In March I travelled to Laos to take photographs for a football charity. The charity uses football to engage with school kids and teaches them of the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Laos was the most bombed country ever with the United States dropping US$2m worth of bombs daily from 1964 to 1973 in the so-called 'secret war'. That is an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes over a nine year period...more ordnance than was dropped by all sides in WWII.
UXO are a daily hazard for the people of Laos with regular injuries and deaths. Children can often find bits of metal in the ground and not realise what they are. The results can be deadly. In fact half of the 13,000 people killed by UXO have been young boys; so the work that Spirit of Soccer do is essential in saving lives.
Spirit of Soccer hooked me up with another group who save lives on a daily basis. I spent a morning with the UXO Lao team who are responsible for finding and destroying unexploded ordnance. To date this national organisation has dealt with 400,000 UXO.
The team were working in a paddy field about the size of a football pitch where the farmer has found UXO every year. After two days of looking they had already found 10 UXO.
The initial search is with a large detector. If this machine finds something metal then another member of the team locates it with a more sensitive metal detector. He then digs down to find the metal object; a job that requires nerves of steel and steady hands.
Once the object is identified as a UXO then it is marked with a large green bag filled with clay. When the team are ready to destroy a number of UXO together they place TNT in each hole and then run a cable back to the detonator several hundred metres away.
Having warned the local area of of the impending explosion with a loud hailer, and with three of the team positioned on high ground, acting as lookouts, the TNT is detonated which destroys the UXO.
I witnessed two sets of UXO being destroyed. It was unlike anything I've seen before with the shock of the explosion going through me, even thought the explosions were quite a distance away.
The UXO team risk their lives every day to save others. The are incredibly cautious but even so there is always a high risk, especially when initially identifying the UXOs. It was huge privilege to meet these brave people and witness their courage.
Every overseas visitor who has come to visit us during the last 5 years has commented on the greenness of Singapore. Despite 50 years of urbanization and commercial growth, the city retains a very green feel and this is in no small part the legacy of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, whose funeral is today.
In 1963 Lee Kuan Yew planted a tree in Holland Road Circus to launch the Garden City movement. The movement aimed to create a ‘city in a garden’ and to a large extent this has been realised.
Lee Kuan Yew said, “Cities cannot just be made up of concrete buildings, tarmac and pavements. It would be depressing and unpleasant to live in. You need to balance that with trees and flowers. This will make Singapore more pleasant to live in.
“Singapore has become much greener, despite increased urbanization. Almost half of Singapore is covered in greenery. We have set aside land for world-class gardens, parks and nature reserves. Many visitors are amazed at our tree-lined roads, and this has become an economic value to us. More importantly, Singaporeans today live in beautifully-landscaped housing estates, and are able to exercise and enjoy fresh air in the urban oases right at their doorsteps. None of this would have been possible without decades of conscientious planning and commitment.”
Planning and Commitment epitomise the approach that has lead to the remarkable rise of Singapore. But to also retain a commitment to building a green city, alongside developing a global economic hub, showed true vision and a faithfulness to Lee Kuan Yew’s promise to build a city for the people of Singapore.
The green nature of the island makes it a pleasant place to live and was greatly enhanced in 2011 when the wonderful Gardens by the Bay was opened. Gardens by the Bay feels like the ultimate representation of the modern, green city Lee Kuan Yew aimed to build. It is a stunning contemporary Yin to the Yang of the beautiful1859 Botanic Gardens. Yesterday, Gardens by the Bay planted a tree in memory of Lee Kuan Yew and to me it feels like this amazing complex is a fitting legacy to a true visionary.
My mum has been researching family history for a few years and has found some incredible links to Singapore, where my sister and I now live with our families. It seems we had many relatives living here from the late 19th Century through to the mid-twentieth Century.
One of those relatives was Frank Drysdale. He was a volunteer soldier in 1915 at the time when some Indian soldiers in the British Army mutinied. He immediately went into action against the mutineers and was killed during the retaking of the main Tanglin Barracks, now a restaurant area called Dempsey Hill. He was killed 100 years ago yesterday and Mum and I spent the day visiting sites where he spent his life including the barracks where he was killed.
