. There’s no need to be walking up and down the dark streets or public parks at night, trying to make eye-contact with the person who you think might be gay risking the danger of being beaten up or sworn at.  Or worse, wearing a tight-fitted t-shirt, hanging around forever in a dingy gay pub hoping to pick up someone while enduring self-indulgent drag performances which you think you could do better. I am not saying those days are officially over and truth to be told, we all do like to do things like that occasionally  but it has become so much easier to do what-we-boys-like-doing with the help of gay social sites and apps like Grindr. “A lot of gay pubs and clubs are dying. Gay men don’t go to them as much these days” says one matured gay man I had a chat with in Sydney. He continues “the presence of gay men in straight clubs is tolerated nowadays therefore it is no longer a need for gay men to hang out only at the gay bars”.  It is true to an extent and especially in the big cities like Sydney, Bangkok or Paris.

Grindr, according to Vanity Fair magazine, is the world’s biggest and scariest gay bar. There are currently 3.5 million users (Shall we just say Grindr-ers?) in 192 countries in the world and of course, the number is growing rapidly. “Grindr is quick, convenient and discreet, anonymous as one wants it to be. The application uses the mobile device’s location-based services to show the guys closet to him who are also on Grindr” says its website.  So if he likes someone, he chats with him, maybe swaps some pictures, arranges a meeting and gets down to business within minutes.  A lot less complicated than wearing a condom, me thinks!

However, “It is a cut-throat business” (Say it like Heidi Klum on “Project Runway”). Why? Because some Grindr-ers can be quite mean and manner-less simply because they are online which not only protects them by hiding their identity also gives them the opportunity to misbehave. We all know that the regular human rules and social etiquettes don’t mean anything in cyber world. You send them message and they don’t reply which is understandable because that means they are not interested. However, some of them will reply by saying nasty stuff like “I don’t like Asians!”, “Didn’t you read my profile?, “I only go for masculine guys”. Or worse, in a scenario like this.

You: “Hi, How are you? Wow! You are hot!

Him:  Pics???  (since when “pics???” become equivalent to “hi, I’m great, thanks”? )

You:  Well, there’s a pic on my profile. 

Him:  More pics???

Well, never mind! You swallow your pride and send him more “Pics???” as requested including the very private ones in the hope of assisting him in decision-making which can possibly lead to a hook-up.

Then he blocks you!!!  Yes, he blocks you after you sent him the pictures he requested… which of course leaves you with endless questions.  Are my pictures not good enough?  Why doesn’t he like me? Do I look fat? Maybe he doesn’t like my hair. Is he a size-queen? While the truth is “He’s just not that into you” but how many of us can happily settle with the obvious truth and not end up torturing ourselves with these negative questions instead? Any type of rejection sucks! But then again, we are no strangers to rejection. We get that all the time, right? It just still sucks every time!

Blocking actually is an effective tool on Grindr as there can be some stalkers whom you do not like and they keep sending you messages day and night which can be quite annoying. Grindr Xtra, an upgraded version which you have to pay handsomely, allows unlimited blocking while the regular version has a certain block limit.

The worst thing on Grindr is not the rejection but the fake profiles. Some guys use male models’ pictures on their profiles. Their aim is to fool the other users and systematically lure them into trading intimate pictures. And it’s no brainer what they do once they get these pictures of course. Sick bastards! There are also guys who are married or in a relationship but feeling playful or just bored and not necessarily looking for ‘action’. They are just after the pictures. That’s it and there will be no more follow-up after you swap pics with them. I call them ‘window shoppers’.  They only look but never buy. Les Misérables, in other words!

My philosophy on food is that one should eat everything as long as it is tasty and edible. Those who only eat what they know or are afraid to try new things are missing out a lot. That is why Grindr profiles with statements like “I’m into Caucasians only” or “No Asians please” get on my nerves. While I understand that we all have our own taste and preference, we as gay men who have our own struggles with equality and discrimination all our lives, should be careful when putting such statements on our profiles. After all, we still have the right to not reply to the message sender or…just block him. So easy!

