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Down Alleys: The Saddest Chickens I've Seen

Chickens in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Thu 23 October 2014

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about animal rights. In general what I've seen of farming conditions in the United State is much better than what I see in documentaries. That said, I feel bad for these chickens I found last night in Kuala Lumpur. They're kept in a rebar cage in a dark alley in Chinatown, only a few feet away from what looks like the equipment used to slaughter them.

I'm enjoying wandering down alleys and seeing what I find. Some of it will be posted here with commentary on my impressions.

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What do famous photographers carry? Moises Saman's Camera Kit

Olympus OMD EM-5: A $920 camera kit good enough for a Mangum Photographer

Thu 23 October 2014

I first became aware of Moises Saman's work after seeing his amazing photographs of the protests in Hong Kong. The photographs were so good that I decided to hop on a plane that morning and head into Hong Kong to see the protests for myself.

Due to the incredible nature of his photographs and that he works for the well regarded Magnum photo agency I decided to start researching Moises and understanding more about him. In the process I came across his camera kit, which is an impressive alternative to my previously recommended Fuji X100S.

"Some specific stories I see in black and white. It can depend my mood, or the mood of the work. There’s no formula. I mostly work with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and almost always with just one 35mm F/2 lens. Technically speaking, I find black and white easier — you have more freedom. The picture doesn’t need to be perfect. With color, if the colors themselves are not strong then the image does not work. Black and white, on the other hand, gives you more leverage; you have more space to focus on the content, instead of composition or lighting." Interview with Moises Saman in Wired Magazine

If you're in the market for a new camera for travel, street, or documentary photography you might very well consider looking at the Olympus EM-5 instead of the Fuji X100S. For about $450 you can pick a used OMD EM-5 body on Amazon. Throw in a $420 17mm f1.8 lens and the camera is comparatively priced to a used Fuji X100S ($980 last I checked) with the addition of weather sealing, interchangeable lenses, and longer battery life.

The Olympus is a 4/3 sensor instead of the larger APS-C sensor in the Fuji. Is a Micro 4/3rds sensor good enough for serious photography? It certainly is based on the images Moises is able to capture with it.

Honestly I'm a bit jealous and embarassed that Moises can take such incredible pictures with a micro 4/3 camera and I'm lugging a Leica around the world. It made me consider swapping the Leica for the Olympus to get the lighter weight, optional auto focus, and weatherproofing. It's tempting, but I love my Leica. I'll think about it again when my camera insurance comes up for renewal next year.

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The Chow Kit Wet Market in Kuala Lumpur

The most disgusting place I've visited so far

Tue 21 October 2014

A few pictures from today's trip to the Chow Kit Wet Market in Kuala Lumpur. What a truly disgusting place. I know that food involves killing animals but I wasn't ready to see so many dead animals in one place. Cow heads, cow hearts, lungs, and even just the skin of the cow was for sale. The butcher cutting a sheep's head while a cow head sits out in the open was very graphic and intense to see.

Final picture is one of my friend Ella holding a baby kitten who we also found. A good way to cleanse your mind of the squeamish pictures here

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How travel makes me less picky

Adaptability on the road

Mon 20 October 2014

One of my favorite aspects of travel is that it makes me more adaptable. When I had an apartment, local friends, and a steady Internet connection there were many things that I could control: things that I could make perfect if I just put enough time into them.

Today almost nothing is in my control. I can't know if I'll get a good night's rest, can't figure out if a meal will fill me up before I order it, and have a lot of trouble eating healthily1. Some of my desire for control comes out with rather obsessive selection of gear, but a bunch of it is lost in all the shuffle of moving around constantly.

I have the kind of mind that likes to solve problems. On the road a lot of those problems have to go unsolved. I'm realizing that I don't need a perfect solution to problems. I don't always need to wear clean clothes or be dry or warm or cool. I'm learning to train my brain to ignore minor discomfort and pain in order to make life more pleasant.

I think that we get so used to having things working just right, just perfectly, that we lose track of what we actually need. It's possible to let the tiny things that are going wrong and frustrating us dominate our time. We obsess over these tiny problems and try to fix them, or aren't even aware of them until a product on Kickstarter tempts us to solve them with money.

Today I could spend hours reading about lenses instead of just going out and shooting pictures, I could spend a similar amount of time trying to plan out the perfect trip to a new town, stay in the perfect hotel, or eat the best local food. Or I can just go there and see what I like and try to smile when things don't turn out right.

As I'm writing this it's late at night, there's loud music coming through my door, and mosquitoes are biting me on the ankles. To stay productive on the road I've had to learn not to care and just sit down and work.

One of my favorite books is On Writing by Stephen King. In the book King stresses that you can't make your working environment perfect and eventually you just have to sit down and get to work. He writes in a windowless room facing the wall so that his mind has to create a world for him. To me that's perfect adaptability: just sitting down and making yourself do something instead of endlessly fussing over getting it just right.

The picture is a Tom Bihn Daylight on a Shinkansen bullet train in Japan. Of the things I like to adapt to, bad gear isn't one of them. Tom Bihn graciously sent me this pack to review in Kyoto. So far I love the pack but want to use it as my primary pack for a while before giving a full review.

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  1. Right now I'm working on finding healthy meal replacements on the road. The best advice I have is to eat less frequently and to eat prepared food from grocery stores. It turns out you can eat almost anything as long as you don't eat too much of it. For me it's a lot easier to wait and eat one big meal later in the day instead of eating breakfast and then trying to moderate food throughout the day. Milk, eggs, fruit, and imitation crab are often available in any store on the road and much better, cheaper, and faster than food from McDonalds. 

Lunch in Kuala Lumpur

Food on the road, my favorite traveler, and editing raw Leica photos on the iPad.

Mon 20 October 2014

Today I visited Little India in Kuala Lumpur for the first time. What a fascinating place. I got to see (and forgot to photograph) the whole town get ready for Deepavali later this week. There were women getting henna tattoos, men selling fireworks, and the whole of a nearby mall was decorated with flowers for the holiday.

Lunch was with one of my favorite travelers I've met so far. Her name is Ella and she's from Switzerland but grew up partially in Italy. She speaks six languages, travels without a computer or a camera, and couldn't stop talking about how beautiful Kuala Lumpur is, how she loves all of the multiethnic people here, and how she likes not even knowing what she's eating. "I think this is liver" she said as she stuck some food on my plate.

The two pictures below are of my hostel roommate Ella who joined me for lunch and the food stand we ate from. I didn't have the camera out to record the rest of the afternoon but wish I did.

Lunch in Kuala Lumpur ChinaTown. My plate, unfortunately not pictured, was 8 ringit for more than I could eat. That's just under $3.

Ella, and Italian and Swiss girl I met today. I'm fascinated with her approach to travel and how much she notices at each turn.

Notably these are the first photos edited and posted entirely from an iPad. I sent the rest of my computer gear home and am going to try using only an iPad for the next few months. My hope is that it will make writing while moving around easier and will also encourage me to spend less time goofing off behind a screen. I'm using PhotoRaw for the raw development and Afterlight for finishing and color. I hope the colors better over time, but I like the flexibility of using only an iPad for production.

If you're following along, this means I'm eating my words over all the hate about Apple lately. I still wish some things would change about the iPad but the interface is sublime for having a computer for just writing and just photo editing — an interface that makes it hard to get distracted into long programming or web browsing sessions. I'd also say that for most uses the iPad is the most ergonomic computer I've ever used.

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