Way too many fun things to do in a weekend in Cambodia…

January 5, 2011 § 2 Comments


What a weekend! An open mind and an open road lead to unexpected adventures here in the Khmer Empire. A short list of highlights from the NYE weekend:

-renting motor bikes and cruising along winding ocean roads for a whole day

-riding out to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere (on said bikes) and getting taken through these ridiculously awesome caves by local children only to find buried deep inside, the ruins of a hidden buddhist temple inside,

-going out to the abandoned colonial casino resort of Bokor. Built in the 1920’s, it sits empty on the ridge of the highest mountain in the region (complete with bullet holes from when the Khmer Rouge used it as a hideout agains the Vietnamese),

-hiring a fisherman to take us to Rabbit island, a tiny spectacularly chilled out beach/fishing community, where we rented beach huts for 8 bucks a night and drank .75c beers

-going out to some Cambodian guys house for a new years pig roast and trying not to get killed by the small children wielding enormous handmade roman candles.

-ordering crab at a local market and watching the market lady pull up a trap, grab a crab (new dance move!) and puncture it’s brain with mangled fork

Crazy Cambodia for sure, but really the more I thought about it, the more I kept thinking that this adventure could just as easily have happened at home. There are countless little adventures waiting to be had in and around Ottawa/Montreal/Toronto, if only we could see these places like a traveller does. Just hop on a bike/jump in your car and wander around asking locals what hidden adventures they’ve got tucked away in their town. Be open and the world almost always seems to cough up a few golden opportunities.

That’s really all that travel tends to do, break up the patterns/ruts the define our lives at home. Left with nothing solid to depend upon, you go out in the world and cast about following whatever’s interesting to you. The key is to try replicate this attitude at home. Go to that part of the city you’ve never been to. Check out an opera. Find out what’s going on at the Armenian community centre around the corner. Pick a direction and head that way for two hours.


Photography, Learning and the Top 10 List

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Recently, the always excellent Zack Arias skewered lazy “how-to” photography bloggers and the mind-numbing “inspiration” browsing that feeds them:

If you have to add ‘put images on a web site’ as a top 10 list of things to do then who in the hell is your target audience? Infants? And I’m not talking metaphorical infants. Order business cards? Note to bloggers… if you have to state the bare bones minimum obvious… don’t bother.

Edutainment: the anti-learning

The problem is that these lists work.  I click on them all the time, and it’s not just me. In their guide on photoblogging, Photoshelter confirmed that:

of the content we create for the PhotoShelter blog, our “list” articles are the ones that receive the most links, tweets, forwards and views.

A quick-fix mentality seems to dominate online learning in a way that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional studio or workshop learning environments. Like the sex tips plastered on the front of men’s magazines, the preference is for clever tricks rather than substantive, hard-earned skill.

The popularity of these posts seems to confirm what I have naively tried to ignore. Most of us trolling these sites to aren’t visiting them to learn, we’re visiting them sites put off learning. Leading webviews go to top-10 lists, rumour pages, gear reviews and bts videos. Long-form essay writing on craft is practically non-existent (Luminous Landscape is a wonderful exception) and galleries featuring original work tend to fall much lower in the rankings. Like baby-einstein for creatives, it’s edutainment – ways to keep the mind occupied while we avoid doing the hard work of creating things.

Discere faciendo

Most of all, what is lost, seems to be blank canvas creativity – leaving your mind empty and your eyes open. There is indeed value in being inspired by others, and the internet is great for that. What has been lost though is the value of staring at a blank canvas and needing to create something from nothing. In the end, all compelling art comes from a spark of original creation, even if it borrows from other traditions and artists, and you can’t learn that from a vimeo tutorial. Every minute that someone spends trolling the web for ‘useful’ tips and tricks, they’re not out there with their eye in a viewfinder experimenting with light.

Perhaps no other medium I’ve come across is so open to “blank canvas” creativity, than digital photography and videography. Creation is easy. Unlike the painter who must acquire a degree of skill even to begin expressing themselves on the canvas, a photographer or videographer can go out and freely capture images of technically exacting standards.  While the results will be inconsistent, there is no cost to experimentation and results are instantly available for review. You can wander around with a macro lens and crawl around on hands and knees defocusing flowers into abstract bliss. You can harangue a few people into posing against an alley way wall while you ask them to talk about their lives. Heck, Shinchi Maruyama is fine just throwing handfuls of water in the air.

The ease of creating digital images is both a boon and a curse. While it enables unparalleled creative exploration, there is often an assumption that photography is a technical pursuit rather than what it truly is – painting with light.  And like any other form of painting, getting good is a question of refining technique, and discovering a personal style. It is ironic that so many of the “top 10” lists that distract us from developing our craft, stress the need for successful photographers and videographers to forge a unique vision in their work. There is no other way to do that than going out and taking photos day after day. Discere faciendo – learning by doing.


There is clearly tremendous substance and value in the vibrant online culture that has developed around creative enterprises like photography and videography. So how do you reconcile this with the the shallowness of much of the online content? Having thought about it a little bit, it seem that intention is at the heart of the matter.

Do you engage in this community with vision and intention, or as a passive consumer? It seems to me that it is the intention that we bring to these spaces that defines them. Too often we troll the web looking for solutions to problems we didn’t know we had, rather than using it as a tool to move forward in the creative process. Underneath this tendency is a fear of staring into the abyss of a blank canvas. A fear that what we have to say isn’t that interesting. There is a desperate hope that if you can just keep enough tricks in your hat, or get good enough equipment, that noone will see you for the fraud you are.

If you have any thoughts on this blog post, please post your comments below.  I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Creatives on Writer’s Block

December 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Creative professionals share their strategies for overcoming creative block, here.  My favourite so far is from Airside:

“Set your bedside alarm for 5am. When it goes off either get up and enjoy the unique feel of that time of day or go back to sleep and have the craziest dreams (REM sleep is easier to reach/remember) – one of these experiences will give you inspiration.”

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