Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sam Thinks He Can . . .Lighten Up

Gongxi facai (gong shee fa tsai)! Or, for my Cantonese-speaking friends, 恭喜发财 (gung hay fat choi)!

I am a sucker for New Year celebrations. I've wanted to spend New Year's Eve in Las Vegas since watching the first Ocean's 11 on television shortly after its release in the early sixties. I love the family traditions of Judaism's Rosh Hashanah in the fall. And, as we enter the Year of the Rat, I am fascinated by the idea that 1.3
billion celebrate their new year on a twelve-year cycle whose elements are used to prophesize health, wealth and marital success (although that might just be the menus).

I was chatting online tonight with my friend Nathaniel Davis, whom regular readers of this blog will remember. He's back in Beijing, where, for the first time, fireworks were allowed as part of the New Year celebration. Although the holiday started on the 7th of February, the fireworks are still being lit. I can only imagine what the Olympics will bring in 6 short months.

This annual focus on Chinese culture inevitably takes me back to my visit to Hong Kong and Macau in October, 2000. Having had the opportunity to experience a small slice of the culture firsthand, and with a number of good friends living among the 1.3 billion, I feel a stronger affinity with the Chinese New Year than towards most other international celebrations. Of course, I regularly relive the experience through my photography.

The photo above was taken on Victoria Peak, overlooking Hong Kong and Kowloon Harbor. It's actually a sandwich of two square images taken on my medium format film camera.Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version. I had dragged two camera systems and a tripod up to the observation area. I was with my law school roommate Robert Cohen and Nathaniel. It was hot, even at dusk. I was looking for my "money shot" for the trip, hence the plethora of equipment. The views were spectacular. Most of the other visitors had ridden the famous tram up the side of the mountain to get there. We had taken a cab to the site. I remember that the sun was setting, I was losing my light, and I couldn't get a decent reading off my light meter to figure out the correct exposure. So, in the tradition of Luke Skywalker, I abandoned my electronic devices and used the "Force". I think that's why I love the shot so much. I was so close not to getting it but did so by relying on myself.

We took the tram down part way to return to the city. We exited at one of the first stops and walked down hill the rest of the way. Because it was HOT, and because I insisted on carrying all of my equipment by myself on the theory that if I personally carried what I brought along, I could sound like a martyr seven years later, we had to stop and rest. Nathaniel brought us to a courtyard in the St. John's Monastery. I was walking around a bit, looking for photo opportunities. Much to my amazement, the second lifetime opportunity of the evening presented itself.

I had spent the week looking for examples of the old juxtaposed against the new. I had expected to find some quaint, centuries old example of Chinese culture set against an icon of the modern Hong Kong. I had not been particularly successful in capturing the image that filled my mind's eye. But during the break on the way down from the Peak, I found myself staring at the modern glass skyscraper of the Bank of China, gleaming at night through the monastery's stone archway leading to the courtyard. I set up my medium format camera, guessed at the exposure, and shot.
I was happy enough with the shot to use give it to one of my hosts during the trip as a gesture of my appreciation. She was apparently thrilled with the gift and reciprocated, unnecessarily, with a set of gold Chinese stamp proofs.

In honor of the Chinese New Year, I'm posting a few additional shots from that trip. I'll resume more serious blogging once the fireworks stop. Again, 恭喜发财 !

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