Lunar New Year 2015, Part 3 | Close enough

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It is well established on this blog that I have a tendency to get in as close as possible to the subjects I frame through my camera.  This sometimes result in rather close calls and near misses.  But if that is the cost of getting the shot that I want, then so be it.

I conclude my Tết trilogy with a trip to Navy Pier three weeks ago on the first of March for a Lantern Festival.  Traditionally, the Lantern Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the Lunar New Year and marks the end of the celebrations.  1 March 2015 is only the tenth day of Tết this year, but I presume that the festival organisers felt it was better to hold it on a Sunday rather than a weekday.  Admittedly, despite having lived in Chicago for almost five years now, this was my first time attending the annual festival at Navy Pier.

Not quite knowing what to expect except for dance performances and martial arts demonstrations, I brought two cameras with me: my X100 (to shoot in Fujichrome Velvia) and my Canon 60D with a recently repaired 17-55mm lens.  That workhorse lens, which if you recall from Part 2 of this trilogy, had took an unfortunate tumble at a fencing tournament.  What better way to test out my DIY repairs to it than with photographing martial artists.

Although the venue was packed with people when I arrived, there was no way that I was going to just hang around in the back and zoom in over the audience.  No.  I slowly worked my way forward down the aisle and merged in with a small crowd of children and parents sitting and kneeling on the ground up front by the stage.  An intermission ten minutes afterwards allowed me to move right up on the front row, almost downstage.  Once again, I found myself in a “firing line” with a hoard of photographers.

While shooting in a “wolf pack” has the advantage of safety and strength in numbers, it also leads to everyone having more or less the same shot.  So while I stayed at that spot for the round of performances, I changed my position and vantage point at the next intermission, this time swinging over to stage right.  And I am sure glad I did.

The performances were a stagger of martial arts demonstrations featuring impressive jumps and flips, juxtaposed with soft and beautiful dances.  Although I had wanted test my repaired 17-55mm lens by putting it through its paces, the vibrate wardrobe and costumes all too prevalent in Asian celebrations were begging for the X100 and Velvia.  Although I have tried to develop the frames from the Canon to be colourful, vibrant, and rich, the Velvia frames straight out of the camera are at a different level entirely.  That is when I get the exposure right.  Much like shooting with colour reversal film, the X100 when loaded with its film simulations is not as forgiving as a DSLR shooting in RAW format (or digital “negatives” that offers a wide latitude of corrections and adjustments in post processing).

I ended up crawling between stage right and downstage during the dance performances.  Because of how little room there was between the audience front row and the stage, I had to squeeze myself in the tiny alley and make myself as small as physically possible, which has not been easy to do lately being woefully out of shape.  To be fair, the other photographers were just as close to the stage as I was.  Somehow, nonetheless, I was the recipient of a near miss as a young dancer’s foot got quite close to my head.  It is becoming somewhat of a habit, apparently, for me to be almost kicked in the head while photographing.  And yet, I still question if I am close enough to my subjects when I photograph them.

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The festival wrapped up, of course, a lion dance.  This time, however, no lions almost fell on me.  I feel a little disappointed.  Nevertheless, overall, it has been a bright, colourful, and vibrant Tết.  I cannot wait to see what next year holds.