We ended the day at his grave which is in the far corner of the impressive Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, a small area of land still owned and maintained by the British Government. We were fortunate enough that the British High Commission sent a representative, Mick Saunders, to lay a wreath along with Mum. The Cemetery Manager Mr Kannaya Somu also attended. Mum told the story of Frank's death and a few of us read poems and prayers.
During the day Frank changed from being just a name into a real, incredibly brave, young man and it was very moving to end the day by his graveside. His body was identified by his father exactly 100 years ago but, due to his terrible injuries, he was only recognisable by his blonde curly hair and his inscribed cigarette case. He was 18 years old when he died.
In late December we were lucky enough to visit a huge colony of nesting gannets at Cape Kidnappers on New Zealand's North Island. To reach the colony we rode on a tractor trailer along a very narrow beach for 90 minutes and then walked up a very steep path for another 20 minutes. When we got there it was really worth it and we were blessed with some incredible blue sky which was a bonus.
Most of these shots were taken with my 105mm or 16-35mm lenses. I didn't have longer lens with me but it was possible to get very close to these big birds, so the images came out ok.
Just before Christmas my good friend Stuart Jenner (www.stuartjennerphotography.com) and I headed down to Marina Bay and took some shots of Gardens by the Bay. The 'golden hour' in Singapore is more like a golden 3 minutes, so you have to be ready to catch the few moments of good light, if it comes at all. So we stood about chatting like a couple of camera bores with beers in hand and cameras poised on tripods, waiting for the perfect blue sky.
It didn't really get very blue but we took some shots anyway. A few minutes later we were scoffing Japanese food and refreshing ourselves with a bucket of Asahi after a tough 3 minutes work. Job well done.
I took a a few shots in an attempt to create a panorama which I would stitch together later in Photoshop. The original four shots looked like this...
Nothing special really. But I thought I'd give it a go in Photoshop anyway. Well, actually all I did was select the images in Lightroom, right click and choose EDIT IN > MERGE TO PANORAMA IN PHOTOSHOP. Photoshop did the rest and creating a great panorama. I then saved the panorama back to Lightroom where I spent sometime making it look pretty. I think the result is not too bad considering I'd had a few beers when I took it. Thanks Photoshop, thanks Lightroom. You rock!
Shooting info: Tripod, shutter release, Nikon D800, 70-200mm nikkor lens at 70mm, ISO 160, f16, blend of 4 images (10s, 13s, 15s 25s). Aperture Priority.
Denise and Kelvin are young entrepreneurs with a passion for books. Being in their mid 20s they are too young to secure a loan from the Singapore Government but they decided to start their own business anyway and now provide books to many schools across Singapore. The way they talk about literature with such knowledge and passion it's not surprising to see that their business www.closetfulofbooks.com is growing really quickly. Good luck Kelvin and Denise!
I was lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve in Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland is the first major city to see in the New Year so it was great to be there and witness the firework display. The fireworks are launched from one of the city's best known landmarks, the Sky Tower. The tower is 328metres (1,076 feet) high making it the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.
I've not really photographed fireworks before so it was a little experimental. I decided to set the camera's shutter to 'bulb' release which meant I could control exactly how long the shutter was open for once I had opened it. After some experimentation before the display it looked like an 8 second exposure would expose the scene pretty well. When it came to the display itself I opened the shutter when a new burst of fireworks was launched and then closed it after about 8 seconds, though this varied according to each burst of fireworks. Inevitably this led to some overexposure where the fireworks were brightest but generally the rest of the scene looked pretty well exposed.
The image below on the left is the original unedited photo and the one on the right is the image I have edited in Adobe Lightroom. The dynamic range of the D800 means that the detail is still recorded in the overexposed areas which really helps.
Settings: Nikon D800, 16-35mm lens at 35mm. Manual exposure. f10. 10sec. Cable release. Tripod. Pre-focused on tower and then set to manual focus.