Monday, October 10, 2016

Taking Flight

Strictly speaking, this is a book. Just not a fiction novel. :P 'Taking Flight : A Photo Journey of Birds Across Singapore' is the fruit of 83-year-old James Yong's love of photography and his hobby of bird-watching. The text accompanying the 250+ photographs categorized into six parks and gardens is written by his son, Melvin Yong.

James Yong only picked up photography a few years ago at 78 years old, and used public transport (buses and trains only, not even cabs) to get to all these venues of Bishan Park, Gardens by the Bay, Sungei Buloh, Bukit Timah Hill, Punggol, Changi Village, Punggol and Greenway. WAH. Camera gear is bulky and ridiculously heavy. Add on our local heat and humidity. Woah. The dedication. I'm half of the photographer's age and while I do get out with the camera and wander the streets on many free mornings and evenings to shoot, I've no motivation or inclination to sweat it out for hours and feed mosquitoes in this heat.

Using a Canon EOS 7D and a Nikon D750, James Yong took these photos between 2012 and 2016. These photos are gorgeous, capturing the birds mid-flight or in action swooping in on their prey instead of simply perching on tree branches. I can't imagine the hours it took to catch these shots, even if one factors in luck in getting half of these photos. He just celebrated his birthday and is still out and about toting his camera to do what he loves. Thanks to Melvin, I scored an autographed copy. Hurhurhur. Published by Marshall Cavendish, you can buy it online or at Kinokuniya.

Chinese and Japanese Gardens: Grey and Purple Herons.

In addition to admiring photos, I also appreciate text in photo books, especially if the nuggets of information tell me the story behind each photo, or the intent behind each chapter. It makes it feel that much more personal and unique. In the introduction to 'Changi Village', the blurb gave us parakeets and cockatoos co-existing with us, humans who invaded their natural spaces,

While one would expect these nests to be hidden away from plain sight, they were actually built along the road just next to the popular Changi Village food centre and easily within view. But to get a clear shot, James had to make his way to the neighboring HDB block and aim his camera from the second or third floor.

I'm completely hopeless at spotting birds in trees, much less tell what they are by the sound of their calls. We've got like......400 species of birds in Singapore, excluding migratory ones. Can't tell a dusky warbler from a bluethroat or a starling from a bulbul. But I can differentiate between a plover and a redshank, although I can't tell which is what sub-species of a plover. i.e, a sand versus a golden. :P Not an observant urban dweller at all.

In the introduction to 'Punggol', Melvin wrote,

At Punggol, there were many mornings when James would return home without a single decent photo. But all it takes is just one beautiful shot of a blue-throated bee-eater to make it all worthwhile. 
Unlike shooting models or still life, the unpredictability of what the day will bring is perhaps the best motivation for a senior citizen like James to pick up a camera every morning.

Punggol: Blue-throated Bee-eaters.

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