Closeted ones are quite common on Grindr too. They are not ready to admit that they are hungry but that also does not stop them from shamelessly reaching for the pie. Hey, we rightfully earned this pie and it makes us cringe a little bit that we, openly-gay men have to share it with them too. Picture-less, stats-less profiles or the profiles with hideous scenery pictures or close-up shots of body parts requesting “discreet fun”??? (“Discreet”, an overused famous phrase on Grindr! Of course all ‘fun’ is discreet unless you do it in the middle of the street in the broad day light). The thing is that we gay men have this straight guy fantasy and we do fall into the trap every now and then. We make arrangements on Grindr to meet with them only to find out that these so-called straight guys do not show up in the end and it is all just a game, as part of their testing-water campaign. Them closeted boys, eh?  

What about those Grindr-ers with special needs?  Yes! They are of course in no way physically or mentally challenged. Yet they have needs and they are not shy to advertise them on their profiles such as “no sissy please”, “NSA fun only”, “Can’t host”, “muscle to muscle”, “no pic-no reply” and my most favorite one, “Straight-Acting Guy seeking the same”.  What the heck is straight-acting? If you ask me, straight-acting sounds like an act. I’d go to theatre if I need to see acts. No, Thanks! 

But some guys are just way too cynical or outright bitter. When a well-mannered good looking fella approaches them on Grindr, they suddenly become suspicious.

A) Is he up for some game? 

B) His profile looks too good to be true? 

C) He could be a money boy. (Gay term for prostitute)

How sad is that that these guys cannot bring themselves to believe that this nice attractive chap could actually like them, The Average Joes? Some would even ask “Are you a money boy?” which is clearly an offensive question that in real life one would think twice before asking. It is understandable that they feel the need to protect themselves from these opportunity-seeking and troublesome money boys but randomly doubting and asking whoever says Hi to them on Grindr whether they are prostitute is blatantly rude.

Unfortunately it is true that in Asia where I live, there are many money boys or shall we just call them ‘boys on mission” (BOM) or ‘boys with agenda’ (BWA) since they sound so much nicer and plus we gay boys love acronyms. (GWM, GAM, BTM, NSA, hey?) Here, I have encountered this next category of Grindr-ers, Caucasians-gone-wild.  These BOMs and BWAs throw themselves randomly at these expats living in South East Asia in the hope of money, opportunity or both. There’s no exaggeration as it is a known fact.  Anyone who has been to Bangkok, Bali or Phenom Pehn can assure you on that. Many of these Caucasian guys, while not necessarily sexy, attractive or muscular (in some cases, even old, ugly and fat) receive smooth-as-silk treatment from these boys and soon become out of touch with reality. They are after all one of the most sought-after commodities in the gay communities of SE Asia. Rejection is something they are not used to. The boys are always saying yes, smiling constantly and showering them with compliments. So when a decent Asian guy who is not seeking money or opportunity does not reply their messages or politely replies “you are just not my type” or “I’m just not into you”, they flip. They get so shocked, immediately take offense and call the guy “arrogant” or “stack up”. They just cannot believe that finally someone says “NO!” ~ Surprise, Surprise!

Grindr can be quite addictive even if you are not in search for hook-ups daily. It somehow becomes a habit and just like the way you check your email every now and then, you go on Grindr and see what’s going on. When travelling, it is very useful. Not just for sex, there are some nice folks who are kind enough to give travel tips and recommendations about the area you are visiting. You get to know the locals and know where the party is at. Plus, you get extra attention because you are the new meat in town. How fabulous? Whether you like it, hate it, use it or not, Grindr has taken the gay world by storm and become one influential factor. It is technology and it has its pros and cons of course. Personally, I embrace it and I think it is a fun tool but I tell myself to not take it all too seriously. I treat it as a form of entertainment really.  The world is getting smaller before our eyes and our privacy is stolen away bit by bit but believe it or not, for the most part, we are still in control and we make the choices. We put out what we want to be seen and shared anyway. The same thing goes for Facebook and Twitter. It’s not all too negative. The choice is yours really. It’s all about adapting to a new way of living. Grind away, folks! :)